Beach Cities Challenge!!! . . and the Superbowl

Oh my, I haven’t quite woken up yet. Have you? I’m steadfastly raising the rim of the coffee mug toward my lips and swallowing its sumptuous liquid, but I’m afraid nothing’s happening. It tastes good, though. And that’s enough when you’re as close as my mug and me are. We’re best friends. No, really, we are. Look.

coffee

 

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Kid President

It’s a slow day. I’m not so much writing as I am looking at the clock above my document and wondering if it might be in everyone’s best interest if I close down for the day. Perhaps it’s the weather. Perhaps it’s the hairy black spider I found on my husband’s side of the bed this morning; the little beast scared me half to death before I’d even a chance to sit down for a proper pee. Probably, though, it’s just the weather. I am sensitive like this. I look out my window and see a nimbus laden sky talking some big talk but has yet to deliver. I hope for rain. We had a bit last night, and when I woke up everything was wet and rinsed and even the lawn sparkled in its own way, an aristocratic ambivalence.

The weekend should be lovely. My husband runs his third marathon this year on Sunday. I am astoundingly proud of him. Me, I will avoid running at all cost; even running behind, if I can. It takes a certain sort of masochistic lunacy, albeit a determined lunacy, to tell yourself “Okay, body, we’re going to do this now. Yep, 26.2 miles. Okay, here goes” and then choose not to veer off the path when no one’s looking. I would cheat. I would hail a cab or find the short cut or . . . you know, I probably just wouldn’t sign up in the first place. I love exercising. I go to the gym almost every day, and I find my serenity is waiting for me the moment I slip those earbuds in and wrap my fingers around the cold metal barbell. I go away. I go in. And I go out. But wherever I go, I am always better for having went. I am a happier woman, a better wife, and a funnier friend when I’ve had my daily allotment of endorphins. But there’s this thing. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe other people feel this way. Sometimes I will remember that I am a modest woman and no, you probably won’t ever see me wearing a shirt that bears my midriff or a skirt any higher than the middle of my thighs. So why, I ask myself, why do I push myself to such extremes. And I do – push myself to extremes. I work out like Mozart plays piano. Dun dun dun dun. Dun-dun-dun-DUNNNNN. What I’m saying is, I put much effort into keeping my shape firm and lean, and really the only person seeing it is me. There’s my husband of course, and yes he appreciates it all, but he is not a vain main, you see, and I am not lying when I say that truly he would still think me beautiful even if I had mashed-potato butt. No, really, he would. Scout’s honor. (Not an actual scout, however I abide by the code. Live long and prosper.) So, no, my career isn’t contingent on the number on my tailbone. It’s a 9, just in case you were curious. (I carry my weight below my bum, like little airplane pillows for it to rest on.) ANYWAY, exercise is good, but I could probably scale back some and it would be all right.

Oh dear  . . .

How did we get here? Truly I don’t know. I only meant to say hello, then suddenly my fingers were running amuck. I do actually have something very cool to share with you. Have you met Kid President? Oh, he’s very possibly the most precious boy I’ve never met. And smart. And a great dancer. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Enjoy the video, then pass it on to everyone you know. It will make them smile knowing there are people like this in our world.

Happy Weekend, Friends!

December My Lovely

Oh, it’s everything, I think. To pin point exactly what it is that has me wrapped around December’s finger, is to lose the magic with which it dances onto the stage just prior to the last curtain call. It is not a perfect month. No. There are things; things and ideas and implications seeking to ruin December’s jubilant mood and benevolent spirit. Hurry, greed, good intentions leading to debt, guilt, and overcommitment. We fill December, packing her with too much, and like a suitcase that simply won’t hold another thing, she is left panting, bloated, and exhausted. And so are we. Unless we treat her well. Embrace her, but don’t suffocate her. Share her, but don’t exploit her. Embellish her, but don’t vandalize her. She is meant to shine, but her light is extinguishable. If we place too many burdens upon her back, she will break her knees, crumple and fall.

When I was younger, in my early twenties, just married, and very determined, December was my way of proving to myself that nothing had changed. That, although I was grown and working fifty hours a week, and my husband was coming home exhausted every night after a full day of school and work, we could still make December the way I remembered her. Do everything. So I turned her into a non-stop parade, marching through her floats made of nostalgia and memory, determined to make her sing for me the way she used to. And when it wasn’t the same – when the parties and decorating and hot coco and baking and wrapping and church services and Christmas movies and trips to the mall didn’t bring back the joy and excitement, I cried. I cried to my husband, poor dear. Mostly I meant well. I simply wanted the carefree, magical season I’d had for all those years. I wanted that moment, etched perfectly on my mind, to remain intact, frozen, untouchable, forever. I wanted the dream.

It’s a hard time for a person, that age between child and adult. We don’t know yet who we are and how to be. We know we are us, the person we’ve been for the last such-and-such amount of years and also the person we’re growing up to be, but we’re a little confused. We’re conflicted. How much do we carry over? Traditions are like a garden we’ve spent years cultivating. But when we move, we don’t know how many plants, flowers, and veggies to take with us and which ones we should probably leave behind where they’ll be more comfortable. The blending of old and new is a delicate process which takes years to perfect. I wish someone would have told me that.

For years I continued to beat the heck out of poor December, determined I must be doing it wrong, so I should add something else. . . . Thank God our brains don’t stop developing until 25. It was around that time I figured it out. It wasn’t more. It was less. It was also being present. Not buying them or receiving them, but being. Little by little my blasted determination weakened, loosing its fist around a choked December. I apologized. I told her I was sorry for mistreating her, for trying to take what she meant to me as a whimsical little girl and make her mean the same thing to me as a soulful woman. She forgave me. Today we’re best friends. True, I only see her once a year, but we make the most of it. Or rather, the least of it. Oh, you know what I mean. I pick and choose my favorite things. And when I’m there, I’m there. All of me. I don’t allow a part of myself to go wandering off, thinking it might be nice if we drove out to the harbor to watch the boat parade. No. Right now, right here, this is where we are. On the couch, holding hands, looking at that gorgeous tree. That’s enough. It’s plenty.

Still, I adore Christmas music, White Chocolate Peppermint Mochas, the lights, and especially the smell of smoking firewood lingering in the air. There are other things, too, subtle and easy to miss if you’re not looking for them: less reluctant smiles from strangers, lightness of foot, and something unmistakably positive in the air, something hopeful whispering through the leaves.

I hope you’re enjoying December. I am. Here are few of our favorite moments this month. The ones that aren’t pictures, however, those were great, too.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Totem

Cards & Fudge

Wintry fun

candy cane lane

Candy Cane Lane

Bella, the sweet and protective

Atti, the playful and curious

Decorating

My love

My Black Friday Heart

Earlier this month I saved my husband money by purchasing a rug at TJMAXX for 79.99, that easily would have sold for three- or five times as much in a store like Pottery Barn or Anthropologie. Aren’t I a good wife? Well, most of the time I am; but do I really believe I saved my husband money? No. But I do believe a sensible woman knows a deal when she spots one.

I came home grinning. I parked the car and unloaded the purchases (just a few other “saves,” I had found while shopping) but I left the rug curled in the back seat. The plan was to wait until Sunday, that being Cleaning Day: a weekly event I anticipate with an equal mixture of habitual casualness and fizzy alacrity. Waiting would make the whole laying-down-of-the-rug feel like an occasion. Almost ceremonial. As though our bedroom had initiated it. Not one to miss any occasion big or small, I would light candles, play music, the whole nine yards. I am nothing if not theatric.

Sunday arrived, and following a whirlwind of ritualistic fanfare — vacuuming, straightening, dusting, wiping down of all surfaces soft and hard — it was time. I went to the car where the rug had remained coiled for the last forty-eight hours, and after carefully hoisting it onto my shoulders, I escorted Her Ladyship inside the house. Then gently, on hands and knees, I unrolled the tapestry using a flourish like the breast stroke, smoothing down the surface, plucking the loose fibers, and finally, settling the edges and corners at precisely the right angles. Three hours later . . . No — that would just be absurd! Of course it only took two hours. (And fifty-nine minutes.) . . . some while later, I made my way to a spot where I could best admire and dote on my new rug. I stood on my bed.

Can I be honest? It was gorgeous. I may have let out a squeal. Or two. And kicked my heels together. Three times. And shimmied up and down. That’s all, though.

After an adequate amount of alone time with my new rug, I went out and into the living room where my husband was sitting on the couch with a bag of pumpkin seeds in one hand and a spit cup in the other. He was watching a hockey game. I glanced at the TV. 3-2, Ducks, with a little more than a minute left on the clock. I asked him to come and take a look at our bedroom, though refused to tell him exactly what it was he would be looking at. I asked him sweetly and slyly, with an air of coquettish allure. And when that didn’t work I stamped my foot and threatened violence. Just what, pray tell, is the point of owning a DVR if not with which to oblige your wife when she’s spent the afternoon scrubbing your porcelain throne? Indeed.

Well, even my husband agreed it was the most spectacular woven thing he’d ever laid eyes on. The most beautiful of all rugs that have ever been and will ever be. As we held each other, unashamed of our tight brows and flowing tears, I took the opportunity to whisper the set of new rules with which the rug had come. Although we (me) uphold a strong “No Shoes” policy in our bedroom, more often than not — usually when one of us is in a hurry to grab a forgotten wallet, wedding ring, a matching shoe — the rules are forsook and replaced with expediency. Am I really going to unlace my boots just to walk eight feet across the room and retrieve my wedding ring? No. I am crazy and compulsive, but not that crazy and compulsive. With the inauguration of the rug, however, all that would change.

And so, for the next two weeks, each time one of us entered our bedroom, we would first remove our shoes and then sidle along the bookshelf, and through the narrow passage way I had built from door to closet. Generally speaking, I am sweaty person. I sweat while reading, applying make-up, chewing gum, and I could fill a koi pond with the sweat I produce within an hour of cardiovascular exercise. Summer is my nemesis. There are days when I would like nothing better than to leave the house wearing several rolls of Bounty. That said, the purpose of not allowing my bare feet to touch the rug immediately after removing my shoes is to give the carpet time to absorb that sweat. Gross and a little strange? Yes, perhaps; but surely no more odd than using whatever’s handy as a shield to block out the beating sun while driving. (Coats work best, if you can trap them in the window; but in a pinch I’ve used napkins and mail.) As I said, for the next fourteen days both my husband and I took the necessary precautions, making concerted efforts to avoid stepping on the rug prematurely. And there it remained, The Crown Jewel of our bedroom, resplendent, majestic, worthy of all our praise. The rug was . . . magnificent.

Until my dog peed on it.

Maybe you will have heard about select stores modifying their hours this year to allow the public to take advantage of Black Friday deals as early as Thanksgiving. Call me traditional, because I am, but I was no less than horrified. I stared at the T.V. in horror. “But it’s . . . Thanksgiving.” As one friend put it, “What could you possibly need that can’t wait until next week?” Now, I understand those deals don’t last. That if you don’t get there bright and early, or, in this year’s case, dark and sleepy, you would miss the opportunity to pay $199 for a spiffy new iPad Mini with a $75 instant rebate. Tempting. For me, though, it wasn’t a tough decision. I won’t lie. If you ducked out early on Thanksgiving, leaving your friends and family oooing and ahhing over Aunt Jenny’s pumpkin bread pudding, I judged you. I thought you selfish and superficial, and myself just a little more virtuous.

Thanksgiving night, after we arrived home from a lovely evening over at my uncle’s house, Bubba and I curled up in bed and watched Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets. At some point over the course of those two hours, my darling Bella lowered her abdomen to the floor and piddled on my precious rug. At first I could only stare in disbelief. Then I pinched my arms. A nightmare, it’s only a nightmare, Cara, you’ll wake up any second now. I did not wake up. My temper flared, and I cursed her for not urinating six inches to the left. That I could have endured. But not my rug. My ruuuuuug!!!!

It was while whimpering and muttering and dabbing the crimson mosaic pattern with soapy warm water that I realized Black Friday had entered my heart. And probably not only on Thanksgiving, but several times throughout the year. Do I still think it’s a poor choice to sacrifice a moment of Thanksgiving, even if half of your relatives are passed out in the living room and the other half appears to be no more alert and engaged in passive digestion? Yes, I do. Because time with family and friends is fleeting and finite, and things can’t wrap their arms around you when you’re sick or sad. If I’m wrong, if in fact there does exist something capable of bringing you true joy and lasting contentment, then by all means, you should probably leave and go buy it. And if for more than a few days you find yourself happy and full, feeling the way one does after good food with good people, please, let me know. I’d be interested. Because my experience with buying has revealed only brief euphorias, and at best, a surface familiarity. My experience is that which boasts a price tag assumes an inevitable expiration date.

I learned something important this year. Something that, truthfully, I’m certain I already knew and had only forgotten. I learned that a rug is a thing. Possibly a very, very, very beautiful thing — but still, highly vulnerable to urine.

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. Happy Sunday, everyone!

. . . . you know I wouldn’t deprive you a look after all that build up! Here it is. “The Rug.”

photo

The Wild Idle

I don’t do idleness. Not well, anyway. Here’s a picture for you: In Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, you remember how Professor Moody (who isn’t really Moody) would start to twitch and jerk all over the place if he didn’t drink his “pumpkin juice” ? Put me in idle, and it’s like we could be twins.

The times I am reading, or watching a show – these are strategic periods of idleness; I have implanted them in my daily apparatus. I enjoy a little bit every day, but only after I have put in a long, hard day of mind-labor, and only if I feel I’ve earned it. Otherwise, I just feel lazy and insolent, left with a sinking hole of unmet gratification. Fun times! said Sarcastic Sal.

The other reason I don’t do idleness is because of the Chatter. The Chatter is what happens when I am left alone with my thoughts for too long. The Chatter is not kind, nor forgiving. It is not intelligent, nor decipherable. Nor is it constructive. It is just what it means: Purposeless or foolish talk. Through much prayer, I have discerned that Its sole purpose is to: 1. berate, 2. distract, 3. petrify, 4. discourage. When I am thriving in the rush of writing, the Chatter is silenced. This is not by any thwart or fortitude on my part; there simply isn’t enough room for It and my characters.

Allow me a moment to elaborate on number 3, petrify. There are three definitions given for this word, of which, in referencing the Chatter, I feel all would work.

1 – to convert into stone or a stony substance. Of the three, this definition is likely to be the most metaphorical. Obviously I cannot literally be turned into stone; but surely I’ve found there to be a certain pallid indifference taking place.

2 – to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion. Absolutely, 100%. You remember when you were a child, and would play that super-fun game, Freeze-Tag? Seriously, so much fun! BUT – if you were touched by the person who was “it,” then by decree you were supposed to stop and pause, just as you were, freezing your pose until someone came along and un-freezed you. Well, that is exactly what it’s like when the Chatter gets a hold of me.

3 – to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden. It’s as though I have lost all desire to do and be. I turn listless and apathetic – just the thought of making a simple meal exhausts me, proves to be too much effort for the proposed result. I am a rock – no, less than a rock. Rocks provide purpose: offering a place to sit, holding things down, or beautifying landscape. I am nothing more than a mass of inert energy, draining the supply of oxygen in my cloudy, loathsome atmosphere. All I want is to sit and be miserable. It is the highest form of self-loathing I can think of. When this happens, all is lost until someone comes along and unfreezes me. Usually, bless him, this person is my husband, and with kindness and love and words of wisdom, usually I can be roused from paralysis, compelled to remember that Life is bigger than my momentary sorrows or troubles.

I like big things: Big results, Big events, Big praise, Big hair. But the most dangerous way this predilection takes shape in my life is in the form of BIG EXPECTATIONS. Each day I expect of myself a certain amount of work to be accomplished. It isn’t necessarily a number or a concrete goal, but more or less something I feel in the pit of my stomach. Did I write something meaningful today? Did I help a friend through their struggle. Did I seize the opportunity to take part in a simple act of kindness? Did I set out to accomplish a tedious domestic task and finish it. If the answer to these questions is “No,” there is a strong probability that, as soon as I pause long enough to be alone with my thoughts, the Chatter will get me. (I’m completely dating myself, but right now I am hearing Gloria Estefan’s “The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” in my head. I loved that album . . .)

Anyway,

The Chatter is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I have barely cracked open an eye when It starts hissing: You’re so tired. What are you doing with your life? Why don’t you have more friends? You’ll never be a successful author. You should have accomplished more by now. Look at how much everyone else has compared to you. You’re so tired. Soon you won’t even have your looks, and then who will you be? You’re failing at the only thing you might have been good at. You’re stuck in a rut and there’s no getting out. You should probably give up. You’re so tired.

. . .  Friend, if this sounds anything at all like the inside of your head, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. You’re not alone and you’re not defenseless. If it doesn’t, truly I am very glad for you, and please, you can pray for those of us with louder, nastier voices trying to usurp our minds and break our spirits.

I’ve told you I’m most vulnerable to the Chatter during idle times. But what I haven’t told you yet, is, to avoid the Chatter I am willing to commit myself to a number of things. Actually anything, rather than hear what It might have to say. This means – and please forgive me; I am an imperfect creation trying to follow a Perfect God – while driving, sometimes I will take out my phone and check my Facebook, my Instagram, or my Messages; even though I know if I had received a message, I would have seen the little notification pop-up on my screen. Habit has turned into compulsion. And this is not the only time, either: Brushing my teeth, waiting in line, pumping gas, sometimes just walking from the parking lot to my destination. I take out my little companion, seeking to stimulate myself because the Chatter is after me; it’s chasing me, and if I give my eyes something to look at, my mind something to think about, even a dull-something, it is – or so at the time I would think – a better alternative than facing my enemy’s voice. Ultimately, this is not the answer: It’s simply another form of idleness, and in fact more dangerous, due to its presumed and purported productivity. It’s not even a temporary solution, because what ends up happening is, by peeking through your windows, I am left feeling sad, empty, and more alone than if I had let the Chatter come and deflected its assaults with Truth.

The Truth is – I am not alone.

The Truth is – I am enough.

The Truth is – I will seldom meet the world’s expectations.

The Truth is – I am being pursued by the Chatter because it knows exactly how important I am.

And even more than short periods of idleness, I am all the more susceptible to its villainy during longgggg periods. If you know me and follow my author page, you will perhaps know I have recently finished my second book. For days I basked in the sunny warmth of a job completed and well-done. Yes, of course: There is still editing to do, Beta-readers to whom I must hand the manuscript, followed by another round of edits, the query, the waiting, yabbidy-yabba-yabba. But, whatever, Dude – I finished writing a book. And not just one, but my TWO books. Boo-yah, Punk, take that! Hi-yah! Kung-fu-like-bruce-lee-in-yo-face!

Fast forward a week, and I am face-planted in a soggy bowl of Golden-Grahams, plus I’m starting to smell a little.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do with myself. I dread getting up in the morning, because I know I have no idea what I’m going to do all day. I have ample time, a glorious blessing I never for one moment stop being grateful for; but presently I lack the tools necessary to make something awesome and shiny. My job – or so I would tell myself – is to be brilliant, every day. Sadly, this just isn’t possible. I’ve begun researching for my third book (a process by which many pleasantries arise, as it involves copious amounts of reading). I have a slew of notes written down, character bios are coming along, the plot is very slowly developing, but . . . it’s not enough to begin writing a book. It isn’t.

Amateur writers – galvanized after a sip on the ambrosial idea-chalice – often make the fatal mistake of prematurity, only to be found later, utterly dejected, utterly exhausted, and utterly wishing they could turn back the clock and do things differently. I’ve been there, and the place is just sad. Picture a world without Ian Sommerhalder or Ryan Reynolds, and maybe, just maybe you’ll understand what I’m describing. <— Joke. (Obviously there is no imagining something so insidiously chilling.)

Oddly enough, I write best when I know what it is I want to say. That may sound like a no-brainer, but we writers can get desperate; and in our desperation, sometimes we’ll hit the keyboard impulsively, hoping some magical entity will appear on our shoulder and whisper hella-fantastic ideas in our ears. (J.K. Rowling is rumored to occupy one such creature.) Me? So far, I have yet to receive a visit. If you have, though, or if you know of a place or person from whom I might acquire this treasure, I would thereby be obliged to you for life. I will happily pay you in accolades and Skittles. 🙂

Seriously, though . . .

idle wild

The Truth is, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself right now; in the quiet, in the idle, in the unproductive. The Chatter is making a feast of me. Every fiber of my being being is crying out for greater purpose, for something to validate my existence. I’ve only just finished my book, an amazing feat, and already I am half-crazed and ravenous for something else to do, so I can fill up that hole inside of me with things. Give me something – anything! – to take my mind off how alone and empty I feel inside when I’m not doing something. And then, when nothing comes, well, there’s always my phone.  . . . Last night, on the way home from the gym, I conducted a little experiment: I turned off the music and counted how many times the urge to pick up my phone and check something occurred.  And in the eight minute journey, guess how many times I forgot, then remembered? SIXTEEN. Sixteen times my hand went to my gym-bag. Sixteen times I had to remind myself that, if something dire were happening, my phone would be ringing. Sixteen times I had tell my mind it was okay to feel scared, or sad, or lonely for a moment.

It’s okay. It will pass. Just be there.

I don’t know how this happened, but I know it isn’t good. I am searching for fulfillment in things and companionship in technology, and neither is good for my soul. So yes, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself; but I think this is exactly where I need to be right now. Sometimes it will mean I have to feel unpleasant things. And sometimes it will mean breathing and marveling at the God-given ability to pull air into my lungs and push it back out.

Love to you & Lighting it up,

~ Cara