Friday, January 28, 2011

Portable Potty: A Creative Use

As I type this morning, it's snowing again.  We've had a very snowy week here, which means school delays and cancellations, wild children, and roller-coaster emotions.

Dave and I have often said that the snow seems to bring out the best and the worst in our neighbors, and in us too!  Living on a very busy, 3-lane street in a small city, we are a diverse bunch.  We span generations, cultures, colors, and economics.  When it snows, the neighbors that we haven't seen for weeks emerge from warm homes to shovel porches and sidewalks.  Sometimes, it seems that we all even race to help each other.  Dave loves to get out in the snowy mess, as it gives him a guaranteed bonding experience with others on our block.  Conversely, when it snows, tensions can run high because there is nowhere to put the snow.  Sidewalks need to be cleared, and cars need to be dug out, and this process always requires creativity in discovering new ways to deal with our snow problem.  So the snow goes into large piles on the street or alleyways or onto porches.  Desperation leads us to shovel snow into the street. 

Once I manage to dig myself out and anticipate opportunities to leave the house, there is the lingering question about whether "my" parking space -- the parking space that took me an hour to shape, and required all that arm strength and quick thinking, and the source of my very sore back -- will still be available when I arrive home.  This fear leads to some irrational thoughts about neighbors or strangers who may take my space.  After all, they have no idea how hard it was to dig myself out, or even worse, they do have a clue, but they don't care (see...irrational!).  This thinking leaves me feeling hesitant to go anywhere.

I could put a chair in my parking space to ensure that it will still be there when I get back.  I always thought that was an unfriendly practice until I broke down and did it myself last winter.  The 3 major snows and 2 very young children made me do it.  A side note: it's not only chairs that people use to reserve their spaces.  I've seen orange cones, buckets, and trash cans too.  Today I stepped outside and noticed that my neighbor is currently using a hospital-type portable toilet to reserve his space!

As I'm making plans for the day, I realize that this fear, the fear of losing my space, is rising up.  It is so strong that it is starting to impact decisions concerning how I will spend my time today.  Don't we do this a lot?  We try to hold on to things, even things that aren't really ours.  We're afraid of loss.  But in the holding on, in the grabbing and guarding, we sometimes lose the better thing, the more significant experience.  And our holding on can impact others too.  Maybe someone else needs my parking space -- or my money, my time, my job, my possessions -- more than I do.  And maybe I would experience more joy in sharing, in letting go of the strong grip, in the release of what I think is mine.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

around and around and around...

I know this probably sounds strange, but lately, I've been doing some thinking about the water cycle.  Like really thinking about it.  All of the thinking that's going on may be the result of reading too many kids' books about water, ones like A Drop of Water by Walter Wick, and The Snowflake: A Water Cycle Story by Neil Waldman.

"What other processes in our world are cyclical?"
"Is is truly possible that I could be washing my face with the same water that Abraham Lincoln drank on a hot summer's day?"
"How are the melting glaciers impacting the water cycle?"

This curiosity stirs a desire to research, leading to new discoveries.  Wonder and amazement....and then some new questions...and more curiosity and research and discoveries.

The rumination, or cyclical thinking, about water is in conflict with the other introspection going on up there-that introspection often negative, critical, and fearful.

Can I use curiosity and wonder, among other things, to destroy my default patterns of thought?   

Back to the water cycle, check out Bill Nye the Science Guy's music video.  Don't miss the dancing scuba diver...wish I could move like that! 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow-running and Related Reflections

The day started with a welcome, early morning phone message delivering good news-the school year's first snow delay.  At our house, these messages result in smiles, cheers, or sighs of relief.  Dave would get some additional, much-needed sleep.  And I would get to run in the snow.  I love running in the snow, so I layered on my clothes and laced up my shoes, feeling grateful for this unexpected gift.  Lately, running has felt like a chore-just another task to check off of my to-do list, just something I do to keep from feeling guilty and gaining weight.  This morning was different.

I shuffled down the quiet streets, reflecting on my fascination with snow-running.  Even though I dislike the cold, I love the snow.  Like a soft, comfy blanket with nourishing powers, the snow dances fluidly toward the earth and covers us.  It makes us clean.  It makes us quiet.  It makes us calm.  The snow grants us an excuse to slow down and to find joy in simple things.  It causes us to pause and to see beauty.

When I run in the snow, I am at peace.

When I run in the snow, I often marvel over the fact that no two snowflakes are alike.  Sometimes, that marveling leads to thoughts of Snowflake Bentley and then smiles and even giggles as I remember how I first heard about him.  It was several winters ago, when Dave was still a bachelor and was living with his friend Tim.  Tim told us a story of this farmer-man who lived in New England and was passionate, even obsessed, with snowflakes.  Wilson Bentley's claim to fame is that he was the first to theorize that no two snowflakes are alike, based on thousands of pictures and observations that he made about snowflakes during many a snowy winter in Vermont.  After Tim told us the history of Mr. Bentley, which already seemed a little far-fetched to us, he then went a little further and insisted that he was related to him.  Knowing Tim, we had to believe that he was just joking and having a good time.  I'm not sure that we gave Snowflake Bentley another passing thought, at least until Tim and Erin named their second child after him.

Then we started to believe Tim, and after some research, found that the tale that Tim told of his famous relative is actually true.  Amazing-a boy is fascinated with the snow as he grows up on a farm.  He (and his family) sacrifice to allow him to pursue his passion.  He rigs up his own contraption to take photos of the snow crystals and begins to chronicle his findings.  People in his hometown think he's crazy.  But scientists around the world begin to believe him and acknowledge his great contribution to science.  In this article, Bentley calls himself the preserver.  He helps people to understand and appreciate the intricate beauty and design of a snowflake-that each one is different based on several different factors impacting its creation.  This kind of beauty is all around us-we just need to take the some time to study our surroundings.  Beauty takes time.

As the story goes, Snowflake Bentley died when he contracted pneumonia after a long walk during a blizzard.  Here's to hoping we can honor his memory by pointing others toward that which is beautiful today.

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated., When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind."

-Wilson A. "Snowflake" Bentley, 1925

Monday, January 3, 2011


The first hint of light through the roof window wakes me.  I roll over and check the clock.  6:56-nearly an hour later than I intended to wake up.  I'm already behind.  The battle inside begins.  My mind's insistence that it's time to get something accomplished takes on my body's weariness and propensity to give in and go back to sleep.  After all, I've already pretty much slept through my early morning window of time to do something productive (read, pray, run, etc.); what's 10 more minutes?

My mind wins out.  I go downstairs and try to put myself together in the bathroom.  I creep, I slip, I stay in the dark.  The bathroom is next to my children's bedroom, and I don't want them to hear me or see me.  My son walks into the unlit bathroom.  He announces that he's ready to start his day, and walks toward the stairway.  Little sister cries because her partner and protector has left the room.  I give in and carry her downstairs.  The onslaught of questions and requests begins.  It's 7:10, and I already feel as though I've lost today's battles.  I feel beaten-down, defeated.

Well-acquainted with these feelings of defeat, I'm upset that this morning isn't going as planned.  But I think it's more than just this morning's losses that weigh heavily on my body and my mind.  And it's more than just this morning that hasn't gone as planned.  Maybe that's why my son's request for a second breakfast evokes an angry response.  I'm not happy, and I'm honestly not sure how to fix myself this time.  I feel confused and tired and ashamed.  I have everything a girl could want: a handsome and loving husband, two healthy and beautiful children, a warm home, plentiful food and clothing.  Why do I feel this way?  Where did I go wrong, and how do I get back on the right path?

I want a formula.  An engineer by training, I'm comfortable with questions that have definitive answers, with problems that can be remedied.  I've tried what I know to do, but my efforts to fix myself (i.e. if I can just find the right fill-in-the-blank, then I will be happy) aren't working this time.  I know I should be grateful for this opportunity to depend on God.  But honestly, most days I'd rather depend on myself.

I am reminded of some promises in Isaiah 35: that those with fearful hearts have reason to have courage, that the voiceless will break into song, that streams will flow in the desert, that it's impossible to get lost on God's road.  The battle may not be pretty, but I'm hoping these promises will help me to rise throw off my burdens and enemies, to be victorious in today's fights.

 1-2 Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
   a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
   Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God's resplendent glory, fully on display.
   God awesome, God majestic.
 3-4Energize the limp hands,
   strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
   "Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
   on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
   He's on his way! He'll save you!"
 5-7Blind eyes will be opened,
   deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
   the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
   streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
   thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
   and barren grasslands flourish richly.
 8-10There will be a highway
   called the Holy Road.
No one rude or rebellious
   is permitted on this road.
It's for God's people exclusively—
   impossible to get lost on this road.
   Not even fools can get lost on it.
No lions on this road,
   no dangerous wild animals—
Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening.
   Only the redeemed will walk on it.
The people God has ransomed
   will come back on this road.
They'll sing as they make their way home to Zion,
   unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,
Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness
   as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night. (Isaiah 35:1-10, The Message)