Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1

In church this morning one of the pastors called this week "a week of gratitude, a week of really remembering how to say thank you." I liked that idea. A whole week of saying "Thank You!" instead of a day of stressful travel, eating way too much, and not talking much at all about what we are thankful for because, honestly, it's too much and kind of embarrassing to get real that way. A week of saying Thank You instead of a week of build-up to the insanity of consumerism that marks this time of year.

The follow-up in church to the pastor's prayer was an "open mike" sermon in which people went to the front and spoke for a few minutes about something they were grateful for, which I have to admit felt good and honest and weird and a little too intimate all at the same time. I find myself worried about any visitors today and wanting to reassure you all that my church is actually pretty normal, that we don't usually do things like that. Which is true but says a lot more about me and where I need to grow than it does about my church.

I couldn't think of anything to say in church (and I did pray and ask if G-D had anything for me, and I hope if something had popped into my head I would have had the courage to get up and say it, but nothing came, so I was off the hook anyway) but then I thought I could write about gratitude this week. My first thought was I could write a short piece every day about something I am grateful for and post it. Then I remembered that I often bite off more than I can chew and decided not to promise anything. Better just to start with something and then see how the rest of the week turns out.

A few years ago a friend was leading a Sunday school class I was in and she gave us an index card and a challenge. "Write down what you are grateful for" she told us. I filled up the card pretty quickly and I still have it. It's good to look back on, particularly when I am grumpy. The items on my card are my "big gratitude" items, the things that have a huge influence on me that I often take for granted. Here they are:

My husband, who is patient, funny, smart, and much calmer and more level headed than I am. 

Our daughter, who is healthy, smart, loving, creative and curious. She has a bright, energetic and adventurous spirit which teaches me every day.

The rest of our family; parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins - both my husband and I grew up knowing ourselves loved, encouraged to learn, and blessed to always have enough. We are still surrounded by a net of love.

Good health, throughout my family.

A job that allows me to do good and serve others every day, and also pays our bills so that we have enough.

Freedom to worship, speak, write, travel, work, live, have friends as seems best to me without restriction by our government.

G-D's love and care, and his abiding presence with me in each day and circumstance. 

Those are my big items, the ones on my card, the ones I can think of off the top of my head when I focus my mind on gratitude.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Family Masterpiece

When we were setting up the nursery for our daughter, my husband and I repurposed a small chest of drawers to be a changing table and dresser. My mother organized it for us the week after our daughter was born and it worked wonderfully for the first year. Unfortunately, once she learned to pull herself up and open drawers our daughter quickly discovered that it was delightful to take every bit of clothing out of the drawers and scatter it over the floor of her room. This was much less delightful for me, and after a few repetitions of this I wised up and we started putting all her clothes in the closet. We put blankets in the chest since those were easier to put away again. As a bonus, they were apparently less fun to take out in the first place and our daughter turned to other sources of entertainment. The chest of drawers got broken in one of the following moves and so it has been closets for us ever since.

Our daughter is four now and recently we decided it was time for a dresser once again. She has been able to open her closet door and pull down her own clothing in the morning for at least the past six months and we haven't had any repetitions of the clothing covered floor phenomenon. Frankly, we have become a little tired of hanging up all her shirts and pants and putting things in drawers seems like it would just be easier. So my husband ventured to IKEA and bought the drawer sets that promised to work in the large white cabinet that stores her sheets and blankets. 

The starting point.
Plain white furniture isn't terribly cheerful for a four year old and my husband bought some colorful drawer fronts from a different product line to liven things up a bit. Unfortunately, the colorful drawer fronts didn't actually work with the cabinet and drawers. I guess there is a reason you are supposed to buy everything from the same grouping. My husband was mourning this fact and the upcoming trip to return the colorful drawers to get boring white ones when I commented "Well, we could paint them any color we want." 

We looked at each other with realization dawning in both of our eyes. "Why yes. Yes we could. We could paint them not just in colors but in pictures." And so a weekend project was born. We schlepped back to IKEA to exchange the colorful fronts for white ones. Then we hit the craft store for acrylic paint and paintbrushes. We covered the kitchen table with a plastic cloth and got to work.
Work In Progress
We each painted one drawer. My husband gamely took on the fourth since my daughter fell asleep and I was worn out with my artistic endeavors.
Work In Progress
After they were dry we took them outside and sprayed them with a glossy sealant, reasoning that we were likely to need to wipe them down from time to time. Also, we felt just a little protective after all our hard work, and from experience we know that acrylic paint will peel.

This afternoon we assembled the drawers, removed a cabinet door, and installed the runners. My husband lifted each drawer into place and my daughter and I filled them with her clothes.

As our daughter would say "It's our masterpiece!"

Our Masterpiece!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mother Daughter Night

My daughter and I went out together this evening for a special mother-daughter night. Disney On Ice's show Frozen is in town and I purchased tickets months ago with a group of colleagues who have daughters around the same age.

I treasure these times with my daughter because it's usually not me who gets to take her to special events. At least, not on my own. My husband, as the stay at home parent, takes her to museums and sporting events and parks all the time. When I'm not at work we usually go out as a family. We set this evening up as a mother-daughter event though, which means I got to do something special with my little girl. We went out to dinner together, an actual sit down restaurant (although not a fancy one) and then to a 7:30 pm show. I kept the event a secret until we arrived and had the fun of hearing her exclaim in delight "It's a Frozen show!" when we walked into the venue.

The problem with a 7:30 pm show is that bedtime at our house is at 8:00 pm. At four years old my daughter's outgrown naps, except for the occasional dozing off while in the car. We sat down for the show and sure initially she was fascinated, all wide eyed intensity watching the performance. Sure enough though, by 8:00 pm  she was curled up in my lap. By about 8:30 she was covering her ears and hiding her eyes from the more dramatic special effects and by intermission she was very clearly no longer having fun. The noise and the heat were overwhelming, and then she remembered a scary scene coming up and then she asked to go home. So we left at the end of intermission. My goal was for us to have fun together, after all. Better to leave early, while it's still a good evening for both of us.

To be honest, I wasn't all that disappointed to leave. I'm not big on crowds and noise myself. As my dad says, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  And I am not in such a hurry for her to grow up. I like having a child I can take out to dinner, but I also like having a child who wants to cuddle up when she is tired. I know that all too soon she will not be so snuggly; she will have more stamina and will also be too grown-up to lean on mom that way. I want to enjoy it while I can.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Skyline Drive

I had all kinds of plans for today. I was going to spend the afternoon after church catching up on homework, writing one blog post and roughing out some other ideas, tidying up the house and yard and generally getting things done. It was a difficult past 2 weeks being on call and I'm feeling rather behind on my life. Yesterday was my day to play, with a lovely picnic with good friends in a beautiful winery and then some time with my husband and daughter out shopping for Halloween costumes together while we waited for my cell phone screen to be repaired. Today was going to be my day to catch up and get ahead.


It really was a beautiful day. Sunny, cool, just the right amount of breeziness. Who knows how many more beautiful days we will have this year anyway? Winter is coming soon. The leaves are beginning to turn and fall color doesn't last forever either. It just didn't seem right to waste a day like this indoors. It would have been ungrateful, I think.

So, instead of a well written, thoughtful blog post I have pictures and memories. My husband, daughter and I drove out to Skyline drive for the afternoon. There is a nice visitor's center near Front Royal, about 90 minutes from D.C., that has a number of short hikes and some outstanding views. My husband and I picked the shortest trail with some help from a ranger and we all set off with our water bottles and cameras. Our daughter examined leaves, recognized trail markers, picked up acorns and rocks (that she left behind: take only pictures, leave only footprints!), and banged sticks together to make music. She managed the entire hike, including some long uphill sections, under her own steam, which is a first for all of us. We enjoyed the day and each other. I'm still feeling behind on life, but at least I'm cheerful about it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Already Home

We celebrated Break Fast with my husband's cousins this evening in their beautiful home in Maryland. It was a low key and lovely gathering over bagels, fish, and sweets to celebrate the end of Yom Kippur as a family. The kids were big enough to play more or less on their own this year, under the direction of the oldest girl cousin and her friend. The adults chatted and ate too much, wandering from room to room as little groups coalesced, conversed and dispersed over and over again.

Yom Kippur is an intense, serious, Holy Day. It' a time to reflect on how you are treating others, how you are honoring G-D, and how you are using the gifts you have been given. It's a time to pray, to abstain from food and to focus on G-D; a time to confess your wrongs and to receive his forgiveness. It's a fraught and holy time, so it is particularly sweet at its end to come together with family and food and fun, in the softer beauty of regular life.

When it comes down to it, this is the reason my husband and I moved our little family back to the East Coast. We lived in Texas when our daughter was born and we liked it a great deal. We had wonderful friends and Texas itself has many advantages; less traffic, friendlier people, lower cost of living. But despite all this we came back to the East Coast, where it is noisy and stressed and congested. We came back in order to come home.

We came home so that our little family could be part of our bigger family. We came home to celebrate Break Fast each year with our family, and see the cousins playing and not miss the children growing up. We came home so that my daughter can see her grandparents once or twice a month instead of once or twice a year. We came home to raise our child amidst the solid network of family and friends centered here, so that she would always feel that love and support. We came home so that our lives would be patterned with bright ribbons of community and tradition, each season flowing with a rhythm of observation and celebration.

Every once in a while my husband and I talk about moving. Some job or another in an interesting location crosses our email and we say "what if?" And then we attend a birthday party, or spend Sunday afternoon with our parents, or attend Break Fast, and we remember that we are already home.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Was Your Weekend?

The question of the day on Monday is "How was your weekend?" I can count on being asked at least two or three times on Monday morning by various people. The socially acceptable answers are, of course "Fine." and "Great!" with "Too short!" as a possible variation. It's an elevator question, not an essay question. Even if the weekend was difficult or something really cool happened, it's not the time or place or people with whom to get into it.

The truthful answer about the quality of my weekend depends on my perspective. For example, take this weekend.

I could tell you that this was a frustrating weekend. Our daughter was mildly ill and majorly cranky, so we've had about fifteen time-outs and about seven major temper tantrums. A normal weekend would be between zero and three time-outs and between zero and two temper tantrums, so she's way off kilter. Nothing we did seemed to be right and our normal routines and transitions were sources of angst and fury. Also, I couldn't find the items I wanted for our fall yard work, despite checking two stores and getting lost along the way. We spent two hours raking leaves and pulling weeds, two chores that in my mind should fall at different times of the year but somehow manage to coincide at our house. Half the weeds we pulled in the backyard were colonized from our neighbors wild meadow that they are growing instead of a yard. Which means we pulled vines off our fence and our house but we know it will all be back, since we couldn't get to the source. I had to take a proctored exam at the local community college for an online course I am taking and forgot to bring a pen. I ended up using a very old red pen that I dug up out of my glove box which had my fingers stained red by the end of the test. I goofed up the knitting project I am working on and had to rip out twenty rows of stitching so I could go back and correct my mistake. Frustrating, right?

Squirrel, mixed media. Rose Anne Karesh. 2014.
I could also tell you that this was a wonderful weekend. We spent several hours with a dear friend from out of town whom we don't see nearly often enough. When we got lost we ran across a bagel store that actually had my favorite bagels, pumpernickel, in stock. In our hunts through stores for what we couldn't find, we serendipitously found a hummingbird feeder that I've been wanting for a while and leaf scoops that I'd never heard of before. Leaf scoops are two large handheld plastic paddles with rake teeth along the bottom edges. They make me think of bear paws, and they are excellent for scooping up fallen leaves. Raking went much, much faster than it has in the past. We listened to music and worked as a family as we weeded the backyard. I found a great website where I could order some of the things I couldn't find and now I can look forward to even more flowers next year. We took two long family walks, exploring the neighborhood across the street and finding a shortcut path through to another road that will really help me if I ever make good on my plan to start biking to work. The shortcut not only cuts distance it allows me to stay off a larger road without a bike path that has been a safety barrier. During our walks our daughter found acorns. I'm not sure why, but she is enthralled by acorns this year and collected several pocketfuls to use in various art projects. We worked on one this evening, a mixed media collaboration portrait of a squirrel. She made a new friend at the playground in our neighborhood, a little girl who is about her age and lives across the street. I think my test went pretty well, which is a good feeling for someone who hasn't been in school for a while. I had time to knit and catch up on some TV shows on Saturday night, and even with my mistake the dinosaur project for my daughter is coming along pretty quickly.

So, really, it's all in my perspective and where I focus the lens of my memory. How was my weekend? Most of the time, it's really up to me.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I finished the sweater I have been working on for the past four months. This is the one I wrote about back in June (Work In Progress). I finished it today, it looks the way I planned it to look, it actually fits me, and it's done in time to wear it when the weather turns cold. I knit it starting at the neck and it's knit in the round, seamlessly, all the way down, which makes me feel clever. Quite a success, all in all.

Now my dilemma is which project do I work on next. My daughter has a request in for a sweater herself, and she even helped choose the pattern one evening while looking over my shoulder as I was perusing a favorite knitting website ( Unfortunately, the yarn used in the pattern is a large part of what she likes about the sweater, and it's not washable. Washable is a critical characteristic when the recipient of a hand knit item is a child, because things will inevitably get dirty. Especially with my child, who loves to paint on her arms, dig in the dirt, and climb everything she can get a foothold on. So her sweater may be on hold until I find a good substitute yarn that will look just as good but also stand up to her activity.

I wanted to make my daughter a doll for Christmas, and I even bought an entire book of doll patterns along with clothing. It has a basic doll pattern with variations for hair, facial features and wardrobe to create about ten different gorgeously outfitted characters. Which I absolutely love. I pored over the book when it arrived, and then I showed it to my daughter and she yawned. She wants a knitted dinosaur instead. I have a book of dinosaur patterns as well, but I really liked those dolls. Maybe I should make a dinosaur for her and a doll for me? I have a sneaky feeling that if I actually made a doll she would like it very much, so a doll for me would probably become a doll for her in the end.

I have other projects on my list as well. A few years ago I made knitted Christmas tree ornaments, and those were a lot of fun to create. I have some ideas for new variations this year that I'd like to play with. I have yarn and patterns for more sweaters for me, since I love wearing my own hand knit items to work. Even when no one notices, it just makes me happy. Socks are fun to knit and don't take as long as sweaters, so that would be another way to wear my knitting to work. And I've been working on and off on a lacy shawl that doesn't look like much so far, but I'm optimistic that when it's completely done it will be beautiful. I just have to put in the time to get it finished.

Too many ideas, not enough time to knit. It's a silly problem, I know. In the scheme of things in the world, really not a problem at all. Still, I wish there was someone out there who'd be willing to pay me to just stay home and knit all day.