Sunday, February 7, 2016

A hose and the meaning of everything

The barn hose: One of the banes of my existence.

While I love almost all aspects of farm-handing – sprinkling corn for the hens and scratching piggies' backs and hauling bales of hay for the cows – and there's one thing I loathe. 

The hose.

I would rather pick 1,000 manure-filled stalls, tromp through 1,000 cow-paddy laden fields or wrangle 1,000 wayward pigs than have to deal with the stupid hose.

For one, it's the longest hose in the world (OK, I have no proof to back this up, but it has to be among the longest. Definitely, among the top 10 long white barn hoses. OK, top 10 long white barn hoses in Pennsylvania.) Unraveling it in such a way that it's not tangled or kinked requires precision and patience. Two areas I'm obviously lacking in.

I want to simply haul out the giant hose coil, toss it on the ground and drag it bucket to bucket and trough to trough with nary a knot to fuss with. The problem is, when you just toss the giant hose coil on the dirt, straw and poo-covered barn aisle, and drag it around you not only tend to accumulate lots of dirt, straw and poo in the hose, you also tend to get a lot of knots. Not to mention there's so much resistance on the hose it feels like you're trying to drag a ravenous brown swiss away from a pile of alfalfa.  

Did someone say alfalfa?!
And then after hauling it all over the barn, you have to return the longest hose in the world (or at least one of the top 10 longest white barn hoses in Pennsylvania) back to its hose holder. And because it's now covered in dirt, straw and poo, you also have to clean it. And you have to do it in front of an audience.

Judgmental barn cat.

It's a lot of pressure. 

I feel like this hose is trying to teach me a lesson.

That I'm supposed to be learning something about myself or about life by fighting with it every week. Probably it has something to do with not rushing for quick results and the value of methodical unwinding. 

I'm still trying to work it all out.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that I like to find the meaning in everything. That I can't just let things be what they are, I have to excavate the thing or occurence and extract some significance from it. It's either that or that thing becomes a metaphor for something else. I do a lot of metaphoring, too.

I was a little embarrassed to get this feedback. I've never wanted to sound like a know-it-all. Because I absolutely do not know it all. Or nearly it all. I'm more of a know a little who knows I know little.

Nor do I believe all the meanings and metaphors I assign are true for the world at large, necessarily. They just feel true to me. And, as we all know, I'm an oversharer, so I overshare about it. 

But I find reassurance and joy, even, in considering the world around me and what it could be trying to tell me. This habit makes life feel richer, somehow. 

Existence is this infinite puzzle and any time I think I've figured out even one tiny piece of it, well, it makes it feel as if the journey weren't solely about survival. 

Even if in the end we're all just oversized fruit flies with longer lifespans.

Earlier this week I wrote a letter to the producers of "On Being."  I told them about how I've been exploring my own spirituality these days and about how much I appreciated the show. Their community and engagement coordinator, Annie, wrote back:
"Life can be messy, much like those stalls you muck out — and while we can long to keep everything clean, that's not what a barn is for. A barn is meant to house life... and like you said, 'all manners of excrement' come with the territory. :) It really is poignant to hear that you're entering into that tension — the pain and the beauty, the mess and the life — and it's an honor to know that our show has been a companion for that journey."
"Entering into that tension." 

What a perfect description for exploring the meaning of existence. There is a lot of tension involved. Entering it willingly is both awe-inspiring and exhausting. For each question answered, there are 10 more waiting in its place.

For the record, I know the hose is just a hose. But for the purposes of self-examination, it's not just a hose. It's a good metaphor for this tension. It's useful and necessary, but also messy, frustrating and difficult to sort out when you're not deliberate and intentional about it. 

This is the second time the word "tension" has entered my various musings this week. 

I'm reading this book my dad let me borrow, "The Elegant Universe." It's basically about how the universe works (or how today's physicists suspect the universe works). I'm only a quarter of the way through it and I understand maybe one millionth of a billionth of it (I spend about as much time re-reading pages of the book as I do reading new pages). But it's really exciting when I can get even a little close to comprehending the workings of the universe at macro and micro levels. 

Anyway, right now, one of the most popular theories about how the universe came to be and why all the bodies in the universe from the very small to the very large behave the way they do is Superstring Theory. String Theory says that at at a sub atomic level (maybe a sub-sub-sub atomic level – I'm not really sure cuz, you know, not a physicist) but somewhere within all the atoms that make up all the things is a loop of vibrating string. And the amount of energy created by these strings is dependent on the tension of the string. More tension equals more energy. 

At least, I think that's what the books says. 

Tension is something I typically like to run away from. It's one of those words that I've always felt sounds kind of negative. I don't much like feeling tense anyway.

But tension also seems associated with change. Or growth. With the explosive power of creation even.

So that makes me look at tension differently.

As for the hose, well. I suppose it's like a loop of string. And it creates tension in me. Beyond that, I'm not sure what to say about it.

Except for that today when I was working in the barn, I let someone else put it away.

Maybe not everything has some hidden meaning or message. Maybe sometimes a hose is just a hose. 

I don't know. I'll probably keep thinking about it though.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The art of waiting and the certainty of death

Life, it seems, has been tearing ahead of me like a snow-obsessed beagle mix with cabin fever who's just been offered his first walk in weeks (this is a very specific simile. Snacks has been very excited about all the snow). It has been hard to keep up.

But I don't really want to talk about all that. The world will continue turning and churning whether I whine about it. And anyway, I'm the one who ends up choosing the pace at which I'm living.

For the last couple of weeks I've been wanting (and waiting) to write about waiting. 

Last year I spent a lot of time waiting to feel less weight. Waiting to feel happy and creative and productive. Depression, it seems, is a lot about waiting – even if while you're in it, you don't realize you're waiting. You just feel like you're sinking. And you don't even really care if you get pulled out of the bog. That self-preservation part seems muted and sluggish.

Since regaining my footing and returning to a more normal rhythm, I've come to realize that all that waiting was necessary. My brain had been demanding stillness. And when I resisted, it decided to force it on me.

I think waiting is often framed as a negative activity. We view it as the opposite of progress and productivity. Something that's foisted on us, unwanted and unwelcome. But maybe it doesn't have to be that way.

In fact, maybe it shouldn't be that way at all.

I recently picked up a copy of "Waiting" by Kevin Henke for a friend who's due to have her first baby in March. It's a children's book about a group of toys who spend their days on a window ledge waiting for things to happen. Waiting for the moon or the wind or the rain. And while they wait they watch the beautiful world outside the window. The illustrations are soft, sweet and lovely. And the sentiment is that waiting doesn't have to be this exasperating, temper-raising activity. It can be calm and sweet – and often necessary.

As a mother coming out of the holiday season I related to the story. And as a mother who's always anxious for certain phases of childhood to be over (do we really need to splash every time we get out of the bath tub? Every time?! And at what point do they start wiping themselves? And speaking of the potty, will I ever get to poop alone again?) But in between all these frustrating things are these beautiful moments of enduring sweetness that disappear before we even have a chance to acknowledge how wonderful they are. That's the bittersweet pill of motherhood. You spend so much time waiting for the sleep and the shower and the five minutes of peace, you can easily miss the pure joy of childhood.

Humans of New York recently had a post that touched on this exact thing (read the whole post here)

Don't treat your life as a waiting room. I mean, it's actually a waiting room for death I suppose. But then we should treat it like one of the most magical waiting rooms we experience. Let's not look at it like the line at the DMV. Or, if you are stuck in DMV mode, at least acknowledge all the others stuck there with you. Get their story. It's better when we share.

A couple weeks ago during my Sunday morning drive up to Blue Hound, I was listening to "On Being" on NPR. The guest was author and teacher Stephen Batchelor, who's written "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist," "The Faith to Doubt" and "Buddhism Without Beliefs."

This portion of the interview stuck with me:

"MS. TIPPETT: I want to ask you — this is also from 'Buddhism Without Beliefs' — 'Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?' So you are bringing the way Buddhist tradition has grappled with the ancient human question back to that question — what does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? — without the promise of something beyond this life. 
And you said, so again, “Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?” You wrote, “Over time, such meditation penetrates our primary sense of being in the world at all.” And I wondered if you would speak, as we close, just about — in a very concrete way, whatever that means, yesterday or today, about how this observation, this questioning, penetrates ordinary life, an ordinary day in the world, your primary sense of being in the world at all. 
MR. BATCHELOR: Well, the meditation on death that you’ve just read out is actually an adaptation of a Tibetan reflection on mortality. 
As a young man, I did this practice daily. I found, of all the Tibetan practices I did, it was the one that was most life-changing, to the extent that today, I find that my sense of being in the world is deeply infused with an awareness of how this may be my last day on Earth. And these reflections on death are not in the remotest sense morbid or gloomy.
The weird paradox is that the more you ask yourself that question — “Death is certain, its time is uncertain, what should I do?” — this brings you back to a very vivid sense that you’re alive. It intensifies the sense of aliveness, in terms of how you see the colors, the shapes, the leaves, the flowers, the — whatever impacts you visually, from the ears to the nose to the tongue to the body to the mind — it is a kind of intensifier of being alive. A kind of — almost a celebration of being here at all. 
And that is infused not only with a sense of wonder, but also with a sense of possibility, a sense of responsibility, that in what you say, think, do, this may be your final legacy on this earth. That, to me, is where this reflection leads me. And it’s with me — I wouldn't say every single minute of every single day. I also have moments in which I’m not particularly proud of how I speak or act or think. But broadly speaking, I find myself constantly returning to what’s implicit in that question. And that has made my life, I think, very full."
I've been ruminating on this -- at the farm as I'm picking stalls or at home when the girls are being especially ... trying ... "Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?" and I have to say, it gives me pause. It helps me change my perspective. Be more loving. Be more patient. Be more gracious.

Today, as I was driving home from the farm on 83 I passed an accident scene. The rescue workers were holding up a white sheet, blocking the southbound traffic from seeing whatever was happening on the side of the road. 

I already knew what was going on though. 

The interstate was closed for miles around the accident scene – the road was empty. Eventually, I came to the backup. Miles and miles of tractor trailers and cars all waiting to  move.

When I got home, I texted Brad. "Was that accident on 83 N a fatal?"

"Yeah, it was. A pedestrian got hit by a truck I think," he wrote back.

And so, it goes again.

"Since death alone is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what should I do?"

I should be kinder. More patient. More generous. More loving. Right now. Today. This month. This year. Because you never know what your last act might be. Where your life ends and your legacy begins. 
P.S. I'm kind of obsessed with the the song I included above, which I first heard while watching season two of "Transparent" (if you're not watching "Transparent" you should be watching "Transparent.") I love how meditative the song is. It calls for us to wait.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who says you can't teach a middle-aged dog new tricks?

Snacks, our beagle mix, has lived in this house for nearly all of the nearly seven years his lived on this planet.

And in those nearly seven years, he's gone down the basement steps on his own four paws exactly once. 

Now, I'm not a dog (well, I'm not literally a dog. I imagine if you asked enough people there might be one or two out in the world who would say that I am a dog, metaphorically speaking. And specifically speaking, a female dog. See where I'm going with that?) Where were we? 

Oh right. I'm not a dog. So I can only speculate about Snacks's reasons for not venturing down the basement steps. Maybe it's the fact that they're dark and steep. Maybe Snacks, like me, can still hear the sickening thumps followed by ear-splitting screams of kids who've tripped down the steps while chasing the cat, who, for obvious reasons, does not wish to be cuddled within an inch of her life. Maybe he knows something I don't about the definitely-not-haunted-creepy-doll living down there.

See. I told you she's not haunted.
Whatever the reason, whenever members of the family are in the basement, Snacks can generally be found sitting at the top of the stairs, his front two paws balanced on the first step. His giant ears flopped forward in curiosity (or terror ... those ears hold many mysteries).

Snacks in his standard top-of-the-stair stance.
But you know what happens next. (Because nobody ever writes the story about the dog who never overcomes his fear of the scary basement steps. While there's an obvious obstacle to overcome, there's really no rising tension. No conflict. No denouement. Instead of conquering his aversion to the basement steps, he simply deepens the dent he's dug out for himself in the sofa in between barking at the mailman and waiting for meals). 

Snacks' sofa dent.
What happens next is that Snacks stands at the edge of the abyss and climbs into it in pursuit of heretofore unknown wonders.

What enticed him was the beckoning of Lily, Jovie and their friend and his hope that there might be crackers or Pirates Booty or some other type of tasty treat in store.

The wonders he would discover were cat food and litter boxes.

In fact, the treasures buried in the bowels of our home were so fantastical, Snacks made multiple forays in search of the apparently delicious, brown morsels.

(Side note: I would not let Snacks lick your face anytime soon).

That's kitty litter on his nose. 
Sure, he's tentative. He's not racing down the steps like Shaun White on fresh powder (is that still a relevant simile? I'm not very sportsy). He's no mountain goat. But he's gaining confidence with each trip down. No doubt lured by the possibility that Peanut Butter has made a fresh deposit.

It's all very new and exciting. For him at least. For me it opens up a whole new door of logistics. Do we put the baby gate back up? Feed the cat on top of the dryer again? fence off the litter boxes somehow? You can understand why I'm not so thrilled about Snacks' new-found bravery.

Still, I'm kind of proud of him. For almost seven years this dog would only stare down the steps. And then all the sudden today he takes the first through 11th steps to adventure. It's inspirational.

I mean, relatively. 

If an anxious, set-in-his-ways, obsessive beagle mix can overcome a fear he's held on to for all his life, well then there's hope for the rest of us. Right? 

It's never too late to take the first step into the unknown.

Who knows what treasures you might sniff out and dig up.

Some people have Ernest Shackleton. Others have Amelia Earhart or Neil Armstrong. This year, while mustering up the courage and optimism to tackle the new year, my role model is my dog. 

Bravery is exhausting.
(Note single piece of kitty litter on his nose.)
To reiterate, don't let him lick you.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Making sense of an old year

A snapped this picture of a spiderweb on a fence at the farm. Magical.
So 2015 was not my favorite year.

There was losing our beloved fluffy cat and the incident with my left boob and rejection and a massive literary slump and depression

And cancer

As I reflect on all this at the start of 2016, I won't patronize my friends who have suffered cancer's wrath in the last couple years by suggesting it was part of the universe's grand plan or something. That it happens for a reason. It happens because cells start dividing at an abnormal rate and impair the body's ability to function normally. 

"Even cancer isn't a bad guy really: Cancer just wants to be alive,” John Green writes in "The Fault in Our Stars." And he's right. Even if it's maddening.

I wish that cancer were more discriminate – feeding off ugliness rather than picking off the kindest souls. But that's not how it works. We don't always get to decide. We're just along for the ride.

While I won't try to find cancer's silver lining, I'm human. So I pick apart all these other disparate happenings and try to make sense of them. Try to explain them in a way that will help me feel at peace with being. 

Isn't that what the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year is all about?

Remembering and resolving. 

The previous 15 years or so of my life have been about happenings. Graduating high school and college, getting the first job, getting married, buying a house, adopting a dog, starting a family. Every year it seemed contained a milestone or a major event. And then the past couple of years working from home with two small children has been about running, running, running. 

While I've been racing on the treadmill, the foundation of my life settled. The girls became more self-sufficient and I became more efficient. In the past year, all of the sudden there were seconds and minutes of my day not filled with doing. This created somewhat of a vacuum, I think. At times it's felt like a great void.

Because while I haven't been doing, I've been thinking and thinking and thinking. About everything from white privilege to terrorism to gun violence to my place in the fabric of existence. It was all very overwhelming. And I think it shut down channels in my brain that felt joy and silliness. That appreciated art and creativity. 

For me, this was the hallmark of 2015. This massive black curtain shrouding a large portion of my psyche. 

So you can understand why I was anxious to be done with it.

Now, of course I know that something as arbitrary as the passing of 365 days does not fix me. Or change me. Though it has, I think. 

I don't love Depression. I've expressed that before. But I think it might have been my body's way of recharging. Of overriding the locomotive in me that insists on doing, doing, doing all the time. Depression quiets you. It's exhausting. It makes you want to stay in bed all day. Or flop on the couch in the middle of the afternoon and take a nap. Or binge on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" instead of writing your next novel.

But I wonder if this isn't a mechanism of healing somehow. Your brain becoming the petulant child who refuses to do anything because she's overtired and cranky. And if that's the case, I just needed to be forced into a vacation of sorts (not the sort I'd be eager to go on again), then maybe there was a point to 2015, afterall.

It was fitting then, that as the year came to a close that I had this epiphany while hanging out at the farm with my sisters and Kristi.

Life is this series of moments sometimes rapid fire, sometimes stretched out long and lazy. And I exist in this life despite all the doing and not doing. It is so liberating to drink in each moment, really be aware of the present – what is happening rightnow – instead of dwelling on what happened or worrying about what will happen. 

I've found it easier to recognize the joy in front of me. To find beauty and grace in the large and small things around me. 

The other part of this epiphany was being aware of, maybe for the first time, the connective tissue that tethers me to those around me and the Earth and the universe. We are all made of the same stuff, you know. Forged from the Big Bang. And we'll live here and die here and return to the Earth and become the building blocks for more life. 

"The world wasn't made for us. We were made for the world." - John Green

I know, I know. It just got real weird. A little metaphysical. But it's such a gift to understand that I am all that I need to be. All that I'm meant to be. It's all there. 

Since I've solved the quandary of my greater purpose, well all that's left for me to do is just be. 

And maybe write about it.

Perhaps 2015 wasn't so awful in the end. Still, I'm looking forward to 2016. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A review of the preschool Christmas pageant

Merry (almost) Christmas.

On Monday, my parents graciously attended the holiday performance at Lily's preschool (i.e. terrified 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds dressed up in green and red stand in front of their overeager parents, grandparents and a sea of recording devices to sing pre-selected Christmas songs). 

It was, of course, adorable.

Though not everyone in the audience was blown away by the pageantry.

For instance, Dad. 

Now, I love my dad. And I love that he attended Lily's performance when he could've been poking around antique shops, baking scones or playing MineSweeper on his computer. He loves all 13 of his grandchildren. Truly. But the thing is, he's not always beguiled by the various rites of passage and tableaus of being small. 

The diapers and tiny clothes and amazing feats of childhood – first words, first steps, first teeth – don't seem nearly as impressive to him as they do to the rest of the family. He's more comfortable connecting with the littles by showing off his electric train set or helping out with puzzles or reading a story or taking a walk. 

He's been a father for more 46 years and a grandfather for 20 and he's still getting used to the idea that small people are interested in spending time with him. Talking to him. Or, god forbid, hugging him. He's a couple pats on the head sort of guy.

That's how he says I love you.

And he says it, too, by showing up for the things that matter to the rest of us. Even if he's not all that impressed and might rather be reading about the Founding Fathers or learning about the theory of relativity or sanding a piece of wood from an especially beautiful tree.

Ever watch "Parks and Recreation"? Dad is Ron Swanson.

So imagine Ron Swanson goes to a preschool Christmas Pageant.

I was amused watching Dad watch the show. So amused, in fact, I started taking notes. Notes that I've decided should be turned into a tongue-in-cheek review of the show from my Dad's perspective. 

So here goes:

Preschool Christmas program is exactly what you'd expect

Reviewed by DAD

We all are born into this world with certain abilities.

Some excel at nurturing their families. Some are outstanding communicators. Some are natural-born leaders. Some have the ability to grasp sophisticated mathematics equations. 

And some are gifted dancers and singers.

The latter were in short supply at Eastminster Preschool's Christmas Program Monday morning.

While a few of the performers brought energy and volume to the contrived set of Christmas standards they sang, most of the participants looked as though they were rolled out of bed, wrapped in the requisite seasonal attire and trotted out in front of their doting relatives against their will.

Suffice to say, there were no Shirley Temples lined up at the front of the sanctuary. 

(Though based on the number of parents standing in the wings taking photos like members of the White House Press Corps, you'd think we were watching Andrea Bocelli perform Handel's "Messiah." Now that is an artist.)

The show began with a fairly lackluster version of "Jingle Bells" – the children's voices drowned out by the bells they were given to ring – not in unison, I should note – throughout the song. This was followed by two lesser known "bell"-related tunes, "Ring the Bells" and "Christmas Bells." More boisterous out-of-synch ringing; still no audible singing. 

At least one child dropped her bell, cried and refused to participate in the remainder of the program. Whatever happened to "the show must go on"? The West End, this was not.

Thankfully, the bells were surrendered and replaced with what appeared to be paper ice cream cones – I am told they were candles – in a rather clunky transition. 

Enthusiasm waned midway through the program and the various teachers were forced to pick up the slack – carrying the show when the younger performers decided, inexplicably, that it was time for a break.

Thankfully, the pianist and flutist accompanying the singers were competent. As the chorus seemed to give up, these talented musicians reminded the audience that we were, in fact, listening to Christmas songs, not just off-key mumbling from a collection of children who looked as if they'd rather be watching "Sesame Street."

(Speaking of the audience, have you ever tried listening to a concert while various children -- notably the young man somewhere behind me -- screamed? While I completely understand their boredom, had they never received a lesson on decorum during their two years of life?!)

Just when it seemed the show could not be salvaged, it was time for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed  Reindeer" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Finally, a song where everyone knew more than two of the words and that was  song with gusto – especially when the choreography involved them punctuating the word "wish" with a punch into the air (though the unfortunate child in the front row who was smacked in the back of the head with an especially exuberant "wish!"). 

I was surprised that a Christmas show at a church did not include more non-secular songs. Where was "Adeste Fideles"? "Once in Royal David's City"? "Oh Holy Night" (come to think of it, I'm not sure I'd want to hear this little voices butcher the high notes in that one.) At least I have my copy of "A Festival of Carols in Brass" from the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble.

Overall, the show was exactly what I expected. 

Sometimes during the holidays, it pays to lower your expectations.

Friday, November 27, 2015

About that nose ring

A few weeks back I got my nose pierced.

Yes, I'm aware I'm not 22.

And no, I'm not going through some late-quarter-life, early-mid-life crisis.

It's something I've been wanting to do for years. I've always seen other woman with nose piercings and thought they looked so beautiful and cool. 

I've never felt all that cool. Or, all that beautiful for that matter.

No, I'm not looking for reassurance. I'm not fishing for compliments. 


I'm guessing most of you reading this are women. And probably women with slightly less than overflowing self-esteem. For the record, you are beautiful. Full to the brim with warmth and joy and sweetness and strength. I know this. And I know you think I'm beautiful. Or, at least, not hideous.

We're in agreement about our feelings for each other. 

And I'm guessing, we'd probably be in agreement about our feelings for ourselves.

I hope we're not. But I'll assume we are.

So here we are. And here I am. 

With these cartoony eyes and deepening lines on my face and my ever-growing nose and eyebrows I always feel look a little cro-magnon mannish. I know, I know. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

And I'm not 22. Not even close. Almost 34 in fact. And wanting a nose ring for years. Because the person in the mirror isn't quite the person I feel like inside. 

But for years I told myself I could not be the person with the nose ring. Why? Because I'm a big 'ol dork is why. Because I'm normal (though in an obviously abnormal way). Because I follow the straight path from Point A to Point B. Because I always mean to do the right thing and never want to rock the boat. I care what people think.

And I always thought that if I got a nose piercing that people would think I was trying to be someone I'm not. Which is to say, the cool, edgy girl, when obviously ... not. Or, that it was an act of rebellion. Maybe if it were 1998 I could see a nose piercing being a sign of youthful rebellion. But come on. Body piercings are as ubiquitous as Starbucks now.

Maybe it's really an act of rebellion against the person I always thought I was. All those stories I've always told myself about the person I was and am and will be.

Maybe that's what a late-quarter-life, early-mid-life crisis is. 

In which case I revise my earlier statement. Maybe I am going through a late-quarter-life, early-mid-life crisis.

Crisis is such a loaded word, and I don't think it's really a crisis anyway. It's pretty great to re-evaluate my life and realize that my narrative is mine and can change based on the choices that I make. 

So a few weeks ago I chose to get a nose ring. And I love it. I look in the mirror and see myself and I like that person a little more. Not because of the stud on it's own. But because it means that the voice in my head that was telling me to be true to me was louder than all the voices outside telling me to conform to to the image of the almost-34-year-old wife and mother of two that I imagine the rest of the world has.

This is my one life. It's time to start owning it.

FAQs about my nose piercings

Did it hurt? 

Yes, a man poked a hole in my nostril with a large needle. It was hurt. But the pain didn't last long. 

Does stuff get caught on it?

If by stuff you mean boogers and snot, then yes, stuff gets caught on it. Just like stuff gets caught on your nostril walls. I was perpetually self-conscious about the state of my nose before I got the piercing. That hasn't changed. Luckily, someone invented facial tissue that can be used for debris removal.

How does it stay in?

There's not back on it, like an earring. The stud is a corkscrew shape (it looks like this). I learned this when it fell out the other day while I was taking a shower and couldn't figure out how to get it back in so then made my very patient, very kind husband put it back in. It's tricky!

What made you decide to get it?

See above.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What I learned from the Balloon Guy

Flip-Flop, Lily's new penguin.
Not pictured: Jovie's balloon animal Purpley Purple the Purple Pony.
Yesterday Brad and I took the girls to the York Pet & Reptile Expo for a little family bonding. We were promised dogs, cats, bunnies, birds and reptiles (in two show arenas!), plus it was free for kids 5 and under. Kind of a no-brainer in my mind. 

So we pay our admission and go in. The first thing Jovie spots is a kid carrying a rainbow-colored parrot made out of balloons. 

"I want balloons!" she said.

We told her we'd try to find some balloons for her, but first we were going to see if we could find any animals. 

"But I want balloons," she repeated.

I attempted redirection. 

"I heard there are pigs walking around on leashes here! Let's go see if we can find one!"

"I just want to find the balloons," she whimpered.

"OK, but first, let's find pigs."

She followed us into the show. Though with minimal enthusiasm. We saw kittens, bunnies, a pomeranian with a fuchsia mohawk and two pigs on leashes. There was a friendly blind husky and a pack of cocker spaniels and a sweet, scruffy dog named Ozzie who I think needs to come live with us. For serious. That face.

Photo courtesy of The Last Dog Rescue
And there were all the cutest puppies ever. 

Even through this abundance of adorable, fuzzy, squishy amazingness, Jovie was still pretty adamant about that balloon. A balloon, I might add, that would never cuddle up in her lap or gently lick her nose. 

Her requests for a balloon continued as we wandered into the second arena, i.e., the snakepit. 

I'd never been to a Pet and Reptile Expo before, so I really had not idea what to expect. I definitely didn't expect such an abundance of snakes. Like, enough snakes to populate the Amazon probably. All stacked in small, clear boxes (the larger ones were curled up in what appeared to be the containers used for the deli trays you get at the grocery store. Maybe I'll pick up the Boa Constrictor platter for my family's annual gingerbread house-making party. I'll garnish it with a few frozen mice, which were also available for purchase at the expo).

So yeah, a lot of snakes. And various lizards, frogs and the smallest turtles I'd ever seen. And baby mice. That was Lily's favorite part. The vat of baby mice. Pinkies were 50 cents, fuzzies were 10 cents more. These weren't intended to be pets (the guy selling them also sold snakes), but I couldn't bring myself to tell Lily that (just like I haven't brought myself to tell her what's really going to happen to the turkeys she's been visiting at the farm almost weekly since they were babies. "They're going to a new home next week," I told her. "They bite too much.") 

We'd wander the floor to look at more snakes or meet Dargo the police dog or see the coolest chameleon ever, but Lily kept gravitating back to that box of baby mice. Her eyes wide in wonder and adoration. 

It was a little unsettling. 

(You can check out some awesome pictures from the expo – including Lily's beloved pile-o-mice – here.)

Jovie, meanwhile, was still asking about that balloon. 

So we found the balloon guy, or as he refers to himself, The Balunguy. We waited in line watching Balunguy inflate and twist balloons in every color into Macaws and dinosaurs and swords and hats and snakes (obviously). 

I chatted with him as he twisted a penguin for Lily and a purple pony for Jovie.

"So how does one end up becoming a balloon artist?" I asked him. Because really, how does someone end up becoming a balloon artist?!

Unexpectedly, he said.

Fifteen years ago his wife gave birth to their baby at just 26 weeks. Their daughter weighed only 1 pound, 13 ounces and spent 74 days in the NICU. During that time, Balunguy (OK, his real name is Tony) and his wife met another couple whose child was in the NICU. As it turned out, the dad knew how to twist balloons. Tony asked if he could get a lesson. Obviously, the hobby took. 

Business is great. He does all the types of events you'd imagine a balloon artist (excuse me, a Professional Latex Manipulation Technician) might show up at. And some that you wouldn't – in a bittersweet twist of fate, he did balloons at the funeral of the man who'd introduced him to balloon artistry all those years ago. (Note to self: add "balloon artist at funeral" to my last and final wishes.)

I asked how his daughter was doing now.

"If you didn't know, you wouldn't know," he said showing me a picture of a beautiful young lady on his phone.

I love asking people how they got to where they are. It's a reminder to me that life meanders. It's rarely straightforward and often detours you to long, winding roads you assume are dead ends. And sometimes they are. And sometimes you go into the NICU filled with fear and anxiety and the weight of the world and leave with the power to bring smiles to people's faces and make the world a sillier place. 

And boy do we need that these days.

If there's something that depression has allowed me to appreciate, it's lightness. Those moments when your soul expands and you grasp, for a second, what it means to be here and to be human. I get this feeling most often when I stop and listen and observe life in realtime with an open heart. 

I don't think we'll ever find the grand anecdote to the world's ugliness in policy or air strikes or social media. It happens on a much, much smaller scale. It starts in your home and in your neighborhood and in your city. It starts with a smile and a simple question and the willingness to listen to the answer. 

We all just want someone to hear us over the cacophony of all 7 billion of us. 

We all want to tell our story. But first, we need to listen. 

What we hear will probably be a greater gift than what we wanted to say. I'm certain of that. 

And if that doesn't quite do the trick, well, there's always puppies. And balloon animals.