Monday, March 28, 2005

3/28/05 RM Newsletter: Shakin' Things Up

Today's Quote: "Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we own to the play of the imagination is incalculable." Carl Jung

It started a couple months ago. I spotted a chandelier from a dozen feet away at one of my favorite shops downtown. Charmed immediately, my mind raced on how I could possibly talk Ernie into buying it for me—or even worse, how I could sneak it home and surprise (no…shock) him with it later. Made of black rod-iron—with a primitive brass rooster suspended between a couple of curlicued edges, it “spoke to me” and I knew I had to find a place for it in my home. Trouble was: it was non-electrified. Candles only. While this certainly added to its innate charm—for me anyway—I knew that it’d be a hard sell for my husband. That it’d be the deal-breaker. Too impractical. Too unnecessary. Too French.

I kept my eye on it, visiting the shop every week or so to be sure no one had bought “my” chandelier. When it went on “clearance” ten days before my birthday, I practically jumped out of my skin. I knew a New York dealer would snatch it up and re-sell it in the city for more than double, with the lucky buyer still feeling like she found the deal of the century.

When I not-so-subtlety informed Ernie that night—at his own birthday celebration—that I found what I wanted for my birthday, he retorted, with some annoyance, that it was highly inappropriate for me to talk about my materialistic desires while we were celebrating his big day. As (almost) always, he was right. I blew it.

Unbeknownst to me, Nick and Ernie strategized that week, and Nick went to the shop, bought the chandelier, had it wrapped, and hid it in our house until we celebrated my birthday the next week. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been more delighted that this charming new addition was about to be a part of our home.

The chandelier sat on the floor of my dining room for the next four weeks. What with a seminar I had enrolled in taking up my Saturdays, with back-to-back business trips for Ernie, and with taxes due, blah blah blah….we didn’t have a spare minute to get around to hanging it (not to mention the fact that we had no idea where to put it.)

So I started walking around the house, trying to figure out where I would put my way-too-charming, way-too-impractical, way-too-French chandelier in my home. And when I did so, I realized that I needed to shake things up. That we needed to re-arrange furniture, re-distribute decorative accessories, and re-hang our artwork.

The arrival of spring generally has this effect on me. Fresh starts. Puppies. Bursting bulbs. Injections of sunshine and color. So it seemed perfectly reasonable to make sunrise on Easter morning our deadline. Getting my whole family on board, we mentally got psyched up to spend the weekend getting the house all shook up.

We went into attack mode. We sorted and sifted, re-shelved and re-shifted, re-hung and re-made. With drill in one hand and hammer in the other, we walked room to room, with eyes roaming for new arrangements, new furniture and art placements, and new uses for old things.

It took us awhile to figure out where to put the rooster chandelier. Purchased with strong magnetic attraction yet with no idea of where to hang it, we found one only by hoisting it up in several different rooms of the house. With trial and error, by re-doing and un-doing, we not only found a spot that, once hung, made it appear as if the house was practically built for this chandelier; we finished the bulk of the “shakin’ up job” at the same time that our bodies begged for beds. And when the sun rose on Easter morning, we woke up convinced that the shakin’ up was all worth it.

Life is all about shakin’ things up. If we don’t shake ‘em up voluntarily—finding something for the house or the body or the kids or the spouse; or taking the vacation; or bringing home the new pet—that requires re-arranging the status quo—it seems that life shakes things up for us. Whether we’re ready for the shakin’ up or not. Husbands change jobs. Kids go off to college. Toddlers discover the joy of running. Houses burn down. Best friends move. Loved ones get sick. All of these shake things up. Sometimes this leaves you thinking: “I was perfectly happy unshaken, thank you very much!”

And yet sometimes shakin’ things up is exactly what’s needed. Shakin’ up forces you out of your rut. It gets your creative juices flowing. It stretches your imagination and requires you to “get out of your brain” (as I kept repeating to Ernie as we scratched our heads over the chandelier thing).

As spring fever starts grabbing you by the throat, try getting mentally—and physically—prepared for the shakin’ up that life will undoubtedly be bringing your way. Keep your eyes wide open for the infinite creative possibilities that living a “shakin’ up life” affords.

Despite the way that life has shakin’ up our world—what with it turning it upside down and standing on its head—it’s keeping us on our toes. Alert and ever ready. With expectant optimism for God’s best. Each day. All the way.

Praying for blessings on your week! Start shakin’!


A Nick Note

Nick gave us another scare this week, with fever, shakes and
chills Tuesday night (after a rigorous session on the tennis
courts for varsity team tryouts) alerting us for the possibility
of infection and a trip to the ER at Yale Children's Hospital. He
wound up having a good night after all, and a trip to the doctor
Wednesday revealed good counts and the "go-ahead" for this
weekend's trip to the Regional Finals in Syracuse. With two of
his best buddies, a tank full of gas, and a couple of dollars in
their pockets, they traveled the four hours to the weekend of
their dreams.

Meanwhile, we have been opening dozens of cards and emails from
well-wishing readers all over the country. We know that you are
praying for his complete and total healing. We feel it! Thank you
so much for your many expressions of support. They have kept his
spirits high and those endorphins racing. As promised, weekly
updates will be forthcoming.


A Quick Note

I will be conducting a seminar: "Your Purse is the Clue to Your Personality" at St. Mark's Nursery School in New Canaan, CT on Tuesday, March 29 at 10:00 AM. Using research on the four personalities as developed by Florence Littauer, I will help young moms discern their own personality by taking a humorous look at how the purse one carries provides the clue to personality type. We'll also explore how different personalities impact the family dynamic. If you'd like me to present this seminar to your group or club, please give me a call: 203 438-7164, or send me an email:

Monday, March 21, 2005

3/21/05 RM Newsletter: Caught in the Angst

Today's Quote: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

Welcome, spring! It’s finally here…although you’d hardly know it in my neck of the woods. Freezing cold all day Sunday—with rain drizzles destroying plans for outside recreation and overnight snow flurries prohibiting the much-anticipated meltdown of lingering accumulation—it feels every bit as “winter” as it has for these last long several months. Yet because spring is officially here, I’m caught between the desire for celebrating its freshness and vitality, with the inescapable resignation that shoveling snow is, indeed, still part of our everyday reality.

Such is Holy Week. Caught in the angst between celebrating the Resurrection at Easter, yet feeling overpowered with remembrance of the grief of Good Friday, my internal struggle, as a Christian, is palpable.

Even though nature cannot hide the fact that, despite what the calendar claims, it is not quite ready for spring—bulbs still hide underground, after all—commercial forces ensure that we are fully enlivened with spring’s tokens: jelly beans, fluffy chicks, and furry bunnies abound! Spring’s vibrant-colored linens have replaced winter’s darkly-colored varieties at bed and bath stores; patio furniture has replaced fireplace grills at home improvement centers; and boxes trimmed in flowers and bunnies clad in cellophane have replaced all vestiges of Valentine’s Day chocolates at candy shops across the country.

I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a brief respite from the dreariness of our New England weather with an afternoon stroll through a local garden center on Sunday with a friend. The bunnies were out in full force; they’ve never looked cuter. What, with arms cradling flower-laden baskets, backpacks yielding carrots, and perfectly-held necks fashioning bonnets: they brought festivity to the day in unparalleled style. Standing next to wicker baskets overflowing with fresh hyacinths, pansies, daffodils and tulips, the mood signaled celebration, creation, and joy. Being a sucker for both fresh flowers and adorable bunnies; I couldn’t escape without both tucked securely in my bag. The visual—and olfactory—stimulations were practically intoxicating, and the leisurely stroll was “just what the doctor ordered.”

But it’s not about the bunnies. Even though they’ll take up inordinate amounts of tabletop real estate in my own home during these next few weeks, and as much as they lift me out of the doldrums of winter and into the sublime of spring: the fertility properties of bunnies (which brought them to the forefront of imaginative celebrations of generations before us in the first place) have little to do with the days ahead of us this week.

During Holy Week, we move—day by day—from sadness to enthusiasm. From the valley of darkness to the tunnel of light. We glide past struggle and hold onto hope. We endure suffering only to embrace healing.

Such is the power of the Resurrection. This most important day in the liturgical year for Christians around the world requires that we shift our attention to the supreme act of Jesus, our Christ. After remembering the agony on Good Friday, we celebrate the resurgent power of the Resurrection on Easter.

But it entails conflict.

I’ve been unusually conflicted lately. Perhaps it’s because it’s just that time of year; the Lenten season typically has this effect on me. Perhaps it’s because our son is battling a life-threatening disease; my equilibrium is thrown off, what with long treks to the chemo clinic and my house falling to pieces in my absence. Perhaps it’s because I have too many dangling threads hanging over my head; unanswered questions can, indeed, tangle the synapses.

We’re supposed to be unusually conflicted during Holy Week. We’re supposed to both confront sorrow and celebrate victory. We’re supposed to both share in Christ’s struggle and find joy in His saving grace.

Yet most of us despise conflict, and aggressively seek ways to escape its discomfort.

However tempting it is to focus your energies all week on Easter Sunday: on resurrection, renewal, and celebration; …allow yourself time to sort out the conflict of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. To focus on the agony. For as you grow more fully aware of the sacrifice that Jesus made on your behalf, you will gain immeasurable joy at the power of the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection which gives us light and power in our lives. It provides us with the ever-present realization of God in our lives, this day as much as that day two thousand years ago. It is the Resurrection which provides the power that drives and the power that saves.

But it came with a price.

So go on decorating with bunnies and splurging on flowers; indulging on marshmallow chicks and dark chocolate eggs. Easter is a time for celebration, to be sure. But allow yourself—this week—to internalize the conflict of the cross. Holy Week is one time of year where your internal struggle should be palpable. When you should be caught in the angst. For we cannot get to Easter, after all, without coming to grips with Good Friday.



A Nick Note

Nick endured two days of chemo this week to emerge feeling good, albeit a little bit drained. Never complaining, never fussing: he has been a champion! He'll try out for the varsity tennis team at his high school today, following doctor's orders--as well as his own desire--to get and keep those endorphins swirling throughout his healing body! As always, we covet your prayers for his complete and total healing.


A Quick Note

Need a shot in the arm to "keep on keepin' on?" Take Arnold Schwarzenegger's advice (with a Rocket Mom twist) by reading my recent article, "It's All About Reps." Copy and paste the following link in your browser window:

Monday, March 14, 2005

3/14/05 RM Newsletter: Unexpected Turbulence

Today’s Quote: "The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others." Albert Schweitzer

It’s been a tough week. I learned of a dear friend’s melanoma only to find out a couple days later that another friend lost a baby at twenty-three weeks into the pregnancy. Little Katie, the twenty-two month-old darling I’ve fallen in love with at the chemo clinic, found herself back at Yale Children’s Hospital for three days (she’s fine now); and Nick developed fever Friday night that nearly sent us there, too. All day Saturday, my stomach stayed in my throat and my heart hung heavily in my chest, while my mind swung rapidly into overdrive, calculating best and worst case scenarios for those I hold dear.

Unexpected turbulence.

You’ve no doubt been there, too. You find yourself sailing along through life—perhaps pinching yourself that life is being so good to you, with everything seemingly going your way—only to find yourself realizing the very next moment that something is terribly, horribly wrong. Happy and confident one moment, you’re absolutely miserable the next.

And yet we learn, as we age, that this is exactly how life works. That it ebbs and flows. Certainly, some of us seem to endure more suffering than do others. I’ve observed families who appear—on the outside—to live extraordinarily charmed lives. They never appear to suffer. And yet others seem to hit every major bump in the road, unable to enjoy even one full year of smooth cruising without being jostled around by one pothole or another, even though they desperately yearn for an uneventful journey through life.

As we Christians honor this season of Lent and prepare for Passion Palm Sunday, we remember the turbulence that Jesus faced. Riding into town on a donkey to the ebullient chants of the townspeople—they heralded his arrival waving palm branches and singing with excitement and joy: “Hosannah! Hosannah to the Highest!” Little did they know of His impending encounter with turbulence of unparallelled proportion. Only He knew, as it was foretold by prophecy and revealed to Him through His Father.

While attending a seminar yesterday, my colleagues and I played a Lenten game using two eggs: one hard-boiled and one raw. The leader passed both eggs around the room and asked us to figure out which was which. We had the typical reaction: we shook them (raw eggs have an air pocket so supposedly you can feel this once shaken); we spun them (hard-boiled eggs spin more sluggishly); we tried to weigh them as if on a balance. Once we settled on which was which, the instructor took the one we deemed as “raw” and smacked it over a bowl, while we braced ourselves for the mess that was to come.

After a loud smack, it was discovered that the egg was empty.

My initial reaction: “I’ve been bamboozled!!!” I was told it could be hard-boiled or raw. We were not told of a “door number three.” I felt cheated. Denied a fair shot at the correct answer.

Ahhh. Such is suffering. We feel cheated. Denied. We want to level the playing field. And quickly! We set ourselves up for two options but never entertain life’s “door number three’s.”

This is precisely what happened to Mary when she visited the empty tomb of Christ. (But that’s an Easter story and I’m getting ahead of myself….)

I couldn’t help but reflect on “the egg game” as it related to the events that played out in my week. I know you can relate, too: Going through life getting comfortable with doors one and two. And then life hands you “door number three.” Unexpected turbulence. No way to prepare for it. It never entered your radar screen. It just popped onto it one day out of nowhere. When Nick was feeling overly fatigued, we figured he had mononucleosis or Lyme disease. Doors one or two. But life opened door number three: leukemia. Unexpected turbulence, indeed.

When unexpected turbulence hits you—or someone you love—with full force, drop to your knees. Fold up your hands and bow your head and lift up your loved ones in prayer. Even if you do not yet have faith in prayer’s power. It remains the overwhelming response by most people when faced with life’s door number three’s. I have believed in the power of prayer since I was a child. As my faith has grown, I have come to grasp its miraculous power! I confess: we need your prayers. We feel your prayers. We take great comfort knowing that people on five continents pray regularly for Nick, intercessing on his behalf.

Sometimes we believe that since all wounds are healed with time, that in the meantime there is really nothing we can do to help family and friends—or complete strangers!—deal with the surprise behind door number three. But nothing could be further from the truth. When unexpected turbulence hits someone in your circle of concern, you can pray. You can send a handwritten note. Rare treasures that they are in this email universe of ours, I save almost every one I receive. I can assure you: during our crisis with Nick, handwritten notes have elevated days filled with fear to ones full of hope. Flowers and food work, too. Remember, love is a verb! (See my the archived “Love is a Verb” Newsletter). Act on your instinct to tangibly express concern and love. Trust me: your small act of charity will prove exactly the right touch. Nicholas Chamfort wrote: “In great affairs, men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small things, they show themselves as they are."

I’ll be praying blessings on your week!


A Nick Note

Nick enjoyed a relatively comfortable week only to develop fever Friday night. It hovered near the mark that requires an immediate visit to Yale Children’s Hospital for a mandatory 48-hour stay. With close monitoring and much prayer on his behalf, his temperature fell below that level and we were spared a hospital ordeal. He’s taken the weekend easy and is grateful for March Madness to keep his mind occupied. Meanwhile, all three of our other kids are fighting colds, coughs, pink eye, or some combination of those three. Of course, this presents a threat to Nick, as he is extremely immune-compromised. Please keep our family in your prayers.

Monday, March 07, 2005

3/07/05 RM Newsletter: Own the Net

Today's Quote: "Thank God every day when you get up that you have something to do that day which must be done whether you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do your best will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues, which the idle
will never know." Basil Carpenter

When I took up the game of tennis about eight years ago, it required years of private lessons and clinics in order to learn--in my forties--a totally new skill set. Most of my girlfriends, particularly those raised in the south, had picked up this sport in their childhood. And because I felt like I was missing out on a lot of fun (southern social life practically depended on the sport), I decided it was as good a time as any to get in there and give it a "go." Yet as my husband lovingly reminded me during those angst-filled early days: "You're probably the only forty-year-old woman in Kentucky who has never picked up a racket." Thanks, honey. I needed that. Those early days were filled with frustration at my lack of ability to hit the ball with any consistency; at my immature grasp of strategy; and of the fact that I was the lowest common denominator for the sport. To call this beginning period a humbling experience would be understatement.

One of my coaches along the way drilled into my head that when you're at the net, you "own the net." This charming little piece of advice has always stayed with me. Now, as a doubles player most of the time, I find myself silently reciting it--sometimes over and over again--when I take my turn at the net.

Particularly in very competitive games, I remind myself of the importance of owning the net when it's my turn to play it. Being in "ready position" with my racket, my hands, and my knees. Going for poaches when possible (the weakest part of my game);
anticipating where the opponent will return the ball; aiming for obnoxious angles.

Excusing the analogy for those of you who do not play the game (I hate when golfers do this to me!) the application to home life is particularly helpful. As I was cleaning up messes all week long, for some reason, the "own the net" phrase kept popping into my head. And I found myself becoming somewhat reassured by it as I
went through the mundane motions of my days. So I'm hoping that it will help you, too.

For example, when I finally attacked the four stacks of papers on my kitchen desk (a totally separate entity than my work desk, my kitchen desk is the catch-all for school papers, medical bills,invitations, coupons, theater tickets, and kid stuff), I reminded myself to "own the net." This messy area of the house is a physical space that I need to "own" whether I like it or not. Being a free-spirited artsy type, I despise all things administrative. (Seriously, I get chest pains even thinking about
doing paperwork). Spending Friday afternoon going through our son's enormous medical bills--the insurance companies don't understand how to configure bills that make sense to the customer!--was not exactly my cup of tea. But someone had to do it, and
that someone was me. I had to take ownership and deal with it. I had to own the net. And so I turned on my favorite classical music station on the stereo, made myself a great cup of coffee, and spent five hours going through the tedious task of dealing
with, pitching, paying, and filing the awful mess on my desk. (It was really ugly.) Once done, I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction. I owned the net.

Do you ever get the laundry room blues? You know: you walk into the area and it's one stain after another. A pile of whites next to an even larger pile of darks. Add to the mix a "snow day": wet mittens, wet socks, wet towels, and dripping boots are wonderful little accoutrements of northern living. An extra load or two never turns me on, but up here in New England, I need to get used to it. I need to own the net in my laundry room...or it will own me! So rather than rolling my eyeballs and stomping my foot, I remind myself to just own it. To just start doing it before it
gets out of control. To make a game out of separating the pinks from the reds and the jeans from the towels. For tossing the frozen outerwear into the dryer before it's too late. When things get really awful--like they did for me the other night when I walked into my laundry room to see a handwritten note by my thirteen-year-
old daughter, pinned to the brand new polo shirt that she bought with her own money, that read: "EMERGENCY!!! Get this stain out tonight so I can wear it tomorrow!" right next to the chocolate stain that resulted from an enthusiastically-mixed batch of birthday brownies she made for a friend of Nick's--I needed some dark chocolate myself just to get though this newly-discovered crisis. (Never hesitate to pop chocolate into your mouth before any laundry room chores by the way.) Whatever, own the net there, too. I'm sure it's part of your everyday reality whether you want
it to be or not.

Ditto for chauffeuring your kiddies around town. Huge potential for boredom and battle fatigue, huh? Own the net. Put a favorite CD in the stereo, use the time to teach an object lesson, or just let them vent about the problems in their little worlds and put on your listening cap.

Same thing for that nightly bubble bath ritual. Surely you have the drill down pat by now. But sometimes those extra puddles on the floor and the escaping rubber duckies just push you right over the edge. So sing a silly song as you wrap your freshly scrubbed babe in his favorite hooded towel and own the net. I used to sing the "King Farouk" song, bundling my kids into hooded-towels-turned-coronation-robes. I sang a goofy song every time I wrapped them up. The sometimes exhausting ritual (I was usually worn out by bath time) maintained some sense of charm as long as I could keep good cheer...and own the net. Those kiddie bubble baths are long gone now, yet my teens spend more time in the bathroom than I could have ever imagined (or remembered spending myself). And teach your older kids to own the net, too, by showing them how to scrub a sink, wipe down a shower stall, and spritz the mirrors.

Owning the net means everything from getting your kids off to the right start in the morning with a healthy breakfast to ensuring healthy lunchboxes to forcing them to bed on time to disciplining them when they break curfew. It means shopping for new clothes when they need them and removing stains when they make them. It means sweeping crumbs off your kitchen floor and cleaning cobwebs off your front door. It means sewing on the buttons when they fall off and stitching up the seams when they rip apart. It means taking care of the myriad mundane details that can either plague
us or inspire us as we work the front line.

Owning the net also means consciously infusing your rooms with beauty, instead of believing that "beauty happens." It means looking for ways to add color and texture, pattern and symmetry, and flowers and sunshine to the corners of your world. To me, it means stitching needlepoint pillows and reproduction samplers. Hooking folk art rugs and painting in oils. Owning the net at home requires it to not only have all systems up and running smoothly; it means having them oiled with beauty and charm.

As you go through the motions of your day--understanding full well that some of them will be "funner" than others--remind yourself to own the net. It goes with the territory. And, if truth be told, we recognize--be it through battle fatigue or
through unexpected joy--that it's all territory which we feel particularly privileged to claim.

And as you gain proficiency in this thing we call motherhood, you'll be surprised to find that owning the net comes pretty naturally after awhile. Your hands, arms and legs will be in ready position, you'll be on the lookout for oncoming balls, and
you'll even be able to hit obnoxious angles.




A Nick Note

Nick starts another couple days of chemo today, having a break last week. Monday and Tuesday should hold some pretty brutal treatments. Please keep him in your prayers. We pray daily for his complete and total physical healing. He continues to receive
cards from many readers of this newsletter, many from folks he's never even met! It warms our hearts to know that he is enveloped by a canopy of intercession on his behalf! To those of you who continue to hold him tight, thank you!