Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Resume of My Married Life

Last night Kevin and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. When I think of all the major life changes we have been through in such a relatively short time, it is amazing. I have touched on some of these lightly and expounded on others throughout my blog entries. Here is a short resume of what we have accomplished together…

I finished my Masters’ Degree.

We moved to North Carolina for a year.
We moved back to Long Island.

I worked as a teacher for a year.

We bought our first house (and quite possibly our last).
We had our first baby.

We had our second baby.

We had our third baby.
We started homeschooling.

We had our fourth baby.
We enrolled our children in Catholic school.

The different periods of our lives seem to be defined by these life-altering events of births, moves, and schooling and career moments. I look at the above list and I think, “What happened between 1998 and 2001, between 2001 and 2006, between 2006 and 2008?”

Indeed, if I was handing a job resume to a prospective employer, that is the first question he or she would ask.

As someone recently said so poignantly, “You couldn’t possibly write about every single thing that happens to you in the course of a day.” Indeed, many days I cannot make it to the computer to write about all the things that have happened in that time. And when I do, I must leave out so much because otherwise I would be writing non-stop. (Possibly a seemingly noble goal for a writer, but only truly feasible for such writers as Dostoyevsky who composed his masterpieces while sitting in a Russian prison for many years.)

Those years are composed of hundreds of days, which in turn are comprised of thousands of minor moments which truly define our lives. And those moments are so important that our Creator keeps count of every one of them. I look at the blank years of our resume and remind myself that every thing I do, every thing I think, every thing I say has an effect on the building of our lives together.

“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”
2 Peter 3:8

Painting above: The Sundial Garden by Simon Burtall

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At Long Last, The Beach!

Tan legs
Sandy hair
Salty skin
Aaah. . .
Feels like summer!

We finally got to the beach today, for the first time this summer. That is not counting a brief walk to the marina near our friend’s house last week, as we did not go in the water. Although my brave nine-year-old came close to falling in off the pier. . .

It is quite unusual for us to start our beach season so late into summer, but we were busy with several household projects that prevented our going until today. It helped that we had made plans with some friends to meet them there. This way we could not get side-tracked and miss another golden opportunity.

It did manage to rain at about noon, and I frequently looked worriedly out the window at the water in a wagon on the deck, judging the frequency of raindrops in the small pool. It seemed to clear up, and I called the beach to make sure the conditions there were friendly.

My friend called me at 1:00, just as the sun really came out to play, and we confirmed a 1:45 meeting. She was a little worried that something might happen to prevent her being there on time, having her own four children to get ready, and I promised not to throw her to the sharks if she was late.

What a fuss it is to get ready! I am a firm believer in packing light, and everyone must carry his or her fair share. Towels, water, sunscreen, a camera, a spare diaper, and sunglasses are all that we require. Hands are adequate tools for castle-building; a protein-packed lunch keeps us from having the munchies before dinner; and who needs a chair when you plan on being active on the shoreline?

Still we wound up being a half-hour late. We were about to get into the car, when my son announced he could not find his other water shoe. We were going to “the rocky beach”, and these were going to be a necessity. Everyone had to help him. I finally found it under a Little Tykes car in the back yard. That side-tracked us fifteen minutes.

Then, five minutes down the road, I realized I had forgotten the diaper bag. This I usually keep handy by the front door so I can quick grab it on my way out. But I had put it into the front closet while sweeping. I also had forgotten the vinegar, which would come in handy in the case of a jelly fish sting. (I know I am adding to the above short list. But an abundance of lion’s mane jelly fish had been big news in the newspaper over the weekend, with 30 stings per day being reported at this particular beach in contrast with the normal 2 per day.)

Fortunately, my friend, who is quite sweet and patient, was about 15 minutes late herself, thus shortening her wait for us.

We had a wonderful time, with no sign of jellyfish. The rain must have scared them away. It also kept away many other prospective beach clientele, and we had much of the shore to ourselves.

My toddler was a little difficult, not quite knowing what to think of the waves, sand, and rocks. It has been over six months since she was last at the beach. She did not like her water shoes; neither did she appreciate the sand and rocks on her bare feet. She could not decide if she wanted to be in the water or on dry land. Mommy’s arms would do. Suffice it to say that she tired me out, carrying her back and forth the entire time. Toward the end, she seemed to be more comfortable, so I think we have broken her in for the next visit.

After about two hours, my son thought he got stung by a jellyfish, and I treated him with the vinegar. All the kids suddenly decided that they were really itchy, coincidentally after having a seaweed fight. As no signs of a jellyfish sting have appeared on my son, I do believe it was just itchies from the seaweed.

Anyway, we were now afraid to have the children re-enter the water, and realized time was getting away from us. So we packed up our stuff, put it into our cars, and let them play on the playground for a spell.

We said good-bye at 5:40, the time I am usually cleaning up after dinner. Then we started planning for the post-beach cleanup.

“I get the first shower!” announced my eleven-year-old.

“I get the second!” declared my son.

“No, you always take too long and use up all the hot water. You have to go last,” decided my nine-year-old. I concurred.

The baby, who had missed out on her normal nap time, fell asleep on the way home. Now everything was completely off schedule. Dinner was not ready until 8:00, and my husband was quite surprised to find the baby still up when he arrived home at 9:30.

Fresh and clean after my long-awaited shower, I applied a little creamy baby oil to soften my sun-kissed skin. I felt like I had been to a spa.

And now it really feels like summer.

The painting above, “Bucket Brigade Children On Beach”, is an original by Kay Crain. This artwork is part of the meme for sharing of artwork and blogs by artists and writers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Go Home Function

At 5:04 Monday morning, we returned home from the joyous occasion of my sister’s wedding in Tennessee.

It was a long and grueling night. What should have been a 12-hour drive became 17 hours of driving with 4 children, with a 200-mile detour around a hazardous waste spill on I-40 and a torrential rain that followed us up the I-80 corridor. Knowing that driving in the rain makes me nervous, my husband did all of the driving until 3:00 A.M.

He was beginning to not feel so well and I began to pray fervently that the rain would stop. Remembering that “when two or more join together” in prayer mountains can be moved, I asked him to join with me. Within five minutes, it had stopped and we switched drivers.

Our St. Valentine’s Day gift to each other was a GPS. We had borrowed one from our good friend and best man during our trip to Florida this Christmas and found it an invaluable tool while out of town. This handy device could have save me countless hours of getting lost on field trips during our homeschooling years!

My favorite function is the part of the screen that says “Go Home”. Press it and it routes you home, telling you the approximate time of arrival – that is, without allowing for pit-stops.

As lovely as the rolling hills of Tennessee may be, filled with horses and cows (“Cows – wow”, says my little toddler when there are enough of them to be noticeable), when we hit the tri-state area I am filled with that welcoming joy of being home. The lights of New York on familiar roads; the good, bad, and ugly; this is where I belong.

The strongest I ever felt this was after I spent a semester of my sophomore year at St. John’s University at College Europa in Budapest, Hungary. It was such a fascinating experience to be engulfed in a new culture and environment for those three months. I thought that I would not like New York when I returned. But when I drove home from the airport under the graceful arches of the Verrazano Bridge, I embraced my home state with happiness.

Years later, my husband and I spent a year in North Carolina. Again, I had grown tired of the Island and wanted to belong to a more graceful subculture. In the South, strangers treat you with courtesy. Once you pass the middle of Virginia, you are no longer asked to pay for your gas until you have pumped it. The attendants in Food Lion and Harris Teeter pack your groceries and even bring it to your car.

After a few months we found that we did not belong there. New Yorkers may seem brass and coarse to some, even to ourselves at times, but we are real. We have soft hearts that are protected with breastplates of iron. Get through that and you have a friend for life. I hope that we never leave this place again.

We sure don’t mind our own business though. As I told people of our plans to drive to Tennessee for the weekend, everyone had their two cents about it. Why didn’t we fly?

1. We can’t afford it.
2. We like to drive.
3. There are no direct flights, and one could spend a full day of traveling by plane anyway.
4. We can carry all the stuff we can fit into our car.
5. We have our own vehicle in which to travel at our destination.

Those are just a few of the reasons. But people have even more to ask.

Do we have a television in the car?
No, we do not. Our children are quite adept at entertaining themselves. Did the western pioneers have electronic entertainment on their long grueling trip across the frontier? They were lucky if they could carry more than one doll. They made up stories and songs instead.

Do we have one of those big storage units for our roof?
No, we do not. Everyone gets to pack whatever they can carry in a backpack, and whatever else they would like to sit on for the duration of the trip. A limit is good for discipline, and cuts down on the weight of the car.

Why don’t we stay longer?
My husband is self-employed and does not get vacation time. We feel the pain of the lack of time while we are there, but it makes that time that much more special. And we really do love to be home, so vacations are not things we especially long for.

I received a meme from my friend Leticia in which one of the memorable questions was: “Name four places you would rather be.”
1. Home
2. Home
3. Home
4. Home

There's no place like home!

Monday, July 7, 2008

My Favorite Color of All

Pink and yellow have never been favorites of mine. Lately, however, watermelon pink and lemon yellow are shades that will send me leaping for joy. Why might this be?

Among many other things, I am in charge of the pool maintenance. Two years ago, when I was pregnant with my fourth child, I got talked into buying this awful pool filter with a cartridge, and it did a terrible job of cleaning the pool. For two summers I struggled with it, and never got anything right.

This year we got ourselves a nice new filter that uses diamacious (sp?) earth, which I am told is made of crushed seashells and will clean the water down to one-tenth of a micron. Within two days of running the new machine, my pool was sparkling. Now all I have to do is keep it that way.

Every morning I test the pH and chlorine levels. Normal pH is about 7.6, indicated by a watermelon pink. A higher level indicates the water is too basic, and needs acid – vinegar will do. A lower level indicates the water is too acidic, requiring a few pounds of baking soda to make it more basic. Normal chlorine level is about 2.0 parts-per-million, indicated by a lemon yellow. Hence my earthly happiness is made complete by seeing these two colors indicated in my daily testing.

When I was little, I used to have to take swimming lessons. I sure hated them. They were usually at around 8:00 in the morning, so it was cold. And it was boring. But I became quite an excellent swimmer, swam on the swim team, and eventually became a lifeguard. I am thus able to give my own children private lessons in the comfort of their own pool.

When I am under the water, the rest of the world seems to stop spinning. It is impossible not to live totally in the moment. I feel my muscles respond to my brain’s commands. I feel my heart rate pick up. I am aware of the amount of oxygen reaching my lungs and time my breathing accordingly. The mechanics and rhythm of the strokes and accompanying kicks are all that my mind can hold: stroke, kick-2-3; stroke, kick-2-3. . .

Elementary backstroke is the stroke perfect for admiring the blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I float on my back, with my arms fluttering just enough to keep me moving in the right direction. The canopy of trees borders on all sides, and at that time I think nothing of the debris they will drop into the pool; I am thinking only of how the gentle breeze moves the leaves ever so slightly.

I love to watch the glee on the children’s faces as they enjoy the pure happiness of splashing around in the water for as long as I will allow.

Truly my favorite color is blue, the color of water and the sky. God knew what he was doing when he surrounded us with that calm, lucid, peaceful color.

Painting above by Mary Cassatt, Two Women Seated by a Woodland Stream,
1869; Private Collection, Paris

Sunday, July 6, 2008

To Be A Woman of Leisure

A famous female writer once wrote something that I never forgot. I believe it may have been Virginia Wolf, but I was unable to find it in my thesaurus of quotations. She said that in order for a woman to be a successful writer, she had to be a woman of leisure.

In other words, she needed to have the time to write.

As I go about my daily business, my head is springing with ideas about things I want to put on paper. In these hectic first days of summer, I barely have time to sit until after midnight.

Ah, if only I had more time to write!

But then, I wonder, if I had nothing to do, would I have anything to write about?

Painting Above: Mary Cassatt, Woman Reading in a Garden, 1880; Art Institute of Chicago