After the series of heavy posts over here at Bamboo Journal, I feel it the need to lighten it up around here.  So here goes…

If you’re American when you go into the bathroom…

And you’re American when you come out of the bathroom…

What are you when you are in the bathroom?

Give up?

European (get it:  You’re-a-pee’in!)

This is the of our favorites at our house.  Such is life with a 6 year old.  Its all potty humor and silly puns.    I wish I had something better in my back pocket.

But in all seriousness I have done a bit of laughing around here, despite the momentous place that I am in.  Laughter is a sport I excel at.  I really do like it all, the silly, the ironic, the over-the-top, the sarcastic, and yes the potty humor too.   And I love the crazy place of laughing so hard that you start laughing because of the laughing.  So I have been thankful for all the laughter this past week–and for those who made me laugh with their clever wit and bad jokes.   

Some other things to be thankful for?  Camping.  I am hitting the woods with a chunk of my tribe again this coming weekend.  I can already smell the campfire and hear the music.  No matter that the last few weeks have been kind of heavy…after sitting around the great outdoors with dear dear friends, a glass of wine and the blues in the air I will be blissed out for weeks to come.  Lighter than air…

So as not to hit you with two bad jokes I will leave you on this note (pun absolutely intended).  This little song has had me singing at the top of my lungs all week.  Its crept into my head and has had me twirling. 

May joy bubble up through your heaviest moments this week

carried away

carried away

Today I signed the divorce agreement papers. 

I was off to one of my favorite gardens to do a version of this ritual, a ritual I thought would be perfect for the fall season, a ritual I so desperately needed.  The sky was a brilliant clear blue, the air felt neither too hot nor too cold, a light  breeze was blowing.  Everything was at peace in my little world and in my little heart and I knew that this day was the day to get it done. 

It was really simple–too simple.  All I had to do was go to the notary public down the street and sign three copies. People all around me were busy making plans for vacations to India and sending money back home to family in Russia.  Laughing, living.  The notary asked me what kind of document I would be signing.  I whispered, a little choked up:  “A divorce agreement”.  I half expected her to kick me out–to tell me to take my somber business elsewhere.  She simple shrugged, wrote it down in her log and asked me for my ID.  She didn’t notice that my hand shook as I signed.  She was busy chatting with her partner.

When it was all over I drove immediately to Brookside Gardens, one of my favorite places.  It was hard at first to find a quiet place, a place with enough solitude for me to do what I needed to do.  It was the perfect day for wandering the gardens and so the place was packed with families.  I told myself that if it didn’t feel right I would leave.  I stopped worrying about it and let my heart lead.

my sheltering tree

my sheltering tree

I walked along the path looking for fallen leaves, gathering a bag.  As I walked over the crest of a hill, this tree called out to me.  Her roots were like two arms, offering an embrace, a safe place for me to do my work, her weeping boughs offering shelter and privacy.  I surprised myself when I said outloud–“This tree is for me”.  I walked over, touched her bark and settled in her arms.

I took from my bag a few smooth stones and wrote the names of things that weighed me down.  I had intended to only write one word but thoughts, phrases, memories all came tumbling out.  My stone was full.  I had one stone covered in images of Loss, one in images of Want, another in Shame and so on.

 And then when I was done, I began to write my fears on the leaves, one by one. 

When I was done I  said goodbye and one by one thew the rocks into the lake.  Then I took each fear one by one.  I thanked it for doing its best to protect me but I told it why I didn’t need it anymore.  I asked it to leave and threw the the leaf into the water and watched the water carry it away. 

Some of my fears were old acquaintances.  We once were fast friends these fears and me, but now they only popped over every once and awhile.   It was time to say goodbye for good, although it really felt more like a formality.  We had outgrown each other.  But it lightened my load to let them go.

letting go

letting go

But then, as I sat writing, I discovered there were some fears that really were important to me.  These were the fears that most recently did a pretty good job protecting my heart from the threat of more grief and loss and lonliness.  These were the ones I most needed to get rid of but saying goodbye to them was like ripping a bandaid off my heart, exposing her to the wide wide world.  Walking back to my car I felt lighter yes, more centered, more present in reality but oh did I feel vulnerable too.  Truly truly exposed.  Like a lobster who had just molted, naked and without armor.  But growing…

I drove back to meet Max.  We spent the day in the quiet comfort of our neighborhood family.  Then I took Max and we drove.  I felt the need to just hang out with him but to be out of the house. To be us against the world again.  We drove until we found a place to eat and played games and drew pictures while we ordered.

I know that this vulnerability is good.  It means that my heart is growing.  That letting go of fear makes room for new love, new experiences and new joy.  And I am grateful that I have places to go to tend to my heart–my writing, creativity, space with Max, walks in the autumn sunshine.

Tonight it rained.  I sat in wonder and listened to the sound of the rain against my windows.  I stood out on the front steps and let me feet get damp.  It has been such a dry summer.  The rain smelled miraculous and hopeful, the harbinger of good things.  Life giving and cleansing.  Just what we needed. 

Nighttime in Rio, just after the storm passed

Nighttime in Rio, just after the storm passed

I have thought alot about my trip to Rio –the one I took two Octobers ago.  We took this photo our first night there.  Eddie’s friend, an ex-pat who had settled in this magical city, had taken us for a walking tour and showed us his favorite spot, a park across a lake from the hustle and bustle of this city.   A rainstorm rolled in suddenly, unexpectedly, catching us on the wrong side of the park.  It fell in sheets soaking us all as we ran for cover under some trees, laughing.  I laughed harder than I had in months. At that moment,  laughter bubbled up unexpectedly, as unstoppable as the rain.  It was so absurd and silly and joyful.  We were dressed to the nines for a night out on the town, with water running down our noses, with my chic outfit dripping and misshapen, my “oh-so-Rio” sandals squishing and making ridiculous noises.  It was the funniest thing ever to be in Rio in the warm rain.  I jumped in a puddle and lost my shoe.  Pretty soon we were all laughing because I couldn’t stop laughing

I had felt so heavy and stressed when I got to Brazil.  I was at the height of my financial panic and I had just started to wrap my heart around the idea that Juan was not coming back.  I arrived at the airport after flying all night with only $20 American and a three day training to run in Spanish.  I went to the cash machine at the airport to take out money for taxi fare and found my account was overdrawn.  My cell phone was out of batteries.  I had forgotten my credit card at home.  I had no idea what I would do next.  I went up to the money exchange counter and cashed in my $20.  I hoped it would be enough to get me to the hotel where I could regroup and figure out my next move.  I thought I had hit rock bottom.  I felt so alone, like such a failure.  To keep myself from breaking down in this strange city, I repeated a mantra “It is going to work out all right”  and then I added a fervent “please” and threw in a prayer for good measure.  

The taxi fare was exactly what I had in my wallet.

I got to the hotel and they told me my room was already paid for.  I slept a heavy deep dreamless sleep.  I woke up to find lunch.  A a friend of a friend living in Sao Paolo who had come to meet me.  A fully charged cell phone and a Dad on the other end able to wire some cash to get me through the week.  And best of all when Eddie arrived that evening he had two airplane tickets to Rio.   

Four days later I was standing in the rain in Rio, laughing as the water poured over my toes and ran down my fingers.  I remember thinking that the rain washed some of my grief away that night, just let it slip right away and run into this lake, leaving me feeling a tiny bit lighter and ready to start healing. 

The Christo in Rio de Janiero, taken on a rainy October weekend

The Christo in Rio de Janiero, taken on a rainy October weekend

The rhythm of our life is slowing down now.  Its the way of autumn.  With the birthday celebrations and the hullaballoo of the start of the new school year behind us, we are settling into the quiet of fall.    Tonight I kissed Max goodnight and went through the rituals that he needs to let go of his fears and drift off to sleep.  A book, a cuddle, an extra check of the doors.  “Yes they are locked my dear.  You can sleep now.”  He is frightened of being alone.  I assure him that while I will get up I will be back soon and I will be here when morning comes.  He holds my hand as he drifts  into sleep.

I find that the days between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice are a time of introspection for me.  I find myself turning inward, pulling away into myself a bit.  Its a time of reflection and soul repair.  I actually feel myself slowing down, becoming less social.  I call less, email less, talk less.  I am still more.  I sit and listen to the noise of the outside, to the house breathing. 

And frankly, sometimes I am a bit uncomfortable in this place.  I prefer the energy of loud dinner parties, of boisterous giggling, of passing the wine and sharing food.  Because it is here in this quiet solitary place I hear my fears speaking to me.  And nothing scares me more than fear.

But I am at peace knowing that I am not alone here.  While spring seems to be the universal season of renewal, autumn seems to be the time to struggle with fear.  As the darkness lengthens we face our demons at Halloween, mark our grief and mourning on el dia de los muertos or All Souls Day, look inward and repent on Yom Kippur.  I take comfort in knowing that many souls before me have walked this path and created rituals that allow us to face our fears and then let them go.  I am not out of sorts as I drift into myself, no I am just following the anciet rhythms of the season.

Two years ago late in October, I went to Rio de Janiero with my friend Eddie.  We had spent the week running a training in Sao Paolo and he convinced me we deserved a trip to the beach.  It rained the whole time we were there.  One day we both felt the need for some alone time.  He hiked along the mountains and the beach while I wandered down the streets of Ipanema, in and out of coffeehouses, bookstores and music shops along the stormy shore.  After awhile I realized that my mind had grown completely quiet.  I was alone, as alone as absolutely possible–wandering in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language on a rainy day in a city known for its beaches on the opposite side of the globe from almost everyone I loved.  I had spent the whole season creating so much noise and activity around me, fearful of being alone, fearful of my fears.  But when I sat with them quietly on the streets of Ipanema they became the consistency of mist, and I  was able to let them go.

Jen Lemen recently posted about this beautiful ritual to let go of fear and things that weigh you down.  I am dying to try it myself.   It is all that I can do not to abandon my loved ones and work to drive to the countryside tomorrow.  Short of returning to Rio, I think it is the perfect ritual to mark the inward turning season of fall and to face those fears that lurk in the shadows.  Because I have a bunch I need to face and then I need to let them go  I need to let them slip away like mist so I can rest peacefully in the quiet darkness of the winter.

We’ve got two lives

One we’re given and the other one we make

And the world won’t stop & actions speak louder

Listen to your heart and your heart might say

Everything we got we got the hard way…

–Mary Chapin Carpenter

 

Staring at my computer, in an office in downtown DC today I had an “A-ha” moment.  Its one I have had before, but then I conveniently forget.  Its so easy to forget it.

Life is hard.

Once upon a time, when I was just a youngster I truly believed it when my father said “The difference between a hard life and an easy one is all about choices.”  I interpreted this to mean that if only I made the right choice I would be rewarded with a life of bliss, ease and good times.  I interpreted the struggle I faced as a young person in the world as a result of bad life choices.

And there was some truth to that.  I made a lot of bad choices over my years.  But I have also made some good ones too.  But many times over I have been amazed to learn that good choices or bad, life has been no less hard.  Good choices led me down some pretty difficult paths but ultimately took me in a direction I wanted to go.  Bad choices sometimes were exhilerating but took me away from my true north.  Both of those paths were filled with hard work and difficulty.

Sometimes, I get very grouchy when I am stuck in a hard-work kind of place.  I want it all to  be so SIMPLE so very clear cut and easy.  I want to breeze through life the way I breezed through elementary school, without a care in the world and three steps ahead, and someone to solve it all for me when it got to sticky.  I just want to do the one thing that will make it all fall into place.  I revert to my childish notions that good choices lead to easy-peasy paths to joy all around.  And then, when I realize that there is nothing that you can do to assure an easy journey I get mopey and disappointed,

Lately, I have made lots of good choices and I have to say the path I have taken has been laced with much joy.  There are these moments I have, when life seems perfect.  I am surrounded by a community I love, my job is exciting and we are healthy and well and then–BAM it hits me.  My amazing and beautiful loved ones are human, imperfect people, just like me, and we sometimes struggle to see eye-to-eye.  Or I make a mistake that needs to be fixed and fixing it takes everything I have got and more.  Or sometimes life just throws a curve ball.  And it takes hard work to set it all right.  Or doing something fun turns into a ton of really tedious work and I want to give up.

Its hard to be a single mom and do it all alone.  But I know its also really really hard to make a healthy relationship work and to keep it fresh, open and moving in the right direction.  Doing a job I hate can be really hard.  But as I am learning, sometimes, doing a job I love can be miserably hard too. 

And sometimes when I realize all this I feel cheated.  I am pissed off that there is no way around the difficult.  But then, sometimes with a bit of grace,I have one of these aha moments. 

LIFE IS HARD.  Trying to avoid (or believing I can avoid) the difficult is what leads me to disappointment and sorrow.  Picking up and slogging through the hard work with optimism, eyes on the lovely scenery and a sense of humor can make it all so much more pleasant–and joyful– and fun.

Dad was right in some way.  Life IS all about choices.  Following your true north, making choices that ring true in your heart can lead to joy.  But I have found I can also choose to rob myself of joy by mucking around disappointed and grouchy that I have to work through some hard stuff. 

 So, whats a girl who just had an aha moment to do?  Crank up Mary Chapin Carpenter, slip on some boots, and dance dance dance…

Caught up in our little lives, there’s not a lot left over
I see what’s missing in your eyes; you’re searching for that field of clover
So show a little inspiration, show a little spark
Show the world a little light when you show it your heart
We’ve got two lives, one we’re given and the other one we make
And the world won’t stop, & actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way…

postcard swap

postcard swap

Last month, Karen over at Chookooloonks sponsored a postcard swap.  The idea was simple but lovely.  Sign up and get a list of 12 others who had also signed up.  Make homemade postcards for each person on your list and then mail them all out on the same day.  The theme of this swap was beginnings, a perfect theme considering that September is hailed by mothers, teachers, and students alike as the real start of the new year.

September has always been a month of beginnings for me.  As we bid farewell to summer’s last lazy days and buckle down anew at school or work its a time of renewal.  Its also always been a time of symbolic rebirth for me.  Earlier this week I turned 38.  September is always the start of my new year.

September also marks for me the beginning of the inwards turning season.  While spring and summer are flamboyant and extroverted, fall and winter are times for introspection, contraction, looking within.  While spring and summer call for huge neighborhood picnics in the park, fall and winter call for intimate gatherings around a cozy table lit with candles. 

I love the extroverted season–the explosions of green, the lengthening light, the spontaneous neighborhood get togethers.  But usually about this time I start to crave some space and time for myself.  I welcome the fall and the beginning of looking inward, of nesting and waiting for spring.

But to be honest, this week I have not been feeling it.  Or rather I have been feeling it too much.  I am mopey and sad.  I have been focused on endings–the ending of a fabulous summer, the ending of my marriage, the fact that I am not where I imagined I would be at 38.  And given that this is where I am currently standing, the thought of turning inward makes me edgey and nervous.  The end of the social season makes me feel just a little bit lonely.  The thought of this cool dark season gives me a case of the shivers.  

I was feeling sorry for myself earlier today, sharing with a friend that Juan had handed me the signed papers of our separation the day before my birthday.  She empathized with me, commenting that he had rained on my September “beginnings parade” with one hell of an endings thunderstorm. 

But later it dawned on me that he gave me the best beginnings birthday present he could have.  Because now at 38, I will NEVER have to ask him to sign these papers.  I can get past at least this big hurdle and make this whole year not about getting to a conclusion but about beginning again.  I turned 38 with one less burden to bear…one less package to slow me down on my new journey.

Silver lining thinking?  Maybe so.  But it works…at least right now.  I am feeling like I can stop thinking about endings and turn my thoughts back.

So a few days late, I am proposing for myself a little birthday project.  In her zine Beginnings, Jen Lemen presents a couple of fun exercises to help imagine and dream your way into launching new ventures.   While I did them less than 7 months ago, I am going to pull them out and revisit them, perhaps make some art around them.  If you yourself are at the same place, Beginnings is a good place to start. 

Happy new school year!  Happy Birthday to me! and Happy Beginnings to all of Us  

I have been told that you know you are healing from a great loss, not by the absence of suffering but by the fact that the length of time between each episode of intense grief gets longer and longer still.  Its been awhile now since I cried over the dissolution of my marriage with Juan, since I dwelt on the reality that all I had hoped for as a young bride turned out so differently.  I know I am healing because it has been months since I felt so sad.  It is this fact that I cling to tonight even as my tears keep me awake.

And its true that I have noticed that I no longer feel the need to go to the sub sub basement of despair.  I am now content to rest on the stairs between the ground floor and the basement of my emotions.  A softer sort of sad. 

And it is also true that I no longer fight my grief.  I no longer am afraid of the waves of emotion.  I know that they will tumble over me and that they will go and happiness and joy will once again rule my day.  Over the last few years I have learned that I can sit with Sadness.  I know that if I don’t ignore her she will eventually leave.  I listen to what she tells me.  She tells me I am capable of great great love and deep forgiveness.  She tells me that once I dared to live a beautiful dream.  She tells me that I gave of myself so completely, that I learned to trust, that I gave my all for something.  She tells me I was one of the lucky ones to have known love.  These are beautiful things to know.  And so I cling to that too.

These signs, not the absence of grief, are what tell me I am healing.

I have been waiting for months for Juan to sign off on some very important papers.  Today he handed them to me.  It is not the end of our process but it is an important step.  Yes it is a very positive turn of events, one that enables me to move on.  But as it is a milestone it marks our way along a path I did not choose, and this fact, this is what makes me grieve.  I long for the path I started out on–for the path I was so happily treading along until the day he told me he was leaving.  This path I have been on has been strewn with lots of rocks and mud and icky flies but also great beauty and new sights I never would have known.    And I cling to this too.

So all day today I have not been able to control the leaking of tears from my eyes.  I have been sniffling uncontrollably, hoping that all those who see me attribute it to a bad cold or allergies.  I don’t mind the sadness but I do mind being so publicly sad.  And I mind it when sadness robs me of precious sleep, of the comfort of my bed.

I know from past experience that eventually I will sleep.  Sleep will help.  So will tea and warm oatmeal with apples.  I will be a different person tomorrow.  If not tomorrow then the next day…or the next.

Joy will eventually return and I will know I am one step closer to healing.

Apple Harvest

Apple Harvest

Yesterday was a perfect fall day.  Bright blue sky, just a little nip in the air.  The beginning of sweater weather–so rare in our area in September.  I cast aside the chores I had planned to do that day and informed everyone that I intended to go apple-picking.  It is a ritual that soothes me, reminds me of new beginnings and tells me the nesting season of fall is upon us.

Max, his best friend Jake, my friend  and I climbed into my car and drove 40 minutes out of town to Homestead Farm.  There are other pick-your-own places that are closer but I am so fond of Homestead.  I found them just over two years ago, the spring Juan moved out.  It was a place I could take both my frazzled mind and my wild boy and let them both just go…It was the proverbial port in the storm raging out on the sea of our life. 

Max picking apples

Max picking apples

Max would scamper off far ahead in the fields. No matter how far he ran he was always within spotting distance.  I could amble slowly behind soaking in the sunshine and the energy of growing green things. The smell of the soil and the feel of the wind like bandaids on my aching heart.  When we were done we would plop ourselves on the ground with an icecream or wander among the barn animals, petting them and feeding them food the farmers provided.  We could spend an entire afternoon there.

We went to Homestead almost every week that year.  We picked more strawberries than I thought humanly possible but we ate or baked or gave them all away.   As berry season moved into apple season we traded in our berry boxes for bushel barrels and learned to recognize different types of apples.   

We have returned now every year, usually just once or twice a season.  Everytime I go, however, I am instantly transported back to a feeling of peace, of being centered in the center of chaos, of knowing that hope is abundant and just ready to be harvested.

Jake and Max with real big apples

Jake and Max with real big apples

 And so yesterday we landed there on the most perfect of apple days.  Armed with baskets and a wheelbarrow we wandered into the orchard far away, where most of the people had not yet dared to go.  Many of the apples were still young, just a few had been kissed by the sun long enough to ripen.    Even though we were picky, careful to only take fruit that was ready we still filled three baskets in almost no time.  Max and Jake would scamper up to find the best ones, still light enough to climb without damaging the trees.  We wandered among the trees calling out to each other:  “Look at this beautiful one!  Have you ever seen a more precious apple?”

When we were done, my friend bought them each an icecream while I paid for our 65+ pounds of apples, as well as some other produce from their farm stand.  Then we wandered down to pet the animals and let the boys run free.  I breathed in the country air which smells to me like hope.

On the way home we talked about what we would do with so many apples.  We talked about recipes for wheat-free apple crisp and pork with apples and apple salad and oatmeal with apples.  But then we decided we would fill up bags with apples and give them away to neighbors and people we loved.  Jake decided we should tell everyone that the apples were fresh picked just for them “for a sweet new year”. 

That evening, just before suppertime, two beautiful dusty boys ran from house to house, supervised by a mom on the curb.  At each home, they proudly handed over a Spiderman lunchbag full of apples.  The smile of delight on each recipient’s face was something I wish I could capture, that I wish I could bottle to remind Max about the joy of giving.  A perfect end to a perfect day where we harvested more than apples… we harvested a little community and a bit of hope too.

Frye boots

Frye boots

My body has gone through a transformation since I was 25. 

Back then I was cute and tiny with a great little figure.  Since then I my body has slowly morphed from tiny to curvy to really curvy to pregnant to post-pregnant fluffy to its now sorry state of lumpy, schlumpy and downright unhealthy.  I am 50 pounds over a healthy weight.  I know this intellectually but I haven’t stressed much about it, despite my family’s bad cardiac history.  When Juan and I were together,  I attempted at various points over the years to diet and exercise more–sometimes with great results, but often without much change.  No matter, he loved me no matter my shape.  One of the gifts this man left me with is an appreciation for and love of my own body–just the way it is.

When he left, I collapsed into all bad food habits.  I would eat half a (small) ice cream cake in bed at 11 pm when I was feeling sad.  We ate pizza and pasta and bagels for dinner because they were convenient and easy for a stresed out, barely coping mom on the go.  Add on top of that a thyroid disorder and some other small health issues–well lets just say when I see pictures of myself taken recently it just doesn’t compute.  I ask myself–“Do I look like that really?”  For a moment my healthy, happy, body image starts to waiver.  But then, I just shrug and move on with my day.  I have more important fish to fry (so to speak).

Lately, for energy and health (not vanity reasons, really) I have made an effort to eat better.  I recently learned I have a wheat allergy and have been wheat free for a week now.  I am limiting (though not entirely eliminating) sugar and honey and have said goodbye to processed junk.  Its good.  After just a week I am starting to feel better.  And I have told myself if I lose weight and inches–all the better but really, as long as I feel better, stronger and with more energy, that’s all that matters.

Until last night.

See I love cowboy boots.  I mean I LOVE them.  When I was 22 in Texas I bought myself a pair that lasted a good 10 years and would have lasted longer had I not gotten pregnant and changed foot sizes.  When I had those boots I barely need any other pair of shoes.  They were my casual, work and dressy choice and went with almost any outfit.

From the minute I realized my little feet would never fit in my pre-pregnancy boots I have been dreaming of a new pair.  However for the bulk of the last 6 years I have just been content to dream.  As a new mom, they seemed like such a silly luxury and besides didn’t really match my “new mom” persona.  I let my cowboy boots become an icon of my past, crazy, dance-all-night, single irresponsible days and opted for comfortable, more respectable, mother/career woman footwear.  A good chic sneaker, too-cute-for-words clogs, some fabulous heels and sassy Mary-Janes.

But in the last 2 years, as a single woman discovering her wholeness, my inner bad-ass has been dying for shoes of her own.  I have been clipping Sundance catalog pictures, the Frye boots website is in my favorite places.  I had found a pair that would be perfect for me and started saving my pennies.  And finally, with my 38th birthday fast upon me  I ordered the pair I have been dreaming about for 2 years. 

I found the best deal at  Zappos.com and they shipped the shoes to me overnight.  All day at work I checked out the FedEx delivery status site to see if they had arrived.  I ran home in joyful anticipation of trying them on and welcoming back that wild spirit part of me that clonks around in boots.  Yee-haw.

But something awful happened.  I lifted my beautiful pair of boots out of the box, put them on and found I couldn’t pull the shaft of the boot up over my calf.  It just got stuck on the last tiny bit of my thickened leg.  But that tiny bit was enough to ruin the look (not to mention make me feel like I had been squeezed into a toothpaste tube.)  I was completely and utterly and truly sad.  I had never, in my wildest dreams imagined that I had become too chunky for cowboy boots.

This sorry fact, more than photos, more than my doctor’s health warnings, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

My new roommate came up from downstairs and looked at me.  “These are my new boots.”  I told her trying to hold in my disappointment.  “They will stretch.  I just need to break them in.”  She looked at me with disbelief.  “Can’t you just get them in a wider size?  They don’t fit”  “No…”  I moaned.  “These are the boots I want and they are like this….Maybe” (I am murmuring now) they will stretch some…”

“Why don’t you just get a different pair–one with zippers?”  She just didn’t understand.

I love Zappos.com’s return policy.  As long as I don’t wear them outside and they stay in original condition I have 365 days to return them.  So I am putting my beloved boots aside for now–I don’t want to stretch them out but I don’t want to send them back.  I am not giving up.  I am on a mission to lose a little bit of weight. 

In all seriousness all it will take is a 1/8 of an inch on my calves and those babies will slide right on.

All day today I was able to smile in the face of all my cravings simply by thinking of thosel luscious brown boots.  I walked by Ben & Jerry’s with nary a glance.  I ordered a small chai tea with skim milk even though I really really wanted a large one with whole milk and a treat on the side.  I turned down a glass of wine with dinner.  I feel I am on a roll.

Its all fresh veggies and small portions over here at our house.  I am motivated as I have never been before.  I figure it will work one of three ways:

1.  I quickly lose the tiny bit I need to lose in my calves and then with the momentum of quick rewards I sail through the rest of the year with motivation and come out looking not just like a girl in boots, but a mature curvy cute girl in boots.

2.  My calves are the last to lose but the reward of putting  them on propels me through a year of healthy eating which finally has its reward.

3.  The boots never fit.  But after a year of eating well it doesn’t matter to me.  I am able to mourn the loss of the dream of the boots and send them back a healthier me. 

Its funny what motivates me.  These boots may be well worth it, even if I don’t get to wear them a day. 

I am a little nervous about writing so openly about these issues of faith and my view of God in such a public forum.  I am not a churchy person–it is one of the few things I keep close.  But today it seemed approrpriate so here are a few of my thoughts…

Several months ago, Max came home from a playdate depressed and sad.  It took a little prodding, but I finally got him to tell me what was wrong.

Max:  (with indignation in his voice):    Mom…Jake says we aren’t Jewish.  He says we are Christian.

Me:    We are Christian.  Actually we are Catholic which is a kind of Christian, although we sometimes worship at the Episcopal church.  (I think to myself…IF we actually go to church.)

Max:  WHAT?  (with sadness and disappointment in his voice) But…we celebrate all the holidays…

It’s true.  We do.  The New Year with his best friend Jake and family, Yom Kippur with our dear friends Stephen and Marilyn.  We light Channakah candles with several different families each December, and we have sat at many a Passover Seder table in his young years.  We have been to so many Shabbat dinners that Max actually can say the prayers over the candles along with our host if he or she prays slow enough. 

And its also true that we are really bad at celebrating the Christian holidays–other than the big holidays of Christmas and Easter, which frankly feel so commercial despite my efforts to combat this at home.  Aside from these two, there are not many Christian community celebrations that ring true for me.  Lighting Advent candles and opening Advent calendars are quiet at home family affairs.  We are not great about getting to church–in fact we are really bad at church.  And those saints’ feast days do not call out for big loud family dinners.

And Max and me, we are great at big, loud, chaotic gathering that involve food and bread and wine and apples dipped in honey.  It is part of how we sing our prayers of thanksgiving.  The Jewish holidays call to us in this way and so we find ourselves often worshipping alongside our Jewish friends who so lovingly welcome us into their homes.

I have struggled alot about how to raise my son in faith, how to give him a framework upon which to hang his own understanding of the mysteries of the world.  And while I have never struggled with my own faith and my spirituality, I do struggle greatly with institutionalized religion and the Catholic Church in particular.  I struggle with the limited role for women in my church.  I struggle with the church’s position on the love shared by my gay friends.  I struggle with power-hungry bishops and money-hungry pastors and a bureaucracy that let so many children get hurt to protect priests who were sick.  I have issues.

But my God, I have no issues with Him.  I see Her face in the face of my friends, my loved ones.  I see His hand in the tremendous people I know who work very hard for justice, fairness and kindness in the world.  God is omnipresent to me in the laughter of children, in the bloom of a flower, in a blue blue sky and in the kind words of a stranger.  But my God is also most present to me in the face of my loved ones, in food prepared with love, in big tables around which our most cherished ones sit.  And that is why for us, these harvest holidays, the lighting of candles around a table, the breaking of bread and the introspection of the new year celebrations are what call us to worship.

I find myself thinking about something my neighborhood grandma once told me…something that rings truer each day.  Grandma was the wise older woman in our neighborhood who looked after all us kids and loved us all as her own.  She is Jewish and she and I were talking about her own children, one who had converted to Catholism in marriage.  We were also talking about another of the neighborhood grandkids who had become a wiccan. 

“Meggie,” she said.  “Yahweh, She is so big.  None of us humans can understand how deep, complex and awesome He is.  But God wanted to know us all.  She/He gave each of our cultures a little window to look upon Him with, to communicate with Him/Her in a way we could understand given our culture.  Religion is just the window–no one view is more or less correct.  Its the same loving God.  And thats the only thing that is important.”

Perhaps I am a spiritual traveler, one who enjoys the view through many windows.  In that spirit, I say to all my dear ones and all the strangers who pass this way, those who celebrate today and those who chose to celebrate in other ways or not at all:  L’shanah Tova! –May your new year be filled with love, community, nourishment and joy!