29 August 2013

thoughts on oughts

i sliced a peach for breakfast and thought, "isn't there a school of thought that says a first taste in the morning ought not be a fruit?" 

so many swirling notions of what we ought to eat, do for a living, how we should exercise, so many philosophies on child rearing and education. how we should spend our time, how we should spend our money. i am overwhelmed with so many ought to's.

when we decided to homeschool, i stood before a firing squad of oughts. "you ought to choose this curriculum". "you ought to attend this tutorial". "you ought to visit this convention"."you ought NOT to homeschool". these are just a few.

when we decided to send our boys to ppppuuuuubbbbblllliiiiccc school, someone exclaimed, "that's a terrible idea!"{i appreciate that person's candor because i feel certain many were saying it behind our backs-wink wink}.

i confess that sometimes my decisions may not seem sound to the outside world {anyone who does not live inside my head}.can you imagine how the poor Mister keeps up?

a sweet young mother told me about a book i ought to read on parenting. the gist of the book from what she described is we as parents over congratulate our children hence squelching their work ethic and feeling of accomplishment. as she was telling me about this newly lauded new york times best seller, i thought, "but didn't i just read that we need to pad around our children's burgeoning self esteem?" fortunately for my children i fall into the slacker mom category so by the time a new way of doing things comes along, there's a 50/50 chance i'm already doing it.

i suppose like fashion, philosophical trends come back around every 10th season. food, exercise, parenting and the like. if i wait long enough there will be another book written about how i should coddle my children more and avoid anything but fruit in the morning. i cannot keep up. do i avoid meat and only eat vegetables or run to get a hotdog, but leave off the bun? we can wield scientific theory to back up our arguments most of the time. 

this morning i had the privilege of practicing yoga outdoors from a coffee shop. okay. can you fully grasp how insanely awesome that experience was for me? yoga, outdoors followed by a cappucino. and as i was on my mat, a plane flew across the tip top of the sky, right over the moon. if you don't understand how this was more magical than a unicorn jumping over a blue moon, then you are dead to me-it's like you don't even know me! kidding. but in all seriousness, yoga is my exercise of choice whenever i am not hiking. or swimming. i've been shushing that voice with "i ought to be running." "i ought to be lifting weights." "i ought to try that new trendy exercise gathering". but those are not for me. not.for.ME.

part of the reason i adore the practice of yoga is because it trains you to listen to yourself-to trust your intuition. to hear yourself. and aside from all the physical health benefits, this is the healthiest-yeah mental health. 

anytime i can practice trusting my instincts, hearing myself, learning to enjoy what i find is best for me in the moment, it's a good thing. and savoring a peach for breakfast seems fitting.

here's to hearing yourself first so that you can hear others-second. that's just what you ought to do.
and some mornings, i skip the fruit and head straight for the caffeine. 

26 August 2013

sneaking in

my boy. my first born. the love of my life. the one i cut my mothering teeth on. the joy that is all boy, has dropped out of homeschooling and into the world of public schooling. so today whilst he was away learning in a place that isn't his home, i snuck into the place where he dwells, and plans, and plays and dreams. 

he was away for the day so i snuck in. he keeps his door closed, but not locked so i took that as a sign i could trespass. permission if you will. and i did. this is what i found. 
probably the best to do list i've ever read in my life

and i was delighted by what i found. deeply, heart tickled, weepy eyes, encouraged and heart sick delighted. 
hand hewn blocks made for him on his first birthday by his genius godfather
a relic from his father's archives

it only took 14 years, but i think he has mastered putting his dirty clothes in their right place

his bed unmade. he once read in the new york times that keeping an unmade bed hinders bedbugs from multiplying. not that he was a bed maker before that. it just justified his oversight.

his shelves dusty. 

stuff all over the floor.

trash littering every place except the can to which it's intended. 

aside from all of that, i see a boy growing and thinking and actually listening. he hears me. i can see it by what he places on the shelves in his room. hints of trips taken. clues of time spent outdoors. nuances of a budding scientist. fourteen years of relating sneaking in. 

for all you mamas and papas who wonder, "is what i'm doing really adding up?" the answer is, "yes. it is." just sneak into your child's room to notice.

xo gf

22 August 2013


i just left the hospital. a quick visit to see a person who is dying from cancer. 

the two youngest boys and i baked a few dozen cookies for her husband and son. the two who are keeping vigil by her side as she suffers greatly. they are in nashville seeking a second opinion. the prognosis isn't good. but there we were. today. just the three of us jaunting up to her room to bring a tiny-as in teeny-bit of sweetness into an otherwise dim situation. and walking into her room with the smell of dank hospital and bleak hopefulness i felt overwhelmed. 

her precious husband wearing a black wind breaker to ward off the hospital chill walked over to greet us. i could tell that was one of the few times he had left the literal bedside of his wife's care. with a wet cloth in hand from caressing her cheek. the boys noticed the lip balm. i explained that sometimes our lips chap when we're sick. she forced a smile, but couldn't open her eyes. her headscarf prompted me not to stare. she was writhing in pain. the nurse was steady by her side administering something. i just glanced and spoke fast. tripping over my words. i used the past tense and it made me so flustered. 

"mrs. ford? hi, my name is tracy utley. i am a friend of .....andrew cross. he asked me to.....bring you cookies." it was all so confusing. even to me. her husband shook my hand and asked if i was from kentucky, the state from where our mutual friend hails. "no, sir. i live here. in tennessee. um. nashville. andrew was, is, i mean was a student of your wife's. he thought, thinks so much of her, he asked us to bring up a little....cheer." mr. ford smiled knowingly. and set me at ease as he asked about my companions. "o, these are two of my boys, harry and george." he patted them on the head and told me how sweet the cookie gesture was/is. i politely thanked him and walked out of the room. relieved. 

as we walked back through the intense heated august afternoon into the cool of the parking garage, i thought. "for so long i have felt a little like i should be doing more with my life. to have something to show. revenue to contribute. interests beyond the four walls of our little cottage in the hood. things that have nothing to do with being a mom or a wife." recently i spoke with the Mister about going back to school-once the boys are older. just a thought. 

but today i was reminded that i do have a life that is separate from my boys and my life as a wife and mother. it takes me outside the four walls of my safe dwelling and into the lives of strangers, some of whom are very sick-in hopes of cheering them if for but a moment with a little sweetness. it's a life that has time at the end of the day to sit on the porch with young women as they ponder life. it's a life that has time to write and stretch out on a yoga mat. it's a life that is far from fancy, far from intellectual. but so full of curiosity.

a spare drop of time to pack a few boxes for a friend who is moving. to brainstorm homeschooling with a mother who is curious. a morsel of time to drop in on my neighbor who is aging-rapidly. 

people. that is what i love to do. be with people. sick, well, curious, sad, hurting, happy and even dying. 

i don't have degrees in baking, or in counseling or even in the hospitality industry. but when a friend who lives several hundred miles away is in need of a little baking venture, i am up for the task. and that is a pretty big deal of a delight. 

i am not starting a business as hospice concierge. i am just available for that spontaneous drop in on a stranger visit armed with a basket of cookies and a brood of boys. and i have to say, i am grateful.

simply grateful to be available. that's me. not rushed. not too busy. just available. usually.


16 August 2013

water features

it must be my fiery personality that makes water so compelling to me. i am drawn to it. i am happiest when i am close to it. any kind of water. a pool, a pond, an ocean or a bay. it doesn't matter. i adore it. my heart leaps whenever i am near it. it's akin to falling in love. would it be an exaggeration to say that i am indeed in love with this chemical compound? someone once wrote that laughter is the best medicine. i think it's water. 

water has served me well my whole life. aside from nourishing and refreshing, it has been a source of profound teaching. let me explain.

yesterday, as i swam laps, the 10 year old and 7 year enjoyed their education that's physical. i droned. stroke.stroke. breath. o, i do love swimming even though it is lonely. as i swam beside my splashing lads, i thought. lesson: water is a sanctuary. 

water has played an instrumental role in my life from early on. i learned to swim at the hands of my father and older sister when i was around 6. my father put a pool in our backyard, a simple task for a building contractor. our home instantly became the place to be as my siblings entertained like gangbusters. from sun up to sun down, i swam in the company of a large crowd of friends mine and my siblings. water was my recreation and being out of doors all day is what's responsible for the freckles on my 42 year old face. lesson: water cultivates community.

years later, i stumbled into an advanced swim class/life saving class at the y.m.c.a. i read about it in the newspaper and thought it sounded-engaging. little did my 12 year old self know that this class was set aside for those training to be lifeguards. not wanting to back down from a challenge{and being too embarrassed to walk out}, i hung on even through the most awkward moments of being "rescued" by older guys who were hoping to earn their lifeguard's whistle for the upcoming summer. i will never forget jumping into the pool fully clothed wearing my oxford cloth shirt and jordache jeans over my swimsuit. have you ever tried to take wet jeans off whilst treading water? were you 12? and if that wasn't enough, i had to fashion those stiff jeans into a floatation device-whilst treading said water. then i had to rescue a full grown man{i was 12 and if my size wasn't enough of an obstacle, the horror of my burgeoning adolescence was!}. lesson: water brings challenge{and vulnerability}.

it would take me until my sophomore year in college to have the courage{or stupidity}to try out for my college swim team. i had just broken up with a boy who had been in my life for a long time. i needed an escape, a quiet place to practice hearing myself. and this proved just the ticket. i was out of my element-in my element. in an unfamiliar landscape known as competition. and i loved it. the challenge distracted me from my heartbreak whilst giving me a place to ponder. i swam on the team for only a year. lesson: water is a place for training-and quiet introspection.

it would be many years later when i came back to the pool. i was a young mother. pregnant with my first child. the only comfortable way for me to get a good workout with my growing body was by taking to the water. i met others in my situation and formed sweet friendships that carried me through 3 more pregnancies. lasting friendships until we moved away. lesson: water is a source of encouragement.

fast forward to this summer. i am now a mother to 4 strong swimmers who can swim without parental supervision!!! i can take to the swim lanes and lose myself in the monotany of the strokes. coming up, i see my boys are doing the same. swimming laps. i've come full circle. from a young swimmer myself to a mother of 4 young swimmers. water has been a constant in my life. unlike any other earthly element, it brings both great joy and great fear. a healthy sense of respect. a place where challenge has met comfort. lesson: water is a teacher.

i have long dreamed for a little dwelling that is situated with a view of the water be it lake, pond, ocean or even a bay. a place with water feature. perhaps someday. lesson: water is home?

h2o. that simple, yet powerful often translucent sometimes dangerous always essential element. it makes me swoon and lose my breath{whenever i drive over bridges}. always appreciative of having my feet on land. but within reach of water is even better. 

here's to a weekend within reach of the water.


14 August 2013

wrestling with angels

someone used the term supermom in the same sentence with me the other day. very graciously, i replied, "i don't think my children, those little darlings to whom i mother, would concur". here's why.
the glow of boys who are about to run an early 5k

they live with me. they taste my homemade scones and hear my deafening tirades over lost scissors and unkempt rooms. i'm pretty much a disaster. a broken, cracks-can't-hold-in-the-water, disaster who happens to make really good treats, entertains for fun and fully and completely owns her shit of which includes swearing.

i thought about that little phrase last night when i awoke at 2.30 am. owning my shit. and i thought, i bet the entire world's problems could be solved if more people just owned up to their weaknesses, foibles and mistakes. can you imagine?

because guess what my darlings? we can't always be right, know it all, get it the first time. we all have stuff we would rather not be found out on. i am one who would rather tell you in plain text than to try to pretend otherwise. it's truly unbecoming. and who isn't cheered with another who is quick to the punch admitting she's wrong, imperfect and so so not a supermom? 

i tell you, i have only 24 hours in my short day. that's not enough time to posture and pretend or defend. and i generally don't set time aside for those who do. 

most nights when i wake at 2.30, it's because i feel like i'm wrestling with an angel{and have to use the loo}. i've done or said something the previous day that warrants regret. so i toss and turn in my bed, languishing. begging, plotting, planning a way to change. making a to do list on how to be more intentional with patience. to be less exacting. to be kind. my children are the ones who see this side of me most. they are the ones who see my anger{synonyms could be fury or rage}. they are also the ones who hear my regret as i ask them to forgive me and say things like, "i was wrong". 

so what is the take away from this you might wonder? well, a long time ago a person wrote, "the truth will set you free". and it is, well, true. trying to pretend takes more work than i wish to put forth. i'm lazy. so rather than make you think i am patient or sweet or even super, i'll just tell you. i'm not. but i do make good eats. that's the honest truth. 

verily yours,

xo gf

12 August 2013


chimney tops trail, smoky mountains 1993

i remember reading about planting trees. the article advised it is better not to stake saplings so that when the rough winds come, their roots can do their job and dig deep to steady the growing tree. do you see a metaphor to marriage? 

for a christian, there is rooting down deep whilst looking up. our strength does not come from our spouse. it comes from above. from the Creator of night and day. and as for the staking, that comes from something known as leaving and cleaving. heard of it?

well, there is this passage in genesis that says, "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two will become one flesh." perhaps you have never heard such a thing. the inspiration behind this writing, i assume, is so that the two can be grafted together like an arborist might do when trying for a new species of tree. 

here's the thing. marriage is hard. my family tree is full of divorce. the man i wed 18 years ago today, has roots that were lost too soon through death. neither of us pretend to have much figured out when it comes to marriage except this. you better dig deep. stubbornly deep. unflinchingly so. when the rough winds come, and they will, you sure do want to be firmly planted.

chimney tops trail, smoky mountains 2013
cancer, many moves, death of a parent and several job losses are but a few of our rough winds. and we've not even been married that long. there will be more. {i bet hallmark doesn't write an anniversary card about that}. 

so we continue to dig deep so our roots can spread. anchored to truth. always looking up. 

and speaking of roots{see them in photos?}, these two photos were taken 20 years apart at the same exact place along the chimney tops trail. 

if you had told those dazed young lovers what they had waiting for them, they would have never, like never, believed you. it's probably good they didn't know.

here's to many more years of digging deep with this man o' mine. happy anniversary, Mister.


09 August 2013

proof of life

"reducing art to proof". i was on the treadmill or elliptical or the stairmaster listening to a book when i heard those four words. it struck such a chord that i jotted it down. 

the author, david sedaris, was regaling me {and anyone else who reads his latest collection of essays let's explore diabetes with owls}about his excursions, writing about life rather than living it. he conceded that he is better at the former than the latter. his honesty chaffed me. made me sad for him and then ultimately shined a light on me and my penchant for not so much writing about life, but photographing it.

and i thought, have i reduced art to proof? am i too busy photographing the happenings that i am not living them? 

i remember once a cousin of mine who was chided by her husband for never taking video of their bustling, growing family. this wise cousin closed her eyes and said dreamily, "i am living it once-enjoying it the first go 'round rather than trying to capture it to relive later." i will never forget her words. almost 20 years later, it still sticks in my craw as i hungrily and greedily take more photos of my life and loves than should be allowed. 

and i wonder to myself, "girl friday. are you there?" am i so concerned with forgetting the nuances of my boys that i feel compelled to document their hands, their mannerisms, their habits as mundane and pedestrian as they are. eating a bowl of cereal. writing a note. looking out the window.

for anyone who sees my photographic endeavors knows that i lean more to the unplanned, unposed snaps that embody the person more than a "give us a smile" variety. i want to capture their essence, but in so doing am i spending more time capturing than living in it?

this is not a rhetorical pondering. i am trying to get to the bottom of this. 

yesterday our basement flooded. we had inches of standing water. the only thing i could think about was all the photographs down there. so with the help of the 12 year old, whose school was canceled, we heaved up boxes and boxes of filmed reminders of happy faces and inconsequential moments that are documented with such care and love that if ever i was going to claim an earthly treasure, it would be the papers found in those bins. years and years of archived evidence of living a life. proof that i lived and noticed and loved.

perhaps i have reduced art to proof. photographing the museum masterpiece rather than just sitting before it, engulfed with its beauty. but if i don't photograph it, where is the proof that i was ever there? i guess in a way that is why i write and snap shots. so someday, if they ever feel so inclined, my boys will read and see-and know on which side i fell. 

yours in the wondering, 
xo gf

07 August 2013

hi, school.

back in 2003, after a brief jaunt in private school, the lad wearing the backpack came home to school for 10 years

the virtual trash can is full from many failed attempts to write this blogpost. the first go, as well as the fifth, were wrought with self righteous anecdotes and stories that contained more detail than my own mother would care to know. so in keeping with brevity and an overall sense of common good, i will try to write.

they, the 14 year old and the 12 year old, chose to walk through a different educational door this year: public school. this is after years of schooling at home. 

when they came to us a few months back, they had in their minds an arsenal of compelling reasons for trying out this new endeavor. 

they were curious to see what it was like. they wanted to experience more independence. they wanted to feel the weight of responsibility. they wanted to feel challenged in a way that can only come when they are bumping up against people who are not like them. these were their words. and i listened, along with the Mister. then i spoke. 

"there are so many things to be curious about. some that are not edifying and some that are just fine. i think being curious about public school is just fine."  

i could try to scare you with information about how my naive firstborn is attending a rather unlikely and overlooked neighborhood high school. and how the 12 year old is attending a school that serves 90 percent free lunch and 100 percent boys who speak with such urban vernacularthat i threatened, "you keep talking that way, and i'll show up to lunch with linen napkins and china plates." but the real truth is, it has been really, really uneventful and downright delightful. 

the 9th grader's confusion and enchantment over "the principal speaking to the entire school at once and not being in the same room" has to be my favorite story to date. i think the title of my homeschool to public school book needs to be titled a foreign exchange student in my own country.

2013, the lad wearing the blue bag, along with brother, decide to try public school.

it's only been a few days, so i don't pretend to be the expert on transitions. stay tuned. there will be many stories and lessons learned. schools in session: public and otherwise.

the ever curious,
xo gf