The Strawberry Patch

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I have been trying to make more of an effort to expose our two year-old and four month-old to new experiences – regardless of their young age, the weather, my mood or any other excuse I make up to avoid the chaos that results from a public appearance with unpredictable sidekicks. I figure if we don’t go now, chances are we will instead spend countless hours staring at Dora the Explorer feeling like lethargic zombies all day.

It’s the beginning of summer at our house which means the sun is out and the heat is on. It also means fresh strawberries are ready for picking a few miles down the road from us. I know the idea of voluntarily picking fruit in the middle of a field under the hot sun with a toddler and infant may seem like a recipe for disaster, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

After applying many globs of sunscreen (or “sour cream” as my two-year-old calls it), we loaded up and were on our way. We arrived at the patch and it appeared only a few others decided to brave the morning sun with us. Hats were strapped on and the baby was nestled tightly in a carrier on my chest. Our toddler ran up to a mound of white baskets and decided which one was suited best for us before following one of the employees to our row.

Whew, we made it.

And then it hit me: do they accept debit cards? After asking, the answer was “cash or check only.”

I convinced my daughter we must turn around, leave our basket at the stand and load back into the car. This is more difficult than it sounds. The two women working at the patch offered to watch my girls while I went to find an ATM. It was a very kind gesture, but the thought of staying with a stranger, understandably, didn’t sit well with my daughter.

We loaded back into the car; out of the carrier and into the car seat. Hats off, seatbelts on.

After finding an ATM and making a withdrawl, we ventured back for round two.

The nice ladies smiled as we returned and prepared, again, to enjoy our first strawberry patch together.

My daughter identified what she believed to be the white plastic basket she had claimed as ours moments before, and we were on our way. The nice women, again, showed us to our row and explained that only berries red to the tip were ripe for picking, and with the grin on her face being shadowed by a pink baseball cap she was wearing, my daughter did it. She picked her first strawberry. And her second, and third, as I took it all in. She then did a little dance and uttered a few short, but moment-halting words.

“Mommy I need to go potty.”

I smiled.

We quickly turned back to the path we arrived on and skipped our way to the front of the patch. On the way, I noticed the only restrooms in sight were those housed in a warm and sticky vertically standing structure – a portable toilet.

One of the employees kindly asked if she could hold my youngest daughter while I went into the cramped space with our potty training toddler. I obliged and we began our walk over to the toilet.

As I took a step up to confidently show my daughter how to use the plastic tower, my sandal caught on the front of it and I tripped, taking my daughter down with me into the door. I quickly stood up and attempted to act as though I had everything together while my two year-old stared at me with confusion.

I smiled.

My “pull it all together” act must not have been very convincing, as my daughter expressed concern for me while using the bathroom.

“Mommy, make sure you don’t fall in.”

Yes, dear.

After returning, the woman holding my four month-old baby half-jokingly said she would love to curb her “baby fever” by continuing to keep her up front while my toddler and I went back and finished picking.

I smiled.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe two of us made it back to our row, spending time together just the two of us for the first time since our newest daughter was born. We spent the next 15 minutes picking the reddest of the strawberries, eating a few along the way.

We returned filthy and hot, but happy.

While I wasn’t sure how the morning might turn out, we ended up experiencing much more than a strawberry patch. My daughter learned how to use a remote, public bathroom and I received a lesson in patience and flexibility.

The best part, though, wasn’t the strawberries; it was my daughter’s bright red and juicy smile at the end of the morning.

Sweet.

Sharing life’s cinnamon rolls

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Are you an innie or an outie?

This is the question a middle-aged woman posed to her friend as they sat down together at a local coffee shop. Noticeably pregnant and well into my third trimester, I couldn’t help buty wonder if she was directing the question toward me, talking about the belly button emerging from under my shirt.

I then noticed the woman point to a freshly baked cinnamon roll sitting on the table in-between them.

“Do you like to eat it from the inside or the outside?”

They were sharing the treat and it was clear from the excited look on the woman’s face that her friend answered with the preferred answer.

“Outside.”

I smiled at their shared logic, and also felt relieved not having to engage awkward dialogue about my bulging abdomen.

The conversation between these two friends reminded me of a quote I have posted in my office as a daily level-setting prompt: “Find yourself in everyone you meet.” I wish I remembered where I heard this for the first time, but regardless of its origin, the statement has continued to impact the way I look at the world. I’ve found that the more we can find ourselves in others, the easier it is to be understanding, kind and empathetic when it seems most difficult.

The two women found themselves in each other, but also celebrated their differences as complements – even if in a very small way.

On a separate occasion, I sat near an elderly couple who were a fine example of teamwork, friendship and love. The two sat close to each other, sharing one cup of coffee with a table full of large books in front of them. The wife read, while he pretended to be engaged in the words she was mumbling. Their actions were the true definition of marriage – laughing together one minute and bickering the next.

He held up a shiny iPhone in his hand with a seemingly defeated look on his face before turning toward his wife and handing her the device.

“It says you go ‘bink bink’ and you’re on your way, but I can’t figure it out.”

photoAfter speaking into the bottom of the phone, the wife stubbornly held up the phone as if trying to take a photo. Her husband held his hand up to stop her and then removed his glasses and smiled. Nothing happened.

The couple continued reading the books in front of them, all with titles aiming to help beginners navigate use of Apple products. Every new “trick” they stumble upon called for a minor celebration.

After burying his nose in a small, white paperback manual the size of a worn-out novel, the husband jumped up excitedly.

“Wallpaper!”

The wife seemed more frustrated than impressed, asking her husband how he found the new tool. He leaned over, taking on the role of teacher, while she eagerly watched him navigate to the wallpaper feature. An earlier scene began to play out again, as the wife snapped a photo of her husband with intentions of using it as ‘wallpaper’ on her new gadget. As the wife fumbled with the phone, her husband stood up and began heading to the restroom – but not without sharing newfound wisdom with his wife.

“Don’t forget wallpaper means it will be behind everything on your phone.”

She rolled her eyes. The two continued to work with their new mobile devices for more than an hour, together celebrating and secretly competing to be the first to find reach a new milestone.

“Oh, look here! I found the messages,” the wife said. The husband was silent and seemed to be avoiding the fact that his wife had beat him at his own game. He decided it was time to leave.

“We need to get going. We’ve been here too long.”

While attempting to navigate chaos during the holidays, we sometimes take for granted those closest to us, forgetting how they reflect a piece of who we are. Finding others as complements is not always easy, but it is necessary. This holiday season; remember to take time to think of how those in your life play a part in making a better you. After all, it doesn’t matter how you choose to consume your cinnamon roll, it’s finding a way to share the frosting that makes experiences most memorable.

Raise your hand if you’ve had a miscarriage

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Almost 25 percent of all pregnancies are lost to miscarriage and chances are if you’ve been part of this statistic, you’re not raising your hand. Not because you don’t remember the experience or because it happened many years ago. Instead, it’s likely your hand is staying down because you have feelings of failure, guilt and embarrassment caused by the experience. Not because it’s right or makes sense, but because it’s a natural reaction caused by stigma associated with miscarriage in our society. Those who have not experienced a miscarriage likely know of someone who has and begin to feel uncomfortable at the very mention of the word.

After visiting my doctor alone during my second pregnancy, I was delivered devastating news that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and from that moment, I started on a long and lonely road many women quietly travel.  Rather than face the issue head-on, I found myself attempting to hop back on the fast train in life as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t continue thinking about what was happening, but at the time, it was the only way I knew how to cope.

Four days after the news, I hopped on a plane like “super mom” to embark on a week-long business trip I had committed to many months prior. Leaving my two dogs, husband and one-year old at home, I traveled a few states away, secretly hoping the hole I was feeling would no longer be there when I returned.

It was.

The painting we had made, now hanging in our playroom in memory of our “firecracker”

I continued living in a fog for a few months until it eventually began to dissipate and I started searching for books on the topic. The selection was surprisingly limited; a first indication to me that there is something odd about the way our society approaches miscarriage. In short, we don’t. We duck, hide, whisper and ignore the topic to shield the pain, misunderstanding and confusion from our lives.

After browsing numerous bookshelves, I read I Never Held You, by Ellen M. DuBois. The book is personal, real and was exactly what I needed – confirmation I was not alone. Just as an article in the Huffington Post reveals, miscarriage does not discriminate. The article shares news of television anchor Lisa Ling’s recent pregnancy announcement and includes details about the feelings of failure she experienced after suffering a miscarriage in 2010.

If miscarriage happens to so many women every year, why did it take so long to find a book? Why is the topic of miscarriage off limits to talk about? Why must we stifle our voices to a whisper?

In the weeks following my completion of the book, I decided to break the rules, finding ways to share my experience with others – both men and women –when appropriate. Initiating a conversation appeared to relieve others of weight they had been carrying after they themselves or someone they knew had also suffered a loss in miscarriage.

This is the part I find fascinating. Here is an experience many women and men are faced with in life, but at some point are made keenly aware it is not a topic to talk about; at least not publically.

So here I am, 25 weeks into my third pregnancy, raising my hand and sharing this journey with you. If you’re still sitting on your hands, don’t worry; moving them is the first step. For those of you with a hand in the air, try this – keep your hand up, move from behind the computer screen and begin waving, even if only to one other person.

Don’t worry; we all lose our glasses

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Have you ever had a day (or year) like this? Does it sound all too familiar?

A middle-aged woman frantically ran into the coffee shop, her clutch purse hanging on her wrist and swaying with each step she took. She stood behind two other customers in line, tapping her foot and checking the time on her phone. Once she reached the counter, the barista politely asked her how she could assist her in ordering her morning dose of caffeine. The woman, not trying to be rude, cut her off.

“I was just in here an hour ago and think I left my glasses. Has anyone turned in a pair of brown-framed glasses?”

The barista looked below the woman’s chin, smiled and leaned in before softly saying, “Are those your glasses, ma’am?”.

The now relaxed customer laughed and shrugged her shoulders before turning around to leave. Then, her purse caught the corner of the table behind her, knocking down a tower of water bottles on display. She scrambled to pick them up best she could before heading out the door to start her day.

After briefly witnessing this woman’s frustration and embarrassment, it helped me feel more at ease. Maybe I’m not the only one. While I may not always lose my glasses (or marbles for that matter), it’s comforting to know this woman’s morning was somehow just as chaotic as mine usually is. And, with a bit of humor and a cup of coffee, the end result is a good laugh and a funny story to tell.

In my family, we have a name for these moments — they are called “foozles”. Sometimes used in the game of golf, a “foozle” means to manage clumsily or the act of bungling. We often share these humorous encounters with each other to lighten the mood and usually share in a mutual feeling of public humiliation.

I’ve had many – almost too many to share – situations of which could be classified as a “foozle”. But, one of my husband’s encounters still has me laughing. (Don’t worry, he gave me permission to share).

While enrolled at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, my husband and his fellow classmates learned Osteopathic Manipulation – a fancy term meaning the skill of adjusting spines. To hone the skills they were being taught, they often would practice on each other; one person laying on a soft table, the other leaning over to adjust.

One particular day, my husband was the one on the table. As his classmate leaned over, properly moving him into position, he pushed down to relieve tension in his back and my husband unintentionally and loudly passed gas. With those around him roaring with laughter, he looked up and said, “well, I guess you did it right.”

So, the next time you encounter a “foozle”, find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one. Oh, and don’t forget to share.

The Child of Tomorrow

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While most days at coffee shops tend to be a bit noisy, this one was different. It was quiet, except for the occasional sound of typing on a keyboard. That was until a group of teenagers quickly ran into the place, breaking the silence. 

They didn’t order anything, but weren’t being disruptive or obnoxious either.

“Look, look” one of the girls said as she shoved her cell phone in front of her girlfriend’s face.

“Why does the light keep turning off?”

“Ugh. I hate this phone.”

Feeling impatient and obviously frustrated, the girl grabbed the phone back from her friend and tapped a few buttons before returning it.

There were a few moments of silence while the friend was reading what seemed to be a text from a boy. The two girls sat close, both nodding their heads as they read.

“And then I said this……and this…

“He’s so sweet,” her friend said.

They both giggled, while I sat there frozen.

That’s when it hit me. My daughter will soon be that age! And, by soon, I mean… well, 14 years from now. OK, so I admit to being a little overboard with my concerns. But, either way, I was intrigued (and shocked!) by the way technology has completely consumed these soon-to-be adults.

child

My "child of tomorrow"

The girls joined the others who had come with them, making a group of five – three girls and two boys. All of them were glued to the screens of their cell phones, waiting for the next text, Facebook post, tweet or annoying phone call from their parents.

“I haven’t told my Mom about tomorrow yet,” one of the boys said with a smirk.

The girl with the juicy conversation on her cell phone reached into her pocket and held it up for the boy to see.

“Hey, did you hear me and Jacob* made out?” she asked, brushing her hands through her hair.

I sat at a table a few feet away, cringing.

“Yeah, I heard. How did it go?” he said.

She handed him the phone, pointing to show him the text. He nodded his head and smiled before they all decided to leave; heads high and the now “experienced” kisser proud as could be.

While I know I shouldn’t be surprised by anything I saw or heard, I was. I am relatively young, but it still amazes me how much teenage “love” has changed since I was in high school. There was no Facebook, Twitter or smartphones then. I had a cell phone and was able to text, but passed notes (yes, handwritten!) in class, read the newspaper and took notes using a yellow tablet.

A recent article published in The New York Times examines the new age of technology, proposing “the child of tomorrow” will crave less information and instead require more quiet time.  Companies like Intel have experimented with the idea of requiring four uninterrupted hours of work per week to clear the minds of their employees. New software is also being introduced to users, allowing buyers to disable Internet connections for those who can’t seem to stay away.

I’m not sure what this will mean for my daughter or the other “children of tomorrow”, but it seems to be moving in the right direction.

And, in all of this conversation about young “puppy love”, the tie between new technology and the increasing need for quiet, there is one tiny detail I forgot to include – my husband and I started dating when I was 15 years old and  we used AOL Instant Messenger to keep in touch.

*All names have been changed to protect privacy.

New Year Lessons: Naps, Trains and Weddings

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While others are well on their way to jump starting new years resolutions, I’m still trying to figure out how 2012 is already here! But, I’d be lying if I said I’m not also taking time to reflect on 2011 and set goals (finally) for 2012. Except, this year, I decided to use coffee shop lessons as an inspiration.

This year my goal is to write down one lesson I’ve learned each day. But before tackling that goal, I want to reflect on a few lessons I learned in coffee shops during 2011.

1. Two women, appearing to be close friends, coincidentally visit the same coffee shop at the same time. The women engage in conversation while waiting in line,  not taking long to share personal details.

“When I dream, I’m always young and single,” one of them said. “But I would never tell my husband that.”

Lesson: It’s important to have close friends. Every conversation adds a new  layer to the relationship.

2. A woman shared a glimpse of her life a few years ago. Her husband was forced to retire due to injury, she lost her job and so did her sister. Her mom became ill and the family dog passed away — all within two months. She allowed herself to be sad, but not for long. Realizing their break from obligations, the three moved to be closer to and help their mother. Had they not lost their jobs, they would have needed to hire someone to help.

Lesson:  Bad things happen; sometimes all at the same time. But, it’s a matter of perspective and how we react to the situation that really matters.

3. During a brief exchange with a barista, one woman said, “I’ve found my running pace improves with short, quick steps.”

Lesson: Exactly what she said.

4. A mother of the bride was discussing details with her daughter’s wedding planner. As the conversation builds, she begins speaking quicker with each word, as if paying the planner by the minute. “So much goes into planning,” she said. “We have the horse and carriage and now I’m thinking we are going to need to plow the field for the buses to get through.”

Really?

Lesson: Our society places too much emphasis on the details of the wedding and not enough on the meaning of the wedding. I can’t help but think of how the money paying for these lavish affairs might be spent otherwise to help fulfill the basic needs of others.

 

5. One man sits down, while another approaches the counter to order. He then returns to the table, coffee mug in hand. “Think my wife will like this one?” he said, holding up a red and white striped mug.

“I don’t know which one she would like better, but that one is cracked.”

“Probably a good reason not to get it.”

Lesson: Some things aren’t meant to be.

6.  Two businessmen are meeting to discuss, well, their children. “My daughter’s dorm was hit by the hurricane,” one of them said. “Her Resident Assistant helped get her through the terrible experience.” He went on, sharing his daughter’s experience had resulted in her volunteering for relief effort clean up and signing up to be a Resident Assistant in 2012.

Lesson: Sometimes opportunities appear when we least expect them.

7. A man rushed in to the coffee shop, noticeably frustrated. Another man passing by recognized him and they made small talk. When asked about being upset the man said, “I decided to leave the office and grab coffee before biting someone’s head off.”

Lesson: We all have these days. It’s best to accept it, buy a cup of coffee and move on.

8. A young college student sitting by herself breaks concentration to say hi to a young man as he sits near her. During their conversation she tells him about a time her family took a vacation abroad. Her mom was separated from her in a large crowd getting on a train. Her and her brother stared at the train as it departed with their mom aboard and no way of contacting her. They waited for the next train, rode to the next stop and didn’t find their mother until returning to their hotel two hours later.

Lesson: Keep family close – literally.

9. On more than one occasion, conversations focused on having trouble finding a perfect gift.  One man shared he was at a loss trying to think of something his 90 year-old mother would need. Another woman juggled gift ideas for her father-in-law. After deep discussion, it was settled – the mother would be getting a generator (she’s lost power five times in the past year) and the father-in-law, football tickets.

Lesson: Spend less time wondering “what to give” and more perfecting the act of “how to give”.

10. I walk past a man on the way in, keep an eye on him over my shoulder while visiting and smile at him upon leaving. The man sat in the middle of the coffee shop; swallowed by an oversized, dark brown leather chair. His body sank as his head lay back, resting on the back of the chair.  He was sound asleep, mouth wide open, for the full two hours I was there (and maybe longer).

Lesson: When the opportunity presents itself, take a nap.

Keeping these lessons in my back pocket, I’m raising my mug. Cheers to you for a wonderful 2012!

Better late than never.

Interested in reading other blog posts about new year lessons? Here are a few of my recent favorites:

Everything but the Kitchen

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I walked up to the big, intimidating brown door, carrying a pan of warm apple crisp dessert as its sticky juices leaked out the sides onto my hands. Christmas music played loudly behind me; young children laughing and skating circles on a small ice rink under bright lights and the moon.

As I approached the building, I noticed something. The window wrapping the front of the door was shattered. The glass was broken, but not enough to cause an opening. 

Gulp. 

There was a part of me wanting to turn around, get back in my car and drive safely home. But, I signed up for this and knew it would be an eye-opening experience. I was right.

After reaching the front door, I peered through the window. A young woman made eye contact and walked over to open the door for me. I smiled, introduced  myself and nervously asked to be directed where I might set down my leaking dish. An older gentleman walked down a hallway towards us and kindly showed me the way. But, moments later I learned I would need to first walk through a large gym before getting to the kitchen.

One big room, 25 mattresses; just as you see in the movies. Every mattress was accompanied by a notebook piece of paper torn from a tablet and taped above each pillow, labeled with a corresponding number. Women of all ages – young, old, crippled, healthy – sat on the mattresses, walked around the room, sang to each other or simply sat at one of the long tables set up nearby.

Bed Time...

As I weaved my way through the mattresses lined up on the tiled floor, I noticed some of the women gathered in a corner of the room. Piquing my interest, I stared long enough to see what they were doing. A volunteer sat in a chair as the women took turns having their fingernails painted.

“You look beautiful,” the volunteer said after finishing painting for one of the women.

I made my way to the kitchen, helped set up a buffet-style table of food and grabbed a cup of coffee.

One of the women quickly ran up to me, eager to hand me a brown paper bag.

“Would you like to read this?” she said, holding up a local newspaper with a square photo of her pictured in black and white on the front page. “One of the stories is about me and the path I’m on to make a better life.”

“Yes, I would love to take a look,” I said, smiling.

“There’s something else in the bag that’s a bit more personal, if you’d like to see,” she said.

Hesitant, I opened the bag and reached in to pick up a yellow piece of fabric.

“Would you like me to take it out of the bag?” I asked, unsure if the item was too personal for the rest in the room to see.

She nodded her head yes.

I picked up and unfolded the item, which I quickly recognized as an extra-large macaroni and cheese colored t-shirt covered in words and images, hand written with a black permanent marker. I fumbled the shirt a bit, so she snatched it out of my hand and held it up for me to see more clearly. The front of the shirt read “We are a family and we still love you”.

I nodded.

Tshirt #1 - Complete

She rotated the shirt, showing me the backside. My stomach dropped as I saw four little faces drawn on the fabric, and above the image, the words “If you love us, why do you make us black and blue?”.

I nodded again, unsure how to respond to a message so clear, yet so disturbingly sad.

She told me she made the t-shirt in therapy as a way to help her cope with life and start on the right path. As she placed the t-shirt back into the bag, a tall authoritative woman walked into the large room and signaled for everyone to gather in the middle of the room.

Without speaking, all of the women and volunteers (including myself) gathered between the mattresses and the tables and held hands. The woman who seemed to have authority began saying a prayer.

“Thank you Lord for bringing us together to a warm place tonight. Please bless this food and show us your grace through fellowship and the meeting of new friends. In God’s name we pray, Amen.”

How cool, I thought.

I, along with four other volunteers, took our position behind the long table with food. The women lined up single file on the other side of the table — plates in hand and manner in tact. We served our homemade chicken pot pie, garden salad and warm apple crisp and they thanked us for each serving.

“This smells so good,” one woman said.

“A home cooked meal is just what I need right now,” another said.

The women ate their meals while sharing fellowship. The dishes were empty, all food gone. I grabbed another cup of coffee and sat down at one of the tables.

What can I possibly say to these women? I’ve never been homeless. And, while I’ve had extensive training and experience working with women involved in domestic violence, I’ve fortunately never had to experience it myself.

“How was the food?” I asked, feeling a little out of place.

All of the women at the table smiled and shook their heads as if approving of the meal.

And then it hit me – I was no different from these women. I am human and so are they. Our experiences should not define our being, who we are or who we hope to be someday.

“How was your day?” I asked the woman sitting next to me.

“Difficult,” she answered, attempting to ignore me.

“Well, it’s good to know you have a full stomach of good food.”

“Well yes, but I’d like my own kitchen and be able to cook for myself again. It’s hard being homeless. It’s heavy on your heart and your mind.”

I didn’t have a response and sat silent for a moment.

“Where are you all from?” I asked, seeking conversation.

One woman grew up in Ohio and another in South Carolina. I shared with these women, while now in North Carolina that I too was an “outsider”. I had recently moved to the state from Michigan less than one year ago with my husband and 15 month-old daughter.

“They were interested to hear more about my little girl and share with me stories about their own children.

“Guess how many children I have,” one of them said. I responded with a confused look and asking, “how many?”.

“Ten,” she answered, lowering her head as if it hurt to talk about them.

“I have four kids,” said the other woman – the one who had shared her personal item with me earlier in the evening.

“But…I haven’t seen them since 1997,” she said. “They are what keeps me going each day. I know I will see them again, but it’s about taking life one step at a time and I’m focusing on that.”

I instantly felt sadness and looked over at the woman next to me who had just shared she is a mother of ten. Tears fell from her eyes as she looked up.

“Thank you for sharing your story,” she said.

“You’re welcome; it’s a way for me to help myself, too. I am amazed when anything I do or say actually means something to another person.”

How true. And while I’m not sure if anything I said that night made a difference to those women, I left with an appreciation for my family, a warm home and for my very own kitchen –  used to make sticky apple crisp for new friends on a Friday night.

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