Friday, November 11, 2011

Just Shut Up!!!

“Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”
Robert Benchley

If only I could learn that! So many times, I’ve been in the middle of some statement and thought “just shut up, Maryann!” but of course it’s too late at that point.
I talk too much anyway. And I really want to give all of the information. And I want to tell the truth. And sometimes, this gets me in trouble.

The first time I realized, too late, that I should have just shut up was in the early 1990s when Magic Johnson reported that he was HIV positive. I was young, and worked on the Kentucky Fried Chicken account at the time as an account executive. Magic Johnson happened to own a slew of KFCs and I got a call from someone from the Washington Post asking if I could send them a camera-ready logo. They were doing an article about Johnson’s extensive business holdings. I told them I’d have to ask my client, and would call them back.

My client told me the absolute wrong thing. What she SHOULD have told me was to refer them to KFC’s public relations office. What she said was something like “Heavens no! We don’t want to be associated with THAT!” So I called the Post back and said no. The girl from the graphics design department asked if I’d speak to her “boss” (translated, as I found out later, as “reporter”) and he asked me why not. I hemmed and hawed – it was late on a Friday evening and my mom, sister and brother-in-law had just gotten in town and I wanted to leave to see them – and I basically told them what my client had said. As I mentioned, I like to be honest. As the words came out of my mouth, I desperately tried to backtrack. “I’m not authorized to give any statement!” I said. “You can’t quote me!” I said, almost in tears now.

But they did. Not with my name, but as an unnamed “source” who was repeating what someone from KFC said. Everyone in my organization and at my client’s office knew it was me.

I was sick to my stomach all weekend, with that feeling of dread. We rushed out on Sunday and bought the paper, and my fears were confirmed. Now I was sick with the dread of losing my job the next day.

In the end, I didn’t get in trouble, but the memory has stayed with me. But I’m not sure I learned the lesson all that well. Even as recently as a month or two ago, something I emailed to a business associate came back to bite me in the butt. I just answered a question truthfully, but had I taken a few minutes to think about it, I might have answered differently. I should have given the minimum amount of information and provided more only on request. I should have remembered that not everyone needs to or even wants to know the whole story.

Maybe by the time I retire I will have learned this lesson. Of course, I’ll be 90 then, and at that age I should be able to say whatever the heck I want and people will just have to deal with it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This afternoon as I was coming back to the office from dropping off something for Sara at school, I saw this Facebook post that Hannah put on Sara’s wall. It almost made me cry.

When the kids were little, they didn’t believe me when I told them they’d be best friends when they grew up. I think they do now and there’s almost nothing that makes me happier than this. I can give my kids a lot. I can be the most amazing, wonderful mother ever placed on the planet, but still, there’s something that a sister gives you that no one else can. And I should know – I have one of the best sisters around. And today’s her birthday.

So Happy Birthday Carole! I believe that one of the reasons my kids are so close is that you and I have given them an excellent example. I’m incredibly thankful for you and I love you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Family Matters

Today’s blog prompt delighted me. If anyone has fodder for this type of post, it’s a member of the Daves family!

For the question, “when was the first time that you realized that your home was not like other people’s homes,” I don’t have a good answer. I don’t remember having some epiphany one day, but our household sure was different.

My father was a professor at Georgia State University, and I assume he was doing what young professors do, primarily working to climb the tenure ladder. But my mother was another story. She is a free spirit, and has been since birth I think. She and Dad had a lot of odd friends – people who were into meditation and mysticism, or something like it – and these people would congregate at our house on the weekends to meditate and crash. These people had no love for the government, cared fiercely about the civil rights movement and opposed the Vietnam War loudly. I think she tried to convince my father to move us to a commune at some point in our childhood, but fortunately sense prevailed. Of course I didn’t know about all of this stuff when I was little, but looking back I know that it was true.

What I do remember was any number of people sleeping on our floors. My brother Phillip summed it up perfectly once saying “what do you do when you find 20 strangers lying around the living room on a Sunday morning? You make pancakes, of course!” And that’s just what he did. He was the master breakfast maker, heating the syrup up on the stove and flipping pancakes until everyone had eaten.

Mom has always been strongly anti-establishment, and established religion was no exception. We didn’t go to church – we were more likely to go to Chastain Park with other families and play touch football on Sunday mornings. We did spend some time at the Unitarian Church though – I remember going to a summer camp there. My “tribe” was called Ghana.

When we went on vacation, chances were good that we’d go camping with friends. The picture below shows my mother and me walking to the latrine. You can tell by the toilet paper in her hand! I don’t think I understood that people vacationed in structures other than tents (like hotels, for example), until I was much older. We did spend time at St. George Island because my grandfather owned a house down there. I remember going with another family that had a possum as a pet. I have a very strong memory of that possum walking around the wet sand on the beach.

When my parents got divorced, we lived with my father, and eventually my step-mother, Jeanie. Things got more “normal” then, but it was still an unusual and lively household. My dad has always been a musician, loving bluegrass and old-time, and every six weeks or so we’d have a bunch of people over to the house to jam. This was a more mainstream group of people, but certainly talented and interesting. We laughed a lot, and my Jeanie graciously endured the unruly talk at the dinner table and our other shenanigans.

Maybe the most unusual aspect of my life was the fact that my parents made a concerted effort to not put us in the middle of their marital problems and subsequent divorce. I have plenty of friends whose divorced parents can’t even be in the same state, much less the same room, but that wasn’t the case with my parents. Once my younger brother was born, he was confused because we called our mother “Mom” and his mother “Jeanie,” and in the end just called my mom “Mommy Susan.” These days, I’d even say that my mom, dad and step-mother are good friends.

I know so many people who have dysfunctional relationships with their parents or siblings, and that gives such a poor example of family to our children. I’m very thankful that my own children are being brought up in a family where we love each other, have fun together and care deeply about each other. Hopefully that tradition will be continued through their adult lives with their own children as well!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Grandmothers

The blog prompt today certainly falls into more serious subject matter than I usually write about. But it gave me pause. I have to really think about what I’ve experienced to determine if anything I’ve been through in my life would be described as “trauma.” I feel certain that those people who have been through terrible events would characterize my life as pretty easy, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. I know that I’ve been very blessed.

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had pain. And who’s to say what might constitute “trauma” for a person?

In June of 2000, both of my grandmothers died within a week of each other. My maternal grandmother, Dolly, died on the 11th and then my paternal grandmother, Anna, died a couple of days later. They were both well up there in years – both in their 90s. Anna had been in a nursing home for quite a while – she actually told me a year or so before she died that she wondered why God had kept her alive that long. Her body had deteriorated but her mind really hadn’t, so she knew what she couldn't do any more. My favorite memory of Anna comes from my birthday, when I was about 5. She took me shopping for a present and we bought a toy grocery store. She played grocery with me for hours - or that's what my memory tells me. I loved staying at her house in Decatur. The room where we stayed had a crawl-space/small attic area in it, and it scared me – in a good way- when we spent the night there. And Anna was a great cook, so we ate very well!  Anna loved to read, but she gradually lost the majority of her sight over a number of years. I can’t imagine how difficult that was for her, but I don’t remember her dwelling on it, at least in our presence.

Dolly was a different story. Until 1994, she lived on her own, playing golf and bridge with her friends, taking trips to the beach with family, and even taking a whole slew of us to Paris in 1990. When I graduated from college, I moved to Chapel Hill with the intention of going to graduate school. It was moving away from home, but still close to people who would take care of me. My brother Phillip was finishing his doctorate at UNC, and Dolly lived in Chapel Hill, and I actually lived with her for a few months. Many times, if I had to choose between hanging out with friends or doing something with Dolly, I’d choose Dolly. We saw movies, ate at the K&W Cafeteria or just hung out.

After Rick and I moved to Baltimore, we still went down to Chapel Hill once a month or so. We spent lots of family time at the beach. Dolly stayed in her townhouse in Chapel Hill until she broke her pelvic bone surf-fishing in the Atlantic Ocean at Nags Head in 1994. After that, she moved in with my Aunt Kate, and lived there in Salem, VA until she died on June 11, 2000.

I won’t go into the long story here, but my prayers were answered in a significant way just prior to my grandmothers’ deaths. I was able to see Anna about a week before she died, and I got to drive up to see Dolly the weekend before she passed away.

The summer of 2000 was the hardest summer I’ve ever had to endure. I didn’t realize until much later that I was as affected by their deaths as I was. And I still miss them, most every day. And I know it wasn’t trauma like some of the terrible things people have to endure every day, but it was traumatic for me.

I’ll say it again – I’ve been very blessed. And in spite of how hard their deaths were for me, the blessing was in knowing them.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Yesterday was a hard day for me. I gave blood after church, which always totally zaps my energy, and then made good on a promise to take Sara to the mall. I can’t even find the words to describe how tired I was when I got home. Hannah came home for dinner, which is always a treat, but by the time I got home from taking her back to school I was beat. So I didn’t blog.

The prompt question for blogging today is about how one balances their children, relationships and work life. That’s a really good question. At first I thought to myself “well, I do okay I guess. I spend a lot of time at work, but I always make my family a priority, right?” And then I got stressed out. Maybe I don’t have balance. Maybe I need to do something differently! Maybe I would have blogged if I had had balance yesterday!

Once I became a parent, I was focused on finding the best way to do things for my family . I wanted to be more organized, more engaged, more encouraging, just more. But I have found that sometimes the wish to be more, combined with the effort to make this happen is more likely to make me become less. Less because I’m stressed or spending time about money trying to be more. Less because I have anxiety about not doing enough or the right thing. Trying to figure out if I’m balancing or not can sometimes build the same type of anxiety in my chest because if I’m not doing it right someone will suffer, right? If it’s me suffering, well, that’s kind of okay, but I sure don’t want my kids to suffer.


Here’s what I do know:

I do know that I’m a pretty good mother. I also know I’m blessed – I have kids that are pretty easy to parent – but it is definitely an intentional thing as well. I give my girls my time and love, advice and discipline, and in the end I don’t think they feel slighted in any way (at least most of the time).

So rather than stressing out about whether or not I’m balancing everything appropriately, I think I’ll celebrate the fact that somehow things balance how they need to. When I need to be spending more time at work, everyone at home comes through to make that possible for me. When I need to be home with a sick kid, like today, the people I work for allow that to happen. When I need time for myself, somehow I’m usually able to do a bit of that as well.

So here’s to balance – however it happens!

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Will I Write About Today?

I’m struggling with what to write about today. The daily prompt didn’t move me so I decided to do some research on the computer to see what I could come up with.

First I looked at the Lectionary for the Episcopal Church for the day. There was a passage from Revelations - definitely not my style, and none of the other options triggered any creativity either. Next I looked at some daily devotional websites, but those mostly seemed to be blogs in their own right and I certainly wasn’t going to plagiarize, so no dice there either.

Finally I Googled “Blog Topics” thinking that might give me a treasure trove of ideas. I found one site that gives a list of 50 personal blog posting ideas that range from “Describe your first date/kiss” to a list of your top beauty product must-haves to “that college professor that almost made you pee in your pants.” No one really wants to know about my first kiss, at age 5, with Scotty Hager behind the bushes in our front yard. And if you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t really have any top beauty product must-haves (but you may want to suggest some). And I think the only time a college professor almost made me pee in my pants was when his or her lecture went on too long. Frankly, my bladder control was quite sufficient back then. Now, after giving birth to two children, all bets are off!

One site suggested that I talk to the people in my “niche.” Since I have no idea what that would be, I must not have one so that idea is out too.

Next on my list was to try to find something funny to write about so I Googled “Funny Blog Topics.” I found a site called “Funny Blog Ideas to Write About” which on the surface seemed right up my alley, even though the site was targeted to pre-teenagers. I figured I have the maturity of a teen-ager (my kids say I’m” immature but responsible”) and I think a well-placed fart joke is a funny as the next kid so I hoped for a gold mine. Alas, no. This was mostly a lesson in how to write, with suggestions such as "stay on topic" and "be amusing to your target audience." But there wasn’t a list of good topics from which to choose, and who knows what my "target audience" is? The three of you who read this can let me know what you think is funny and I'll try to hit it next time.

Then, I found “101 Great Posting Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Sizzle.” Now that sounds promising! I want my blog to SIZZLE and I’m sure my three readers would like for it to sizzle as well. These suggestions included topics such as “Post Your Research Findings “ (I’ve done meaningful and significant research in the field of where to put the litter box so that the dog doesn’t eat the cat poop but have no useful findings yet), and “Debunk a Myth in Your Post” (okay – I know this will come as a surprise, but I’m not really a super-hero in my spare time).

So, frankly, I’m still not sure what I’ll write about tonight. But one helpful tip I got was that the blog post should be under 1000 words, and 1000 words is suggested as too long. I’m at 541 right now, so I guess I’ll stop for now and see if I can come up with a good idea later. In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions they will be greatly appreciated!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 3 - I Got The Music In Me

The prompt for today’s blogging asks if I listen to music while I’m writing. I’ve tried, but I just can’t. For me, music is a full mind, full body experience. Writing is too.

I’m a musician – or at least I was for many years. I played violin for 8 years as a child, I took voice lessons all through high school and actually began my college career as a music education major. Growing up there was music in our house all the time – and all kinds too – bluegrass, classical, show tunes – you name it, we either played it or listened to it. We still have music in the house because Rick plays the guitar and Sara plays violin and sings. It's one of my favorite things about my home.

I’m not as active a musician now – with the exception of playing in the handbell choir at church or singing the hymns from my seat, most of my performances take place with I’m alone in the car or with Sara. But music still moves me to the core. I usually wake up with a song in my head – sometimes I know where it came from and sometimes it’s totally random. . Songs run through my head all day every day – sometimes for extended periods of time. For example, “Gaucho” by Steely Dan was stuck in my head for a couple of months . This was probably a punishment for making the kids listen to it in the car in spite of the fact that they hate Steely Dan. There’s no accounting for taste I guess.

This morning my blackberry buzzed on my desk and the first thing I thought was that the tone that came from it is the same as the first note of Shawn Colvin’s version of “The Little Road to Bethlehem.” Now that song’s in my head.

There is music that makes me cry. Music that makes me smile. There are songs that have sections in them that give me goose bumps every time I listen to them – like one of the last lines in Elton John’s “Curtains” or a specific place in the middle of Third Day’s “You’re Everywhere.” Rick tells me that I’m drawn to music that is full – big harmonies for example – and I believe that’s true. In both of these instances, it’s the harmony and combination of instruments that does it for me. And it happens every time. I have to stop whatever I’m doing when I’m listening to these songs, just to experience the rush again.

When I listen to music I love, I listen with all of me. I sing and I move. Music isn’t just a backdrop for me, so it’s distracting when I write. I have to choose between the listening/singing/moving and the focusing on writing. I love both, I just can’t combine the two.

Now I’m off to grab my iPod.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 2 - Expectations

I had a meeting with one of my dear daughter’s (DD) teachers today. DD is struggling in this class and I needed to find out how I can help her to succeed. It’s important to understand that DD has NEVER said that this teacher is mean, only that he is hard, DD doesn’t understand the content, and rumors abound that the teacher is teaching the 9th grade advanced Biology class from the AP Biology textbook. Plus, he’s Indian and has an accent that is supposedly hard to understand.

I was a little bit apprehensive about this meeting. I was expecting a difficult meeting with someone with whom I might disagree or even who I might dislike.

Instead, I met a very nice young man (younger than I am anyway) who seems to be genuinely interested in teaching well. He very patiently answered all of my questions, gave me information about resources the students can use to for help, showed me exactly what the students are graded on, and made it clear that he wants my daughter to succeed as much as I do (and hopefully as much as she does). Oh – and that accent? It’s there, but he speaks English very clearly in my opinion.

Today, at least prior to the meeting, was a diversion from my usual nature. There’s a saying from the cartoon “Life in Hell” that says “keep your expectations tiny and you won’t go through life so whiny.” While I wouldn’t suggest living one’s whole life by this maxim, I do find that if I manage my expectations in certain circumstances I’m hardly ever disappointed because my expectations weren’t met. I try to keep this little saying in my head for things like movies and social gatherings, and it seems to serve me well. I’m a glass half-full kind of gal and can find a silver lining almost anywhere.

Then again, my expectation that whoever spills water on the floor in the kitchen at work might clean it up are quite great, and as often as not, crushed.

And my expectation that if a lady doesn’t want to sit on the toilet seat she might choose to either use one of those handy seat covers, if available, or at least wipe the seat is apparently unreasonable. But still hope springs eternal.

And those expectations of myself. There’s a mixed bag if I ever saw one. I get disappointed in myself on a regular basis, but I also give myself an awful lot of slack. There probably needs to be some middle ground in that equation. Maybe when I grow up I’ll find it (see the slack-giving in its finest form?).

I have some very high expectations that will always be met though. My expectation that God has a wonderful plan for me – I just need to get out of the balcony long enough to listen to what it is. My expectation that I will always be able to find beauty in God’s world. My expectation that my children will continue to love me and I them, no matter what, because they are a gift from God.

What are your expectations? Are they reasonable? Are you disappointed on a regular basis, or delighted? Remember that God has a plan, and sometimes (Oftentimes? Always?) we aren’t the ones in charge. Expect that He’ll surprise and amaze you, and you won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's November! The Writing Month!

NaBloPoMo 2011

A couple of years ago I took on the challenge of writing a book (or 50,000 words) in the month of November. The same friend who posted the information about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) then posted a link today to a website that has a NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month).  The challenge here is to write a blog post every day during the month. In spite of the fact that I can’t imagine how I can come up with something interesting every day, I’m going to give it a whirl. When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I at least had an idea in mind – something I had been thinking about writing for a few years.  50,000 words was a daunting task but I made it - the nice thing about blogging is that the post doesn’t have to be long so I don’t have to stress about word count.

The website offers daily prompts in case a participating blogger is short on ideas that day.  Today’s prompt is “What is your favourite part about writing?” (they used the British “favourite” so I had to use it too!)  My favorite part about writing is the actual act of doing it. That means that I’ve taken time for myself to do something that is meaningful to me. It means that I’ve actually put down on paper the things that all too often just stay in my head. 

I think about writing all the time. When I’m in church and the scripture or the sermon touches me in some way. When I’m at work and I see something that strikes me as funny or even sad. Once, 18 or so years ago, I was on my way home from Chicago. I took the train to the airport and there was the really strange guy on the train. I got to the airport with three or so hours to spare so I sat and wrote a story about him. I mean I wrote FURIOUSLY. And it was so gratifying that I remember it very clearly. (If only I could remember where I put the story. I know it’s somewhere in this house. Maybe my challenge for next month will be to find it.)

But I live in the balcony (see my first post if you want to know what that means). And living the balcony means that I have to really focus because there are distractions everywhere – and I’m more susceptible to distractions than your average bear. So for me, NaBloPoMo will be a challenge, but one that I expect I’ll enjoy immensely. Hopefully anyone who reads it might enjoy it as well.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Kids Are All Right Part 1

Imagine that I’m sitting at my kitchen table, looking out the open window. I am taking in the pastoral view of 18 sheep and goats munching on what’s left of the ivy. I can hear their soft bleating and the bells that a few of them have around their necks. The livestock will be in our yard until they are done with the ivy – probably another day or so.

These ruminants have provided much lively conversation fodder over the past week, but they have also provided some surprising moments of activity.

We went to a barbecue on Saturday night and got home around ten. I was in the bedroom changing my clothes when I heard Rick call out “Maryann, we have a problem!” I came into the kitchen to see a little white goat on our back deck! As we opened the door, the little gal went back down the steps and started munching on some ivy that was in front of the electric fence that was supposed to keep them contained and away from the azaleas (which apparently makes them sick – who knew there was something that goats can’t eat!). Fortunately, this goat is not scared of people, and I was able to put a leash around her neck and coax her back onto the deck where I could keep her captive until the owners came to unceremoniously drop her back over the fence and fix the place where she got through. Crisis averted!

         (Here is Sara, telling the goat where exactly she was supposed to be)

On Sunday afternoon, Rick and I were sitting on the patio looking at the almost cleared strip of back yard and talking about what we were going to do with the space now that the ivy is gone. I was pointing to the far corner of the yard when I noticed the back end of a goat (the same white one we had encountered the night before) disappearing through a hole in the wooden fence that separates our yard from our next door neighbor’s yard. Well, heck! One of the fence slats had rotted and the goats had pushed it away, anticipating more delicious foliage on the other side!

I ran over to the neighbor’s yard (they weren’t home at the time) and began what I can only describe as goat-herding, or maybe a goat rodeo, which consisted of my pushing an unwilling goat through the small space and then trying to keep that one from coming back through while trying to grab another goat to push it through. Our back yard neighbors, who will get the goats once we’re through with them, came over to help encourage the more skittish ones to get close enough to me for me to push them through. All the while, the largest goat, whose name is Spike, kept coming back through the hole. Spike is actually a very friendly goat, so he was easy to catch again, but he’s so big it was hard to push him back in the other direction, especially when there was so much for him to munch on in the neighbor’s yard. The grass (or bush) is always greener on the other side indeed!

Rick was on the phone with the owners – giving them a play-by-play – and fortunately they didn’t have to come back to the house to help. Thank God for Brad and Heather, who came to our rescue with brute strength, patience and a drill to fix the fence post!

When I got up this morning, I took a careful count and found all of the animals accounted for. Who knew we’d have such excitement on a fine Sunday afternoon in suburbia?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Hannah-Bird!

In honor of Hannah’s birthday today, I thought I’d list the top ten songs that remind me of her and why.
1. “Mustang Sally” – The Commitments Soundtrack. I got the soundtrack from the movie The Commitments when I was pregnant with Hannah and listened to it all the time in the car. After Hannah was born, she was a bit fussy for a while (translate to “she screamed for 12 hours a day for 11 ½ weeks”). One of the tricks to get her to stop crying was to play Mustang Sally, which is the first song on the disk. At the first note she’d stop crying, and she’d usually be asleep by the middle of the song. I didn’t use this trick more than once a day though – I didn’t want her to catch on!
2. “St. Judy’s Comet” – written by Paul Simon for his son, but this version is from Kenny Loggins’ wonderful lullaby disk, Return to Pooh Corner. Hannah probably doesn’t really remember this song, but I played the disk every night when I rocked her before putting her to bed and this is my favorite song on the disk. Even if she was asleep, I’d keep snuggling her until this song was over.
3. “Sweet Baby James” – James Taylor – specifically the version that’s on the live disk. When she was around 3, we listened to that disk in the car all the time, and “Sweet Baby James” is the first song. That summer we took Hannah to see James Taylor in concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion near Baltimore. She expected that the concert would be exactly like the disk – everything in the same order, and when JT didn’t sing “Sweet Baby James” she was not happy. Thank God he sang it as an encore – I was about to crash the stage and let him know that he HAD to play it or my baby would be heartbroken!
4. “Whale of a Tale” from the Disney Collection. There’s a verse in this song that goes:

“Then there was Harpoon Hannah
Had a look that spelled out danger
My heart quivered when she whispered,
"I'm there, stranger"
Bought her trinkets
That sailors can't afford
(Sailors can't afford)
And when I spent my last red cent
She tossed me overboard! “

Rick and Hannah used to listen to this all the time. She loved that the song was about her and that she tossed the poor sailor overboard!

5. “Get Out Of Bed” – I honestly can’t remember where this song came from, but it was on some kids disk that we used to listen to a lot. When Hannah was in high school and I couldn’t get her to get up I’d sing this song to her, very loudly. Sometimes I’d even try to get her to join in on the chorus. She HATED this, but generally it would convince her to get up. If she didn’t, I’d just keep singing!

6. “The Song of the Sabu” and “I Love My Lips” – from Silly Songs with Larry on a Veggietales disk. (Okay, technically not one song, but let’s just go with it.) We used to listen to these in the car, at home – basically anywhere there was a CD player. These two were particular favorites of Hannah’s. Another one is the “Water Buffalo Song”, which was a favorite the summer my younger brother, Michael, lived with us. He recorded her making up songs – actually one long song – and it was all about a water buffalo. He presented her with a disk from the recording session as a graduation present – it’s awesome!

7. “Two Feet of Topsoil” – Brad Paisley. This is a great country song describing how low a man is after his girl left him.

“Well, there’s two feet of topsoil
A little bit of bedrock
Limestone underneath
A fossilized dinosaur
A little patch of crude oil
A thousand feet of granite underneath…
And then there’s me”

One afternoon, Hannah came home from school and told me that she used the lyrics of the song to answer a question about the layers of the earth on an earth science test. How’s that for proving music helps with school?

8. I’ll lump the songs that make Hannah dance in the car together: “Hoe Down Throw Down” by Hannah Montana, “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake, anything upbeat by Justin Bieber. She gets her grove on, let me tell you! It’s fun to watch!

9. “Gaucho” – Steely Dan. I have to add this one in there because Hannah HATES Steely Dan. We were on our way to Knoxville to see my brother and this song came on. Not only does she dislike Donald Fagan’s voice, she thought the words were stupid, so we blasted it. Karma does hit though – the song was stuck in my head for at least a month and would not go away.

10. “There Goes My Life” – Kenny Chesney. This is a sappy one, I know. As I was following Rick and Hannah downtown to move her into her dorm last year I had my iPod on shuffle and this song came on. I cried. “Nuff said.

So those are the top 10. Hannah – I love you more than you’ll ever know. Every year you get better and better, and I can’t wait to see what the next one will bring for you. Have a happy birthday!!!

Honerable Mentions:  "Twilight" from Shawn Colvin's Cover Girl album - there's a line that says "Don't leave me alone in the twilight" and Hannah wanted to know why someone was leaving her alone in the toilet.  Also " Band on the Run" - which Hannah, Sara and Rick have revsied to "Ham on a Bun."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Sara!

Welcome to the Lozano household in Baltimore, MD.  The date is September 11, 1996 and the time is around 8:00 pm. The evening is scheduled to be a busy one - the house is a disaster and we have family coming in the next day.  Rick's parents are coming to stay with Hannah on Friday while Rick, my mother and I go to the hospital to have a baby. I was scheduled to be induced.

Rick has made a wonderful dinner - perfectly grilled steak, steamed green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.

It's warm, so I get up after a couple of bites to change into shorts.  As I walk down the hall...well... the baby decides she's coming tonight.  A flurry of activity starts - phone calls, laundry thrown into the closet, sheets changed on the bed.  Hannah finds out what's going on and she's MAD - the baby coming tonight was NOT in her plans.

Baby comes, she is cute, she is loved...

Move forward in time 15 years.  Now I don't have a baby any more.  And Sara doesn't even look anything like she did when she was a baby (see the pictures above).  But what a magnificent young lady she is!

When Sara was a toddler she didn't know a stranger. She was gregarious, loving and even compassionate.  When she was 2 1/2, she went to pre-school and would comfort the other kids who were crying when their parents left.  The early summers were filled with her wandering around the pool hugging people - some she knew, some she didn't!

At 15, she's still gregarious, loving and compassionate.  Her hugs are about the best ones anyone could ever experience, and she gives them freely to those she loves. She's really funny too - and very smart. My favorite thing about her (besides everything else) is her musical talent.  Not only is she a talented violinist, that girl has a voice!  Oh - and you remember how mad Hannah was?  Well now they're best friends.  I love watching them together - the two most beautiful girls in the world!

Today is bittersweet for me.  I'm so proud of my girl - but every year is a year closer to her making her own way in the world.  Soon she'll be able to drive. In the not too distant future she'll be off to college.  I can't imagine a house without her shining presence in it, but I'm so excited to watch her grow into the awesome young woman she's turning into.  She has a bright future - mark my words.

So Happy Birthday, Sara.  I love you more than you'll ever know!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thin Places

I recently returned from a 9-day pilgrimage to England with a group of 16 teenagers from our church. Before I left, I wondered if I’d need a vacation after I got back – keeping 16 teenagers in line can be a daunting task, but these particular teenagers were wonderful traveling companions and exceeded all of my expectations. I had known most of these young people for at least two years, and lead their Sunday School class for that time, but I got the opportunity to learn much more about who each one of them is – and they’re all pretty amazing.

We were blessed to have a guide, Molly Wren, from a company called Wonder Voyage, who took care of all of the logistics of the trip, as well as much of the spiritual leadership. Having someone there who had taken care of where we’d stay, what and when we’d eat and where we’d go every day freed the leaders to not only focus on the kids, but also to have our own spiritual journeys. One of the many things I really like about Molly is that she speaks to God and about God in ways that the kids aren’t necessarily used to. We’re Episcopalians, after all, and sometimes I think we get bogged down in the “corporate” prayers and don’t focus on praying in our own way. She set a great example for them as well as me about how one might maintain a very personal relationship with God.  She’s also a massive prayer warrior, and if I ever needed someone to be on my side for a particular prayer need, she’s the first one I’d call on.

One evening, at our usual meeting with the kids about our day, Molly brought up the Celtic tradition of “thin places”, which are places “that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of [God’s] presence” (copied from an article on by Sylvia Maddox). While the entirety of the trip was magnificent, there are a few specific instances of “thin places” that keep coming back to mind.

We flew in overnight on Saturday night and spent a good portion of the day Sunday traveling to Canterbury and getting settled into the hostel. Monday morning, we walked to Canterbury Cathedral – the seat of the Anglican Church from which our church evolved – and attended a Eucharist service in the Crypt, which dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest existing part of the Cathedral. There were about 20 or so other people there, and many of them were seminary students from mostly Africa who had attended a conference at the Cathedral the previous weekend. The real goosebumps came when we were invited to recite the Lord’s Prayer, each in our own language. It’s so easy to forget that there is a vast world out there, but hearing the different tongues opened my mind to the wonderful fact that God is bigger than each of us would make Him. And hearing that familiar service spoken with a British accent was a delight that we experienced several times throughout the trip!

The next day we traveled to the White Cliffs of Dover and hiked to the lighthouse – about four miles round-trip. God blessed us with wonderful weather that day, and the exertion of the hike, the beauty of the surroundings and the individual and small-group conversations I got to have with many of the kids made the day for me. We sat in a field and ate our lunches and wrote in our journals, and took in the loveliness of creation. It was stunning and peaceful.

The last day was a Sunday, and we were in London by then. We attended mass at St. Martin in the Fields, London, which is a beautiful church with an awesome choir. On this particular day, many of the choir members were absent, but the remaining ones sounded amazing without them. As the choir was walking out and singing the final hymn at the end of the service, a bird fluttered in front of the massive glass window above the altar. I know it was probably a pigeon, but the shadow could just have easily been a dove sent from God, and the combination of the beautiful music and the bird gave me chills. I know a few of my travel companions saw it too, and they had the same reaction.

In the interest of time, I’ve only mentioned a few places that were “thin” for me. We visited Westminster Abbey and the British Museum, climbed about a billion steps to the very top of St. Paul's Cathedral, we saw a show, a 90 year-old friar and the Crown Jewels - it was a trip packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. These experiences, combimed with my time with the other leaders, Bill, Carrie, David and Molly, and with the kids on an individual and group basis made it the most fulfilling spiritual experience of my life.

Once home, I was filled with the notion that what I’m called to do is to continue working with young people, teens especially, and help find a way to open their eyes to God’s wonder and promise. To be a mentor , friend and teacher in whatever capacity I can be. As I explore this calling, I’d appreciate your prayers and encouragement. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I know that God does, and that’s enough for now.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Phillip!

I was trying to decide what to write for my brother Phillip who is celebrating his birthday today. First, I thought I might talk about the time he and his friends were jumping off the hood of my father’s Valiant and I decided to jump off as well and landed on my face. But when I reminded Phillip of this story, he sheepishly said “Um…Maryann…I don’t think you jumped.” So that wouldn’t be a very nice story would it?

Then I thought I might tell the story of the day he trashed Carole’s room and I got in trouble for it. He didn’t admit this until about 15 years ago, but telling that story would sort of sound like sour grapes, wouldn’t it?

Phillip and I fought like cats and dogs all through our childhood. Carole tells the story of the three of us in the back of our Volkswagon van – Carole in between Phillip and me – and the two of us shooting birds at each other. Two handed birds, I might mention – we really meant it!

Then Phillip left for college. I cried like a baby. And he’s been pretty much my favorite person ever since.

My favorite memory of my teen-age years was the summer Phillip and I drove together up to Nags Head, NC for a family reunion. We listened to music all the way up there, and talked, and when we got close to the conference center, we thought we were lost. We stopped at a phone booth and called, and it turned out that we were right across the street from where we were supposed to be. We could see everyone waving at us (and laughing probably). It was probably the first time we had spent an extended amount of time together without fighting, and it was delightful.

These days, Phillip is living in Knoxville, and I don’t get to see him nearly enough. He has three amazing daughters, who I love very much, and a wonderful wife who I love as well. Phillip’s probably the smartest person I know, and probably also the funniest person I know. Here’s wishing him the best birthday ever.

I love you Phillip – you’re the best big brother anyone could ever ask for – in spite of the plastic ants on top of my jello salad!

I’m a big fan of Facebook. Like many people of my generation, Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with many people from my childhood – my very best friend from elementary school as well as people that I went to high school with. I’m always delighted when I get a friend request from someone I haven’t heard from in a while.

Recently I got a friend request from someone whose name sounded familiar, so I accepted it. When I went to her info, I realized that I have no idea who she is. She’s originally from North Dakota – I do know three people from North Dakota, which I think is some kind of record – but not her. She lives in Seaford, Delaware now, and of course we know people from Delaware (Rick hails from there), but as far as I know, she’s not on the list. Be that as it may, she sent me a message a few days ago asking me to take a look at a note she posted in response to someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God.

In her defense of the existence of God, she says that the evidence is overwhelming and goes on to say that the heavens declare the glory of God, that the person’s very existence is evidence of God. As I was reading this, it struck me that if I were the person who doubted, this argument would not have convinced me. If I don’t believe in God, the beauty of life – flowers that bloom in glorious colors, the wondrous stars that shine in the sky, the amazing miracle of birth – is just a beautiful coincidence.

A few years ago, I read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Mr. Bryson wrote this wonderful book in an effort to understand the questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves, from the Big Bang theory to the rise of civilization and pretty much everything in between. The website says “Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us.” He has sections about Geology, Archeology, Botany, Astronomy – all the sciences that provide information and theories about how life started and how it has changed. Some people might take this scientific information as proof that God does not exist. I, on the other hand, continued to be amazed at God’s creation as I read.

It is difficult for me to believe that something so ordered and exact could be a happy fluke. Take the creation of a baby, for example. That a wiggly tadpole-looking thing knows to swim to the right place and knows what to do when it gets there pretty fascinating. But the explosion that happens when it meets its mark is nothing short of amazing. And that that explosion ends up looking like a little human is a wonder. And that that little body, which has owed its existence up to birth to a cord tied to its mommy, knows to open up its mouth and take a breath – well that’s just a miracle, and evidence to me of God’s great creation. It’s too intentional to be a fluke – at least to my mind.

And let’s talk about the ties that the oceans have to the moon. In simplistic terms (by way of Google), the moon and the earth are attracted to each other just like magnets. The moon tries to move the stuff on the earth closer to it, but the earth can hold onto everything except the water, because the water is always moving. There are two low tides and two high tides in most places every day. In my mind, this process is too orderly to be a coincidence – I see God’s hand here, creating the gravitational pull between the two masses, moving His arms like a conductor as He moves the seas to and away from the earth.

As a final thought, I’ll put some lyrics from one of my favorite songs, “Poetry” by Pat Green. This sums up my feelings. And I don’t kid myself that my musings here would turn someone’s doubts to belief, but maybe it would give cause for pause?

“Now, somebody made everything
From the soul inside out to Saturn's rings
How my baby smiles and how Ray Charles sings
Of course we were created.
The clouds make rain, the ocean makes sand
The earth breathes fire, and lava makes land
Now that took a mighty hand
And a wild imagination”

Of course we were created!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Makes You Feel Safe?

Last night, we had terrible storms across Georgia. Hannah was downtown at school and I told her that she either needed to come home right then, or make the decision to stay downtown for the night. To my immense relief, she decided to come home, and I felt safer once she walked in the door. I also felt safer once I had found Jenny the Extra Cat and gotten her inside.

Tonight when I was walking the dog, a police officer drove into the neighborhood and stopped to talk to me for a minute. This was Officer McBride, who patrols our neighborhood every week, has joined our neighborhood online forum and makes helpful posts and has even given us his phone number in case we have questions. I had never met him before, but I had certainly heard of him and read his posts. A few nights ago, Hannah and I were walking and another officer stopped to talk to us. While we may not see a complete cessation of crime in our neighborhood, I feel safer knowing that members of the Dekalb County Police Department take a personal interest in our neighborhood, and have taken the time to get to know the neighbors.

I was on an airplane a couple of weeks ago, landing in the middle of a strong thunderstorm. I honestly wondered if I was going to die. I didn't feel safe at all, at least until we were completely on the ground and the doors of the plane opened. I did a lot of praying during that landing, and I'd love to be able to say that knowing that God was there with me made me feel safer. But my complete and total fear obscured any peace that I might have felt. Kind of like how the disciples in the storm-tossed boat must have felt while Jesus slept, I suppose.

But I'm lucky, as are most of the people I know. We live in a country that isn't torn by violent internal political strife. While I'm not wealthy, I have enough to feed and clothe my family, and to keep a roof over our heads while we watch television shows on AT&T U-Verse. So, all things considered, I'm safe. And I'm thankful. And next time I'm on a storm-tossed plane, maybe I'll remember that God really is with me and I should have some faith!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thanks Miss Linda!

Due to the fact that the advertising agency I worked for resigned the account I worked on, I got laid off right after my maternity leave. This was actually a blessing – Hannah was a bit colicky (translation: screamed for 12 hours a day for 12 weeks), and I don’t know how I could have handed her over to a babysitter without feeling really guilty. After the screaming stopped, I had a few more months of new-mommy bliss with my perfect baby. But I needed to work, and when she was about five months old, I got an interview with another advertising agency.

I lived in Baltimore at the time and the only babysitter I knew of kept a friend’s kids and came highly recommended. But Miss Linda wasn’t interested in taking any babies. I called her anyway and told her that I knew she wasn’t taking babies, but that my interview was right down the street from her house and could I just leave Hannah with her for a couple of hours that ONE day?

When I came to pick Hannah up that afternoon, Linda said that she’d like to keep her again – maybe for a whole day – just to see how it went. When I picked Hannah up the next time, Linda told me she’d keep her full time if I got the job. Apparently her son, Tommy, who was about 10 at the time helped her make that decision.
There were many wonderful things about having Miss Linda watch my child. Linda treated Hannah, and later Sara, as if she were her own child. And so did the rest of Linda’s family. I don’t know if there is a more loving environment for children than Miss Linda’s house. She taught Hannah all sorts of things, gave love and correction in equal doses, and made my life so much easier.

But the very best thing about day care at Miss Linda’s house was that all of Hannah’s firsts – first step, first word – all of those things that mommies and daddies worry about missing – happened at home on the weekend! I’d drop Hannah of on a Monday morning and say “Hannah took a step this weekend!” and Linda would say “You know – it looked like she was on the verge of that on Friday!” In my bliss at mommy-hood, it never occurred to me that Linda was just protecting me until so much later that it didn’t even matter.

I don’t know why I was thinking about this last night, but I wanted to write it down and give Linda McCauley a big dose of love and thankfulness. She was a God-send for my family, and for many other families through the years. So thanks Linda – the Lozanos love you!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Very Bad Poem (Sorry) for Bonney

Dear Bonney, oh Bonney
You've brightened our lives
You married my brother
in spite of the hives (well, neither of them had hives, but it rhymes with lives)

Your laugh is contageous
you're caring and funny
you're one of my best friends
and my dear brother's honey

Our bocci ball outing
was a high point of my life
The girls beat the boys
the husbands lost to the wives

When we visit you up there
in East Tennessee
it's a vacation for us
and a lot of work for thee

But seriously now
you're a wonderful lady
I'm so thankful that you're my sister-in-law
and I'm hoping that maybe

you had a fantastic birthday
with all of the trimmings
I hope to see you soon
and we can go swimming.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Top Ten Tribute To My (NOT) Wicked Stepmother

In honor of Jeanie’s birthday yesterday, here are my top ten favorite things about her:

10. She only tried to make me eat liver once.

9. She taught me how to clean a bathroom. I hated those job cards we had but I learned how to keep house.

8. She taught my friends and me how to eat a Cornish Game Hen prior to our chorus banquet so that we wouldn’t make too much of a mess.

7. She put up with our inappropriate dinner time conversations and shenanigans. The real victory was when she finally joined in!

6. She has a wonderful sense of humor (or she wouldn’t have been able to do #7).

5. She married and stayed with my dad in spite of the fact that he had three teenagers living with him. (I think that #6 may have helped her in this!)

4. She decided that she needed to go back to school to become a Vet Tech – even though she was over 60, and no one would have criticized if she had chosen to relax instead. She’s never been one to sit still, though, and she’s always looked to learn more about whatever she’s interested in.

3. She provided me with the best example of how to be a gracious hostess. No guest came into our house without being treated like the most important person in the world.

2. She knows me so well. I was going through a particularly bad time in my life, and Jeanie knew something was wrong. Rather than asking me outright, she set out snacks and glasses of wine and waited for me to tell her and Dad what was going on. That conversation was so important to me, and the support and love she (and Dad) provided still warms my heart.

And my favorite thing about Jeanie is:

1. When she introduces me, she says “this is our daughter Maryann.” Once we got past the rough patch of the first couple of years, she’s always been my parent (I’m lucky enough to have three!) and I’ve always been her child.
Jeanie’s existence in my life has been a blessing, and I’m especially thankful for her.

Happy Birthday Jeanie – I love you!