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Friday, June 22, 2012

Fairy Attire: Sparkly Playtime Princess.

As we drove downtown in April to explore, Josh looked over at me and said, "You look like a sparkly playtime princess." I loved that. He had not seen me dressed up much unless it was for work.

A sneaky sales person put these cropped jeans in my dressing room at The Limited. The fact that they were in my size and fit was both weird and cool. I tried them on, loved them, and got them half off. They are relaxed without feeling big.

This top was another of my rare just-for-fun clothing purchases. The pale green is a tranquil but fun color, and the tiny silver sequins on the collar are just awesome--one of those details that make a piece of clothing worth buying and having.

My mom gave me this beautiful headband in my Christmas stocking. I liked wearing it like a little diadem as embellishment and insurance for fly aways on my just-barely-long-enough ponytail. Its lavender beads remind me of tanzanite, which is special because my engagement ring is a bitty white gold band with a tiny tanzanite (I called it my periwinkle dot). Between the headband, the sequined top, and the rhinestone earrings, I made the car glitter.

On this day, Josh took a photo that is probably my favorite picture of Oliver and me. The dark green of the trees behind us and Oliver's red starred jacket and silly tongue out grin make the photo darling. And in it, I clearly feel pretty, calm, and happy. For all these reasons, I keep it in a frame on my desk at work. My precious boy and a joyful version of myself are good company.

Top: The Limited
Cropped Jeans: The Limited
Shoes: Big Buddha
Earrings: Ann Taylor Loft
Headband: Versona

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Last Day of Twenty-Six.

Just before my birthday each year, I like to ponder what I've accomplished and enjoyed. I do this to feel like I've earned the year and am ready for another.

While I have been twenty-six, I've

*read twenty-seven books
*read six long books to my son and love
*filled several journals (I'm not sure how many because we are rearranged bookcases)
*earned my first two short story acceptances
*taught Creative Writing with a team and on my own
*created a campus literary magazine
*given a presentation to a college's entire faculty, staff, and administration
*finished one editing contract and accepted an offer of another
*taught Composition Strategies for the first time
*taught Critical Thinking for the first time
*taught Oral Communication for the first time
*built online content for several courses
*taught or finished teaching sixteen course sections
*established (I think) a good professional reputation and good work connections
*maintained my comfort in and enjoyment of my job despite challenges and anxieties 
*signed up for my first conference
*advised dozens of students
*trying new technology (including switching from marker-on-the-board to laptop projector in class, grading on an iPad, and teaching an interactive Television course)
*attended several readings and lectures
*supported myself and two other people
*maintained this blog despite time, health, and mood challenges
*not lost my mind while watching each of my parents start a new marriage
*unpacked two houses
*decorated two rooms for Oliver
*moved to and started to truly live in a town I love
*walked to, checked out books from, and spent working time at a library frequently
*snuggled by fires in our own fireplace, gazed at a pond from our own balcony, and gone swimming in our own (well, the complex's) indoor, heated pool 
*started swimming or walking frequently
*become more patient
*dyed my hair red (well, my mom dyed it)
*added fun and color (mint! rose! pink!) to my work wardrobe
*found a pink purse and comfortable, sparkly, silver shoes about which I am crazy
*replaced casual summer clothes that were five to ten years old (actually allowing myself to buy non-work clothes!)
*paid off our credit card debt
*paid off our medical bills
*finally watched Flight of the Conchords
*eaten Lebanese food
*eaten Panera frequently
*managed to look pretty cute and feel pretty confident while pregnant
*never missed a day of work through an entire pregnancy
*finished growing a human
*gave birth to my son
*gave birth with Pitocin and without an epidural
*endured not pushing
*saved my son
*endured a manual placenta removal while conscious and without pain medication
*recovered from surgery
*recovered from HELLP syndrome
*recovered from the most physically, directly difficult and frightening experience I've had--something I never would have thought I could bear
*not died despite a life-threatening illness (!) 
*returned to work three weeks later  
*acknowledged my postpartum depression and started my recovery
*taught my baby to give kisses
*helped my son learn to laugh
*heard my son say, "Mama"
*savored hugs from my son
*celebrated my son's first Christmas
*celebrated my first Mother's Day
*taken my son for his first swim, to his first park, for his first swing on a swing set, to his first restaurant and ice cream shop...
*breastfed (almost exclusively) for over eight months
*given, probably, the best (material) gift I've ever given
*watched my love become a achingly kind and committed father
*strengthened, repaired, and improved my marriage
*celebrated my six year anniversary and my fifth wedding anniversary

Okay. My birthday can come.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Sparkle Scribbles.

A few days ago, I realized that I started this blog in early June of last year. I was six months pregnant, living in a two-story house just shy of a century old and full of hard wood and windows, and looking forward to moving into Oliver's Love Cottage #1. Now, I'm sitting on a floral couch under a fairy blanket next to an open glass door in an apartment in a fairly city-ish town, listening to my husband washing dishes, watching a chubby-but-muscular-legged baby jumping in his Exersaucer and experimenting with gleeful war cries. I was trying to stitch myself with sparkly thread to gratitude, joy, and my real self. That was the purpose of the blog. I don't flit around in dress-up fairy wings all the time, and all the surfaces of my life aren't glitter-coated, but I do try to focus on and share the flitting, the glittering. I hope a few other people read Sparkle Scribbles (silly, fun title) and feel a little inspired to make or notice the sweet bits in their days, spaces, and dears. In any case, I like it.

I have a stack of books, my journal, and a mini Dr. Pepper can on the weathered coffee table in front of me. Oliver just paused to gaze at me with his dream elf blue eyes. I just said, "Joe," and Josh turned from the kitchen and gave me this shy, earnest smile. I have everything I need.

Week of Planting Wonders.

 I took a long time to learn that joy and contentment come from details and moments. Many people say so, but learning it isn't as easy as reading or hearing it. I took even longer learning that this is not just about noticing those details and moments but also about seeking them, creating them, sewing them into life.

Almost ten days of summer have passed. I think I've used them well. Last weekend, we went to a park (one of my goals!). We brought egg salad sandwiches, dill pickle halves, and pretzels for a picnic. We kicked sharp little pine cones out of the way and spread a blanket between trees. Oliver noticed that we were doing something different. He lunged for a handful of pine needles to put in his mouth. I let him gum a pickle instead. Josh blew bubbles. Couples with strollers passed. Men played tennis behind us.

We put the stroller to the test and started on the nature trail. I expected this to be a short dirt path, but we probably walked for an hour. I used most of the muscles in my body to push the stroller on gravel, bumps, and dirt. We pushed into a moist cover of trees like a mild rain forest. Plaques identified ferns, vines, and unearthed tar kilns. Josh climbed up to peer over the charred black rims of the kilns. I was fascinated to learn that highway departments (whatever that's called) have their own archeology teams. The idea of archeology itself is fascinating, like time traveling through objects. But I like to do it through reading diaries and seeing those bits of daily life at once foreign and familiar.

Anyway, the stroller glided over smooth wood bridges. I ran a little when Oliver got restless. We passed one or two runners, a group of paired teenagers holding hands, and an adult couple leaning on the rails of a bridge. We came out of the shade to the quiet end of a long bridge, and we looked down at a red-tinted creek. The busy silence seemed to slow my heart. I smelled wet dirt and wet rocks, tranquil.

We emerged at a second playground. One of the baby swings was open, and I held Oliver in it so he could swing. His feet went crazy as if he had to tread the air to stay suspended.

We've spent some time on the balcony. Josh saw a female duck sitting at an odd angle in the rain. "Look!" he called, and we watched as, one by one, seven tiny ducklings popped out from under their mother's wings.

"This is a good place," I've said.

I finished reading Little Lord Fauntleroy and read A Wrinkle in Time to the boys. I've finished my fun Francophile book, Bonjour, Happiness, and read Katie Ward's Girl Reading (the last chapter, particularly, will drip and swirl through my mind). Josh has read Signing Their Lives Away, a book about the men who signed the declaration, and poetry books by e. e. cummings and Joseph Bathanti.

I've worked at the library, spending two hours planning and building course work on a desktop, breaking to wander the stacks for a minute, and then sitting in the teen section to grade for two more hours. Walking home takes a few minutes. One day, Josh picked up Panera and was returning home just as I was. He called out to me, "Hey, girl, I've got Panera and a baby. Want a ride?"

Josh has made pasta salad with mozzerella and sliced cucumber. I've eaten lemon pepper rotisserie chicken with brown rice and green beans or Triscuits and string cheese, chicken and broccoli with crab rangoons from the cheap Chinese restaurant in the shopping center past the library. Last night, I worked late on the science fiction course proposal, and Josh brought me a bowl with orange slices, walnuts, and semisweet chocolate chips. When I was dizzy earlier in the evening, he lit a woodsy candle and played soft music.

I accidentally opened a birthday present when it came in the mail. I felt guilty, but Josh just said I could have it early. So yesterday, we watched Love Never Dies on DVD. It isn't Phantom, of course, but I love the sets and costumes and hints of rock opera. I liked being able to see the sheen on indigo gloves, the swirled embroidery on a black coat, the swing of long earrings, the ink splatters on a sheet of music, the microphones buried in hairlines. Josh, always watching for an opportunity to make a sassy comment, said, "Remember when I arrived suddenly, and you were shocked like Christine?" He paused. "No. You were like the phantom." That echoed a thought I've had for a while: I have been drawn to the idea of Erik since I was eight years old, and I assumed I must be like Christine. But really, I'm more like Erik. Still, I fully expect that when Oliver is older, he and Josh will sing "The Beauty Underneath" for me.

These connections to my old and deep loves build and repair. Musical theater was like protein to me, and it still is when I pause for it. One of my dear childhood memories is of my mother reading A Wrinkle in Time to me even though I was old enough to read it myself. Though that was probably sixteen or seventeen years ago, Charles Wallace, the milk for cocoa on the stove, Mrs. Whatsit with her scarves, and the man with the red eyes were still like photo albums I made at ten or eleven and reopened when I read at twenty-six. I smiled at the thought that I've now read the book to my own child, and I've shared it with my companion.

Aunt Beast, with her singing, washing, feeding, and soothing a fearful and angry Meg, made me relax. I would feel silly telling Josh that he is my Aunt Beast, but he is.  He calms my fevers of anxiety, grief, and sullenness. But he also waits and lets me fuss while I come around to what I know I need to do.

I've made some progress in my current journal, one from the Christmas stocking my mother gave me. It's purple, green, blue, and gold with peacocks. Every page is full color and has tiny lines. I have sticky notes with my summer to do list on the feathered end pages. I have a letter in a purple envelope to mail today. It has a red stamp with Love in white twisted ribbon script.

The pools have been closed, but we've walked. We've lingered by the pond, and we're scratching our bug bites now. We've gone to Ulta, and I've come out with only colors in my head and shimmered smudges on my fingertips. We've been to Cold Stone Creamery, where Josh ate vanilla ice cream with strawberry syrup and funnel cake pieces, and I ate vanilla with chocolate chips and walnuts and pondered the ice cream cupcakes.

Josh rearranged our bedroom last night, moving the bed under the window, moving our wedding cake dresser and my fragile black desk to the open wall where we can actually use them easily. I think we will be able to bring in one or two new bookcases. I'll let my journals out of their crammed, horizontal double stacks.

I feel myself unfurling.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Tools from Father Christmas.

I have always been melancholy. It is a major aspect of my personality as are being quiet and somewhat isolated. Depression was probably with me from age ten through age nineteen, with a respite when I was sixteen. In adulthood, it has come and faded, and I've started and stopped (lack of insurance, pregnancy) taking antidepressants. I don't know how much of my more recent struggle has been postpartum depression, physical and mental recovery from a traumatic birth, the repeated whiplash of small and large direct and indirect betrayals (mine and others'), and simply my natural shadow reasserting itself. As my mother said, though, "Eventually, it doesn't matter what caused it. It's there, and you have to treat it."

One of the blessings of being married to Josh is that he is so like me. We have obvious differences: he does not actively believe in any god while I have a faith that simply is, he is a vegetarian while I'm not, he usually doesn't care for movies while movies seem to be part of my stitching, he feels a deep ache and compassion for the world and its individuals while my empathy usually keeps to those closest to me, he has interest in and knows a great deal about many subjects while I am more focused and obsessive, he is relaxed while I am ambitious and irritable, he feels a deep connection to heritage while I rarely do, he constantly weeds through his possessions while I seek and store. But as he says, "Our core is the same." We share quiet and closeness, a fascination and kinship with the magical (science fiction, fantasy, myth), a treasuring of books, a tie to music and musicals and theater, a weariness in company, and an insatiable curiosity (though the objects diverge).

We also share this shadow, this depression. This may seem like a problem, and it could be. But since I met him and recognized this, I felt such relief. We don't have to explain or justify it. People who don't have the tendency really can't understand it, and that's probably wonderful. Recently, we become better at not just accepting it in ourselves and in each other but also accepting that we are still responsible for our experience. We do have to work and sometimes to fight to keep the shadow a shadow only and not a consuming or damaging (to ourselves or others) darkness. Josh wrote about this beautifully on his blog in January.

 Image: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, 2005.

I often think of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, coming to the three remaining children just before the battle. I liked the way the recent movie portrayed him: magical, yes, but not the carefree, jolly Santa I usually see. He is rustic, strong, benevolent, deliberate, and weary. Even his clothes (no red suit!) show this. And he tells the children that he is giving them tools rather than toys. My mind and heart catch on this part of the story, even though swords and bows don't hold much appeal. Now, though, I'm noticing a new way to think about it.

Image: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, 2005.

Josh and I may always need medication or therapy or both to help us, to fill in the lowest points, to keep us capable of trying. We've accepted this. And one of the greatest moments of acceptance I've ever experienced was when my mother (an extroverted woman of rock-solid faith who doesn't, to my knowledge, deal with that depression that defies circumstance and whose family experiences with mental illness may have made her recoil from or fear depression in me when I was younger) said, "You know, your stopping medication just may not be the goal." She said it in the most loving and reassuring way. I can't quite describe how light I felt when she said that. But medication is like Lucy's healing cordial. It's quick. It works. It's fairly effortless if we know when we need it. It is valuable and necessary for many people. But it's not everything.

Image: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, 2005.

My doctor told me this when she wrote my most recent prescription. She told me I had to get exercise and sunlight every day. Fighting depression is just that: a fight. Even when it isn't a battle, it requires that I prepare and build. This reminds me of Susan's bow and Peter's sword and even Lucy's dagger. Unlike the potion, these require movement, risk, muscle, aim. I have to work to overcome the shadow. I have be active. Getting up to go for a walk, exploring a library, reading a new book or an old favorite, watching a meaningful movie, having a real conversation, keeping up with this blog, spending time with my journal...these may not seem like offensive moves. But they are. They are so especially when I am tired or overwhelmed or already slumped in the shadow or complacent in a silly feeling that the shadow is gone. I have to fight, sharpen, polish, retrieve, practice.

Image: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, 2005.

And we have to protect ourselves. I checked out a translation of German short stories about crime recently. I read a couple of them, sparse and subtle but gruesome and ready to speak to some of my quietest fears. The writing was unusual. I wanted to learn from the spare style. And part of me wanted those ugly details. But I put the book down. I told Josh, "I shouldn't read this." He said he might read it, and I shook my head. "I don't think either of us should read it." This was as much to protect myself from wanting to pick it up again as from wanting to protect Josh. Maybe at another point I would be able to handle it. Recognizing and admitting that I couldn't was hard. I have to put choices, actions, and thoughts away regularly. I have to say, "No, I can't do that" or "I can't deal with that right now." I even have to take moments in a room by myself if I am around people (even those I love) for a long time. I have to be aware and be ready to defend myself even from basically harmless or even good things. I work to avoid inviting the shadow or letting it creep in. This is Peter's shield.

Image: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, 2005.

The last tool can be the most difficult because I want to be healthy and strong and fine. I like to feel capable and independent. Sometimes it's denial, sometimes bravado, sometimes hopelessness. But asking for help is not easy. Asking can be as big as calling a doctor and admitting a problem or as seemingly small as looking Josh in the eyes and saying, "I'm feeling depressed" or "I need to spend time on the balcony." It shouldn't be difficult, especially with someone who is so often near me and who certainly understands. But it is. And I've been pushing myself to tell my mom too, whether I'm just inexplicably sad or paralyzed with anxiety about work or finding that I'm skipping meals. And recently, I also told my dad and my best friend (who actually first mentioned postpartum depression). I don't know what I expected or feared. But they both said something like "I'm so glad you're getting help." Telling and asking are Susan's horn. If I am quick and direct about the noise I make (not those "acting out" mechanisms), someone will come.

Often, it's Josh who comes to remind me about the potion, put the bow in my hands, polish the sword. He can't do the fighting and defending and calling for me, but he's next to me. We're both fighting.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The First Day of Summer.

According to the calendar, summer hasn't begun yet. But today was the first day of my two quiet months with my love and my little love.

I've just turned my calendar to June. The page shows a young woman with white hair beneath a branch of glittery cherry blossoms. "Love who you are." The Summer To Do List I posted yesterday should help me do that.

Last night, the three of us went to dinner with my dad who was returning from business in Raleigh. We met at Carrabbas since I was craving Italian food. The server described the specials as if she were reciting a poem she had effortlessly memorized. She brought warm bread and oil. I had a crisp Caesar salad--something I could probably eat daily. We talked about movies (particularly Eagle versus Shark, an incredibly quirky but sweetly sad romance, and the upcoming Les Miserables musical movie), TV shows, and my work. A runner brought out our food and tried to give me Josh's salad (topped with grilled eggplant) and Dad's lasagna before accepting that the pizza with Italian sausage was mine. Pizza at an Italian restaurant is an incomparable Italian experience. Oliver chewed happily on a menu and gazed and smiled at a baby at the next table.

Dessert seemed appropriate, so we ordered lemon bread pudding and some miracle of brownie, chocolate mousse, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream. The latter concoction was a wonder--not overwhelming or heavy like many desserts. I do think, by the way, that chocolate mousse may be the most perfect dessert. I held Oliver in my lap and gave him little tastes of plain vanilla ice cream from my fingertip. He looked a little surprised and stuck his tongue out each time and then watched our forks on the dessert plate. I hope that he will be a boy and a man who will appreciate the simple, quiet glee of plain vanilla ice cream.

Having come from a business meeting, my dad was wearing a tie and dressy shoes, pants, and shirt (the sort that literally shine. I'm not sure what that's called in menswear. At The Limited, it would be "sateen."). I felt calm and cheerful immediately. I mentioned that to Josh as we were driving home, and he said, "That's probably because he often looked that way when you were young. For a long time, I saw my dad in a suit and tie so much that that was just what he looked like to me."

But I meant to write about today. Oliver got upset at some point in the early morning, and Josh brought him into our room. When Oliver woke again around seven, Josh fed him breakfast and made banana walnut chocolate chip muffins. He brought them in on pretty little dessert plates. Those muffins are delicious and also have sweet associations for me since I began making them for us at the original OLC when I was pregnant with Oliver.

We napped together briefly, and then, Josh took Oliver to the living room to play so that I could rest more. That kindness helped me sink into a two-hour nap. I must have needed that rest. And when I woke up to a hungry baby, Josh had made egg salad, remembering my other recent craving. We had egg salad sandwiches and pretzels for lunch. The saltiness of the pretzels complements the egg.

Oliver and I sat by the sliding glass door. He looked out at the world while I read or looked at a magazine. We also spent time on the big floral couch, he sleeping across my stomach or sitting on my stomach, facing me as I leaned back against pillows and read to him from Little Lord Fauntleroy. For a long while, he was content to listen. Actually, when I opened the book and began reading, he grinned at me.

Josh blew bubbles. We got some strong bubbles that can bounce and roll on the floor before they pop in a happy little spray. I love the way they turn pink or purple or blue no matter where one blows them.

A sudden downpour surprised us. Rain blew in waves on the roof of an apartment building across the pond. Two male geese who were flanking three or four maturing goslings were also surprised in the center of the pond. One began to lead the goslings to the bank and then quickly reconsidered, guiding them back to the center. They remained perfectly still and waited. When the rain stopped just as suddenly as it had begun, I looked again, and they were gone.

In the evening, I felt myself getting a little down, restless, and irritable. I said, "I need to go outside." So we sat on the balcony, and I wrote in my journal a little. Two geese flew in slow circles over the pond. I felt better, cleaned and freshened.

Oliver fell asleep quickly. I treasure our bedtime ritual: I lie on my side and nurse him with my arm under him. This way, if I fall asleep, he can't easily roll away. If I'm still awake when he falls asleep, I can just hold him and gaze at his peaceful little face and long eyelashes before Josh takes him to his room and crib. Oliver is usually very busy and energetic, so this snuggle time is dear. I think it's also an important connection for him; even if I've been away at work, he can relax into that time with me. 

This has been a good day. Oliver, who has been having a terrible time with teething, has been happy. I organized the bathroom cabinet--one goal finished! Oliver has begun saying, "Mama" but won't say it in front of me. When I prompt him, he smiles shyly. Josh set up the video camera behind Oliver one day right after I left for work, and Oliver watched the door and called for me. I've watched it many times even though it's as sad as it is sweet. I did hear him say it last night when I was behind him, and he didn't know I was there. I hope that I'll soon be able to see his face as he says it. Tomorrow, I'll start the routine of spending four hours at the library twice a week, planning or grading for my summer classes.

Josh is asleep beside me, curled against my hip. I ate an orange and some walnuts before he fell asleep, and he said, "Mmm. Oranges smell really good." He's noticing. I think he's feeling the benevolence of summer too, even as he bemoans the heat. Earlier this evening, he said, "You're satisfied with who you are, and that's really sexy." I hope that I will be even more satisfied with who I am, that I will love who I am, by the end of the summer, after so much noticing and treasuring.

Summer To Do List.

Today (technically yesterday, according to the clock) was my full-time day until August 1. Starting on Monday, I'll be teaching three online classes. I'll certainly be busy, but I'm hoping that the extra time at home (I'll only be on campus one day a week, and I plan to spend a four hours working at the library twice a week) will allow for some physical, mental, and emotional recovery and renewal. I won't be lazy though (not often, anyway). I have a list inside the cover of my journal. Of course, I do plan to devote time to family naps as well.

*Keep library hours twice a week
*Grade small assignments the day after they're due
*Grade essays within four days
*Grade ahead when students submit work early
*Work on proposal for a science fiction class
*Finish three journals
*Read 16 books
*Read 5 books of short stories
*Read 3 books of poetry
*Read 3 long books to Oliver
*Write one letter each week
*Write in the notebook (the one I share with Josh) regularly
*Write in Oliver's book (in which we've been writing him letters since before we'd conceived him) regularly.
*Enjoy several magazines
*Walk or swim four times a week
*Go to the botanical gardens
*Have a dreamy birthday (in two weeks!)
*Organize Oliver's dresser
*Clean out junk deposits in bedroom
*Organize wardrobe drawers
*Organize master bathroom cabinet
*Organize white cabinet (in which I'll start keeping my makeup as well as candles, nail polish, and such)
*Build basics of introduction to literature course by August 1
*Sit on balcony four times a week
*Play with makeup
*Color with Oliver
*Spend time at main library branch
*Visit Just Desserts bakery down town
*Visit independent bookstore down town
*Visit and find a church we like
*Look at art books with Oliver
*Add four posts to creative writing club blog
*Visit a park
*Catch up on fashion blog posts
*Read poems to Oliver regularly
*Put together one poetry book or chapbook
*Send three submissions
*Write one short story

Some of these are ambitious; some are starting small as I try to become more myself again. If I can at least do most of these, this will be a memorable and valuable summer. Of course, just being near my boys more often makes these two months a treasure.