#ChooseToChallenge

Did you know that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day? A friend of mine recently inspired me with how she will be celebratingby giving thanks to the amazing women in her life and by celebrating herself. How appropriate and what a great idea! Despite your gender, if you celebrate women internationally, THANK YOU!  

My friend asked the question, “If you could tell your younger self anything, what would you say?” And so here goes:

Dear Little Crystal,

Be true to yourself and live your God-given purpose. Be honest and courageous, proud, confident, and unapologetic. Keep your body, mind, and spirit strong. Love wholly and forgive fully. Don’t let anyone shut you up or down. Maintain boundaries for bullshit and remember you can do hard things.

Much love,

Your Bigger, Wiser Self

And as a follow-up, “If you could encourage yourself in any way today, what would you say?”

Dear Me,

Be kind to yourself, progress is progress, and don’t ever forget your own best advice. I love you!

Love Me!

P. S. Today I’m celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. For more information go to InternationalWomensDay.org.


Three Minutes with Denise

I love new beginnings—the opportunity to start over—to get my mind right. May March bring you joy, fulfillment, perspective, and hope.

A few weeks ago when I stayed with my daughter in Dallas, my bestie Denise let me do some of Lauren’s laundry at her house, which was awesome. Even better, what comes next. Our conversation started like this. “Blah, blah, blah…I’m angry,” I said.

She sat in her chair beside me, listened to my woes, and said, “Do you know where your thoughts are when you’re angry?”

I thought for a moment and said, “The past?”

And she nodded her beautiful face up and down and launched into some sound advice.

I said, “Wait, could I video this?”

Denise coaches golf. And for me, life. She should have her own YouTube channel. Our backstory goes like this—I crashed her birthday party when she turned five. I went uninvited with another friend. That’s how we met. The year was 1975. Later, we shared homerooms—first, second, and third grade. I was always happy to see Denise’s name on the list for my class. Flash forward through twelve years of school, and then I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. We became besties closer to age 40 when we realized we lived within twenty minutes of each other. There’s something about having friends who know exactly where you are from, and I’m just lucky to have a few of those.

Ramona Lives Her Life

Last weekend Kody and I masked up for an event at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston called The Marzio Years. Peter C. Marzio was the museum’s longest-serving director from 1982-2010, and the exhibition celebrates his thirty years of acquisitions.

At the museum entrance, an attendant took our temperature from an eight-foot distance with a device that looked like a camera. I’m not sure how that worked, but I didn’t ask questions. We were deemed good to go. Kody and I spent some time with Munch and O’Keefe, Pollock and Picasso, Rembrandt and Rothko. We saw Warhol, too.

Marzio helped found the MFAH International Center for the Arts of the Americas. He expanded African-American, Texan, and Latino art collections. When I visit the art museum, my goal is to really see one piece. Of course, I’ll see more, but I wait for the one that sees me. The one piece that will see me and speak. And da dum, da duh—this is she:

Ramona vive su vida (Ramona Lives Her Life), 1963

According to the museum plaque, Ramona Lives Her Life is one of the most iconic prints of the Ramona series. Argentinean Antonio Berni’s “xylo-collage” technique earned him the acclaim of international critics. Berni glued and collaged elements from Ramona’s everyday life—lace, machine parts, discarded gears and other industrial refuse—onto the woodblock print. This method gives his work an elaborate texture and relief.

I thought about Ramona…and me…and you…We are textured people. With interwoven fibers and elements. With distinctive qualities. Ramona in all of her texture reminded me to live my life. In these days of COVID, life looks different for us based on our qualities. As an introvert, I’m okay living my life at home. School is my life for now. I read books, and I’m writing one, too. I enjoy this time. School is online. Distanced. I walk outside most days. Distanced. I notice the squirrels fattening up. Do squirrels always size up in the fall? I’ve never noticed. The sun sparkles in the leaves at the tops of the trees. I take pleasure in these observations. I try to stay connected with my friends and family by text and phone. From a distance. Our conversations weave us together. These interwoven fibers make us stronger.

Sometimes I find myself surrounded by drama. That happens in families. I usually find myself able to distance from drama, except when it comes to my kids. With mental illness in the family, I’m not at liberty to give ultimatums. I mean, of course, I could. But I don’t want to be the mother who gives up. In my experience, there is no reasoning with brain disorders. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit my drama quotient, like I just can’t share any more ridiculous stories, even with my closest friends. My introverted self keeps the drama concealed until I feel I might be breaking. How many times have I glued my own pieces back together? Then suddenly, I run into a piece of art called Ramona Lives Her Life. Ramona whispers directly to my heart, “Girl, go live your life.” I rub my hands together and feel their texture. Age. Experience. Ramona says, “You’ve made sacrifices your whole life. Take care of yourself, and speak your truth.” I allow these ideas to sink in. There is silence. I think of my own lace. My own machine parts. Ramona speaks again, “Your fibers are strong. You can handle whatever comes your way, and you inspire others to do the same. Be courageous, and do you.”   

That Crazy Thing

That crazy thing
I thought might happen
did not,
and that’s okay.
For 2020, I have enough.
Who needs extra
cray cray?
 
But the possibility
taught me,
in the way
possibilities do,
that you never know
until you try.
And so on to the next—
as opportunities arise.
 
Champions adjust—
my new mantra,
when things don’t go
my way.
And so I adjust—
my thoughts and plans,
my words and days.

E is for Epiphany

My mother always said, “Everything happens for a reason.” It took me about forty-eight years and my son’s severe mental illness and a hurricane rescue and rebuilding a flooded home to finally understand. In the king-sized bed of room 331 in the La Quinta I called home for ten months, an epiphany struck me out of the clear blue.

Our Struggles Strengthen Us.

Okay, maybe my epiphany struck in part due to the book I had been reading—The Gift of Crisis: Finding your best self in the worst of times by psychologist Susan Mecca. Dr. Mecca suggests the following exercise: Imagine it is six months after your crisis has passed. Your best friend is talking to you about what s/he admired most about you during the crisis. What do you hope s/he will tell you?

There in my hotel room—strength, grace, and love popped into my mind. That’s how I want to be remembered. When my crisis passed, and we moved home once more, I understood one of life’s mysteries—why everything happens. I carried the epiphany with me. 

img_3213

How do you want to be remembered? 

A to Z Challenge

Thanks so much for reading this post in my first ever A-Z blogging challenge! As I hover at home this April, I’ll be seeking the good in every day. Join me anytime and click below for past A-Z posts.

A is for Apple

B is for Boozer

C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5

D is for Dad

 

Life Is Bittersweet.

Some sweet things have happened these last few weeks, and I wanted to shout out a few blogger friends who have inspired me. Cue Julie Andrews. These are a few of my favorite things (from the last couple of weeks):

Thanks to Barb at letitgocoach.com, I have a bathroom that sparkles down to the shower liner. Who knew that you could throw a plastic liner into the washing machine? The biggest part of the triumph—this is Drew’s bathroom, which I normally avoid. I just happen to have some extra time on my hands. Click on this link for Barb’s post on Showers That Shine.

Another blogger friend who goes by the pen name Terrified Amateur posted a recipe for Baltimore-Style Crab Cakes, and I’m a sucker for crab cakes, one of my favorite appetizers when we dine out. Of course, we’re not dining out at the moment, so I thought these would be a treat. And treat—well, that’s an understatement!! They were divine!! Like straight out of heaven. One pound of crab made eight cakes, so we had them two days in a row. On the second day, they were even more amazing (my pan was hotter—medium high). I thought I had peanut oil, but I didn’t, so I used canola. I thought I had Dijon, but I didn’t, so I used spicy brown. And you know what? I braved the grocery store one more time (for alcohol) and round two of lump crab.

Then there is Eliza over at Journey to Life, who has been posting a daily Gratitude Challenge. I’m a big believer in gratitude, but even so, there are times when I lose focus. As I reflected on my blessings, feeling thankful for things like the roof over my head and my sweet dog and my family and friends and extra time to read and write and the gorgeous Spring weather and my walks and music in my ears, I remembered a note to self that I typed into my phone on Sunday, August 19, 2019. Now seems a right time to post it.

This Sunday morning I’m thankful
for my eyes that opened
to another gorgeous day
and the sunlight at play,
silver gold reflections
in the emerald treetops.
 
I’m thankful for strength
of body and mind
that carry me
to my oasis of calm
through my own backdoor.
 
For a delicious breeze
and the songs of birds in the trees
backed by the choir of cicadas.
 
For two little black dogs
with waggity tails
smiling faces
and so much love
in those deep brown eyes.
 
For all of this.
This moment in time
when all is right in the world.

So here’s the thing—life is bittersweet. I’m heartbroken by two deaths this past week. One of my best friends lost her Dad, and I lost my dear friend Desi who was my lunch buddy all through junior high and high school. Cancer is a bitch, and so is Covid-19. And as I scroll through Facebook (because I can’t see anyone in real time), I see so many others facing losses and illness and pain. Obviously, not all is right in the world, but there is something good in every day. I went to church this past Sunday (in my living room online), and later a friend asked me what I heard that was meaningful. Here are a few words that resonated with me from the sermon and the good book:

Philippians 4:4-13 New International Version (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I find peace and strength in these words in a time when I need peace and strength, and I’m finding contentment in circumstance. I pray the same for you. I try to keep my thoughts on the true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable things, and I try to thank God for the excellent and praiseworthy—like good people and clean showers and crab cakes and reasons to live.

It’s a New Dawn

One day this past summer I found myself alone with my thoughts in Galveston. From my beach chair near the shore, I soaked in the sun to the crashing cadence of the surf until I couldn’t take the heat. I stood up and walked into the waist-deep waves and said, “Take me down, Motherfuckers! You can’t fucking do it.” And I laughed out loud in the face of wave upon wave and walked in a little deeper.

It’s a new dawn.

Galveston saved me, and this week I return. This week’s writing retreat begins my new MFA program at a beach house nearby. Each morning through the sliding glass door of my condo bedroom—the golden orb rests for a moment on a blanket of orange and yellow and then rises into the blue. The waves advance on a new day and a new life. Each new dawn reaffirms my decision to be here. Each new chance to begin again—a gift.

It’s a new day.

I have a story to tell, and I have to tell it. For so many years, I thought the story was about my son Drew and his severe mental illness. I realize now it’s a story about me. It’s about my reactions and my coming to terms and what I’ve learned and how. It’s about my reality and my hope. It’s about sharing to help others and letting people know they are not alone.

It’s a new life.

So now I face the waves that crash into me. I stand my ground and let them hit, and I laugh out loud because I’m still standing tall with a smile on my face and a “fuck you” for anything that tries to take me down.

And I’m feeling good.

Thirty Years in the Blink of an Eye

It was Friday, September 29, 1989. I remember the twang of the B-52’s on the radio that morning: “If you see a faded sign at the side of the road that says ‘15 miles to the Love Shack.’ Love Shack, yeah, yeah….” Except I wasn’t headed down the Atlanta highway or headed for a love getaway. Nope. Not this day. On this day, I got in my Honda. I was big as a whale. Nine months earlier, I had spent my time at the Love Shack. On this particular day, I headed down Highway 51, having contractions along the way to the hospital in Stillwater.

Twelve hours later…

It was 11:56 PM. The doctor said, “Do you want to have this baby on September 29th or the 30th?” 9/29/89 had a ring to it, so I plucked up strength enough and gave another push.

Those big brown eyes.

And with this little baby Andrew Riley, 8 lbs. 8 oz., came a love and joy and pride I never knew.

Those curls and that laugh.
There was baseball and football, basketball and soccer.
Good-looking and just plain good.
And we totally grew up together.
Our cellist. As his Nana likes to say, the maestro.

Looking back over thirty years, I remember so many moments of greatness, and I realize how often you have to keep plucking up strength enough and giving yet another push.

And today Happy 30th Birthday to my love and joy and pride, my courageous and strong son Andrew!

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Mountains (But You Can’t Take the Mountains Out of the Girl)

When I stepped into the blue rubber raft from the safety of the river bank, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival.* I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope. Before the bus ride to our launching site, I had skimmed the release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that whitewater rafting can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH. Then I signed on the line and proceeded to pick up my wetsuit, spray jacket, helmet, and life-preserver.

Colorado’s abundant snowfall last winter through May translates to deeper, faster water and what may have been the best white water rafting season in decades.

Shout out to my brother Scott and his beautiful, adventurous wife Gerri for having a 30th wedding anniversary and a reason to celebrate with friends and family, to Rapid Image Photography for the complimentary photos, and to Zach, Ivan, and Kerrie of Clear Creek Rafting Company for the safety debrief and an adrenaline-fueled float through the Rocky Mountains. No one fell off of the raft. No one died. And the river of life keeps flowing, sometimes with faster, deeper waters and cold splashes in the face, sometimes with the possibility of tipping, relying on your life vest, and swimming to safety.

When I stepped back into my ordinary life from the perfection of vacation, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival. I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope.*

Breckenridge, Colorado in July

Happy Independence Day to my American friends! And Happy 4th of July wherever you are!

*Inspired by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

That Time When I Fell on My Face

Fridays at school usually go something like this.

“Happy Friday, you guys!” I say as each class begins.

A chorus of voices, practically singing, respond on cue, “It’s Fun Fact Friday!”

Fun Fact Friday just sort of happened this year. One Friday during the Fall semester, I said, “Fun fact,” and in the pause, all eyes spun toward me, and I had a captivated audience. I proceeded to tell my students a little something about my life. They loved it, and now every Friday their voices ring out, “Fun Fact Friday!”

Last Friday’s Fun Fact:  

“So this is my twentieth year to teach,” I said. “I have a fact from about twenty years ago during my first few years of teaching when I was young, right?” I try to make eye contact with all of them as I speak. “So when I first started teaching, I taught seventh graders for five years. Then I taught freshmen for a couple of years and sophomores for most of my years, and this is my third year to have juniors. Anyway, do you remember having really fun assemblies back in middle school?”

A sea of heads bobbed up and down.

“Well, at my school, we had a traveling trampoline show with four or five trampolines in the gym, and music, and people jumping really high and flipping. It was the best assembly ever. The kids loved it. Anyway, at the end, they asked for volunteers to come down and flip.” I raised my hand as if to portray how a person volunteers.

“And so I did. I ran down from the bleachers and jumped up on the trampoline. I’m not sure the last time I had been on a trampoline or the last time I had flipped, but I was a gymnast when I was younger, and twenty years ago I was still young, right? So I took a couple of bounces and went for it.” I paused to add a little drama. “And do you know what happened?”

Their faces conveyed expectation.

“I landed on my face.”

“Awww!” They responded in unison, mouths twisting, heads shaking back and forth, half-way disbelieving the horror and fully empathizing.

“This was a big middle school, and I fell on my face in front of about 500 students AND teachers AND administrators.” I shook my head up and down to verify the truth. “But do you know what I did?”

“You quit your job?” One boy jested.

“No.” I laughed and shook my head back and forth. “No. I got up,” I said pointing first at myself and then upward. I looked at my kids looking at me, I felt my face flash red reliving this embarrassing moment, and I resolved to use it. “I got up,” my number one finger punctuated those words, “and I did it again, and do you know what happened?”

Their faces bore uncertainty and fear of the worst-case scenario.

“I landed that—.” I censored myself before I said shit, at the same time cut off by a thunder of student cheers. “And that’s what life is all about,” I continued, caught a little off guard by their response, louder now, “You will fall down on your face throughout your life, but you have to get up and try again.”

And the next time. You will land that shit.