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Please don't let me screw them up.

I overthink nearly every aspect of my life--mostly my mothering. It's overwhelming and scary to have the ability to screw up three wonderful people God has placed in my really incapable hands. People have commented favorably on mine and Chloe's relationship. And that both humbles and amazes me. I can't take credit for our relationship; it is "but for the grace of God." I mean, my whole life is, but Chloe who transitioned from my treasured baby to my very best friend; well, she is just a brilliant shining example of God's grace in my life.

So brilliant that if I could hang up my mothering hat when she went to college, Brad Bell and I could exchange high fives and begin redecorating our empty nest. Alas, there are these other two children whose lives I can still potentially ruin.

I will readily admit, that I think I'm a better girl mom. I like to shop and do makeup and girly stuff. I don't dislike sports, but I will pick Cosmo over Sports Illustrated an…

It could have been my baby

I’ve carefully avoided news coverage and discussions of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Tragedies of this magnitude are completely debilitating to me. Unfortunately, there’s really no avoiding it. Talking with a friend, she mentioned how sad she was when she looked in her closet and saw her kids gifts piled up, and her daughter’s little velvet Christmas dress. That made me think of how many little velvet Christmas dresses won’t get worn, or worse yet, will get worn in a casket. 
Nearly everyone is affected by this in one way or another, but those of us who have 6-year-olds may feel slightly more empathy and nausea. I imagine my teeny-tiny girl in her classroom with her friends and her teacher, laughing, smiling, learning…I can’t imagine what a bullet from a hunting rifle would do to her itty bitty body. I can’t imagine hearing on the news that a massacre occurred at her school. I can’t imagine trying to pick up my life and go on, and my heart breaks at the sadness, the helplessness that the…

What's in Your Coffee?

Every once in awhile, something really amazing happens. Last week, that amazing thing happened to me. SheSpeaks sent me two bottles of Torani flavored syrups, asked me to try them and blog about them. A-MA-ZING. Come up with a recipe, they said. I say: Go ahead and send me an advance because I have got a whole book. Umm, @DouglasGarasic, can I get a title?

Seriously, for the past week, I have been living out my dream of being a Starbucks barista in my own kitchen. "You know what would be good in that hot chocolate? Some Torani Salted Caramel Syrup!" "Coffee? Oh, wait, how about some Torani Peppermint Syrup? Mmmm, we'll make it a peppermint latte!" My kids, who are equally easily amused, are enjoying their fabulous coffee house cocoas, but my black coffee husband is missing out.

I have to admit that as much as I wanted to love it, I've been disappointed with every Salted Caramel concoction I've tried. Until now. I cannot get enough of the Torani Salted C…

I'm a Mess.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Again today, I felt our pastor spoke directly to me. It's a gift he has--I realize, after discussing with other people at our church who have also felt singled out. It's kind of creepy. Anyway, today's topic was the condition of our hearts. How God doesn't care if you are carrying a Louis Vuitton bag or a garbage bag, or if you have $100 shoes or holes in your soles. He isn't impressed by the airs people put on. He cares about our hearts. So, if we feed the starv…

I heard the still small voice

In the past few months, I have really been trying to spend more time with God. To achieve this, I get up an hour earlier in order to read several devotions and a couple chapters in the Bible. I started several months ago reading the Old Testament. Now, my Bible group is studying Ephesians which is extremely uplifting after being bogged down in rules and numbers and tribes and sacrifices for months.

Along with my reading, I've been writing out my prayers and free-writing. Free-writing is really just praying, closing my eyes, leaving my hands on the keyboard and letting whatever is in my head come out through my hands. After 15 minutes or so, I read, or try to read, what I've typed. Sometimes it is pure nonsense. Sometimes though there is a little nugget of something meaning full. The other day I must have had a song stuck in my head because I typed, "By His wounds we are healed." If you think I'm crazy, you might want to stop now. It's about to get crazier.

L…

Fabulous at 40...or F$%k you, 40

I haven't really thought a whole lot about turning 40. I have a few more months to overthink the heck out of it anyway. And, while I haven't really stressed much about it, lately, it keeps getting thrown in my face. I've been reading and following a lot more bloggers who share a common link: They are all right about my age: 39. These lovely ladies are smart, witty, uproariously funny, sarcastic, and dealing with many of the same issues as I am. Not only are they the type of woman I aspire to be, but they are also the types of women I'd like to sit around with and drink wine.

So add to that the fact that one of my best friends is celebrating a milestone birthday in a few weeks. We celebrated our last milestone birthday shortly after we became friends. Now, we've been friends for more than 10 years, and are facing yet another one. Seems like 30 and 50 were sexier than 40 and 60, but time marches on. Back when I was younger and sexier, I set out some rules for myself …

Guilt-Free

I am just going to preface this by saying I am in no way looking for sympathy. I love my life, my family, and feel very blessed even though I feel slightly overwhelmed today. In the past month, we moved Chloe to Pittsburgh and sent Lily to kindergarten. After a two-week reprieve, Peyton broke his arm, kicking off an ongoing ordeal of xrays and surgery and more xrays and doctor's appointments. Thankfully, P is good, his arm is healing, and his spirits are high.

Now, in between all our normal activities of work, school, dance, gymnastics, football--Peyton still wants to go to practices and games--and doctor's appointments in Akron, we are moving my mom into our house. This requires packing up my family of origin's home and locking the door on that chapter of life. Thankfully my sister has been vigilantly helping my mom pack because I have been little or no help. To thank her, my mom is giving her a lot of crap and referring to her as the "slave driver."

Normal rig…

Pampered Prince

My husband is a great guy. Top notch. He works hard, puts up with all kinds of crazy, doesn’t yell or even get worked up very much. He mows the lawn occasionally, takes out the garbage most of the time—he really fell short in August, but we’re not counting beans—and sometimes even wipes off the counters when I’m with one of our children at one of their events.
I shouldn’t complain about him. But I do. Occasionally. This is one of those occasions.
I know my in-laws, and I’ve known him since he was a teenager, so I know he was not deprived as a child. However, he has this really annoying habit of using, eating, drinking, slathering on, (insert your favorite action verb here) things that I have specifically bought for myself or the children.
Let’s just dive into specifics. I have very thick, wavy hair—read that as FRIZZY. So once in a great while I splurge on some ridiculously expensive conditioner or $25.00/ounce Moroccan oil that claims to miraculously remove frizz. It rarely works b…

Glitter

This past year, I've spent a lot of time whining and complaining about my oldest child going to college, my youngest child going to kindergarten, and my middle child and only son not letting me snuggle him in public anymore. Admittedly, I've been a downer. I write another blog--No More Bellyaching--that is aptly named for the lack of whining and complaining. But, I get paid to write that one. This one is mainly to empty garbage out of my cluttered mind so I can write the other one.

And with that marvelous introduction, we're off.

Last weekend, my best friend arrived from Florida. We have clandestine meetings a couple times a year, when she comes into town, to visit her family. She doesn't tell her grandparents--who live very close and expect her entire visit to be devoted to them--when she's arriving and then hides out with me for a few days. We spend these days doing mostly nothing, laughing, and spoiling my children. She has no children and refers to herself as m…

Slipping Through My Fingers

Everything makes me cry these days: pictures of my friend's new baby, my friends' kids' senior pictures, pictures of the homecoming dresses we won't be shopping for, back-to-school shopping, the list of things Chloe needs to bring next week to her dorm room. Everything. I cried all the way around Target last week picking out sheets and towels and laundry soap. It was a little bit embarrassing. I hope it gets better next week, but this week: I'm a mess.

It's funny how people who don't even really know me are hesitant to ask me how I'm doing because even they know I'm gonna cry. Seriously. I signed Lily up for dance, and the teacher, who had been Chloe's teacher as well, said very sympathetically, "So...how ya doing with the big day looming?" I've nearly perfected this really pathetic smiling-amidst-a-choked-back-sob response of, "I can't really talk about it."

Brad says I need to feel my feelings. I feel them, all rig…

Pretty is as pretty does

Sometimes kindness is just selfishness in a pretty dress. My dad used to say, "Pretty is as pretty does," which besides being a Peachism (my father's words of wisdom, usually borrowed from a tv show or movie, such as one of his favorites, "Take care of you," from Pretty Woman) didn't make much sense to me when I was young. Now, I see examples of that quite a bit. Beautiful people doing ugly things. Good people doing bad things. Friends and family gossiping about each other. Christians taking the Bible out of context to spread hate.

A friend of mine told me recently that the Catholic church had done an investigation into nuns and found many of them unfit. Apparently, they were putting too much energy into such trivial tasks as caring for the poor and spreading love and peace rather than following their calling by the Catholic church--to stand up against abortion and gay marriage. The pastor at our non-Catholic church advises that we should strive to be remem…

Hump of Tears

A couple times a year, I deal with bouts of sadness. Not the type of debilitating depression that requires pharmaceuticals or hospitalization, but a darkness that creeps over my life dissipating in a few weeks when my face is red and puffy, and I am on the verge of seeking pharmaceutical intervention. It's a lot like watching a storm come in. I see the clouds and hear the thunder, and despite my willing it to change directions, it keeps coming. I'm powerless to do anything but cry, pray, and wait.

It happens in February, when my dad and my brother, Chris, died. And in August, when my brother, Brian, died, and this year, when my daughter moves away. Usually it creeps up rather slowly. I feel off for a day or so, and then I look at the calendar or the sky and realize it's coming. This year, I was prepared for it. It started on Monday. I tried to shake it. I read more in the Bible. I got a Dunkin' Donuts coffee, which nearly always lightens my mood. I got some uplifting b…

Meant to Be

As our seventeenth wedding anniversary approaches, I've been thinking a lot about marriage. Thinking about my views on relationships then and now. Thinking about people being "meant to be."

I have always been dreamy and idealistic, and twenty years ago, I probably believed more in that stuff. I'd heard the story hundreds of times of my dad, upon first seeing my mom, telling my uncle that she was the girl he was going to marry. That was my fairy tale, and I dreamed of one day experiencing that.

And I did. Upon meeting Brad, intoxicated by his beautiful lips--and Bud Light--I said that I would marry him someday. I didn't know all those years ago how that statement would impact my life.

Meant to be for us turned into jealousy and anger and unexpected pregnancies. It became sleepless nights and low-paying jobs and years of college. It brought tears and heartbreak and disappointment and disillusionment.

It brought bad decisions, terrible choices, and circumstances be…

Dreamy, Flighty, and Stupid

I was reading my posts from a year ago, trying to gauge the differences. Have I made any progress? It's good to have such an accurate measuring tool as your own thoughts. Last year, I was 20 pounds over my goal weight, taking anti-depressants, drinking too much, and waking up too many mornings feeling guilty for things that I often didn't remember. I had a great circle of friends who also drank too much. My husband drank too much. But we were a lot fun. We had a great time.

Today, I am 6 pounds over my goal weight. I still haven't accepted my body though I am a little easier on it. I still love to eat and sometimes eat for the wrong reasons. I drink less and wake up every morning guiltless (well, other than the usual should have, would have, could have stuff) and clear-headed. I don't make alcohol-induced bad choices; although, I am still living with the bad choice of picking up a cigarette and thereby becoming a smoker again. I've learned that I can just drink one…

Everything to Everyone

Nearly every Sunday, I leave church feeling invigorated, excited, full of hope and optimism, and ready to share that with the world. Not today. Today I left feeling confused and questioning so many things about myself and God's will for me. In today's message, our pastor said many of us try to be "everything to everyone."

While he didn't say, "Mary Bell, you try to be everything to everyone," I felt eyes boring into me and turned to see my family glancing my way, wondering if I got it. Chloe gave me a little head tilt, and I whispered, "That's me, huh?" Smiling sympathetically--she has unwittingly been the subject of a sermon or two--she nodded.

He further illustrated his point by having a young man stand in front of our congregation while he tossed him water bottles. His arms full of water bottles symbolizing family obligations, work, volunteering, friendships, and more, he was unable to catch the big playground ball symbolizing God's…

Father's Day sucks.

After your dad dies, Father's Day sucks. Sucks more for Brad, really, because I mope around and cry and forget to celebrate what a great guy and dad he is because I'm caught up in the fact that my dad is dead. That's not fair. Fortunately, Brad doesn't get mad at me or even mention that I'm acting like a selfish two-year-old.

More than once, in conversations about relationships, women have asked me, "Did you 'marry your dad?'" Lots of people do, I guess, and I have always hoped that my girls "marry their dad." I did not, though. I married the opposite of my dad. He doesn't yell or even get mad. He has never hit me or the kids or even gotten mad enough to make me think that would be a possibility. He is as even and calm as my dad was unpredictable. So, no, I didn't marry my dad.

The funny thing is after I married him, I tried to change him into my dad. I would get mad at him for being indifferent, for not being passionate about t…

Suit Yourself.

One of my mom's go-to phrases is, "Suit yourself." Often, she modifies that to, "Shoot yourself," which is more accurate, because when she uses that phrase she's basically saying, "You're an idiot for [insert stupid decision here.]" I cringe every time she says it. I think if one of your children has, in fact, shot himself, you need to strike that phrase from your vocabulary, but that's really not what this is about.

I cringe a lot because I rarely make the decisions my mom would or thinks I should. My decisions are nearly always met with eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging, sighing, and, yep, "Shoot yourself." I am not the same mother as my mom. I'm not passing judgement on either of us; I'm just saying. In 18 years as a mother, I've tried to make up for all the areas in which my own childhood felt unfulfilled. If I were discussing this on a talk show, this is the point where Dr. Phil would say, "How's that work…

Help. Me.

The past month has flown by in a blur of dances, t-ball and baseball games, graduation, and now yard work and graduation party preparations. I feel like I did before we got married. I wake up every morning wondering what tasks I can accomplish and usually go to bed at night feeling as if I haven't accomplished enough. I had to start keeping a notebook next to my bed for fear of forgetting one of the eight million things that goes through my mind before I go to sleep. My purse is full of little scraps of paper on which I've written vitally important reminders.

In the meantime, I haven't made the picture boards, I haven't rented tables, I haven't finalized a menu, I haven't gotten Chloe a dress. I did mail invitations. Most of them anyway. Part of me wonders if I'm subconsciously avoiding it all so that I don't have to deal with the reality that my baby girl is moving away in two months and 14 days. I guess it isn't subconscious if I'm acknowledgi…

For my mama, on Mother's Day

My mom is 10,000 pounds of strength, opinions, and ferocity packed into a tiny little 90-pound body. She is the most intimidating person I've ever met, even though a strong wind would flatten her. She buried both her parents when she was seven months pregnant with me and still managed to carry on and take care of her seven children. She has subsequently buried two sons and her husband and gets up every morning with a smile on her face, bakes cookies for her grandchildren and the little children of the drug dealers next door, who call to her, "Hi, Ms. Swan!" when she walks out her back door. She is the strongest person I've ever met.

When I was a little girl, I was often embarrased by her unabashed expression of her beliefs. She took me to pro-life marches when I was barely big enough to walk. Though I was pretty freaked out at the time and more than a little traumatized by the graphic depictions of aborted fetuses on other marchers' signs, I now am proud that she…

Books, Books and The Book

One of the problems with reading multiple books simultaneously is that when something strikes me, I've forgotten where I read it by the time I actually have a minute (or a pen, paper, something) to process it. I think it was Love Dare, but I apologize, Francis Chan, it could have been you. Anyway, here's what struck me: If you want to know the condition of your heart, think about how you feel when good things or bad things happen to other people. Be perfectly honest with yourself. Do you truly rejoice with them? Do you feel kind of happy for them but wonder, "How come nothing like that ever happens to me?" Do you silently feel vindication through another's misfortune: Karma is a b*$%h? Wow, that hit me right square in my own flawed heart.

Over the past month and with increasing fervor before our baptism, I have prayed for God to bring my own overlooked flaws to light, to help me to deal with them, and to fill me with His Holy Spirit to guide my life. I am learnin…

Global Thoughts

I have never really been a "gym" person. I'd always hear people talking about the gym and think to myself that it was a waste of money when you could exercise at home. A little over a year ago, under intense coercion from my husband and eldest child, I unwillingly became a gym person. And, though it is humbles me to admit after years of silent opposition: I love the gym.

The first few weeks were a bit awkward. I felt sort of like the new kid at school--awkward and uncomfortable. But after the initial settling in, I was excited about to go. Embarrassing my friend by asking how machines worked and what parts of the body they targeted, and strolling from machine to machine, trying each one, and enthusiastically voicing my approval or disapproval.  Letting people show me and help me. Apparently you are just supposed to know? Carie, my friend in life and workout partner, remarked, amused, if a little embarrassed, by my behavior, "You are good times."

Now, the gym is…

Open your heart

I write a lot about movies. Books and movies impact me significantly. Peyton has wanted to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so last night we watched it. It's about a little boy whose dad is killed in the 9-11 attacks, and he embarks on a journey to find some connection to his dad. It's beautiful and tragic and inspiring and heartbreaking. I'm pretty sure I haven't cried that hard since my own dad died. And I thought about all the quests I undertake: a closer relationship with God, a better understanding of life, self-improvement in all forms. I believe that I try so hard so that I can be better for everyone around me: a better wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, employee and more.

Usually what I find is that the answers I so desperately seek all ready reside within me, waiting for my mind to quiet down so that in the stillness, they might whisper their wisdom into my heart. My dear friend, who also overthinks her way through life, found a sign exemplifying th…

What is your testimony?

Earlier this week, I got a raise. We (my friend who is also my boss and I) got a new client. Great work and a lot of it. Although, our family mostly lives within our means, the additional income was going to afford us many opportunities. To pay off debt. To come close to our EFC--for those of you who haven't sent a child to college, that is the ridiculously exhorbitant amount of money the government figures you have stashed under your mattress to contribute to your child's college expenses. But with this additional income, oh the things we would be able to do.

But, I considered this raise a gift from God, so before I started spending it in my mind, I started praying. God was giving us this additional income, so He must have a plan for it. Whatever He put on my heart, that is what I would do with it. Well, after cutting down that tree, and paying off some bills, and a few other things that were top of mind.

Unfortunately, before I got an answer from God or cut down a tree or ev…

Dream a Little Dream

It has been a year, more than a year now, since my dad died. The week before the anniversary of his death, I started praying for a dream. To see him, to talk to him, to hug him. A friend of mine posted on facebook that she had dreamt about her dad, who recently passed. I was simutaneously thrilled for her and envious. I wanted a dream.

After each of my brothers and my dear friend died, within a short time, I dreamed about them. The dreams were so real and so clear. They were comforting visits. They answered questions. They told me they were okay and at peace. They hugged me. So of course, I wanted a dream about my dad. I wanted to hug him again. To sit on his lap and tell him about life in the year since he left. He knows, I'm sure. But I wanted to tell him myself.

The anniversary of his death came and went with no dream. Unstoppable tears, binge-eating, curling into the fetal position and shutting out the world, but no dreams. Yesterday, we watched the movie Hugo. Well, Brad and …

The sweetest boy in the world...

This morning, when I dropped Peyton off at school, he leaped out of the car with a, "See ya!" As the door shut, I sadly mused, "He must be getting too big to kiss me goodbye." Chloe, always ready to cheer me up, grumbled, "Well, yeah, he's like 20!" Chloe has issues with the whole mother/son relationship after having dated someone who had an awkwardly close relationship with his mom. Lily, actually trying to cheer me up, suggested, "Maybe he just forgot, Mama?"

He didn't forget. It's been coming for awhile. First, he stopped climbing into bed with us every night. At first, I was a little relieved, since it was getting crowded in there with Brad, me, occasionally Lily, and often P. But Lily quickly decided that bed-sharing wasn't for her, and then I missed my little nocturnal visitor, who would quietly climb in and snuggle up in the curve my body created. The curve that was just the right size for him.

Then, there were the head ki…

Honey badger and others who don't give a...

You know those people who don't discipline their kids? The ones who think everything their kids do is cute? The ones who smile when their child walks up to your table at a restaurant and throws your plate of food on the floor simultaneously grinning mischievously at you? The ones who watch that, giggle, and say things like, "Oh, he's a rascal." You know them? The ones who make people who don't have children say, "I'm never having kids." The ones who make people who have children who behave most of the time kiss those children and say, "Thank God for you." You know them? They make me crazy. Their kids Make. Me. Crazy.

There was a shift about 30 years ago in how people raised children. A shift that caused parents to believe that boosting a child's self-esteem was more important than teaching them to be kind, caring, honest, compassionate individuals, who did what was right not just what they wanted to do. I don't throw stones out of …