31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts

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This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Touch the Sky

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The mornings are dark and trimmed with frost of late. On Tuesday I stood out back and watched my breath tendril up into the slow approaching dawn. The Hunter’s moon was on the wane, but still gave the appearance of being full and I could smell the light slowly undoing the night. The wind is beginning to loosen the leaves a little more each day and the hillsides lush with color are beginning to undress. Yesterday at work, I spoke with a patient’s family member who had driven up from Lewisburg to visit.

“How are the leaves down there?” I asked.

With a sad smile she said, “They are gone.” Then she spoke to her loved one about the blazing glory the Maples made in the back yard.

Grief pooled at the corners of his eyes as she gave to him her word pictures. This is what the deep ones mourn—not the loss of limb or weakness of body, but the theft of time. They grieve the sudden pulling of their lives out from under them; how they must abandon all that gives joy to tend to their physical needs for a season.

I try to return these moments to them, point out the beauty available right here, right now. The pulse of life still beats strongly under the roof of the hospital. The losses they have suffered seem to tender their heart and open its door wide to all the losses over the course of life. A rare few recognize the gift in their tears—this drawing near to the holy, to the things that matter most.

I learn from their bravery, how best to view the moments of my days. In autumn, the longing looms large, just as C.S. Lewis said. I cry when I see the birds flock across the sky, the sudden lift of their wings birthing anew within me the awareness of my feet of clay—I am earthbound.

In my reading this morning, Diane Ackerman tells me, “One of the first words we think humans spoke, recorded in Indo-European as pleu, meant: It flies! It is an ancient longing.”

I long for flight of many kinds but mostly, I want to touch the sky, to scoop her blue in my cupped hands and carry it home. Is there a way to carry the sky inside of me? In his poem “Two Stranger Birds in Our Feathers,” Mahmoud Darwish says, “ … spread over me an endless blue wing … “

This is what I want too—to be lost in the ecstasy of a love so great I lose all sense of self but become one with earth and sky and sun and star. Overshadowed by mystery.

This is Love. This is Faith. I let these longings lead me deeper into the heart of God.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

The Right to Write: In Praise of Happiness (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. My Wednesday book club series is a part of the journey—a way of exploring creativity during this season. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. 

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December 10, 1984

Dad called today to tell me that he got married last week. So now she is my stepmom. I can’t believe it. I was so mad when he told me. I wanted to hang up. But there is this: he sounded happy. So now I have to decide. Am I going to go on hating this forever? Or am I going to be happy for him?

I stumbled across these words in an old journal not too long ago.

I’ll never forget the day I learned my father had remarried. I was sixteen years old. It was four years after my parents’ divorce. All of my teenage hopes were crushed that day. I finally had to face the fact that my parents were never going to get back together.

I don’t remember exactly what I felt when I wrote those words, but I do remember that I made a deliberate decision soon after to be kind to my new stepmother. I believe writing about it all helped my young self make that decision.

Julia Cameron does too. In this week’s readings of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Cameron discusses how writing helps us make decisions that lead to happiness.

Just as walking aerobicizes the physical body, producing a flow of endorphins and good feelings, writing seems to alter the chemical balance of the soul itself, restoring balance and equilibrium when we are out of sorts, bringing clarity, a sense of right action, a feeling of purpose to a rudderless day. Furthermore, writing when we are out of happiness can lead us into writing from happiness. We recall happier moments and we recall happiness itself … Writing … is a series of choices that lead to a sense of something made—that something is “sense.” Sense brings to the writer choice and, with choice, a sense of at least the potential for happiness.”

My father and his bride celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this past December. I have never once regretted my decision to embrace my stepmother. Writing about it helped me see my father’s happiness. And in seeing that, I was able to see at least the potential for happiness for me.

Not only does writing lead us into happiness, says Cameron, but writing from that place of joy is—contrary to common mythology—powerful. And natural.

Two variables seem essential for life to feel beneficent. One variable is stability. The other is change. Writing supplies a sense of both variables. Writing both gives continuity and creates a sense of continuity. Writing both gives change and creates and awareness of change. A writing life is therefore …very often a life with substantial happiness at its core. Writing to find my happiness, I find my happiness—writing.”

The angst-ridden, neurotic writer is a fallacy. A lot of good stuff comes from joy, says Cameron.

Doesn’t that make you happy?

Next week we discuss three more chapters: Making It, Honesty, and Vulnerability. See you on the page!

Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

Almost Empty

Playdates with God: New Friends (and a giveaway!)

 

IMG_6280 Last night, when I took Bonnie out before bedtime, I did what I always do—I looked up. The Hunter’s moon was beaming down, and a ring of white light encircled its pale body. Scientists call this ring of light a halo. I’ve heard of an old saying that goes ring around the moon means rain is coming soon. Apparently, there is some truth to this, as halos are caused by high-drifting cirrus clouds packed with ice crystals. Last night, I read something else interesting about halos. Earthsky.org says,

The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear. That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.”

This fun little scientific fact reminded me that much of life is all about perspective. And the wonderful thing about perspective is I can choose my view.

This weekend, at the West Virginia Book Festival, I didn’t sell one book. Not one tiny word. But I did make some new friends, and that’s quite the halo. One such friend is S.D. (Sam) Smith, whose work I have known and admired for some time. We have been connected online for a while, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Let me just say that Sam is a delight. His quirky sense of humor had me giggling all morning long. I had my pocket bubbles with me and we had a good time targeting appropriate bubble-worthy passers-by. Sam’s passion is equipping parents with tools to help them foster holy imagination in their children. You can read more about that at Story Warren, the collaborative website he started for that purpose.

Sam has published two children’s books, The Green Ember and its prequel The Black Green EmberStar of Kingston. Last year, I read parts of The Green Ember to the third graders I read to for Read Aloud West Virginia. They were enthralled. It’s a beautifully crafted fantasy with just enough action but nothing too scary going on. Perfect for young readers.

Anyway, I’m pleased to say that Sam autographed copies of The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston for me to giveaway to my wonderful readers! I’m excited to share this new world with you. How’s that for making halos out of ice crystals? It’s all about perspective.

Just leave a comment on this post for a chance to win. If you go check out Story Warren or Sam’s website, let me know that here and you’ll get an extra entry. I’ll announce the winner on next Monday’s Playdates post.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Memoir

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Writing is a powerful search mechanism, and one of its satisfactions is that it allows you to come to terms with your life narrative.”~William Zinsser, “How to Write Your Memoir.”

“Remember,” she said. “Writing is discovery. You will learn things about yourself you never would have imagined as you put word to page.”

I’ve experienced this truth repeatedly over the years, but my jaded self needed reminded. I was in a workshop on writing memoir, and the leaders were giving us a series of writing prompts. Cat Pleska and Fran Simone are successful memoirists and experienced teachers of the craft, but also, they trust in this process. Writing—putting words to one’s own story—has the power to heal.

“There are many good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with being published,” says William Zinsser in the above-mentioned essay.

Yes.

So we wrote. We read George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From” and wrote a version of our own. Then we chose a few lines from our poems of origin and wrote some more on the three elements of memoir: scene, summary, and reflection. We listened to the brave ones read their scratchings (I wasn’t one). And then we wrote some more.

A friend once told me I must write my memoir. You have to, she said. And I felt an odd sort of churning inside of me. I will have to wait until a few people I love pass into the next life, I said.

So, when I wrote my poem of origin, I was well aware of those elements of my life that made my friend say, you must.

I am from whispers in the dark,
scratchy kisses—scent of beer; open windows, curtains blowing inside-out, fresh-hoed corn,
and Johnny Cash playing on the stereo …

The leaves are almost at peak color in our little valley and the way they scatter in the breeze feel like a slow, peeling away of all the things we hide behind. This almost-empty nest has me thinking about the nest from which I flew. And I remember: writing is discovery.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty