A”maze”ing Words and Surprising Discoveries

Meandering Through a Muddle of Words

We spent yesterday wandering through a corn maze made in the shape of Noah Webster.

The challenge (in order to win a free small pumpkin) was to make your way through the maze finding the words in a giant word search, letter by letter.  Amazingly enough we managed to make it through without having to call 911. ;)

Perhaps the fact that you are given a flag with a number before you enter the maze makes people less stupid. Then again, the competition became intense, which was a little strange, since there really wasn't any competition.

In the center of the maze (aka Webster’s face) was a second game where you had to select the correct definition of some words, and they weren’t easy.

This was the perfect maze for Sarah who has recently taken to looking up words in the dictionary and writing down their definitions, FOR FUN. Yes, friends, she is indeed my daughter, as I would underline (in light pencil) any words I didn’t know in any books I read and make a list throughout my childhood.  The maze combined her new love of words with her never-ending search for adventure.

While the sun stayed behind the clouds for most of the day, it was still a nice day to be in the maze, compared to our adventure in a maze last year in Kansas, which included heat, bugs and two pre-teenage girls who decided that they needed to run through the maze. Of course, this late in the season the maze is a little worse for wear, with brown stalks and downed stalks, as well as evidence of Hurricane Irene who took her own journey through the maze.

As we wandered through the maze, my mind rambled from nothing to word meanings to the meaning of life with lots of side trips along the way.


As we journeyed through the maze, I learned that I have absolutely no sense of direction, while Sarah and Nathan seem to have an innate instinct for making their way through mazes.

The amazing maze explorers know the way.

Another clue!

"Let's see. Where to next? Follow me."

Of course, upon this realization, since I always want to improve, I tried to hone my instincts and improve my navigation ability. My instincts started to kick in, and I eventually figured out a pattern that I could follow. However this inevitably led to the . . .

Brabble of the Babes

You see, Sarah and I tend to be a lot alike. This means that, on occasion, we get on each other’s nerves. Perhaps due to my lack of sleep over the past several days while I was dealing with my personal  emotional roller coaster, or the fact that within 5 minutes of entering the maze Sarah nearly brained me with the flag, my ability to communicate with my daughter seemed to disintegrate rapidly as we made our way from letter to letter. What sounded to me like, “please don’t walk with the flag pointing forward” or “don’t swing the flag around, you might hit someone” must have sounded to her like “STOP TRYING TO KILL EVERYONE WITH THAT FLAG!!”

Sometimes, despite my love of words, I have problems communicating.

As my legs started getting more and more tired, my words became sharper, until I reverted to the inner 6-year-old that often makes appearances when the tension between us gets stronger and decided to stop talking.

Words only work if you use them.

I'm not sure which of us needed a time out more.

Revelations of the Camera Obscura

Eventually we worked through our issues (aka, I stopped talking and we continued on) and found all the letters and words. We exited the maze in glory to select our pumpkin. Then, of course, Sarah wanted to explore a little. We wandered over to the petting zoo, where adorable goats and other animals demanded food which we did not provide. Then Sarah saw an odd structure that looked like a little play house. In reality, however, it was a Camera Obscura and it was really cool.

Through the Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura Landscape

Camera Obscura Farm

Camera Obscura animals

Somehow, looking at the world from a different perspective made me realize that I need to change my own perspective more often, in order to find some incredible things.

So what did I learn by changing my perspective? That there may not be enough words to describe the complexity of my love for my life (even at its most confused and chaotic) and especially for my family.

Sometime words just aren’t enough.

Dancing a jig on a bail of hay, you can't say it better than this.

Travels with Dogs and Children

Last night was one of those nights where I wondered why I am fighting so hard to keep the dogs with me.

Of course, the day before was one of those days where I seriously questioned my sanity for ever giving birth to a child as well. ;)

Backtrack to the truck loading day from hell (seriously working inside that truck was pretty close to the fires of hell I’m sure), which I wrote about here. What I didn’t mention was the crying and screaming fits of frustration that Sarah went into every time I asked her for help. She helped somewhat early on, but then the littlest task (“please refill my Bubba”) would send her into a wail of agony.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that moving is hard, and she was probably feeling overwhelmed and nervous. I also admit freely that I lacked something in the parenting department and found my ability to empathize sweating out of my pores. I even made an agonized phone call to my friend Jackie, begging and pleading, “Will you please come take my child away!”

Too bad she never got the message. Eventually, another dear friend Hannah realized that Sarah was still at the house and saved both Sarah and myself from completely destroying our relationship in a move-induced haze of emotion.

Meanwhile, the dogs, sensing big things, grew increasingly concerned that they might be left behind. They trailed me around the house and made every concerted effort to escape out the door at any possible moment. Lizzy made it once too, sneaking out an improperly closed door into the garage and making a beeline to the moving truck in the hopes she would be able to climb aboard. Meanwhile, she terrified the unsuspecting male pedestrian who backed away at the sight of a determine 60 lb. dog (who, I should point out, would never hurt a human although she has been known to get a chicken).

Fast forward to yesterday where Sarah spent the morning bouncing between friends, and Nathan and I managed to squeeze everything in so we wouldn’t have to mail anything to ourselves. We then cleaned every nook and cranny of the house. “Have you ever noticed,” I asked him as I scrubbed an area that hadn’t been reached in a while, “that we spend more time cleaning for a place we no longer live in?”

Needless to say, yesterday, as the house became emptier and the cavernous echoes grew, the dogs became more concerned. When we decided to have final lunch with some friends (pushing our already delayed timetable back even further) and left them in a house that contained only trash bags and rooms that still needed to be cleaned, they expressed their concern by tearing into one of those trash bags in revenge. Luckily it didn’t contain anything gross.

Finally, on the road almost 2 1/2 hours later than I had hoped, with Nathan in the truck and Sarah and the dogs with me in the car, things started out noisy. Jasper, the younger dog, feels the need in the beginnings of any car trip, to warn away all creatures bovine or ursine. Let me remind you that we are driving through farm country, where you find cows and horses galore. That lends to a sometimes jarring bark of warning that comes just at the important moment of an NPR story or the best part of a song. Well, at least it keeps me alert.

Sarah, who had escaped a large portion of the packing and all of the final packing and cleaning, began the trip with a zillion questions:
“Did you pack my . . .?”
“Where is my . . . ?”
“Is my . . . in the car?”y

Of course, at this point I have no clue where anything is anymore. All I know is that the house was empty and everything we owned was either travelling with us, given to friends, or thrown away forever.

Eventually, I suggested Sarah ride in the truck with Nathan for a while, leaving me alone with the dogs.

Back to the dogs, last summer, when we moved from Durango to Okoboji for the summer theater, we decided to camp along the way. The dogs were great and seemed to enjoy it. I suggested perhaps we could do the same for this move. Nathan was only able to find one convenient campground along our route, which has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Why? We didn’t think about heat that is hovering in the upper 90s during the day and doesn’t really drop down until the wee hours of the night.  Last night, we didn’t even roll into our campground until around 11pm, which meant setting up a tent in the dark with two dogs anxious to sniff, explore, and otherwise investigate and one daughter who was denying her need for sleep.

We got the tent up and Sarah settled in, but the dogs were a different story. The tent was simply too hot, and they were not going to stay there. They wanted to be in the car, which was just as hot, but allowed for open windows on all sides. I thought they might be cooler outside, but didn’t want to leave them chained up all night barking at night creatures and the train which seemed to go by about 5000 times last night. So I ended up sleeping in the car, with the windows opened, slathered in bug spray and praying that I wouldn’t be a giant mosquito bite by morning. (Thankfully, I don’t think they were out last night. I only have a few itches.)  It took a long time for Lizzy to cool off enough to sleep, and throughout the night one or the other of them would decide something interesting was wandering by. Eventually it cooled off enough for me to sneak out and find my sleeping back (which was in the tent). All in all,  not the best night of  ”camping” I’ve ever had in my life.

So why am I fighting so hard to keep these animals? Well, just as I would never really give up the daughter I love, the look of relief and adoration on both dogs faces as we finally allowed them in the car was a true reward. Lizzy, who decided she should ride shotgun since the seat was available, would look over at me with trust and love throughout the drive.

That’s why the family will stay together if I have any say.  And I do.


“A Dog’s Purpose” Meets the Journey

“Can you give away your dogs?”

That question, from a rental agent, hit me in the gut as I began searching for a place to live as we make this next move. We still do not know for sure where we will live, because the simple answer to that question was “No.”

Can we give away our dogs? Why should we have to?

This morning, as I avoided packing some more, I finished reading A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron. The book tells the story of a dog’s many lives, a warm and wonderful creature who yearns to find the purpose in his existence–a purpose that ultimately relates to loving and being loved in return. Shouldn’t that be the purpose for us all? Cameron writes from the dog’s perspective through multiple lives, incarnations, and experiences. Sometimes humorous, sometimes touching, sometimes terrifying–this dog has lessons to learn and share, and, as is written on the cover material shares

“. . .  a dog’s-eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man’s best friend.”

Perhaps this book speaks to me more because of my own journey and search for purpose. As moving day looms closer, I can’t help but think about the friendships I’ve made in my short time here as well as the things I have done. Have I left my mark? Will I be remembered and missed? Will my scent (figuratively not literally) remain behind reminding people of good times and jobs well done? Was I a “good dog”?

We all want to feel that we have a purpose on this earth. Maybe we will never fully understand what that purpose is, but I am beginning to think that purpose (for me at least) has to do with relationships and love. Perhaps my purpose is as simple as that of a dog, to be a “good dog” and to love with pure and simple affection all who are deserving of that love.

So, can I give up my dogs to find a place to live? No. Could you?


Update on August 21: We have found a house and convinced them to accept the dogs!!! The family remains together!

“Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First”

 The logic of this advice given by most airlines makes sense. You cannot help your child get her oxygen mask on if you are gasping for breath yourself.

Yet how often do we ignore this idea in our own lives? I am guilty. I have spent many years giving everyone else the oxygen they need, little recognizing my own blueness of face and gasps for air.

Yesterday, as Nathan and I took a walk in nature lit by moonlight, we talked about the future and what this upcoming move meant for us as a family and for me as an individual. We had just finished watching Crazy, Stupid, Love which, while fun and funny, also hit a few nerves in some ways. The fact that this couple going through a mid-life crisis of sorts were supposedly only a year older than I am, shook me up in many ways.

After all, I’ve sort of been going through my own  crisis for a while now.

As we walked, I realized that my choice to continually give my family oxygen first has ultimately served no purpose. It has been a crutch of sorts. My responsibilities to family are a convenient excuse for not taking chances or opportunities that come my way. If I start putting myself and my needs first, one of a few things might happen:

  • Option 1: I could take chances and then fail in a blazing crash of destruction, without anybody to hide behind or anyone to blame but myself.
  • Option 2: I could succeed and become completely engrossed in my own world to the neglect everyone else.
  • Option 3: I could take chances, find balance, and show my daughter that a woman can follow her dreams and still be there for the people she loves.

I’m choosing Option 3. By not giving myself oxygen first, I haven’t been doing what is best for all of us. I’m not saying every choice I have made is wrong, but I have not been living to my full potential–and ultimately that isn’t good for anybody.

Yesterday, Sarah told me over ice cream that she wants to spend the whole summer at this “summer home” next year. She and I came up about 6 weeks after Nathan this time, partially so she could be in a show and partially because I had several projects that I was working on (some actually paid).

“It’s more fun if we come for the whole time,” she said.

“Well,” I answered “It depends on if I have work or not. I have the right to work too. But you could always come up with Daddy first, and then I will join you later.”

She looked sad for a moment and then said, “I understand. But what if you get hired here?”

I smiled, “Then that would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?”

I’m interested in seeing where my new take on oxygen leads me. Perhaps it will simply lead me to some new, fresh air. I just have to remember to breathe.


Today’s Quote

“Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy.”
Wayne Dyer

I Didn’t Think This Would Happen So Soon

Maybe I should have seen it coming. Even when she was an infant, the bond with her wasn’t instantaneous like some mothers claim. Of course I thought she was beautiful and precious, but I didn’t fall in instant love. To be honest, with this little bundle of  squirms brought with her joy, terror, and a form of torture I could never have imagined. Seriously, if  the government wants to pry secrets out of someone they should just have them spend time raising a newborn with all the sleep deprivation and exhaustion attached.

The first person she fell in love with was her Daddy.  She came out of the womb, she heard his voice, and she smiled. She is still Daddy’s Little Girl.

Tiny Sarah

She needed me though. For the milk. For comfort. During the day, she wouldn’t nap unless she fell asleep on top of me. It made for some difficult times, but at the same time it was wonderful.

Only eight years have passed and she has already decided that she doesn’t need me. She wants to spend time with anyone but me. I don’t know where I went wrong, but it seems that I never offer enough fun or stimulation or frivolity to satisfy her. Despite the fact that she does fun things with me all the time, I’m never enough.

And now I am alone with her for the next six weeks. I was hoping it would bring us closer, but it seems like my 8-year-old is going on 18 right before my eyes.

I didn’t think this would happen so soon.

Images of Joy

Thanks to my brother, I got a little reminder of the joy found in childhood.  Sarah and I have been having a rough time lately, so I thought I would remind myself of the joy found in her. I am stealing some of the images he has taken of my daughter (plus adding a few of my own) to celebrate this joy.

Don’t call me Drama Queen and Other Rules of Interaction

A few years ago, at Thanksgiving, I tried to share with my mother something that was really bothering me. I don’t remember exactly what it was; I think it had something to do with my sister. But that doesn’t really matter, what does matter was that she actually responded with, “Lisa, don’t be such a drama queen.”

I lost it.

“I hate when you call me that! Just because I feel something doesn’t mean I am a drama queen.”

And that’s the truth.

I learned to keep my emotions to myself, to the detriment of my own health. I learned to keep things inside because letting them out leads to accusations of being over-dramatic and over-sensitive. But of course, keeping things inside add to the truly dramatic moments such as this particular one with my mother, a crying screaming fest of hurt feelings and accusations that led nowhere.

Sarah is a lot like me, in that she is emotional and is very hard on herself. Yesterday she started crying in the morning when I asked if she had practiced the piano the day before (she spent the day at the theater with Nathan, while I tried to get some things done at home).

“I forgot,” she cried. “And I have a lesson today!” The end of the world as we know it.

“It’s okay, Sarah. Michelle will understand.”

When I picked her up after school she said, “I’m sorry I got so upset this morning.”

“Why did you?” I asked.

“Because I was angry at myself.”

She is me.

So, how does one interact with a person who internalizes every perceived error as further evidence of the imperfections of her own personality? How do you comfort someone who sees the world through emotions? How do you help someone who is  hardest on herself?

How do you interact with yourself?

Here are some suggested rules of interaction with this type of individual:

  • Don’t call her drama queen. It hurts and it’s not true.
  • Acknowledge her feelings and then try to get her to look at them intellectually. “Why do you think you are so angry at yourself for dropping the cup?”
  • Allow her to feel things, but remind her that not everyone sees things the same ways she does.
  • Tell her you love her even when she makes mistakes.

And of course, perhaps the most important rule of them all:

Don’t feed the Drama Queen! It makes her fat and even more dramatic.

Kindling the Lights of Hanukkah

A Brooklyn resident lighting candles on Hannuk...

Image via Wikipedia

My daughter quivers with excitement, unable to sit still or concentrate on homework. It is the first night of Hanukkah, and she cannot wait. I wonder though if to her this night is only about opening one of the presents that are piled on the table. She counts the number daily to see if there are more. Eight presents, eight nights, but she hopes for an extra one.

She watches the sun waiting for the minute she can light the candles. My orders are clear, “Mommy, you light the helper candle (the shammas) and I get to light the other one.”

“Of course,” I say, thinking back to my own childhood memories of Hanukkah.  I remember wondering if it was my turn to light the candles that night (since we alternated between the three of us). I loved the sound of the match striking, the smell of the sulfur sparking, the sizzle of the candles lighting. I loved deciding how to put the candles in, alternating colors some nights or using all one color the next.

I also remember debating the present issue. Should I open one present or all of them? Should I open the big one or the littlest one? (Often the best things came in the small packages as I soon learned). I know that presents became the focus often, but I don’t think it was just that for me.

To me the holiday was about light in darkness. It was my little bit of color in cold winters.  I had this tiny little ceremony that warmed up cold winter nights. The colors of the menorah were as bright to me as Christmas lights. It was what made being different, being Jewish, worth it.

I think that is why I still light them with my family. They represent something joyous to me. I’m not super religious. I’m not even sure what I believe. But I cannot let go of the tradition. I want so much to leave Sarah with fond memories of candles lighting the house on a cold winter’s night.

I worry that all she sees is the presents.

As I type this, Sarah runs into the room, a smile on her face. She doesn’t say anything, just glints at me with a twinkle in her eye. She runs into the other room and says “The sun is down!” as if I am not sitting in front of a window watching the colors of day fade.

I ask Sarah, “Why are you so excited to light the candles?

“Because it’s fun.”

“Do you know why we light the candles?”

She answers, “I know part of the story. The oil lasted eight nights. I think we have a book.”

“Would you like to read the book?”

“Yes, after I finish my homework.”

Maybe I am creating a tradition that goes beyond the presents.  It’s time to light the candles.

Vanity or Loss of Nostalgia?

There is something wrong with a world that does not embrace the charm of a messy childhood.

According to this New York Times article  NYT: No Boo-boos or Cowlicks? Only parents are requesting class pictures be touched up.

I picture these parents standing there exuding propriety and some kind of charm and saying: “Remove the boo-boo, the self-styled hair, the gap in the teeth. Remove them! My child must not have to live with the reality of his or her childhood. My child was perfect at all times. Never made a mess. Never went to school with mismatched socks. She never left the house dressed in a lurid combination of bright plaids, stripes and swirls. My child never went out with hair decorated by every barrette known to mankind. My boy never fell on his face or skinned his knee~ My child was perfect! That is the memory I want him to have. That is the only picture I want to find in her yearbook.”

That, my friends is unrealistic. We all go through awkward stages. We all make mistakes, and wear things that we would rather forget. There are plenty of pictures of me in the plaids of yesteryear, that  make me cringe and laugh simultaneously. There are more recent pictures where all I can see is fat or the blotch on my face. But here’s the thing, they are pictures of a true life, truly lived. There are beautiful pictures as well as ugly. There are happy pictures, as well as sad. There are pictures that I remember, and there are pictures that I would rather forget. But, no matter what, they are pictures of truth. So, don’t touch up my daughter’s school photos. I want to remember her the way she is, and I want her to remember the way she was.

Perfection isn’t perfect.

Neewollah 1: Chili Experience

One of the things my new town is known for is Neewollah, a ten-day festival that “is the oldest and largest annual celebration in Kansas. The city of Independence will grow from a town of 10,000 inhabitants to 75,000″  http://www.neewollah.com/. Today I experienced my first festival activities, and I thought I would share.

The day began looking overcast, so I prepared for chilly weather, but of course was wrong. I still haven’t figured out Kansas weather. The sun popped in an out, and then the clouds moved in. The wind picked up, bringing a slight chill, but the general mugginess of the air made me feel warm. I guess my solution is going to have to be layers.

The first event of the morning was a 5K race that I did not participate in. I am not a runner. It does remind me, however, that someday I want to participate in the 3 Day Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, so I better get back on track in the eating healthy and walking department.

Following the 5K was the Fun Run for all the school kids in town. Sarah was participating. I’d say there were more than 100 kids wandering around in brightly colored t-shirts (a different color for each school). Sarah was lucky and got purple, our favorite color. Before the race they took school pictures. Sarah couldn’t really find any of her friends, so she looked uncomfortable waiting with the purple clad kids. What also struck me, perhaps for the first time, was the fact that Sarah is not white. I know she’s not, her dad is Japanese and Korean, but it was so glaring as she sat in the midst of blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids from Independence, KS. Perhaps I’m over-sensitive, but it just really struck me today.

She’s also still suffering somewhat from ‘new kid” syndrome. We ran into one of the girls that Sarah talks about all the time, and the girl introduced Sarah to her Dad as “she’s the new kid.” I’ve never really been the new kid, so I don’t know how long that stigma lasts, or if it is even a stigma. Sarah seems okay with it, but I know it sometimes hard because she wants play dates and things but I am shy about meeting people. So maybe I’m making it worse.

Anyway, back to the race. Sarah seemed to have a good time. I think she probably walked more of it than she actually ran, but what the heck. I don’t know that she has ever actually run a mile. I’m proud of her for trying.

Next was the event I was waiting for.  All morning the wind brought interesting smells to my nose, the traditional smells of fall leaves combined with a little spiciness that meant chili was cooking in preparation for the contest. Three dollars buys you a dish, a spoon, a napkin, a bottle of water and enough chili to wreak havoc on bathrooms for the rest of the day. The first chili I tasted was the best, but it was also the most surprising. Alligator chili! I never thought I would try something like that, but oh was it good. None of the other chili recipes really stood out for me. I avoided the super spicy, not feeling up to gastronomic challenges like that today. It is always interesting, I think, standing in line with hundreds of other people in a competition over spice. I loved listening to all the jokes that never fail to happen at a chili cook-off, as everyone recognizes that our decadent overindulgence can only lead to one thing at the end of the day. Sometimes you just have to love the craziness we humans invent.

Meanwhile, Sarah was drawn to the numerous bouncing activities. I wish I had the camera with me when she competed with a bungee cord contraption to see how far she could get a beanbag before she was snapped back in a flying plunge. Her face was fabulous with wide-eyed excitement and joy. Later she went on the obstacle course slide, but it wasn’t the same.

The clouds got thicker and the wind got stronger. Our bellies were beginning to slosh with chili goodness. We decided it was time to head home, but first bought tickets for our next step on the Neewollah adventure–the town’s production of Music Man this evening.

It has been a fun start. Now I need a nap.