Dirt Girls and the Love Fern

I'm not a great friend. I try, I do but I'm not the person who shows up to clean the house for you (have you seen me cleaning mine lately?) or offers to babysit your kids all day long (I'm good for one hour and then I get twitchy.) I meet a lot of people I really enjoy and want to get to know better but I'm not great about knowing them deeper. My husband calls me the Five Year Old because I talk to everybody. He tries to remind me I can just enjoy people and do not have to be best friends with everyone I know.

I'm fortunate to be a "connector" personality; I know many folks and thrive on introducing them to each other so they can build relationships. Maybe so they meet better people for deeper friendships than I can offer? Just today a friend texted me to check in, afraid that perhaps I was annoyed with her since I didn't reply to an email she sent and had been awol on texting back today as well. I called her immediately. Well, fairly soon, and reassured her of my fondness and adoration. It is just that with two young ones under three the days get away from me. Every day. And they get far away before I can reign them back in and corral the scraps left over.

Like this post for example...I'm not sure how long ago this happened and I am just now writing it.

My friend Susan called me up one weekday morning and asked if I would like some ferns from her yard. "Heck yes!" I said. She offered to bring them over that morning. "Heck yes!" I said. I love most anything free and/or delivered to my house. She offered to plant them for me. Guess what I said? Yup. If I wasn't already happily married I'd be thinking about marrying her right up. It was a harried day and she even offered to keep our girls outside as she worked so I could get some things done a little simpler. Do you see where this is going? Oh. My.

Susan said the ferns were special to her and she wanted me to know the story behind them. They came from Mrs. Marilyn Gertsmeier, her neighbor who used to be big in the local Valparaiso Garden Club. She had admired her gardens from a distance and then one day a bucket of ferns was on her steps from Marilyn. She planted them with delight and then as she moved from that house to the next she brought some with her, often sharing splits with friends, even the friends who don't deserve her fern love, her love ferns.

Susan came to my house with her daughter Julia, took my Portia outside and went to work. She said they were dirt girls that day. She kept asking questions about where I might want the other flowers she brought over planted (swoon!) and I kept reassuring her anywhere she planted them (and I didn't have to plant them) would be awesome. I was so tickled by her generosity and love.

We had spent a lot of money to landscape after our plumbing issues destroyed our front yard. We also put in a back patio, roofed a garage and had landscape beds put in the front yard with just mulch. There wasn't money in our budget to plant anything this year. I had planned to move some splits around and beg some things off of friends like Susan with beautiful gardens over the summer and then buy more plants next year. As we talked and I told her what I thought I would split from my own garden and move, little did I know she would do that for me too. Susan loves well. She loves without expectation of anything in return. She loves patiently, gently and without being overbearing about it. I am blessed to know her.

So my ferns are Marilyn's love ferns given to Susan, then given to me. They are beautiful. I was running through Rogers Lakewood Park soon after and I believe I ran over a bridge dedicated to or paid for by Marilyn...I thanked her for the love ferns. I am so thankful for beauty in gardens, mine or someone elses. I am so grateful for grubby plants uprooted and dropped into a bucket, passed from friend to friend to friend spreading fern love or just friend love from house to house and heart to heart. I hope that as my years move forward I am more willing and able to dig up whatever I have to offer my friends, bring it to them, and install it in their hearts with such love. And I pray it grows.

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What can I say about these wonderful folks that hasn't already been said by Meagan Francis or Adam Kellog or the FABU Stephanie Precourt? My words would fall flaccid and ineffective, so please check out their blogs to get even more juice on these special people who humbled me with their powerful words.

June Saavedra,"The Sacrifices Moms Make"
Heather Novak, "Reluctant Motherhood"
Meagan Francis, "Peace Amid The Poop"
Adam Kellogg, "Mom's Favorite"
Lovelyn Palm,"The Motherless"
Suzi Ryan, "While You Were Sleeping"
Kate Pantinas, "Shoes On, A Working Mom's Guilt"
Sharon Stefankiewicz, "Mama's Home Now"
Elizabeth Chatwell, "Motherhood: Is There Any Extra Credit For This?"
Megan Summers, "Things I May Have Forgotten To Tell You"
Patrick Thornton, "Finding The Humor"
Stephanie Precourt (director/producer) "I Can't Wait For Bedtime"

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Listen To Your Mother 2011 was a huge success.

Death Is the Only Bad Day

Death Is the Only Bad Day
By Heather Curlee Novak

It was a less than charming Monday morning. I stood at the sink tired from nocturnal nursings and immediately overwhelmed by a sink full of scuzzy stinky dirty dirty dirty dishes. I mean, it was not even possible to get at the coffee press without washing dishes first. And we. do. not. live. without hot black manna from God first thing every morning. My husband warned me that after he shuffled the fully loaded laundry baskets to the actual laundry area of the house (dark cold basement) that there was a more than ample assembly line started off by rank cloth diapers and ending with...who are we kidding here? Does laundry really ever end once you are a family larger than, uh...one person?

So I stood at the sink with my cranky sore back and an attitude to match. My sweet hubs was concerned and rubbed my back reassuringly. He said he could help when he got home from work. I love that man, but really it is my job and is so similar to that first day back at the office he must sometimes not be thrilled about. (Who am I kidding? With a two year old and a six month old after our chaotic family weekend he practically skips to work!) After his departure and breakfast I began to dig in to the debris.

Then the baby fussed. The toddler cried because I wouldn't let her eat the Dora lipbalm. The dishwasher hadn't actually cleaned the dishes so I got to rewash those too. The toddler kept stealing toys from the baby so she cried and I wanted to cry because it is frowned upon to drink booze to ease the progress of one's day. There was some yelling. There were some time outs. Then I gave up and turned on the 27" electronic babysitter and took the baby upstairs to cycle through the options of soothing her.

As I sat nursing the little crankasauras I tried to talk myself out of my black mood and into a better day. There really was nothing wrong. No one but me cared if I got anything tidied any given day. My kids were behaving appropriate to age and were admittedly good little folks and healthy too. I thought about all the struggles other mamas have, or people in general and knew I had it good. I decided the only real "bad day" would be one where one of the kids was hurt or diagnosed with a serious illness. Or a day when someone died. THAT is the bad day. Anything better than that is a great day, piles of dishes notwithstanding.

I decided to celebrate the piles. To be thankful to God that we had endless high quality food to put on dishes that they might get dirty and pile up in the sink. To be glad I got to eat with a lot of folks who helped me dirty up the dishes with good homemade dinners every night. I chose to celebrate my family of great eaters...I mean they eat anything I put in front of them, even the two year old! I went through the same grateful exercise with "Mount Washmore" as Fly Lady calls it.

After the babe had her feed I began to dig into caring for my family (and myself) by caring for my home. Slowly it took shape and I had a great sense of well being as things were put where they belong and a lovely, tidy house took shape throughout the morning. I felt so much better I even tackled the desk stacks and piled some things to drop off or get fixed. After reading a few books to the kidlets, we headed out to conquer the rest of the day.

I would like to think this is a lesson I have learned, but I must admit that remembering to be grateful for my life seems to be a weekly meditation. I would feel dismayed that I am too dim witted to internalize this simple lesson and move on, but then again, how great is it when no one dies? How satisfying to keep reflecting on my blessings and re-appreciateing them. Maybe the cycle is more satisfying than just glibly moving on to the next batch of experience?

Excercise Is My Tantrum! NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles

Exercise Is My Tantrum
By Heather Curlee Novak

(Find the audio file for this here.)

We all have stress that make us want to run screaming from the place we are in towards anything simpler and less...stressful. If you have short people in your life and spend lots of time around them you probably want to get down on the floor with them and have your own tantrum thank you very much. In your work life when you are so hemmed in by red tape and policy or so frustrated with people who aren't as (brilliant) broad minded as you are a little floor rolling hollering tantrum might be just the thing.

We all want Our Way no matter what direction that may take our lives. Stress is pretty common in a world where lots of very different individuals want Their Way. After our second babe was born instead of it being My Way or the Highway, My Way literally hit the highway and our world has been run to some extent by folks who are not even two feet tall. FRUSTRATING. Difficult. Maddening. Stressful.

I went to the doctor to get input on my stress induced funk and she suggested exercise. She obviously didn't understand relaxing and de-stressing for me usually included my ample posterior on a soft surface and a cold adult bevvie in my hand. (OK...also a bowl of something sweet or salty or both in my lap.)Just the thought of exercising gave me more stress. Even so, I decided I had to do something different. So I started walking with the girls in the jogging stroller. Then I started walking a bit faster, lo, even breaking a sweat! The Husband and I decided to take on a Couch to 5K training group as a tribute to our fourth wedding anniversary theme which was "wood". As we went week after week walking less and running more (and faster too!) I noticed that every good day I had began with a run.

In the advice of my doctor and my friend Carrie I was taking frustration out on the pavement instead of my kids (which is never a good way to parent anyway). Any sense of laziness, disappointment, anger, sadness or frustration was smaller when I returned home from running most days. Because I took care of myself first thing in the morning by exercising, I had more energy to take care of these two tiny girls I love most in the world. I had essentially begun making exercise my tantrum.

Instead of yelling I was wheezing. Instead of flailing on the floor I was flailing through neighborhoods. Instead of loosing control of myself I was gaining it and decided that exercise would be a most days event for a long while. Not to get thinner. Not to be healthier. Exercise would free me from the heavy stress of loving people with a different worldview than mine. Exercise would help me to take better care of other people because I was taking care of myself. Exercise as my tantrum began turning a negative around to a positive energy and that makes me keep going with a big sweaty smile on my face. Most Days at least.