Coconuts

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One of the things I love about my volunteer position at a local hospice is that I get to spend time with “The Older Generation.” I love to hear their stories, the places they have been, and the tales of wisdom that they have learned about what makes for a good life. Most often I laugh hard on the days when I am spending time with these wonderful and whitty folk. Their joy at the simple things in life, as they are rounding the bend on theirs, makes me mindful of the beauty of letting things go back to basics in all areas of our lives.

Today, I was talking to one of my favorites. She is an older woman born on an island in the Pacific Ocean and loves to talk about her early life which was idyllic until the Japanese invaded during WWII. It was then that she learned about the difficulties in life. Starvation, slow torture, and bayonets. She watched as people were killed on the streets of her hometown; her friends and relatives not spared by the brutality that one human being can inflict on another. But what she really could not wrap her brain around is that the enemy were people just like her and those she loved. People that would no more hurt their own neighbor back home yet were inclined to resort to heinous acts during heinous times.

One of this lady’s most memorable war-time events occurred when she was just 13 years old. On that day, the Japanese arrived in town and began raping the women and killing men. The townspeople were unarmed and had no way to fight the invaders. They were totally at the mercy of their captors.

As the Japanese entered the town my “friend” and her two sisters were instructed by their father to flee towards the mountains. As they ran they heard voices behind them and realized that they were being pursued. Unfortunately, one of the sisters was separated from the other two girls who managed to climb up into the arms of a coconut tree. There they hid in the palm fronds for two days and watched as the enemy searched for them with instructions to kill if they were found. They also heard their sister’s painful cries as she was being victimized. It is, my friend assures me, a sound that one never forgets even all these years later. “I still has dreams,” she whispers and wakes up screaming and in a stinky sweat.

Here in the United States we do not know much about the sufferings of war. We are rarely put into a position where we genuinely fear for our lives and most of us if faced with that would probably shit ourselves due to panic and fright. We don’t know about eating tulip bulbs as the Dutch did during the war nor do most of us know how to forage for food in the woods. Most of us have never really had to worry about our neighbors turning as in as spies or leaving our homes with only the clothes on our backs.

That’s why when I hear the saber rattlers urge our countrymen to war I become concerned. Our country is not prepared for war. We are a country of wimps who watch from the sidelines but most often do not play in the actual game. Let everyone else send their kids just don’t send mine. This is especially true for the rich whose children get deferments while the politicians who help to obtain them line their pockets with Daddy’s money.

War is a dirty business and everyone, everywhere, is changed by it. And usually, this trnsformation is not for the better. So before we go talking about bombing North Korea we need to ask ourselves who is going to benefit from this situation? Is it going to be Joe Schmo or is it going to be companies like Halliburton? What resources do we lose when we attack another country and what do we gain? Who are the winners and losers and what is the cost going to be both economically and spiritually. Usually, if we do the math, we realize that as individuals and community we all lose wether it be our lives, our humanity, or both.

How many more people in history will have to hide in basements while bombs drop around them and how many more will have to cower in a coconut tree just to survive? Isn’t it time, that we as a species grow up and learn that war leads to nothing worth having and little worth saving? Isn’t it time that we work with each other instead of against?

I don’t know about you but I long for peace. Peace for this world, for my children, and peace of mind for me. Yes, I want rainbows and unicorns. I want bunnies and bubbles. I want children to feel secure and for everyone just to get along. And while I don’t know much, the one thing I am sure of is that war will not provide peace. It will not feed the starving and it will not make our children feel safe. It’s time we give peace a chance…again…and this time we need to mean it.

 

 

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Dance

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Tonight I chaperoned a high school dance. The girls were glitzed and glammed, each out doing one another in the hair, makeup, and dress department.  The boys….well they were typical  teenage boys…nerdy, sweet, and 100 years behind the girls in just about every way imaginable. Most of them sat together and played video games while the girls stood around whispering to each other, laughing, and talking the talk. Meanwhile the boys who weren’t gaming, looked somewhat green around the gills, as if they were in intense pain trying to outdo one another to impress the girls with puffy-chest macho displays. Frankly, it’s a wonder that the two sexes ever come together at all.

After spending the first half of the evening checking the kids in (what do you mean you forgot your parental permission slip) I decided to head over to the dance floor in hopes picking up some new steps. Unfortunately, watching teenage boys move to the grove is like watching an elephant attempt to play the kazoo while dancing the lead in Swan Lake…there is NOTHING that can make it look pretty. Hips go one way while butts go another and I swear I saw a couple of heads do a 360 while sitting squarely on their shoulders. But the worst thing was the fact that not one of them could keep tempo to the music. It was like watching a little old man crossing the street using a walker…one speed only… with head bent and body stooped their bellies almost dragging on the ground. The ones still moving upright were sweating like Trump’s Communication Director when the President is in front of a microphone… never sure what ungodly thing might happen to destroy all their carefully laid plans.

Yet, with all the hormones on high alert things stayed sweaty but calm and everyone was having a good time, chaperones included. Something about the unchanging ways of nervous teens brings you back to your own school dance and you realize just how far you have come!

Of course, there is always some sort of drama. At our school dance this is the End Of The Night Song. It is the one and only slow dance that the deejay plays the entire night. Stomachs tense and butterflies alight and the girls begin to giggle as the time draws near. If the truth be told no one wants to dance the last dance and everyone is crushed if they don’t. As the first notes of Fade Into You began, I was surprised to feel a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around Paul was standing there.

“Would you like to dance, Mom?” he asked strong and sure in his choice.

“Me?” I asked.

“Sure. You’re the prettiest girl here.”

And as I stepped into his arms I knew without a doubt that all those years of hard work raising two children with autism had paid off.  I was obviously doing something right in this life and was finally reeping the rewards.

 

 

Pioneer Woman

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It is hot here. I mean so F***ing hot that you could cook an egg on the side walk. Like 110 degrees hot and I am complaining like there is no hell for me in sight. Why? My air conditioner went out. Yes, while it is 110 outside, it is a balmy 101 inside and there is no relief in site. Meanwhile I am sweating like a dog trying to install a ceiling fan. That is not going so well either. It has been three hours and it still isn’t up but my blood pressure certainly is! I’ll probably die of my head exploding rather than heat stroke any minute. All of this begs the question….how did those women do it 120 years ago in the Southwest? I mean seriously…how?

Now I consider myself to be somewhat of a tough old broad. I can do a little plumbing, drive a nail or two and can give an evil eye to someone to raise the hair on the back of their neck. I can survive an “almost divorce” and come out of it almost sane. But when I think of doing laundry on a washboard in the sun, tending to a huge garden big enough to feed a family for a year, canning all that food, beating the rugs, sweeping the floors and making dinner in an oven that raised the raised the temperature of the house 30 degrees, well, sometimes I think I truly don’t know the meaning of tough.

Once upon a time women really were tough. They came overland by covered wagon with all their worldly possessions on board; unsure of just exactly where in the world  they would end up. My GGG grandmother’s dresser sits as a testament to her wagon travels in my daughter’s room.  Clarissa was a smart one, I’ve been told. When she married she received a cow for a present which she promptly exchanged for a handsome wood dresser. It was probably a good exchange for any woman during that time. For Clarissa knew if she kept that cow, she would be the one put out of the wagon, walking along beside the beast while prodding it along to lands unknown.

We now live in a world where we no longer know how to grow our own food, grind our own grains, make our own furniture, or have the stomach to butcher our own meat. Which makes me wonder what would happen if the world as we know it ceased to exist. Would it be dog eat dog or would people band together to act as a community in a land that really hasn’t known what one is for a very long time? I would like to think that community would prevail but with all the violence in a world where people tend to look out for #1 to the detriment of neighbors and friends; I cannot be too sure.

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And so this not-so-tough old broad worries sometimes. I worry for my children and my grandchildren making it an a world that gets more confusing everyday. I fear the madmen of the world who would just as soon blow us up as take the time to do what is ethical and just. I an concerned that companies are willing to destroy our environment in the quest for the almighty dollar. I am uneasy that antibiotics are fast becoming resistant and that coral reefs are bleaching out and dying. But most of all I worry that I haven’t done a good enough job making my kids tough enough to survive with less material things and more experienced in the arts of carpentry, making their own soap and butchering a cow should hard times fall upon us.

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Yes, I am a tough old broad…but is my family tough enough to live off the land should they have to?  Could they survive on the six months of dehydrated food that I keep for just this occasion? Could they do the back-breaking work that so many women are forced to do to eek out a living in these times? Dirty, hard work that I have watched women do while I sit in the back of an air conditioned car during my travels. Work the likes of which I most likely will never experience.  And would the few books I have on making your own chicken coop and creating a below ground garden help? I hope I will never have to find out the answer to that question.

 

 

The War Of Words

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Recently, I have been thinking back to the days when the boys were young. Those were the days and many of them I would never like to repeat. They were stressful with meltdowns and words that took a cruel aim to the heart.

“I hate you” “I wish you were not my mom” “You’re a whiney little jerk” “Mom, he called me a butt.” Those kinds of things. Normal, yes, but the frequency at our house was 100 times what was normal. It was exhausting.

I remember at one point trying to get the boys to think before they said something. Hard to do when you are seven and in the heat of the moment. Hard for me to do now at 55+ and if I am honest; I have never been a model for saying quiet well-thought-out words.

During these early days of chaotic boyhood, a friend once  told me what she asked her kids when the War of Words was going on. I thought it was genius and wished I had done more of it as they grew up. She would ask her kids:

Is what you said kind?

Is what you said helpful?

Is what you said loving?

Often times just by asking these questions I found I could bring a temporary respite to all the chaos. It was a blessing. It taught my kids that words have meaning and repercussions too.

Recently, I was thinking back to those times and I decided that those questions of yesteryear were valuable not just for kids but for me too and I have been trying to be mindful before I speak by asking myself these questions before spouting off. I have also added two other questions to ask myself before responding to others:

Is what I am about to say true?

What is my motivation (honest) for saying what is on my mind?

Admittedly, it is hard for me to remember to ask myself these questions before talking. Often, I fall far short of where I would like to be. But usually, if I just pause before speaking, I can do a quick inventory in my head of the answers to these questions and decide whether my response is:

True

Honest

Loving

Kind

Helpful

 

If what I am about to say is not any of the above; I am trying to learn to shut my mouth and keep it that way. As a person who has shot from the hip most of her life this is a real learning experience for me. A challenge akin to climbing Mt. Everest. It is not easy. It takes a little bit of awareness and planning. But every time I succeed in being mindful I know I am getting to be one step closer to the person I want to be which gives me hope that maybe one day before I die I will master this ability to speak mindfully and to shut my mouth when needed. But somehow I suspect that it might take my deathbed to figure it all out if even then. Yet, I keep trying because I know for the sanity of all involved that when I am kind, loving, honest, helpful, and true I give the best of myself to those who deserve only the best of me.

Amen (so be it)

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It’s Been A Hell Of A Week

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Sometimes I feel like I am on a roller coaster. I pull the emergency brake and nothing happens and so I just keep going around and around and around.

Besides the usual weird school calls, the asthma attacks (come get your son, please) and the hiding of food in the most unusual places; this week Gracie is making my life hell because she doesn’t want to go to Disneyland with her school orchestra. WHAT KID ON PLANET EARTH DOESN’T WANT TO GO TO DISNEYLAND? Apparently mine. It figures I would have that anomaly in my family too.

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Then the other day….the worst. B was driving to Southern CA when he had a few chest pains but continued on because they only lasted a minute or so. Then when he was driving home from Southern CA, suddenly his hand and arm just quit working. He pulled over into a rest stop and his hand was contracted like when you have a debilitating stroke. He could not grip his phone or the steering wheel. This went on for 30 minutes or so at which point he got back into the car and headed home.

The next morning as he was heading off to work he suddenly got terribly dizzy and it felt like his eyes were crossing. He could barely stand. I got him in the car to take him to the hospital and asked did he want me to take him or call an ambulance. He wanted an ambulance which immediately told me something was VERY wrong.

By the time I arrived at the hospital blood had been drawn. He was sitting in a chair in the hall. There were no rooms at the inn. He had ataxia and the ER doctor ordered an MRI and several other tests to rule out a stroke. Luckily, everything came back normal and he was discharged five hours later (having never gotten a room due to the fullness of the hospital and ER). I took him to our physician and he made an appointment for him to see a neurologist.

During the day in the ER many things went through my head. First and foremost: I LOVE THIS MAN. Through thick and thin, sickness and health and even the past two crappy years. Seeing him laying there pale, sweaty and unable to control his body scared the crap out of me but I knew one thing…I knew I would stand by him no matter what happened because he is who I love and want to be with. The thought of losing him in this way…there are no words just feelings of immense pain like falling into a dark well.

My second thought was this: Oh shit, I hope this doesn’t scare him and he decides that he is getting near the end of his life and he has to change it. As in “I think I want a divorce.” AGAIN. Needless to say, when those negative thoughts appeared I suddenly had the urge to send his chair careening down the hall into the sharpest needle possible.

Being married for 30+ years is hard. Realizing that as a couple you will be spending more time in the ER and visiting doctors is even harder. We are nearing 60 and getting old is not like the ads on TV. We are running out of both mental and physical reserves. Things ache when we wake up and when we go to bed. Knees don’t bend and body parts start to become unrecognizable.  What the HELL…WHY DOESN’T SOMEONE SIT YOU DOWN WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG AND TELL YOU ALL OF THIS? WHY DON’T THEY WARN YOU THAT OLD AGE IS ALMOST AS BAD AS THE ALTERNATIVE? Had I known all of this I would have done things differently. I would have:

  1. Taken a thousand pictures of me in a bikini at 20. Unfortunately, I thought I was “too fat” or lacking in some area. NOW, I just realize how stupid I was to believe all the negative things I told myself about my body because, believe me, it all went downhill from there.
  2. I would have traveled even more than I have.
  3. I would have started meditating and practicing mindfulness years ago and reaped the benefits both emotionally and physically for the past three decades.
  4. Laughed more and taken everything less seriously. I thought it was the end of the world if my kids didn’t grow up to be college educated folk. Now I know that there are plenty of other things that are just as valuable and pleasing when you are traveling through life.
  5. Taken a year off before I married and had kids to roam. I would have been slightly more irresponsible, experiment more, and try new things at a much greater rate than I have. I would have tried new foods constantly and put more effort into discovering my “style” long before now.
  6. Maintained my weight vigilantly so I might have reduced the chance of having the aches and pains I have now.
  7. I would have taken every lesson known to man so I would have a much broader sense of life.
  8. I would have risked more and played it safe less.
  9. I would have had more sex.

 

So there you go. A starter list for you to improve your life NOW and in the future. Don’t wait until you are laying in a gurney somewhere. Life is meant to be lived. Do it now.

 

 

 

Stilettos

“Mom,” says Gracie. “I have an orchestra competition and I need black shoes with heels.”

Heels? I think. She can’t be old enough for heels, can she? There is no way. Just yesterday I was rocking her to sleep, picking out her clothes and teaching her to ride a bike. Heels? I am not ready for this! Heels means makeup, makeup means proms, and proms mean BOYS. Crap…not boys! Not yet! Not EVER!

An hour later we are headed for the store doing the joint mother/daughter thing to pick out her first pair of heels. As I drive a feel a pull in my gut warning me that I should just turn around and go home.

” I like these,” she says as she holds up a pair of 5-inch stilettos that any good hooker would covet.

OH HELL NO! explodes like white lightning throughout my feeble brain. My mother’s words of “No daughter of mine…” come flooding back to me and trip over my tongue on the way out of my mouth.

I feel compelled right here and now, in the middle of the shoe department, to the have “the talk” about what is appropriate and what is not at her age. As I drone on she grimaces, “oh moms” and rolls her eyes more times than I care to count but I think my point has been well taken until she whines…

“I’m not a little girl”

“You’re not twenty-five either nor do you have a job and you don’t earn your own money to buy the things that you want.”

“Of course I don’t have a job,” she shoots back. “I am only 12! But if I did I would be buying those shoes!” her hands gently caressing the soft black velvet.

I take this as a cue to hold up a pair of ballet flats figuring if I show her THESE, knowing she likes THOSE, perhaps we can find a compromise somewhere in this warehouse of shoes.

Gracie holds up a different pair with four-inch heels that climb up her legs like a vine on a tree.

“How about these?” she says with a smile that looks more like a dare.

“How about not.”

And so it goes until she shows me the 10th pair with heels that shoot you up towards the sky.

“Honey,” I ask. “Why is it that you are drawn to shoes with such high heels?”

“Come on mom, think about it. I am the shortest one in my class and on the diving team. No one sees me. Just once I want to look up at someone instead of them looking down on me.”

Finally, I get it. Her need for height is a need for being seen. For being like everyone else, in a world where Asians are often not seen nor heard. For being “looked at” instead of being invisible.

I give her a squeeze and suggest we find something that will give her lift but not up to the clouds. We finally settle on a two-inch inch wedge that gives her a little extra notice but not in that over-the-top teenage way.

As we drive home we talk about girl things. Things I once understood but don’t quite get now. Things I have forgotten as the years have rolled by. Big feelings that once threatened to overtake me when I was her age.

“Mom,” Gracie says. “I have a confession. I didn’t really want those big heels. I just wanted to see what you would let me get away with.”

“Really? Why would you do that?”

“Geez mom, I’m almost a teen. I have to start pushing the boundaries someday you know.”

I laugh and I know that she does, but I hope she will wait just a little bit longer before the boundaries are pushed all the way to Siberia. For the truth is it isn’t the boundaries that worry me it is the fact that she is my baby and there is a small part of me, in a world that moves too fast, that wants her to remain that way forever.

Pitter Patter of Little Feet

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Today after a wonderful day in the Florida Keys I arrived back at the hotel and saw my sweet grand babies. My daughter, Noele, drove 10 hours with a three-year-old and an almost two-year-old in the back of her car. She endured much crying, fighting, and a MAJOR puking incident just so she could see us again. Somehow, with all the mistakes we made as parents she turned out just right despite our good intentions. How that happened I will never know.

From the time she was a tween this mother/daughter team could always find something to argue about. Things like… which side of the toast is the correct side to butter, whether being a strict vegan was taking things to the extreme, and if boys were allowed to be in her room. Much to my dismay while I knew I loved her deeply, I didn’t like her  much and our relationship didn’t match the Brady Bunch ideal swimming around in my head.  I would see mothers (Carol) and daughters (Marcia) walking the malls together and it would pull at my heart. Seeing teens and their mothers enjoying a movie together hurt like hell. And those mothers who ran the Booster Club with their kids helping along side them…I knew it was never going to happen.

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B hunkered down. As a man who avoids conflict at all costs, having two of the women he loved most in the world living in a war zone with him serving as a NATO soldier trying to broker a peace deal was not an easy task. He never could understand all the slammed doors and word grenades being flung from one side of the house to the other and he visibly cringed when skirmishes erupted.

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When Noele was fifteen I never envisioned that we would have any sort of relationship until she kicked my casket into the ground. In fact, my biggest hope was that she would graduate early so she could move out of the house sooner and after a year away as an international exchange student, she returned home more stubborn and determined to ignore anything thing we had to say. And who could blame her? She tasted freedom for a year and wanted even more. The parental role I once relished became a nightmare and a battle of wills ensued in which both of us suffered heavy losses. Recovery seemed remote.

But then it happened. One day she grew up and into her own woman. It took a while and a first child for that to happen. The birth of my granddaughter brought several miracles along with her. No longer at odds with each other our commonalities soon surfaced and within those we found mutual respect and a deep well filled with love that was once bone dry.

These days we live at opposite ends of the country. We SKYPE almost daily so we can share tidbits of our daily lives and so that her kids “know” their Grammy and Papa. Noele willingly comes and takes care of her own children plus her brothers and sister so B and I can travel to far-flung places. I can’t imagine someone I would rather invest in a friendship with than my daughter. She values family, is generous with her time and is a good all-around person who has made me proud.

Tomorrow I will wake up with little ones running into my arms again. Squishy hugs and wet kisses will fill my day. We will squirm together, laugh together, and make real- life memories together. And its all because of her…my daughter…a once formidable foe who is now one of my best friends.

 

The Importance Of Protest

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Today I was amazed at the number of women who were upset and “appalled” at the women who gathered together to march and show solidarity for women and the issues that touch their lives.

One of the proudest moments of my life was marching with the Mothers Of The Plaza de Mayo. Marching can do incredible and meaningful things, correct wrongs, and bring important issues to the forefront…this is an example of why.

Between 1976 and 1983 thousands of young people went missing under the military dictatorship in Buenos Aires. Nothing was able to stop this until a group of very brave women began to march every Thursday seeking answers to the fate of their loved ones. They marched in defiance of their government’s state terrorism meant to silence all opposition and those asking questions/demanding answers. It was their unceasing presence that finally helped lead to the downfall of a government that murdered approximately 30,000 people.

Today these same mothers can still be found, in wheelchairs and on crutches refusing to let their voices be silenced. They may not have made a difference to their lost children but they saved the lives of thousands more. That was one of my proudest days…marching with these brave and determined women.

I hope that today was one of your proudest days as you marched in unity all over the world. (Now that was a surprise!) Be proud of yourselves. Pat yourselves on the back. You have joined woman all over the world whose protests have made a difference…sometimes it just takes a while to know exactly what that difference is.

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Seek And You Shall Find

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In a couple of weeks we will be leaving for South Korea. This is a trip which will take our three children back to their homeland. Back to a place where they will “look” like they belong but will not understand the language nor the customs that an individual would who had lived there for their entire life. This will be a trip, unlike the last time, where they will be able to understand the ping-pong looks and stares that people will inevitably give us as they size us up as a family; most smiling but some frowning; as they label our children different from “them.” It’s a trip where they will be in the majority, while we, their caucasian parents, will be in the minority; a role reversal that they can see occur right in front of them with their own two eyes…one which may have epic implications.

I hope that my kids will see the beauty of their first country and begin to feel pride in themselves as Korean-Americans. I hope that the anxiety of autism will not overtake my sons as we walk through crowded markets and experience new ways of doing things. I hope that these amazing children will become stronger in their belief that we humans are essentially all the same and that we share many of the same hopes and dreams as everyone else on the planet so we must treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. And I hope that they find the things that they are looking for, both big and small, that will fill the holes in their hearts that adoption itself creates.

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My wish for them is that they realize that the circumstances of their birth are just that…circumstances… that have nothing to do with them and that these circumstances do not determine whether they are “good” or “bad”  people. That they are who they are… not just due to their early experiences but mostly because of what they have put into themselves to create the work of art that they hang on the wall to show the world.

Korean…American…Californian…Autistic…Thoughtful…Creative… Intelligent…Giving…Athletic…Charming…Inquisitive…Happy…Caring…Interesting… all despite being raised by lovingly flawed parents.

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I hope Korea gives them the chance they deserve and I hope they give the same back to their Motherland. I hope the rich culture, the old stories, the ancient temples, the colorful folk songs and the flavorful food etch themselves into our children’s psyche so that they can reach for them in the future when they need a bit of understanding about who they are and who they can become. Because finding a bit more of yourself and what you are made of is a gift no matter where and when it happens.

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So my hope is that they find those gifts that will be abundant and ever-present as we tour their homeland. May they recognize what it is they need to witness and take it away for themselves and their souls. And may they find these gifts as freely as one finds shells laying on a sandy beach, so that they may they gather them up in their pockets and examine them on another day as they are needed throughout their lives.

Find what you need my sweet children, be happy, and be free!

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Sit Still

It’s Sunday. B is out hiking in the mountains with Paul while I put on 8,500 steps talking and walking around the block. Gracie is sitting here whining at me, “I’m bored. There is nothing to do!” while Andre keeps raiding the refrigerator.

Me? Working on a puzzle and refusing to go anywhere at all. I don’t want to move after being on the go constantly last week . I want to sit in the stillness of the day and observe, ask questions and just enjoy what we have created together. But pressure is being put on me by the kids to leave the house…go food shopping or somewhere fun. You are wasting your time trying to convince me for its not happening today unless you are losing blood in vast quantities. And maybe not even then.

I have no idea how this generation of kids is going to survive when they are adults. Without 24/7 entertainment I suspect they will perish should the time come when there is a power outage that lasts over one hour. Having to always be entertained is a great burden and trying to fill it will be an exhausting never-ending effort when they are adults. In addition, they will have to make a ton of money to pay for their entertainment addiction. Frankly, illegal drugs would cost them less.

And so my sweet kidlets , I just want you to know I am doing you a favor by trying to break this chain of constant on-demand entertainment. Let’s relax… do nothing… or lets try some mediation. Let’s just zen out together doing something together that costs nothing. Believe it or not, we can just sit in the stillness with one another and we will be just fine. Who knows, you may just learn to appreciate the qualities that make us…us. And that would be mighty fine entertainment.

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