Few things provide instant gratification like yard work.  Notice I did not say gardening, since that implies growing something.  I mean actual weed pulling, mowing, trimming – yard work that leaves you a little achy from bending and hauling.

I wage war on weeds.   Judging from the fact that they return, one might believe that the weeds are winning.  Never the less, I take a sharp, narrow trowel and dig up as much of the unwanted dandelion root as possible – only in and around the planter beds.  If I did this in the entire yard there would be nothing left to call a lawn.  But after a little of this therapeutic digging, I have at least won the battle.

I can look over the yard and see that the beds are weed free and the edges are clean.

Some of the only remaining blooms of summer.

Some of the only remaining blooms of summer.

There are no unkempt tufts of grass around the tree trunks, or unruly dead branches poking out from shrubs.  This time spent manicuring parts of the yard leads to a much needed sense of accomplishment.  It’s such a good feeling to know that you have worked at something and, at least temporarily, succeeded.  The results are tangible.  You can see them.

During a normal week I spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week, at a job where I juggle multiple projects, phone calls, emails, and whatever minor crisis has arisen.  It can take weeks or even months to actually complete a project.  So a sense of achievement in my work world is rare indeed.

Feeling like you have done something productive is the very nature of accomplishment.  Clearly, I need to seek this in other aspects of my life.  This type of success is a high priority.  It is only through completion and attainment that we make a positive contribution.  Without it, where is the sense of purpose and worth?  What is our value?

So many small projects lead to that fleeting feeling that we have done something of merit.  For me it can be sewing, a household task, or yard work.  In life, we seek a greater level of accomplishment:  solid relationships, a strong family, spirituality, conviction.

Perhaps the life lesson is that hard work leads to gratification.  Just as we clean up the last vestiges of summer from the yard, we seek to tidy up the weeds in life during this autumn season.  This may be the time to yank out the unwanted growth by its roots to allow the more precious greenery to bloom.  I’m still a bit unsure of what may be waiting to flower.   But one thing is clear.  I’ll need a bigger trowel.


Driver’s Seat

With both daughters off again on their own life journeys, the past few weeks have left me emotional and philosophical.  Coupled with some real world car trouble, it’s no wonder I have been in a bit of a funk.  The metaphor has not been lost:  a broken down car at the same time that life seems to have stalled.

Clutch failure on a manual transmission renders the vehicle immovable and the driver helpless.  I hate that feeling more than anything – helplessness.  It may be the greatest irony of all that driving has always given me a feeling of independence.  In my car, behind the wheel, I have control and can go where I like when I choose.  That is really one of the joys of driving; a feeling that you as the driver are in charge.  Who doesn’t like to be in control?  Don’t we really want to steer in our own direction?  I hate it when the detours of life disrupt my route, and these most recent weeks have caused me to hit some roadblocks.

Thankfully, I have had a vehicle to drive while my car awaits ordered parts and ultimate repair.  It’s a nice little car that belongs to our daughter.  We plan to sell it for her since her year abroad means she’ll need the money more than the car.  But it isn’t sold yet, so I’m driving it.  My first order of business was to clean it up.  It wasn’t horrible, but as a busy college student she never spent much time cleaning it.   So a little carpet cleaner on the upholstery and floor mats, a dust-free dashboard, and shiny windows have made a huge difference.  I am not a neat freak in the housekeeping department, but I do love a clean car.

In my car, and in my life, I like to see where I’m going.  I like a certain sense of order no matter what direction I’m headed.  That may be the real problem right now.  I seem to have found some potholes that have required swerving.  I need to get back on the road, but which one?  I do not want to be that driver who fails to signal turns or is consistently in the wrong lane.  Still a mom, but without kids, this autumn trip finds me on strange roads with no map or GPS; struggling to plan my route.

My kids college logos are the ONLY stickers ever allowed on my car.

My kids college logos are the ONLY stickers ever allowed on my car.

Like a car that’s lost its clutch, I can’t seem to get it in gear.  I really thought that by now I would have at least been up to speed on some things.  Since this is my second fall with no kids at home, and since I am armed with a list of projects, I thought this would have been prime time to set the cruise control and start racking up some productive miles.  That has not been the case.  Some days it’s hard to get out of the driveway.

In a few more days I hope to be back in my own driver’s seat.  It is very shallow, but I love my car.  It’s a fun little micro-van with a zoom-zoom engine, super tight turning radius, and hugs the road nicely when driving.  Even faced with a major repair bill, I still look forward to getting back into that vehicle.  Then, maybe I can really get on with the journey.  It is time to shift into high gear and hear that little engine hum.

Now if I could just figure out where I’m going….

Such Sweet Sorrow

Parting is.

We took our eldest to the airport, seeing her off on a 3,500 mile journey as she prepares to begin a twelve month Master’s degree program in London.  We expect her to make a brief trip home at Christmas.  But we have learned that the person who leaves is never quite the same as the person who comes back.

We loved her before she was born.  We were thrilled to have our first baby – a perfect little girl.  hbw toddlerShe grew into a precocious toddler who learned to speak at an early age and who charmed family and friends with her sweet smile and friendly nature.  Always at ease around people, she had to wear a harness and leash in malls so she wouldn’t walk off with someone else.  On her first day of preschool at age three she pronounced it fun, but quickly added she couldn’t understand why “some kids cried.”  Imagine our surprise at kindergarten open house when she introduced us to almost everyone in the building:  other pupils, several teachers, and some of the office staff.  In middle school she joined the band and then told us about it afterwards.  When she started college 250 miles from home I wept as we drove away.  She shed a few tears, but was quickly about the business of building new friendships and making her own life in a new city.

Now, our family home is simply a repository for her; a wayside stop.  We are the temporary keepers of her possessions while she goes off to explore her new and much larger world.

To say we are incredibly proud of this young woman is an understatement.  She is smart, caring, and outgoing.  She has a history of working hard at the things she loves best.  Often, she has achieved a level of excellence far beyond our expectations.   She is brave and strong.

Helping our girls grow into poised, productive, young women has been a labor of enormous love.  hbw wvuWe tried so hard to have the right conversations about the right topics at the right times.  We tried to balance structure and silliness to provide both stability and outlets for creativity.  They earned the freedom to make their own choices and chase their own dreams.  And so they chase…

From birth your child is never really “yours.”  You set many examples (for better or worse) and you learn from each other – parents and child.  But each one is born with an individual personality and immediately begins the process of learning to leave.  First they learn to walk and talk and then they make airline reservations.  Maybe not quite that quickly, but it seems like it.

We hugged and cried at the airport.

Sorrow at this parting?  Certainly.  Because we will miss her.

Sweet?  Very.  Because growing up and out is her birthright.  This is part of the evolving parent-child relationship and the fulfillment of what we, and she, have worked for over the past 22 years.  She is no longer our precocious toddler.  This is her time to fly.

Down to the Sea in Ships

I’m pretty sure that there is only one real key to finding fulfillment in this

Flagship Niagara

Flagship Niagara, Erie PA

autumn season of life:  DO SOMETHING.  Anything.  But don’t just sit there waiting for your grown children to call (they may not.)  One of the things we are doing is spending a little time as tourists in our own backyard.  So we recently found ourselves in Erie, Pennslyvania on the weekend of the tall ships celebration.

Tall ships are spectacular!  They are simultaneously art, history, engineering, and magic.

This glimpse of the tall ships brought back a flood of memories of time spent on and around the water, and particularly a unique occasion when I briefly sailed aboard a tall ship.  She was the Sea Lion.  Created largely from one man’s dream, she was a replica of a 16th century, 3-masted English merchant vessel.

She was stunning, and when she was officially christened in September, 1985, the media was invited aboard.  I was a reporter at the time and went along for the ride!  My 28 year old photo of the Sea Lion really does not do her justice.

Sea Lion on Chautauqua Lake, September, 1985

Sea Lion on Chautauqua Lake, September, 1985

You can find a much better view here.

I felt lucky then, and still feel lucky now.  Not many had the opportunity to take a ride on the Sea Lion.  In fact, the ship fell on some very bad times.   Financial and legal troubles caused the ship to be moved to Buffalo in 1992, where it sank in Lake Erie in 1999.  She was raised the following year and towed to Barcelona Harbor,

Sea Lion dry docked at Barcelona Harbor

Sea Lion today dry docked at Barcelona Harbor

where she remains today.  Her majestic masts are gone, and her sailing days appear to be sadly in the past.

Of course I can swim, and I did learn to water ski during my teenage years thanks to some friendships built around Chautauqua Lake.  But this is not really about the water.  There is something about boats that draws me in.  Wooden boats are artistic.  They have been lovingly crafted and are both purposeful and beautiful.

Vintage Chris Craft

Vintage Chris Craft

At the age of eight, one of my first glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean was at Gloucester, Massachusetts, where the fisherman’s memorial stands ever watching into the waves.  The base is carved with the first line from a passage in Psalms:  “They that go down to the sea in ships…”

There are times in each life when we are docked or adrift.  Most of us work hard to remain anchored from day to day.  Like a carefully crafted wooden boat, powered either by sails draped from tall masts or by outboard motors, we are individual.  This autumn season finds me working anew to pull her out of the harbor and into full sail.  Since these waters are uncharted, I do not yet know where the winds will take us.  But that does not matter nearly as much as breeze in our hair and the spray of salt water on our skin.  It’s the trip that counts, not the destination.  Make it beautiful.

Seasons Change

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  As a youngster I loved heading back to school.  School meant order and learning, and something fresh on the horizon.  There was nothing better than the sight and smell of a brand new spiral bound notebook, unmarred by the ink of classroom notes and study hall scribbles; no pages torn out.  Back to school always meant new shoes; a clean and unscuffed beginning.

Autumn also brings the most glorious colors, as though God has said, “I will give you this treat for your eyes before the long, dank winter.”  The crisp air means it’s time to don a cozy sweater and put some spiced apple cider on the stove.  The pungent scents of ripe apples, grapes on the vine ready to pick, and the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot are, to me, a sampling of heaven on earth.

As our children grew, we enjoyed autumn through their back to school years:  new Imagehopes, worries, teachers, friendships, Halloween costumes, football games and high school dances.

Now the vicarious years of enjoying our daughters’ nightly giggles and daily challenges are over.  With one beginning grad school and the other fully ensconced in her undergrad education, we find ourselves in a brand new type of autumn.  While I thoroughly understand the analogy to baby birds having flown away, I have never really been comfortable with the “empty nest” description.  Maybe it’s because our chicks still find their way back to the coop, even as a temporary landing spot between their brave, new adventures.

Somehow, the “autumn years” seems more fitting.  This is a much quieter season, where the levels of energy and expectation are both lower.  We find ourselves looking to reclaim this most beautiful season.  It is harder to find freshness in your autumn years.  It has become work to find new ideas, things to explore and create, and tasks to occupy our all too open free time.  We still seek the red and golden hues of a new, and longer, autumn season.  As always, we will try to prolong the onset of winter.  This time around the stakes seem a little higher.

This will become a journal, of sorts, as we wade into our somewhat tidy pile of raked up leaves to see what treasures may emerge.