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Author Archives: familyrulesbyplainjane

You Can’t Steal My Joy

You Can’t Steal My Joy

Life for me can feel both small and unhinged as COVID rages and my nation implodes. I work as a therapist from my basement and need miles and miles of walking each week to shake off the effects of back-to-back Zoom meetings and the log jam of alarming news reports.

So, I walk. I bake. I knit. I read. I do housework. I watch a show here and there. I hang out with my family. I correspond some with friends.

Whether I credit or blame my introverted nature, life feels rich and layered during these days as I move more slowly and take the time to attend to it. The disciplines of Noticing and Gratitude calm my anxieties. I will miss my close friendship with them when these days pass.

I thought I’d share–for the sake of us both–some of the sprinkles of abundance to be found in days which can look bland and ordinary to the jaded soul.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without hot dogs. Here is one very hot dog cooling his privates. Yes, he can get out of his box. He just likes it there, fortuitously located under the ceiling fan. He feels cozy and safe despite his demented expression. On top of the box, you see another of my pops of Happy– a small knitted bag drying after being felted in the washing machine. Oh, I just noticed that small UFO at the top right of the photo! It is the toe of a hand-knitted sock which has been blocked and is hanging to dry. I had not realized until this very moment how very much of a knitting nerd I had become.

summer 2020 hotdog

Below is the finished “Charlotte” Felt Handbag after the pattern of the same name by Claire Fairall. You can find her on Ravelry. Charlotte is so cute I just want to kiss her. Of course, always wanting to experiment, I did not use the recommended yarn; and the bag is too small even to fit a cell phone. This dainty may end up in the Christmas stocking of a young friend.

summer 2020 Charlotte Handbag

Next is an old fire hydrant I often pass on my walks. I enjoy this particular street at dusk because its country ways and the angle of the sun produce perfection.

summer 2020 hydrant

This is my favorite evening walk, and so I must continue with this old mail box…

summer 2020 mailbox

and these flowers. I think they must be buttercups. I didn’t think buttercups grew so tall but theses are a particularly jubilant patch!

summer 2020 yellow flowers

I’ll save some more Happy to share another day soon. Things might get worse before they get better, and we’ll need some to help us remember what is good and true in this world.

Until then.

Pandemic Fashion

Pandemic Fashion

 

Pandemic Living has caused me to commit more than my usual number of fashion crimes. I apologize in advance….

 

Exhibit A

 

 

Exhibit B

 

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

pandemic 3

As a public service and to cleanse your palate so you can sleep tonight, I present this amazing little creature, found during my dog walk yesterday:

Turtle 1 Duplicate

Turtle 2 copy

 

Mom Bread

Mom Bread

I do derive a sort of primitive satisfaction through providing food for my family, and I have ample opportunities at present to do so.

Early in the shut in, I was unable to find any decent bread and decided to make my own. I started with honey wheat. The product was leaden, underproved, and raw in the middle. Paul Hollywood would have gagged. No, Paul Hollywood would not have let it pass his lips.

My kids loved it.

Eyeing my few remaining yeast packets and not finding any in the store–though a one-pound bag was available through Amazon if only I could wait a month–I decided to create a yeast starter. I figured this could be my forever yeast source and went on to attempt herb bread and then a repeat of the honey wheat loaves.

During each rise, the dough needed multiple hours to heft its glutinous flab to a semi-upright position despite my cheerleading. Picture Toad in Arnold Lobel’s story “The Garden,” and you will have it about right.

These loaves were likewise leaden and underproved but had at least become fully cooked. I didn’t know that starter is meant to be used in addition to dry yeast.

No matter. My kids loved them.

Bread had begun to repopulate the shelves of my local Safeway but by now my children (22 and 25!) were requesting “Mom Bread.” I found myself both puzzled and flattered.

So. I’ve continued my pandemic baking.

I decided to actually READ the bread instructions. An angel dropped a one-pound bag of yeast on my door step. After several months of use, I have somehow discovered that I have a Proof setting on my new oven. Thanks to the convergence of these fortuitous happenings, I have just produced something called bread.

Real bread!

This post courtesy of my 4:30 telehealth client who didn’t show up and didn’t respond to my call or email.

 

 

Angel Soft® v. Scott 1000®

Angel Soft® v. Scott 1000®

Scott 1000® Bathroom Tissue is the official toilet paper of my 2020 Pandemic.

You will know I have finally lost it if I actually hit “publish.”

Oops. Too late.

If I ever endure another pandemic or get stuck on a desert island, I hope to get stranded with a big pack of Scott 1000®.

My current household of four adults went through one Scott 12 pack in a month. Then we were on to the 9 pack of Angel Soft®. “9 MEGA = 36 REGULAR ROLLS*” the package proclaims!

At our current rate of consumption, we will be through 9 MEGA ROLLS in 9 measly days.

We had groceries delivered today via instacart. I absolutely do realize the enormous privilege it is to have someone risk their well being to do my dirty work. I gave the shopper a GIGANTIC tip and a home-sewn face mask to show my appreciation. Jon was a very polite and responsive shopper, and he made good replacements. But after he had gone, I realized we had been charged for toilet paper which had not been delivered.

I’m not terribly worried at this point. I had been pretty hard on Henry for not recycling that big stack of newspapers but now I am reconsidering my stance.

What toilet paper would you choose as the 2020 Pandemic Champion?

(I have not been paid to mention this product. I am merely odd and my filter has broken.)

“*based on number of sheets in Angel Soft® Regular Roll”

Photo: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=611402

We, the Moles

We, the Moles

We, the moles of dank basement offices, provide therapy to you while you sit in your minivans, lie in your beds, or perch on the commode. We choose the basement to better protect your privacy.

We project a sense of calm and stability as we help you manage your anxiety and untangle knots. But we may or may not be wearing the same outfit we have worn for the last five days. Like you, we may be stressed, disoriented, and smelly.

Maybe “mole” is not the right word to describe us. Moles are solitary creatures. We, however, burrow through cinder block, dirt, distance, and time to hold and encourage our peers, robbing our depleted stores to deposit teaspoons full of encouragement and listening into the reserves of our fellows. We voluntarily unburden one another of the lint, splinters, and gooey boogers our minds have accumulated during the week’s work, hoping to assure that we all have a good night’s rest.

We will wake up tomorrow and do it all again.

We are not special. We are just like you. We are all in this together.

Photo credit: Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23203253

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Fences

Good Fences

I grew up hearing “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Good headphones are the good fences of this pandemic. At least in my home.

We are four adults, two dogs, and a cat trying to work, attend school, Netflix, and socialize within these four walls. I think we are doing a creditable job.

Can we use this pandemic to invent something called Fence Parties? On one of our next sunny days,  I want to see if our neighbors will set up a picnic on their side of the chain link fence where we can see them from our picnic on the other side. What do you think?

This reflection was generously paid for by client X, who was unable to find a way to reconnect after her phone died five minutes into her video therapy session. I thank you for my lovely respite during one of the busiest days of my week.

And now to hit “publish.” I will not be damned by my overthinking tendencies today.

Tulip image by © Cody Logan / Wikimedia Commons / “Tulips by clpo13”, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1723143

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle

Hello.

How are you?

I am writing to you from the toilet.

I’m lying.

Or am I?

You’d never know.

This is how we behave in a pandemic. Everything goes.

I’ve provided video therapy with a cat’s butt in my face while wearing a nice green blouse, navy blue pajama bottoms with sparkly stars, self-knitted striped rainbow socks, and green paisley clogs. I’ve made a sourdough starter and begun to bake bread. I’ve performed songs from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang over Marco Polo using the “helium” voice and sourced coveted face mask elastic from a worn out fitted sheet, king sized. My youngest daughter is making bank sewing face masks at the kitchen table.

It has taken a pandemic to bring me back to this blog. My muse had left me, and I had become overwhelmed trying to keep up with all of your blogs.

I don’t know if I’ll be back here tomorrow or the next day. I might be busy going crazy. I don’t know if you’ll read this. You might be busy doing the same.

I don’t know anything. Except that God is still good. And in the midst of horror, beauty and joy are still to be found. In abundance.

I hope you are all safe and well.

P.S. In case you’re curious, this is what I’ve been up to since dropped off the face of the earth: https://www.ravelry.com/projects/cmburesh .

sourdough starter photo credit: By arash ghanizadeh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47349654

 

 

 

Finding (the Other) Donald

Finding (the Other) Donald

October 6, 2016

I took some days off work to spend time with visiting family members. I hoped the time away would ignite a writing spark and allow a few hours to fan it. My brother Will was in from Los Angeles, and our oldest daughter Lindy had come from Maui for the week. My sister Gwen joined the three of us, and we headed–literally–for the hills. That is, we piled into my Subaru with the family dog and hit the road for Mom’s small house in rural West Virginia.

Oh, we had fun, all right. All the glorious, obnoxious, jostling sibling interplay you might expect, served with some serious and dear conversation on the side. Lindy more than held her own. It is not for me to judge whether my husband and our other daughters felt more blessed than deprived in having been unavailable to join us.

Lee family gaiety is of the raucous variety, you see. My family is intense and somewhat chaotic. We are more firecracker than briquette. Our words and personalities tumble over one another with an energy which makes the air crackle. After two or three days, we have each either been smothered in the ample family bosom or we are waving sticks of dynamite in one others’ faces and daring each other to light a match.

Even so, we are a loyal clan. Our family dysfunction is such that we can bait one another well beyond the limits of civility but woe, woe, to the unwary outsider who gives offense to one in our ranks.

Theatrics and egos aside, I can count on my sibs to defend and care for me. This certainty among us has been hard won, and it is precious to me. It is from this maddening and glorious cocoon of family togetherness, this place of teeth gnashing and warm embraces, which I will tell you about finding Donald, a man who was not so lucky.

You could say I stumbled over him.

I discovered him last Saturday. He was sitting on the floor just inside the locked double doors of the church where I see my counseling clients. A spectre of the man he had once been, he was peeking at me from beneath an information table. I’d guess his weight at no more than five pounds.

DIW sits in hallway near door.jpg

Donald’s appearance spoke of haste, neglect, and a lack of dignity. Dead over six years, he still inhabited the cheapest of temporary urns–a black plastic cube. An edge of the clear plastic bag holding his charred remains poked out from under the lid. Shrouded in a gray plastic Dollar Tree bag, Donald sat on the cold linoleum and waited.

I waited too. Surely some reasonable explanation existed for my finding him thus.

I popped my head outside the door of my office between clients, hoping to discover he had been claimed.

Once, the church secretary came upstairs to rearrange the letters on the board above the information table. I said nothing and waited to see what would happen. Yolanda slid Donald further under the table. I confess, I cannot testify with certainty that she looked into the open bag at her feet before pushing him out of her way and against the wall. I confess, I cannot testify with certainty that she used her foot.

On Sunday, worshipers came and went, each passing within a few feet of Donald. Did they not wonder about the unexpected deposit in the empty hallway?

Days passed and nobody came for him. On the fourth day, Donald and I headed down to the church office to sort things out. Disaster was narrowly averted when Donald’s heft caused the sharp corners of his box to pierce the flimsy gray bag. I caught him before he fell and exploded in the stairwell.

The pastor and the secretary looked surprised to see Donald. Operating on the assumption that he or a family member had once attended the church, they conducted a little research. This is what they learned: Nothing. Donald had no discernible connection to the church at all. The staff scratched their heads and began researching the proper disposal of human remains.

I had had a cancellation, so I decided to do a little sleuthing of my own.

I was curious about Donald–Donald I. W., to be exact. From the label attached to his little box, I knew when he had come into the world and when he had left it. I even knew the date and location he had been placed in the furnace. I felt somehow embarrassed to know these intimate facts.

D.I.W. Urn Photo

This is what I concluded: Donald had lived with family 1.7 miles from the church. He has surviving family members in the area, including an older brother, now 70, still living in said family home. Either his relations are terribly poor or they don’t give a rat’s ass what becomes of him. Someone had sneaked into the building and abandoned Donald just as one would an unwanted infant.

When I consider Donald’s humiliation, I am overcome with gratitude for the generosity and only slightly deformed goodness which is growing up within and between me and my kin.

Maybe I should not be quite so hard on Donald’s family. They probably deserve some credit for choosing a church over a dumpster.

Red-Letter Profession

Monster copy

Image credit here.

Whole months have rushed by. I have been working harder and keeping busier than I would like. This season of labor feels necessary and therefore regret-free.

I can be a bit of a workhorse. Tackling challenges often invigorates me. But an excess of work without the benefits of regular exercise and restorative solitude is numbing. Add to that picture my recent lapse in the practice of spiritual disciplines, and the result is a high-functioning sleep walker. At least until the lights go out. That’s when the monsters come out to play.

Last night, I dropped into bed sleep-deprived and fighting a virus. As soon as my breathing settled and I drifted off to sleep, the monsters kicked open their cage and ran amok. I saw them from the insides of my eyelids and felt their scratchy nails as they raced circles around my brain. They yanked down my lids and released, snapping them open like window shades. The creatures moved next to my chest and began their vigorous warm up. They were planning a protest march, and they wanted to make sure I was awake to appreciate it.

The monsters had demanded my attention many times in recent weeks but I had tossed them Facebook, Netflix, and coffee and told them to shut the hell up. I should have known better. I can handle one or two small monsters with no more than a few mild abrasions. It’s a wrestle-and-release scenario, much like fishing for sport. I definitely should have known better than to ignore them for so long. The fiends had grown to a frightening size and multiplied unchecked.

Have you ever faced an army of chanting monsters? I hope you will be spared. They are shrill, tone deaf, and lacking in rhythm. The only part they can reliably perform is the chorus. They have that down.

They sound something like this:

You are going crazy and your arms are flabby and you are going crazy and you are a bad supervisor and you are going crazy and you haven’t folded the towels and you are going crazy and you forgot to refrigerate the milk and you are going crazy and your shower is moldy and you are going crazy.

If you try to ignore them, they just get louder:

You are going crazy and you will get cancer and you are going crazy and your mother is going to die and you are going crazy and you will have to work forever and you are going crazy and your children will suffer and you are going crazy and you will get bedbugs and you are going CRAZY!

I crawled out of bed, turned on the light, and retrieved my Bible. Henry was out of town so I didn’t have to worry about waking him. I randomly opened to the book of Mark and began reading. The monsters did not like this.

I read the words in red, Jesus’ words. I rested my palm on top of them. I don’t know why I did this.

Across time and space, I felt his breath and heard the words from his lips. I thought about “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14). In defiance of all logic, we were sitting on my bed palm to palm, Jesus and I. I borrowed his strength to wrestle and release each monster. Jesus and I talked for a while, and I drifted off to sleep.

Think what you must. I am not going crazy.

Weekend at Mom’s – or – She Ain’t Goin’ Gentle

What would we do without our mothers? copy

Everybody needs a mom. Image credit here.

Day I

Mom greets me at the door with life-changing news: She has ordered green-lipped mussel oil!

“Larry King uses it.”

Mom’s intentions are golden. She is going to cure a family member of a chronic illness. She has found the solution the doctors have missed. I am to learn all about the oil from her and then deliver it to the intended recipient along with the proper instructions.

We sit together, and I listen.

“Here, read the booklet.”

I read the booklet. I open the jar and sniff. I think about popping a capsule into my mouth and biting it when a vision intrudes, and I change my mind. A sea of terrified faces implores me with countless sets of tiny green lips. The word “lips” has personalized the creatures whose juices I am about to suck.

“And it comes with this DVD.”

“Well, that is very thoughtful of you, Mom.”

“All the way from New Zealand!”

“I see.”

“Now make sure Susan takes the oil each day for 30 days so I can call and have the next shipment cancelled if it doesn’t help. Well…they might have already sent the second shipment by then, so I would just have to cancel the third one. I gave them my credit card, you know.”

“Have you mentioned this to Susan? I really think you should discuss this with Susan.”

“They say 4-6 capsules daily for the first 30 days but I think that’s too much. Just tell her to take 2-4.”

(sigh)

Day II

The following day, I get up early and make breakfast. After that, I squire my Mom to Sunday school and church. My stepfather Seamus takes us all out for a hearty lunch. Following a gorgeous walk with my husband Henry, the family eats a dinner prepared by my sister, Gwen. We make sure–Gwen, Henry, and I–to be kind, attentive, and helpful throughout. Mom is a big talker, and we listen actively and respectfully. She has stored up many words and opinions, and the pressure has to be released. What is Wrong with the World Today receives special attention. We take care of all of the cooking and washing up.

At long last, it is time for me to curl up and introvert. Luscious!

“Jane, are you ready to watch the DVD about the mussels?”

Uh oh.

“Actually, Mom, I think I’ll pass.”

(exhales loudly) “Well, I’m surprised at you, Jane! Why not? This could be the key to Susan’s recovery.”

“It would feel like work Mom. And I’ll be taking the DVD to Susan anyway. I think I’d rather relax.”

(huffs) “Well, I bet Henry would like to watch it with me.”

He takes one for the team. I owe him big time.

Day III

Mom produces a page-and-a-half of yellow legal paper. She has handwritten a recipe she has been wanting to try.

“Here is the tuna casserole recipe. Thank you so much for doing this. I really need to lie down for a bit.”

“Sure, Mom! Happy to!”

Mom is worn out. She wanders over to the sofa for a nap. Mom is thrilled that we have finally come to visit but entertaining is exhausting. Who knows what we might get up to if she isn’t there to assist? Did I mention that Henry is 53, I am 52, and Gwen is 50? Mom is…it would not be polite to tell you, now would it?

Mom starts to drift off to sleep. But for the sounds of cooking and the subdued drone of the news channel, the house falls silent.

Following her directions religiously, I place the flaked tuna in the bottom of the pan and dribble the lemon juice–fresh squeezed!–over it. The shredded cheese, peas, and cooked noodles are mixed together and stand off to the side, waiting. I am halfway through cooking the sauce.

The silence does not last long. I feel a disturbance in the air and–

“Did you sprinkle the lemon juice over the tuna?”

“Yes. I used fresh lemons like you said to.”

“How much did you use?”

“The recipe didn’t give an amount. I just guessed.”

Mom’s gaze releases the Pyrex pan and fixates on the stove top.

“I think you are going to have to double that sauce recipe. It doesn’t look like you have enough to cover everything going into the pan.”

“Ok, Mom. No problem.”

I double the sauce recipe, and Mom disappears around the corner. For a moment.

Gwen enters the kitchen with a basket of dirty laundry. She turns the washer knob, activating a siren call. Mom materializes.

“Be sure not to overfill the washer.”

“Ok, Mom.”

“Here, let me. I want to make sure the load is balanced.”

“Ok, Mom.”

“Now remember. Once the washer fills, you have to use this plunger to push the clothes below the water level.”

(sigh) “I’m not going to do that, Mom.”

Gwen and I engage our psychic connection.

“No, really. You want to be sure the clothes are good and wet so they get clean.”

(silent lip biting)

“Just stand here and wait for it to fill so you can plunge it.”

(silent lip biting + rapid eye blinking + quivering nostrils.)

My mother is providing instructions in the use of her top-quality, high-capacity machine in excellent condition.

My mother is providing instructions in the use of a washing machine to her top-quality, high-capacity daughter in adult condition.

Mom pads out of the kitchen and back to the sofa. Gwen is watching the washer fill. I am crushing potato chips for the top of the casserole. We feel the pressure of each other’s eyeballs, look up, and silently message one another.

The washer has filled and begins to agitate. Gwen is not-plunging, and the sound of not-plunging pierces the air.

The end of the world still has not come. Gwen leaves the laundry room and steps around the corner. I relax and begin to arrange my potato-chip blanket.

The washer lid flies open. Plunging happens.

Mom, risen from the dead, has sneaked behind me to save the load of laundry and the future of the Western world.

Satisfied, she starts for the sofa a third time. But first, she checks my work.

“Are you sure you have crushed enough potato chips? I think you need more.”

Exit Mom. Enter Gwen.

(stage whispers above the kitchen noises) “Mom was plunging.”

“No!”

“She was. She was plunging.”

We are wound too tightly. We have swallowed exasperation, suppressed disrespect, spared feelings, and avoided mutiny. We have painted ourselves into a corner, and there is only one way out.

Gwen and I lock eyes in agreement.

I begin first. I bob my head like a chicken to the rhythm of the washer. Gwen joins in, swaying. We dance tentatively at first. Naughty snickers escape our lips. Shh, Mom is trying to sleep! Shhhhhh!

Soon we are stepping, gyrating, and waving our arms, our tribal dance growing in fervor. Pig snorts and raspberries escape in spite of tightly clenched lips.

We can’t stop, and we don’t want to.

By the time Mom rounds the bend a fourth time, our recovery is nigh.

Mommy! She laughs at us and with us. Mom is as she always was, though we may have to work a bit harder to find her. In the end, it is a small price we pay, a light yoke we bear, to uphold this sacred trust. It is our honor to protect her from inconsequence.

Postscript.: In my last post, I promised I’d publish a shout-out to the first person to guess the rationale behind my naming of a particular silly photo. The winner was Elaine Hill of Burtonsville, MD. She correctly guessed that the woman had not yet been “deflowered.”

Is green-lipped mussel oil is any good? I don’t know. Do Olympic athletes use it? I have no idea! But apparently a good number of Olympians trust Shaklee nutritional products. I know this because I became curious after talking with Elaine, and I did a bit of googling. Elaine is a Shaklee distributor, by the way, and she seems to know her stuff. Feel free to stop by her website and pick her brain.

Just so you know–I am not affiliated with Shaklee, and I have not been compensated for this mention.

 

 

 

 

 

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