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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Dad ...

I shared a picture on Facebook today and I'll share it here with you all as well:
My dad was quite devoted to his family, and he was a good man. I would go so far as to say that he was a great man. He passed away when I was young so I honestly didn't see any of the faults that may have been under the service. He was quiet, patient, loving, and kind. As a little girl, that's all I could have wanted. He spent time with me and loved me unconditionally. He listened to me and protected me. Looking back, I totally get all that. He had wanted to be a father and waited nearly 50 years to have a child. He had every reason to be smitten with me.

Here's what I don't get about parenting (and this is not a complete list, because I truly don't understand the absent and abusive parents, the unloving parents, etc... but that's not what this is about) - I don't get how someone can be as devoted as my dad was to me, to children that aren't theirs. My hat goes off to all the step parents out there, because you are selfless and amazing! My husband in particular just shocks me with his ability to love. My children were 1 and 2 when we met and my husband, Mark, treats them with as much love, patience, and compassion that my dad showed to me. He would protect them with his life, never refers to them as step-children or his wife's children, and he goes without things to make sure that they are cared for. I would like to think I would do that if the shoe was on the other foot, but I'm not sure. He holds hands and wipes tears, he comes to school conferences, helps with homework, wipes snotty noses, ties shoes, brushes teeth, and sacrifices sleep for the sake of these children.

I am in awe - and if I had a mailing address for my own father (up in heaven), this is the letter I would write to him:

Dear Dad,

I cried when you weren't here to walk me down the aisle, but I know that you would have been honored to present me to my husband. Mark is every bit the man, husband, and father that you were. I know that God put him in my life for a reason, and I know you would be proud. I miss you every day, but please know that I am in good hands and that your grandchildren and being taken care of by someone who is as great a daddy as you were to me.

Your Little Girl

In closing - to all the Dads out there: don't underestimate your influence. Regardless of the circumstances that placed you in your role as dad, please know that it is the most important job you'll ever have.

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and the love of family.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just Start - Anywhere!

I recently said this to a friend in the context of redecorating her home. She had wanted to paint and do things for quite some time, but the house was older and she was realistic about the extra work that goes along with owning an old home. She knew that there would be plastering and patching, drywall and sanding, etc... and then finally would come the taping and the painting and ultimately the comfort and relaxation of a completed project. I told her to just start somewhere because she was stressing herself out thinking and planning and re-thinking and re-planning. Judging by the pictures, everything went well and now she has a relaxing and peaceful space and several rooms have been started and completed.

It didn't seem difficult when I said 'just start' and it wasn't really advice so much as we were sharing ideas. She knew the answer, but sometimes it helps to hear it from someone else. Today I needed to hear that voice, and since I'm not good at telling people that I'm stressed, no one could share that encouragement. So...I got crabby, I got to work, I started, I finished, and now I can relax. There's a lesson here about being a good communicator, but that is something we can chat about another day. For now, let's concentrate on just starting.

Today was a busy day. I prefer Sundays that aren't busy ... but seeing as how I am a church musician and Sunday School teacher, Sundays have the potential for being the busiest days of the week. This particular Sunday I had arranged for a babysitter for the children, a neighbor to feed calves, asked my husband to take care of the puppy, and I left the house at 7 (15 minutes later than I planned) to head to the local church to play the organ. I played the first service and perspired through every minute. I had meant to practice on Friday but there was a snow storm and driving into town seemed silly and the practice at home on the piano had not been sufficiently reassuring - I was as nervous as you might be at your American Idol audition. Luckily I survived the first service, sight read the music for the choir ... more perspiration ... and then played the second service.

Somewhere during the course of the morning I enjoyed a piece of bread and a cup of water because that's all I had time for. Right after church I ran to Subway to purchase a foot long that I would never be able to eat. I had left my phone off during church and turned it on while I went into Subway. I came back out to the truck to find a plethora of messages and beeping sounds coming from my phone. My mother was wondering where I was because the kids were home from church, my husband wanted to know what time he should be at his mother's for her birthday party, my friend Cathy wanted to know how many boxes of girl scout cookies I wanted and how I planned to pick them up, my friend Liysa sent me a smiley face, my friend had texted a thank you for the birthday card, and I had collected nearly 30 emails in my inbox.

I opened my chips and took a big sip of the Fanta in the wax coated disposable cup. I drove home, hoping I'd have time to take a shower ... I stunk ...

On the way home I got to thinking about how nice it was that my mom babysat for both children over night. I would have felt badly asking her to watch them another hour just so I could shower. I pulled in the driveway, kissed my husband, reminded him to get to his mothers ASAP, assured him I had already dropped the fruit tray off and that I would stop for the gift, and then I took off. I ate my sub on the drive and despite the two stains on my blouse and the crumbs in my hair, I hadn't done too badly for shoving my face while driving. I got to my mothers and collected the children and we headed out to buy a gift for their other grandmother.Oh that's right - let's pick up the cookies first. We stopped for the cookies, and then two blocks from Cathy's house Carmen announces that she hadn't gone to the bathroom like I requested and she needs to stop immediately. Grandma's house (the one with the birthday) was a few blocks away. I dropped her off told her to go inside and explain that we'd be right back.

Of course I felt like an ass - grandma wasn't supposed to know that we hadn't gotten her gift weeks in advance. It's not that we don't care ... we just really are busy ... oh well ... we stopped and bought a purse, some jewelry, and found an appropriate card. Thank you Schroeder's Department Store in Two Rivers. Alright - fruit tray, gift, son, daughter, husband ... check check check and well ... he will get there as soon as he's done with the cows. I felt like things were going well, so I started thinking about what we had to do after the party:

get tax stuff together
both kids - homework for tomorrow
fold clothes
do another load of laundry
vaccuum living room
empty dishwasher
clean out fridge
finish press release stuff for WIMI (this has to be ASAP)
help client with flow chart (this has to be ASAP)
read through projects for tomorrow's writing club (this has to be ASAP)
drops in Andre's ears (oh shoot - I was supposed to do that 3 hours ago)
field trip ... oh shoot - when is that field trip?
figure out how to invoice on paypal
get back to those emails for the book review
print up client contracts for tomorrow's meeting
dammit - I haven't updated my newsletter ... shoot

I actually drove right by grandma's house I was so busy thinking about all the things that had to be done. All I really wanted to do was take a nap and so many things seemed urgent. Why don't parents get snow days? Could I just cancel tomorrow and reschedule everything after I have a chance to take a nap and regroup?

My 4 year old son, Andre, hollers from the back seat: "we passed grandma Liz's house - did the party start?"

My brain processed what he said, because I turned around and found a parking spot, but my mind was also dwelling on the word he ended the sentence with:


That's what I needed - I needed to stop worrying and get my START on! It is now 9pm and several things have been permanently removed from the list, and everything urgent has been completed. My head had me convinced that it was an impossible feat. I thought I didn't have enough time, didn't have enough energy, and that it was impossible ... but guess what? It was possible - ONCE I STARTED! Had I not started, my negative thinking would have won - without starting, it would have been impossible.

So ... that's my lesson for the day!

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and opportunities to START and accomplish great things! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Only Pigs Wallow

"Only Pigs Wallow" my mother would say when I was in a funk as a child. I loved reading Anne of Greene Gables, so I was likely to come home and tell my mother that I was in the depths of despair because something terrible had happened. During my pre-teen years, the something terrible would have been a fashion disaster with my clothing, a bad hair day that couldn't be tamed with my extra large bottle of Aqua Net Hairspray,  or a zit that couldn't be disguised with an ample covering of Cover Girl foundation. I dated a pig farmer when I was 16 and my mother may not have been right about pigs being the only animal that wallows, but I found out first hand that pigs stink. Maybe it was then that I decided to take her advice, or maybe it's some genetic gift that helps me see the bright side....whatever it is or it isn't...the fact is, I seldom wallow.

I didn't say NEVER wallow...I said seldom...

and for the record:

When I miscarried in December, I wasn't wallowing, I was drinking...the difference being that wine doesn't sink. Wallowing in the mud has a distinct odor.

When my son was having health issues and experienced a trauma, I wasn't wallowing, I was hiding...the difference being, if I were rolling around in the mud, you'd notice...I was hiding and hoping you would forget about me.

Now that we got that straight, I want to talk about how we can take those self-pitying moments and turn them into a non-wallowing situation:

Drink instead (I should be more specific as I tried drinking wine instead and it gives you one heck of a headache, let's start over)

Drink Water - it's easier to think clearly when you're well hydrated (isn't that much more profound than getting drunk?)

Keep Setting Your Alarm - it's good to sleep, but sleeping for 3 days isn't a good idea and is very close to wallowing (especially if you ask my mother)

Talk to happy people - I was going to tell you to talk to anyone that will listen, but talking to unhappy people doesn't get you out of wallowing, it just gets more people full of mud and then you all stink

That's really the only advice I have. Today we got some news that my son has to have another surgery. Part of me wants to wallow but then I remembered that the first surgery was 50% successful, so there's a silver lining. I just filled my wine glass up with sparkling clear water, my alarm is set for 5am tomorrow, and I'm chatting with I'm taking my own advice and I'll let you know how it works in the morning. I can however guarantee that I'll feel better than I did in December when I drank an entire bottle of wine while as much as my husband might like to see me rolling around in the mud, I will forego the wallowing for this evening and big you all goodnight.

~May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and ponds filled with clear water instead of mud! <3 Crystal

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: The Alphabet Sisters by Monica McInerney

Book Review – The Alphabet Sisters
Book By, Monica McInerney
(review by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto)

I can’t explain why it took me until 2013 to read my first novel by Monica McInerney. She is an Australian born author with international bestsellers including: A Taste for It, Upside Down Inside Out, Spin the Bottle, and most recently Lola’s Secret. I often exchange books with friends and family and was not familiar with Monica McInerney until I was handed a book called The Alphabet Sisters. The book was a quick read filled with dynamic characters that came to life with the authors great detailing of physical attributes as well as emotional characteristics. McInerney wove together a beautiful story of a family in turmoil who overcame their own fears and selfish pride. I can only apologize for not reading this delightful story earlier (it was copyright in 2004) and I can say without a doubt that I will be reading more of McInerney’s books in the very near future.

This lovely work takes place in the Clare Valley of South Australia just before the 80th birthday celebration of Lola, the grandmother to the Alphabet Sisters. Lola has decided to reunite her estranged granddaughters at the family’s small motel in the lovely wine country. The girls oblige their grandmother (rather begrudgingly) and come to the motel. They have no intention of being as close as they had once been as a singing group touring as the infamous Alphabet Sisters, with their eccentric outfits and show tunes. The family dynamics range from uncomfortable and tense to tender and loving as the story unfolds. McInerney has a way of bringing characters to life without any one individual becoming an antagonist. There is something to love about each of the sisters: Anna is the oldest and is quick to take charge, Bett is the middle child feeling awkward and unsure of herself from time to time, and Carrie is the youngest and the one sister who had never left and was still in the Clare Valley running the motel with her parents when her siblings returned. Lola is the humorous grandmother and matriarch of the family; she too has a secret that doesn’t come out until near the end of the book. To find out more about her secret, you can pick up a copy of Lola’s Secret short listed for the General Fiction Book of the Year in 2012 Australian Book Industry Awards and was published in the USA in October 2012.

The Alphabet Sisters takes a close look at family dynamics, sibling relationships and rivalries, secrect, and different points of view. McInerney brought to life the many unique characters whose bonds and relationships delighted their aged Grandmother, Lola who was the catalyst for reuniting the family and mending the broken relationships. McInerney’s first job out of high school, at age 17, was as a wardrobe girl and later a script writer. She pulled from her own background as the story of the Alphabet Sisters unfolded with a home grown play, auditions, local amateur talent, and a packed performance to fund a new ambulance for their town.

I laughed, cried, and rolled my eyes throughout this read. When done, I wished for more chapters because I wasn’t ready to leave the characters I had grown so attached to. I would recommend this book to others and give it five out of five stars.