Aside

The other day while heading back from church, my son asked me, “Mom, why is it so easy for us to follow the law but so hard for us to follow God’s Law?”  As usual, he had stumped me.  I told him that it was a very good question and I should have to think about it.  While it has thus far been easy for me not to kill anyone, which is God’s law and man’s law, as I thought about the Ten Commandments and the Law of the Land which are inexorably bound together, I realized that it is the first of all the Commandments that I am unable to truly honor.  The Commandment states that I am to love the Lord God with all my heart, my mind and my soul and all my strength.

I understand that this blog is sounding awfully preachy at the moment, so I will get to the point.  The point is that my life was so ridiculously busy last year with junkets, commitments outside the home, and blundering through errands and such, that the little time left over for God was even less than that left over for my truly neglected husband.  My loved ones had been robbed of me by my own hand.

I confess I am also a bit of a thief.  The name moonShine Musings was unabashedly swiped from my friend, Anne Hicks who is the publisher and owner of the excellent literary work, moonShine review.  Without a second thought, I believed my association as a part-time fiction editor gave me the right to link myself to it by name and I was too thick to understand until way too late that I had done a great disservice to this talented and treasured friend.

With these two thoughts uppermost in my mind, I will be taking a new direction in 2013.  The moonShine Musings blog at clairearmstrong.wordpress.com will be taken down shortly and the name will be turned back over to my friend to use as she so chooses — possibly to feature poetry submitted or bits of stories she would like to feature for purposes of marketing, as it should  be used.  (Leslie, did I butcher or neglect a properly placed “m dash?”)

I believe my true passions lie in faith and family and my writings will go that way as they come to me.  Another blog may arise, or I may just join the ranks of slack-jawed tweeters and bug the hell out of all of you with my vapid observations or favorite restaurants in the coming year via twitter account.  It will give me more time to spend on the First Commandment and to amend my thieving ways.

Best of luck and love to you all.  I’ll be seeing you…

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My Left Foot

It is said that only two things are certain in this life: taxes and death. I have recently learned that two things are certain in parenting: diapers and injuries. When I speak of injuries, I am of course talking about those endured by the parents.

 

When my daughter was little, I got savvy pretty quickly. As soon as my daughter was given a Barbie, I threw out the shoes and hair brushes as soon as the box was opened. A Barbie shoe to the heel in the middle the night is no laughing matter. And when my son, aka “Dude” came along, I was warned about Lego’s.

I thought I had it all figured out, but then Dude turned 11. As he became more engrossed in television and computers, his grades slipped and he got “mouthy”, for lack of a better word. My husband and I decided he would have to earn time on the computer and we made sure it was very limited time indeed. For a good week at school, he would earn 1/2 hour on the laptop. That left plenty of time for Dude to spend time in outdoor activities and creative play. This included building with Lego’s and creating with all manner of boy-type toys. And because Dude likes to take things apart, whether it be by chopping, dicing, snapping, peeling, unscrewing or shredding there was a certain amount of deconstruction going on around the house. Enter parental injury.

I should have known something was up when I couldn’t find my colored toothpicks. However, I had company at the time and didn’t think much more about it. But then the following Sunday night, a portion of snapped toothpick found the space between the big toe and 2nd toe on my left foot as I crept out of Sleeping Dudie’s darkened room.

No amount of tweezing, digging with needles, or soaking would get that toothpick out. After hobbling around and trying to tough it out, my hips started to hurt from walking all wonky, and on Wednesday I gave in and called my doctor. I figured anything would be better than continuing to limp around like I had been. I was wrong.

After I was examined, I was given two options by the doctor, neither of which sounded good. However, I was ready to be done. So I chose the option that involved numbing my foot and digging around to make sure they got deep enough to get the toothpick removed. Even though I was nervous, I knew I would feel better afterward and I have come to find out that the feeling better afterward part was true.

In hindsight, if I am ever again offered a shot in the foot to numb it or to be shot dead where I stand, I would choose the latter without hesitation.

When the needle first went in, I thought, “that wasn’t so bad…” but she was only getting started. I drew in a deep breath to help me endure the few seconds of discomfort I knew was coming, and then the pain really hit. I let a keening wail out into the muffling cover of my arms until I ran out of air, sucked in another ragged breath, and screamed some more. When the needle was finally withdrawn, I had settled to a simper like that of a puppy locked out on a cold wet day and a tooth jarring tremor.

I won’t bore you with additional details except to say that after about 30 or 40 minutes of searching, the doctor and nurse managed to find and pull several shards of wood from my left foot.

Two days out, I am feeling better but wondering to myself, “Was it worth it?” Having never been shot dead where I stand, there’s little ability to make that call.

Death. Taxes. Diapers. Injury.

The Accidental Spiritual Tourist

Recently, on a trip to Asheville, I was accosted by a woman who wanted me to purchase her books on Yoga. Wait – that’s not entirely accurate. She insisted I take one for a small donation. I truly had no cash, explained I was a tourist and that I was on my way to lunch. “Oh! I’m a tourist, too – a spiritual tourist!” she chirped. A spiritual tourist. Yeah, okay. Moving right along.

Much to my chagrin, over this past weekend, her words rang back to me and I discovered that I, too, am a spiritual tourist. “Let me ‘splain…no, no time to ‘splain: let me sum up.”

I woke this morning feeling sentimental about my old house in Ossining, NY, and  heavy-hearted, missing my mother. I have not seen my mother in over 39 years, so when I miss her, it usually means something big is playing out in my life or is about to play out in my life. The awakening was preceded by detailed dreams about visiting colleges with my daughter, Clarke. These dreams may have been triggered by a recent visit to Oxford England where many families were touring the University during “open days” as I was visiting as a tourist. (That is, an actual tourist, not a spiritual one.) Or it could be that I am dreaming about visiting colleges as it is Clarke’s junior year in high school and some time during the spring, we are going to have to do just that.

No matter what the trigger, when I opened my eyes this morning, I went first to check on Clarke because she had been complaining of an ear ache last night.  I gingerly touched her forehead with my hand, and tried not to wake her. I’m not exactly sure why I thought I would not wake her, because she has always startled if touched when asleep. She did in fact startle and let me know her ear kept her up a good bit during the night.  She weakly requested to visit a doctor, so I got dressed immediately.

We piled silently into the car and started for the Urgent Care.  On the way there, she put on some of her music, which I usually abide because it lets me into her teenage life just a little.  That’s when the Magical Mystery Tour rolled up to the first stop.

I found myself standing as a teenager in Montaldo’s Boutique in Greensboro, NC with my sister, shopping for her wedding dress.   All during the day my ear was increasingly more annoying and I therefore kept bothering it back.  By the time evening fell, I was in some pain.  I downstairs and interrupted the 11:00 evening news to tell my dad I needed to go to the emergency room.  It had become impertive that I get the invisible ice pick that was persistently jabbing my right ear drum removed at once.

If my daughter’s pain was a fraction of what I recalled from that night, she was surely suffering.  Her silence told me all I needed to know and my heart crumbled.  A few empathetic tears snuck down my cheeks, but before I could truly enjoy this sentimental stop, the tour bus careened around a corner screeching to a halt at the doorstep of my Ossining home.

At this stop, I recalled a time when my next oldest sibling had gone off to kindergarten. I was finally going to have my mom all to myself while my three brothers and sisters went to school.  These were supposed to be happy days for me, but they turned into seeds of anxiety.  Most days, once I was fed, Mom let me watch TV while she disappeared somewhere upstairs in our split level home.  I watched myself as a 4 year old girl, wandering around the upstairs looking for my mother. I called and called for her and she did not answer.  When she eventually re-appeared at the top of the stairs, I was dissolved in tears.  That brief time of feeling lost in my own home left me scared and much in need of her presence and comfort.

BANG!  The Spiritual Tour was nearing a close as I arrived at my final destination:  Gratitude.

During those days of needing hugs, kisses, comfort or the actual presence of my mother, I was building the deep desire to be available to my family.  Now, every time I offer them something as simple as an aspirin or quiet company when they are down, it is both a gift to them and a gift to me.  I am grateful to be here and to be a constant source of love for them.

Next on the tour:  Baggage Claim!

Bouncing Back, Moving Forward

I am more than fairly amazed at my 11-year-old son’s resilience.  He’s had a tough couple of days, but it seems he is not at all taken down by happenstance that might crush an adult; he simply bounces back.  I am not speaking of his ability to down 16 Swedish Fish and two packs full of gummy worms in one setting without gaining an ounce, (in good time my son…in good time!), but rather the day-to-day stuff that can reach inside his bony little body and put a choke hold on his fledgling self-esteem.

For example, last night was the last game of his baseball season.  His team had been down 5 to 1 but had rallied during the final inning and brought it back up 5 to 4.  We parents were in a rapturous lather and were cheering our little on men to victory.  When my boy got to bat, the kid before him had been walked to first and the bases were loaded.  Two outs were showing on the board.

Let me stop here to say that my son loves baseball.  He has improved greatly this year, but sadly, although he made some good plays, he does not excel at batting.  He got one hit all year and it was a bunt that went foul.  I silently blessed the other parents for not groaning  audibly  when he stepped to the plate.  (They’re good people, these baseball parents).  Strike one…ball one…ball two…strike two…strike three.  Game over, season over.

While I died a thousand squirming deaths for him and tried to pretend I didn’t notice the other parents avoiding eye contact, he came bouncing up with his bag over his shoulder, corn chips in one hand and G2 in the other.  “Hold this” he said, slinging the chips at me as he used two hands to bring the oversized bottle to his mouth, and tried to open it with his teeth.  I watched his undisturbed countenance for a moment.  Wordlessly, I held the chips back out to him, traded him for the bottle, opened it and handed it back.

On the way back to the car, my husband broke the heavy silence.  “That sure was an exciting game.  Too bad you guys didn’t pull it off.”  There was no pregnant pause, although both of us wanted to give Bryce the opportunity to talk about what had just happened.  “Yeah,” he immediately replied, “I’m gonna spend the summer getting really good and then I won’t miss again!”

And this is where I find myself in awe of the child.  He didn’t bluster about “losing it for the team.” He didn’t pout and shuffle his feet or declare that he “sucked.”  And most surprisingly of all, he didn’t look remotely like he might want to cry…it never crossed his mind!  He believes he is a good player and that he will work hard and come back even stronger.

What a wonderful, beautiful gift this child has and I will do all I can to cultivate it.  Now if I could just cultivate a little of that for myself!

Death, fire and fate

The flashing red lights whipped through a crack in the curtains at half-second intervals.  I huddled under a thin, thermal blanket on the hardwood floor of my brothers’ room.  My bedroom was to be given for the night to our next-door neighbors who were called back home from an evening out by their stunned and repentant teenaged children.

The fire was not their fault.

The din of voices crept up our stairs from the kitchen like a fog of malevolent spirits.  “Where is Schatzie?”  Mrs.  Sullivan kept asking over the sobs of her son, Jimmy.  The little schnauzer had been my friend and partner before the house fire that claimed his life.  “I’m so sorry Mom!”  mingled with the fog and slithered under the door of the room, echoing in my ears.

My brothers and I talked for a while in the thickness of the dark in an attempt to dispel the shock that rode the invading red strobe of the firetrucks lights.  Knowing it was futile, we fell into uneasy silence, not approaching sleep, but trying to discern the events that led to our pajama-clad neighbor bursting through our back door earlier that evening.

While we were blessed that it had not been our house that burned, the fire came on the heels of some difficult times for us kids.  We had moved from New York to North Carolina away from friends and relatives,  we had changed schools once since the move, and had suffered the unexpected death of our mother.  Although our dad was a steady presence in our lives, he was consumed with grief and the weight of a new job.  The fire was the last in a line of shocks that shook loose the fragile roots of predictability in our lives.

I slept with lights ablaze for years hence, trying to ward off the notion that I would not be preserved from death or fire or fate.

Me? Running? You Betcha!

My friend Amy is a “rock star” when it comes to running. If I remember correctly, she was on scholarship to a college in Virginia thanks to her accomplishments when she was on the track. So, needless to say when I decided at the age of (insert clearing of throat hear to cover the number I’m trying to hide) to run a 5 K for charity, she was the person I asked for advice shortly after I attempted to train.

Amy was very excited to give advice and even offered to run with me on the weekends. Given that I had never really been taught any kind of technique, especially with breathing, rolling from heal to toe, or gaining additional energy by effectively employing my arms to increase circulation, her consultation was a treasure.

Let me let you in on a little secret: I really loathe running. Loathe it. I have always said that I will not run unless George Clooney is in front of me. However, this may be because I had a dreadful and short lived track career in the 9th grade and because, quite frankly, it is HARD!

And so begins story time, reader. when I was in 9th grade, our little Catholic school in Greensboro must have come into some extra money, or our young gym teacher got adventuresome. For whatever purpose, Mrs. O’Neal decided to form a track team. Since my friend Missy and I finished pretty well on the required course we ran in gym class, we were invited to join the team. I was a “sporting lass” and decided I would give it a try.

Let’s just say it wasn’t a successful venture: we had just one meet. Mrs. O’Neal knew when to quit.

Due to her inestimable confidence in me, or more likely, her lack of options, Mrs. O’Neal chose me, with my short and stubby legs, to participate in (insert derisive snort here) the long jump. Yes, the long jump. The girls I competed against looked like full grown women to me. They had long legs, full breasts, and I’m pretty sure had been shaving their legs and armpits for 7 years prior to the meet. I watched the first girl jump and she cleared, oh, I don’t know — 30 feet? When it was my turn, I ran with all my might, leapt as high and far as I could and maybe hopped a foot. My opponent laughed right out loud, but graciously added, “that’s okay honey, you tried…you tried.”

I will spare you the debacle that was the relay race. I did not run again until a few short weeks ago.

It all started when my nephew’s wife Krissy invited me to attend or participate in a 5 K race to benefit Peacehaven Farm (http://www.peacehavenfarm.org). Being a non-runner, I quickly wrote her a check. But Michael and Krissy had been working so hard for the disabled in their community for some time that I was inspired by their dedication. So, I decided to participate – but not just to walk the event, to run in it. And George Clooney was not eve scheduled to appear, much less be in front of me. Just the same, I knew I had to get in shape fast. I went to my gym and talked to the trainers who set me up with a program called “From Couch Potato to 5K in 6 weeks.” I got on the tread mill and worked the program diligently. But I knew that while the treadmill was good practice, it was unlikely that the track at Peacehaven would be moving beneath me. Enter Amy.

Amy and I have been running together for just a few short weeks. Although she has been off the track for several years herself, once we decided to run together, she was back on. She taught me what I needed to know. She helped me with my form, breathing, and graciously did not absolutely smoke me right off the bat. She’s always very complimentary of me and encourages me to continue when I start to fade a little. She’s even decided to enter a 5K of her own in a few weeks.

Today as we ran together, I noticed we seemed to have developed a rhythm together. Our breathing is easier, our pace relaxed but steady, our goals and plans gelled. Its like we have developed this Vulcan mind meld, and it’s awesome. I don’t loathe running quite as much and as a matter of fact I have even begun to enjoy myself. I look forward to time on the path with my new running buddy; to the quieting my my mind with the sound of our breathing and the beat of our feet on the pavement.

Thanks to Amy, the memory of failures on the track are gone. I don’t have to win, I just have to run. And I may not need to chase George Clooney after all.

Changes big and small

Lent is here, and so far it’s been a season of changes big and small for me.  If you know me or if you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written, there are likely hints here and there that I am Catholic.  Very Catholic.  And Lent is a huge opportunity for all kinds of growth for me – more so than the typical New Year’s resolution because I will be more consistent and persistent in doing something for someone I love rather than for myself.  And God is someone I love.

Most people associate Lent with a time to “give something up.”  In years past, I have given up fried foods, chocolate, and the internet.  While these were excellent exercises in self-discipline, when the 40 days were up, I took back every bad habit with gusto.  So where did it get me?  I don’t honestly know and that’s the problem.

What is often overlooked during Lent is the opportunity to grow closer to God by taking on some new good habits.  There’s nothing wrong with throwing out the old ones, but if no real change is accomplished, I can’t really see the point.   What our faith is trying to teach us is self-discipline as a way toward Discipleship and service to others.

With that in mind, this year, I am still eating sweets, drinking coffee and surfing the web.  However, what I’ve decided to is to fast and pray as my church has asked me; not just for purposes of my own spiritual growth, but especially for the trials suffered in the world such as school shootings, starvation, and natural disasters.  Fasting is not something I normally do (because I really love food and I’m generally self-concerned).  But over the past few years, something changed in me.  I’ve been sincerely touched by the people in my life who have witnessed to me by word and action; who are constantly giving to others, thinking of others, praying for others.  It is clear God has surrounded me with such people to teach me to grow closer to Him.

I’ve also decided to meditate on the book of Sirach.  Sirach is like the book of Proverbs on steroids.  Reading this spiritual guidance has been like getting smacked in the face with the dodgeball every night.  I’m seeing stars — and loving it!  It’s just what I needed and God brought me to it very deliberately.

Although Fat Tuesday is long past, it’s never too late to begin a good habit.  If you haven’t decided what you are going to (or if you are going to) give up for Lent, I invite you to give up the futile practices that don’t make you a stronger and better witness to your own beliefs.  Take up a meaningful new way of life whether it be something as big as organizing a fundraiser for a charity or as small as passing up a meal and being mindful of those who go without because they have no choice.

If these were academy awards I would now be boring you with a list of thank you’s to people you don’t know.  But it’s my blog and I’m going to thrill you with a list of thank you’s to some people you may just know (and there’s no orchestra to cut me off!)

Thank you:  SISTER LAURA, BROTHER(FATHER) WILL, BROTHER GRAHAM, SISTER ELIZABETH, MOTHER CAROL, UNCLE (DEACON) STEVE, EILEEN, MAMA SHIRLEY, CHARI, SUZETTE, TERESA, ROSEMARY, VALERIE (AND MY MANY OTHER CRHP SISTERS), LOREE, ANNE, CHERYL, KRISSY (AKA POSH SPICE) AND MICHAEL (AKA BECKS), FATHER RICHARD BELLOW, FATHER BILL PHARR (RIP), MARJORIE, ANN K., LINDA B., BILL L., “MY JENNAY”,  and of course my very patient and forbearing spouse, FRANK!

I know I’ve left a ton of people off my list and I beg your forgiveness…your 5 minutes of blog fame is sure to make its way to the light of day.  Many blessings and a fruitful and productive lent to you all.