“I’ve learned there are three things you don’t discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”

~ Linus Van Pelt

Do you have a Great Pumpkin? Is there something in your life that means a great deal to you but that you keep under wraps? Have you let the secret out to someone and had an unfortunate outcome?

I have a few things about me that when I share them with others, result in silent, polite head nodding or a series of questions that imply: I think you are a bit crazy so I need to know if I should leave you alone with my kids.

What happens next? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes a shift in a relationship dynamic. Sometimes exploitation. Sometimes a new alliance.

To sit out in a pumpkin patch, alone, based on the idea that something you cannot prove or explain will happen at some point, is faith or it is foolishness, or it is both. That’s the thing about Great Pumpkins. You kind of know and feel somewhat foolish for believing, but you keep the faith all the same. It just feels better that way.

Still, I tend to keep my Great Pumpkins to myself. I’ve learned the hard way. Ever since I admitted a crush on the class dork in second grade and was mocked on the playground after school, I’ve learned to keep my deepest wishes, desires and practices to myself.

Great Pumpkin theories are shared on a need-to-know basis.

I’m not always happy with this arrangement.

Some of you out there are so open with your lives. Whether it’s a health issue, an impending divorce, a hurt from the past, an addiction or weird obsession, or just stupid daily stuff, you put it out there. This is the stuff of life to which I’m drawn. Raw. Real. Honest.

Blogs about perfect people and their perfectly sculpted and staged lives bore me on good days and gut me on bad days.

Blogs about real things keep me coming back for more. Just today I read three moving posts: a woman fighting for her life, overcoming one emotional trauma at a time; a woman revealing that she and her husband have separated; a woman breaking silence about the domestic violence in her home.

Not all is gloom and doom in the blogosphere. I also enjoy reading about those of you who are doing well but share your life in a way that endears me to you, makes me want to meet you some day over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.

Sometimes I think I know more about the bloggers I read, and they know more about me, than the people I know in real life.

And that is a pumpkin of a different color.

Three days

photo by napfalevel via creative commons

I lived for three days in a Victorian-era house in a historic neighborhood of Detroit. It is a creaky old joint, with drafty windows, wobbly wood banisters, and enough chipped plaster and gouged floor boards to tell a thousand stories.

I handed over my life, or maybe I reclaimed it, in this place.

I opened up my head and my heart. It was boring. It was painful. It was fabulous.

When I arrived on Wednesday with a small overnight bag and a pillow, I buzzed with anxiety and dread. I’d taken on this retreat on as a personal challenge. It was no pampering spa weekend in the woods.  Letting go of all that I control (or think I control) was tough. Dismissing the idea that I could have any vanity or ego while doing this was even tougher. No showers, plenty of hard work and sweating, and very little privacy or down time. I’d have to face a group of people, some who know me and some who do not, without props or facades.

There would be no radio, TV, Internet, cell phone, books, or even pen and paper to jot down thoughts. There would be vast expanses of silence and lots of work. When I found my room, bare except for a futon, night stand, and a lone lamp with a low-watt bulb, If started to feel like I’d checked myself into a prison of sorts.

But once I let go of it all, and just lived with what each moment handed me, I began to really feel light and joyful. There is a certain peace in dedicating each moment to one task. Eat at eating time. Sleep at sleeping time. Work at working time. Clean at cleaning time. There were times to be serious and focus. There were times to laugh and get crazy.

I realized I have it pretty good, in spite of some hardships and challenges. I have a great husband and wonderful children. I realize I need to eat better, get more rest, and unplug from the electronics a little more often.  Most of all, I need to stop clock-watching and multi-tasking.

By the last day, when our bags were packed and the chores were done, we declared the retreat over by sitting in a circle on the kitchen floor surrounding a pan of freshly baked brownies and cups of hot tea. We joked, told stories, asked questions of each other, and just basked in the collective peace we’d built together. I didn’t want to leave.

Did I miss the Internet, TV, phone, radio, and my iPod? Yes and no.

I missed being able to cater to my whims. I didn’t miss the chaos that comes with answering too many whims at once, mine as well as those of my children, my spouse, and the world at large. I tested myself and came out better than I ever could have imagined. How long will it last? What is the next challenge?

Other things of nature

Photo by MZ

I had two pieces that should have been posted by now. Rather than publish, I killed them.
They sat around so long they gathered moss. One was about how a visit to the chiropractor ultimately predicted the illness I am now trying to cure. I went on about how I thought I was in such good physical condition, what with all the exercise and personal work I’ve been doing, I thought for sure the chiropractor would ask me to pose for X-rays for a brochure on spinal health.

Instead, the chiropractor asked if I’m being stalked by a scythe-carrying man in a dark cape. (Maybe I should have mentioned my five-hour-a-night sleep routine. I know that puts me to the front of the line to see the Grim Reaper.)

In a state of denial, I shrugged him off, proclaiming myself to be in good health. I paid my bill and cartwheeled out of his office. Two days later chest pain, headache, and a deep, phlegmy cough sent me crawling to bed.

Bad timing.

Perfect timing.

Sometimes nature places a banana peel in my crazed path, forcing me to slow down. Meanwhile, leaves plummet to the earth, stripping the trees of their pretenses. The season shifts, suggesting the time is now to get certain things done before snow covers the landscape.

So I’m thinking, as I prepare for a string of days that will physically and mentally challenge me, that I need to better manage the other things of nature, the ruts, the holes, and the bees.  I need to be stripped of my pretenses.

I’m taking a break, a really intense break free of books and computers and televisions and cell phones. For five days. So that I can sit in peace and face the mirror that is me. And hopefully, when this is all done, I will know how to accept the reflection rather than reinvent it, cover it up, or ignore it altogether.

I think the hardest thing to be is who you really are when you cannot hide behind props.

How brave are the trees to stand naked all winter.

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Me,myself and I

Helmets up the dork factor

A few weeks ago, I rode my bicycle 30 miles with 3,000 other people.

It’s an annual fund-raiser to support a Detroit neighborhood and to help establish more bike paths within the city. I’ve never done anything like it before and I’m proud that I only stopped once for a bathroom, water, granola bar break.

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. I have a long list of “things” I want to do. Most of them just sit passively on paper, trapped as hopes and wishes.

When I learned of the bike tour, I felt an energy building inside, the kind of thing that cannot be ignored. I considered: We didn’t really have the money to pay for the entrance fee. I didn’t have a bike helmet. My bike was in the basement, bolted onto a CycleOps. Since Girl from the East came into my life, I’ve only rode at the gym or in my basement. I longed for the wind in my hair and the open road.

Determined to make this happen, I accepted the entrance fee as an early birthday present. I found a bike helmet on sale. I hauled my husband’s neglected bike into a local bike shop for a check-up. I teamed up with one of the moms at Girl from the East’s school and we made it happen. I practiced long rides for weeks.

On the day of the tour, as I pedaled along the city streets, through historic neighborhoods, past abandoned factories, high school football games in progress, and along the breezy shores of the Detroit River, I felt the stress evaporate from my heavily saturated psyche. With each turn of the wheel, I felt lighter, freer, like anything was possible on this brisk morning.

When the tour was over, I stood in a food line braced against gusts of frigid air, my leg muscles twitched and my hands turned a little blue (I was severely underdressed for the day). I vowed that I would do something for me, something challenging and fun at least once a month. I’m really bad about pampering myself. I’ve never:

* had a full-body massage (I had a foot and leg massage in Beijing in one of its famous massage houses.)

* had a manicure or pedicure (I’m a DIY girl, but maybe just once I could splurge and let someone do it for me.)

* purchased anything indulgent just for me, such as a bouquet of flowers or an expensive piece of jewelry

Here are some things I want to do (notice full body massage is not on the list):

* skydive on my 50th birthday

* go storm chasing in tornado alley

*visit Alaska

* really learn Mandarin (I started lessons, but let it drop due to the cost.)

* attend a writer’s workshop and learn how to write what’s really inside

* Spend a few days alone in a non-haunted cabin in the woods to do whatever the hell I like

If I live to be 90, I am more than halfway there now. If I don’t make it that far, my life is three-quarters over. I’m not trying to sound morbid, but the dark circles, fine lines, and other signs of aging made me realize if not now, when?

I’ve led a fairly predictable and safe life so far. So much of what I’ve wanted to do with my life I’ve put on hold.  If I keep putting myself at the back of the line, I’ll never get my turn. And that’s how I’ve felt for some time now, at the back of the line. The kids need shoes. The roof is leaking. The car tires are bald. Insurance rates went up. On and on it goes.  Time is running out.

Now, I’m vowing to take time, maybe just a day, maybe three or four if I can get away with it, to reclaim “me” time in my life.

In two weeks, I’m unplugging for at least five days and going on a silent retreat. I’m both excited and terrified to do this. It will be hard, but I know I’ll emerge stronger and better for having done it.

What’s on your list?

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Go away, homecoming

Can I say a few things about homecoming?




OK. Now that I have that out of my system, I’ll say this: I’ve never cared much about homecoming. I know to some folks it is the biggest deal ever. In my high school days, the biggest thing about homecoming was using float-building parties as an excuse to be out of the house doing things that made us feel, er, floaty.

Homecoming has changed. My mother and in-laws tell me back in their day it was just a dance. Maybe you wore your good wool skirt. While I never went to a homecoming dance, my friends did. I saw the pictures. It was a night to dress up, no question, but not on the scale of your wedding or a debutante ball. I don’t recall stretch limousines, party buses, full-length beaded gowns and elaborate up-dos, either. For prom, yes. Homecoming, no.

Am I showing my age?

The first hurdle in homecoming is selecting a dress that is neither a budget-breaker nor a vomit-inducer. Luckily, my Girl from the West did a pretty good job of staying within the bounds of taste and decency. There were a few times I had to leave the dressing room in frustration due to disagreements about the proper size and fit. What I saw parading around in the dressing area was both amusing and shocking. First, that some of these dresses were made at all. Second, that they were under consideration for purchase.

The second hurdle is keeping your teenager from slipping into the abyss of senselessness and divahood.  Like wedding No. 2 and baby No. 2, you learn that most of the stuff you thought you had to have for event No. 1 was unnecessary. I had a much easier time this year getting Girl from the West to realize that she had most of what she needed in her closet.

The third hurdle, perhaps the biggest one of all, is my own lack of understanding of how some things work in this world. I had an atypical childhood. I did not participate in many things that most people would consider normal rites of passage. So, now, as the mother of teenager, I question and marvel at things other parents consider standard operating procedure. For example, the pre-dance, picture-taking hullabaloo. After taking the obligatory shots at home with the corsage and boutonniere pinning, I was instructed to drive to a stranger’s house, which possesses some outstanding feature, such as a large foyer, a formal staircase, an elaborately landscaped yard. There, I would join a herd of bored and somewhat confused parents armed with cameras.  For the next 30 minutes or so, it was the red carpet on Oscar night.  I felt like a paparazzo outside a popular celebrity hangout.

In theory, it’s a nice way to get pictures of your teen and her date. In reality, it’s ground zero for drama. Last year, there was a meltdown over a cream-colored gown getting slammed in a greasy car door. This year, one young woman felt the need to openly mock and ridicule her mother, who apparently did not know how to use a digital camera. But it doesn’t end there. This goes on until someone says, “stop the madness.”

I always feel a little off after these experiences. The kids seem spoiled and full of entitlement. The parents seem addled or resigned. I’m scared to death that I’ve become the dim-brained parent of a spoiled teen.  I’m never sure if my perceptions are shared by other parents or if I’m hyper-sensitive. Like last year, I came home, drank a glass of wine, and assumed the fetal position for the rest of the night.

In another dozen years, I get to do it all again.

Oh god, hold me.

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