Thursday, June 28, 2012

Attracted to Adjectives

Lovely items at Adjectives Market
My friend Diana and I spent Saturday afternoon perusing a new antiques and vintage collectibles market called Adjectives. Since we are both grammar girls who string words together, we thought it was a clever name for a shop. But adjectives aren’t always held in the highest regard in the world of sentence structure. Prevailing academic wisdom cautions writers on their overuse. Instead of using adjectives to describe how something is lovely, charming or delightful, writers should instead use stronger nouns and verbs to do the heavy lifting.

But I like adjectives. Words like loyal, generous, encouraging, thoughtful, supportive. These words describe my friendship with Diana that began nearly 15 years ago, when we worked together and shared an office. We found we liked a lot of the same things, grew up in the same part of the country, and came from close-knit families with similar backgrounds. But Diana often leads the way. She tries out new technology, joins groups, attempts new activities. She shares, convinces, recommends, persuades. Not me. I’m sort of a late-to-the-party kind of girl. Not always that eager to try something new.

But my friends don't always pay attention to my protests and give me a push off the deep end. Into waters I eventually rather enjoy after I get past the initial fear and shock. Diana introduced me to the pleasures of coffee, inviting me on my first day at work to accompany her to the coffee bar. She demonstrated the wonders of the first iPhone, persuading me to trade in my old, definitely not-smart phone. She took a part-time job in a jewelry accessory store and then brought me on board to work weekends. Even though I had no idea how to make jewelry, she proclaimed it was easy and taught me how to string beads into pieces of sparkly bling. Although I never did get the hang of crimping bracelets, I’m happy to know a few techniques so I can repair my vintage jewelry. Just this week, she created a Facebook page for me. Since I’m not part of the one-eighth of the world’s population using Facebook, I was a little intimidated by it and she graciously accepted my reluctance and tolerated my deactivation of the account. Maybe someday I’ll be sharing status updates, but she accepts me for who I am.

I like it that she’s eager to share her favorites with me, knowing that I’d enjoy them, too. Instead of pushing her opinion or reveling in her superiority, she freely shares only what she knows I would appreciate. It’s rare to find a friend so lavish with her resources and knowledge without competitiveness or an ulterior motive. I want to practice this. I want to avoid the creeping vines of self-promotion that try to invade my relationships. When I try to make myself look or sound superior, I feel inferior. When I give in to the urge to play the comparison game, I end up with the I-don’t-have-what-she-has syndrome. I don’t want to allow these untruths to make me feel angry, ungrateful and empty. They rob my soul of what it longs for. Acceptance, kindness, encouragement, affirmation. These nouns may not need adjectives to describe them. But I do. I need adjectives to chronicle a friendship. Describe the affinity friends can share. Illustrate the experiences of my life.

When Diana decided to be a stay-at-home mom, we went from seeing each other every day to getting together for coffee every few months. As we browsed through the vintage market last weekend, we both found silver handcrafted bracelets shaped from spoons. We bought them to remind us of our enjoyable day and our valuable friendship.

Before we knew it, the afternoon was over. Catching up, treasure-hunting, sharing stories. A lovely, charming, delightful day with a gifted, trailblazing, magnanimous friend. I really don’t mind at all making a few fragile adjectives do a little hard work now and then.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Real or Stuffed?

Last week, I took my niece and nephew, Devon and Nathan to McDonald’s. Devon brought along her stuffed dog Scooter, dressed in his basketball uniform. Scooter is a rather ragged stuffed dog, with a vast array of clothing who often accompanies us. As we went inside to order, Devon all of a sudden held Scooter by his leg and draped him behind her back, trying to hide him. I asked her what was wrong.

“Look!” she said, pointing to the door. “It has a picture of a dog with a circle and slash through it. That means no dogs allowed here.”

Puzzled, I looked at her and said, “But Scooter’s not a real dog.”

Devon looked at me as if I might be a little bit crazy. “I KNOW Scooter’s not a REAL dog,” she said exasperated. “What I don’t know is if that sign means REAL dogs or STUFFED dogs aren’t allowed here.”

“Ohhhh,” I said, being careful to answer very seriously. “They mean real dogs. Scooter’s ok.”

Relieved, she stepped up in line to order her chicken nuggets, with Scooter in full view of the cashier.

Real or stuffed. I often feel rather stuffed. Stuffed full of expectations. Of myself. Of others. Of life. I try not to have them. But I do. And they’re just not very realistic. My life's road has many curves I don't anticipate. People don’t behave according to the guidelines that exist only in my own mind of how they should act or react. Expectations are, after all, only speculations of what I guess might happen. What I hope might take place. But they aren't based on truth. Or reality. And if I insist on being stuffed with unrealistic expectations, then I allow my heart to become as misshapen as a lumpy pillow. Packed and padded and uneven. Filled with stuff. Hurt feelings. Irritation. Resentment.

My mother made these pillows out of 1940s fabric she found in a barn at an estate sale.

Like so many, when something good happens, I want my friends and family to celebrate with me. Even something small. Maybe nothing on the order of a wedding, birth of a child or completion of an advanced degree. But something I've set my heart on since I was a little girl with a dream. Something important to me. It generated some congratulations. Compliments. Kudos. But it was also ignored. And trivialized just a little bit. 

This bothered me. So I prayed about it. The answer was clear. As soon as I finished praying, I opened the book I was reading. There it was, staring at me in a subtitle on the very page I opened. Extend grace. I'm not so good at this. But I want to be. 

I also know that sometimes I've been the one who didn't react as joyfully as expected. I didn't extend the hearty congratulations, the words of praise. But I want to be more sensitive. More keyed in. To know what's important to others by going a little deeper. Paying more attention. Listening in closer when they give clues to the level of significance they place on their hobbies, work or accomplishments.

But maybe I can help reset my expectations, too. Lower them a little. Maybe I can be clearer when I communicate. Tell them this is a big deal to me. I’m sure they’d understand. And when (not if) the expectations aren’t met, I can extend grace. They’re busy. They forgot. It’s ok.

And since I probably will continue to have expectations, I can also be surprised when they are exceeded. When those I think might not be as interested in my accomplishment turn out to be my biggest cheerleaders, I am delighted. Grateful. Moved beyond words.

Because I want to be real. Not stuffed.
Dressed in his basketball uniform,
Scooter enjoys tea on my courtyard (photographed by Devon).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Books Are My Treasure Things

I’m not a fan of e-book readers. Maybe I will be someday. But I still like holding a book in my hands. I like to turn pages. I like to flip through chapters to see what’s ahead. I skim sections, noting what I want to savor thoroughly as I read. Growing up, I was quiet, serious and bookish. Long summer days stretching ahead of me always meant that I had a lot more time for reading books. I was never bored. I could spend my days on the porch with girl-detectives Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames, the nurse who solved mysteries.

Books helped connect me to my favorite memories. I first read Anne of Green Gables on the beach during a summer vacation in Ft. Lauderdale. When I got home, I imagined the woods in my backyard were Violet Vale, where Anne and her best friend Diana spent so many happy days. When I read the Little House books, I wore a sunbonnet one summer like Laura and Mary Ingalls. When I spotted a ladybug on the curtains at my grandmother’s house, I wondered if it could be the same bug visiting her day in and day out, like Charlotte the friendly spider in Charlotte’s Web. (My grandmother humored me and named the bug Oscar.)

I didn’t really like loaning my books to my school friends. They didn’t keep them in the pristine condition that I did, without wrinkles on the covers or rips or tears on the pages. I didn’t really even like my sister borrowing my books. To make sure she didn’t keep any of my books next door in her room for an inordinate amount of time, I created my own library check-out system. I wrote the titles of all my books on index cards and kept them in a recipe box, making her sign out a book whenever she wanted to read it. I also sent her late notices with warnings of a fine if the book was overdue. (Maybe I was a little obsessive.)

Vintage bookends hold up my vintage books.
The library is still one of my favorite places. No matter how often I’ve perused the shelves, there’s always something new that sparks my interest. I feel a little anxious if I don’t have a stack of books to check out. I imagine some calamity happening and I’m left in a crisis without a book to read. What would I do?

Now, I like to read biographies or letters and diaries from families of centuries past. I like to read about how they met the challenges of life. It inspires me. Comforts me. Strengthens me. Summer days and a pile of books stacked on the floor beside my bed. Waiting for me to delve into. I can’t wait to turn the pages.

Summer Reading
Besides the books on Paris I’m reading now, this summer I’m also anxious to dive into Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad by Jehanne Wake, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone, and a reread of one of the funniest books I’ve read on the renovation of a house, All the Way Home by David Giffels.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration this summer, I’ve recently read:
  • Craving Grace by Lisa Velthouse – In this honest memoir, Lisa shares her journey of faith.
  • Named by God by Kasey Van Norman – Kasey’s personal story is compelling as she relates how she has overcome her past, transformed her present and embraced her future.
  • Anything by Jennie Allen – Jennie shares her personal experience when she boldly prayed "anything" and handed God everything. 
  • You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth – Holley uses her experience as a counselor to show that God already thinks we’re amazing because we’re one of his creations. She urges women to embrace who they are instead of searching for an elusive formula to be the do-it-all woman.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Threads of Generations

L-R: My grandmother Evelyn, my mother Bobbie,
her sisters Audrey, Shirley and Terri (front).
As my niece Devon’s preschool class sang “God Bless America,” I could hear her distinctive voice loud and clear. For a little girl, she has a big voice. Low-pitched, loud and without much inflection. She sounds just like my grandmother.

Cheerful, exuberant, and a little off-key, you could hear my grandmother’s singing voice resonating throughout the small community church she attended every Sunday. Although three generations separate them, Devon has inherited my grandmother’s enthusiasm for singing. And a little bit of her voice.

I often wonder which of my quirks or interests are woven into my identity from family members I never got the chance to know. My dad’s mother died when he was very young, but she had a job baking in the kitchens of Nabisco in the 1920s. I like to think I inherited some of my passion for baking from her. I never met one of my mother’s sisters who died before I was born. But I know my grandmother and all my aunts had a flair for fashion and jewelry, evidenced by the glittering brooches and necklaces they left behind.
My grandmother Victoria is seated right, and to the left of her
standing are her sisters, Maggie and Annie.

What I do doesn’t end with me. It’s carried on. I want to leave an archive of my life’s values, truths learned, and unique experiences. I am part of the link that connects the generations before me to those who come after me. Whether I’m doing things I’m comfortable with. Or a little out of my realm.

Last weekend, I took Devon to her last soccer game of the season. Walking to the field with her chair slung over my shoulder and water bottles in my hands, I pretended to know what I was doing. Standing on the sidelines with the “real” moms. Explaining that I was “just the aunt” in case I was committing some violation of soccer-mom etiquette. Trying to jockey for a spot alongside the eager parents for a team photo.

There she sat on the stage, cradling her soccer trophy. I saw her eyes darting from row to row of the parents gathered. Scanning. Searching. Finally, she saw me and smiled proudly, holding up the trophy, with its spinning soccer ball. I asked her afterward if she was looking for me. She said yes, but there were so many people, she couldn’t find me at first.

I was a little surprised she was looking for me among her school friends and neighborhood teammates. But maybe she wanted a member of her family to cheer her proud moment and celebrate her accomplishment of this first soccer season. Maybe I’m not just the aunt. Maybe I can help her take the threads of the past -- all the family traits, mannerisms and characteristics -- and interlace them with the ribbons of the future. Stretching across the generations. Weaving the memories of life.