Happy Birthday, Little Man!

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My dear little one,

Every month you inch farther away from “little” and closer to “big.”

Now you are two years old.

Big brown eyes, mouth that laughs readily, fingers that point and poke and touch, hands that clap and nestle inside of mine while we walk together.

I’ve watched you learn your first words. I’ve seen you glow with pride as you identity the “moo” (moon) in the sky and heard you tell the crows “Caw! Caw!” I’ve watched you sniff fervently in the air when you see a flower, because you’ve been taught they’re good for smelling. I’ve introduced you to your beloved foods of pears, raspberries, doughnuts, and fruit juice.

This year:

P1030012You learned how to play at the beach.

You fell in love with the shape of stars and made little “twinkle” motions with your hands every time you saw one.

You learned to walk, to dance, to run.

P1020666You chortle with glee when a playground draws into view.

You declared the names of the people you love. Dada! Mama! Teita! (Grandma) Jiddo! (Grandpa) Koka! (Auntie Erika).

imageYou had your first visit to the ER and got your first stitches. (Poor Daddy was watching you when you cut your head on a wall corner).

You learned to play with friendly animals and give them hugs.

You have tried out singing and humming with your little vocal cords.

P1030718You like music so much, you’ll point at our music player and bob your head from side to side.

You learned to give kisses without sticking your tongue out. You also learned to blow kisses.

You discovered that climbing is best for all surfaces, including the kitchen table, the bathroom countertop, the backs of the couches.

20150519_122457You fell into a passionate relationship with books. You can’t get enough of them. Your favorite place to sit while a story is ready to you: in my lap where I can kiss your head of curls.

farmer GeorgeYou are your own person, my son. You are full of life, expressive, affectionate, and strong-willed. You are my sunshine and the reason for that happy, warm, exhausted spot in my chest.

Happy birthday, little man. So glad you’re here!

Love always,

Mommy

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Without Peace

balls-freedom-1241474-639x1484Productivity is “my thing.”

I wake up with my to-do list spinning in a loop through my mind. I often try to knock off a few things while my son eats his breakfast, so that I’m set up in the lead for the rest of my day.

I’m often a few minutes late to an appointment because I’ve tried to squeeze in *one more thing* before I dash out the door.

A good day is one in which I function at 90% capacity or higher (and I, laughably, think that this kind of productivity is somehow sustainable).

Depression is close at hand on the days when my plans fall apart, or my body is ill, or an unexpected circumstance demands my attention and emotions. I don’t let go of my task list graciously.

My peace of mind? I have no idea where that is. If you find where it’s gone hiding, let me know.

I’ve come to face the reality that my productivity and inner drive to check things off of an ambitious plan for my life has come at the price of something dear. To accomplish things at my preferred speed is to cut out the space in my life that allows me to breathe, smile, and feel peace. In my personal experience, peace and productivity are very often mutually exclusive.

If I want to be a happier woman, a more contented mama, a more joyful wife, a writer who is not wracked with guilt about the heights I still have yet to reach, I can’t sacrifice every ounce of emotional and mental energy on reaching the peak number of completed items on my list.

This isn’t rocket science. Perhaps a lot of you came to this realization way back in junior high. Good for you. I’m slow on the uptake with this one.

Now the hard part is taking the step of courage that consciously chooses to let go of the highly productive pace that I’ve cultivated in my life and work habits. To let things take longer to be done. To accept less challenges. To know I’m not “lame” because I’m choosing this route. To know it takes a different kind of strength to walk this way.

A life lived without peace in the heart and mind doesn’t sound very worthwhile to me.

I also don’t know how to slow down, so it’s going to be a bumpy deceleration.

I’m *ahem* just starting out, but I will diligently try to report how it goes.

Calling Early Readers!

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Hello friends!

My third and newest book, Guardian of the Gold Breathers (a Middle Grade fantasy) is entering the early stages of pre-release. I have need, as always, for a loyal group of friends who are willing to read the book and post a review (on sites such as Amazon. Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble).

Think you might want to help with this?

I will gladly send you a PDF copy of the novel if you will read it and be ready to post a review when the time comes, several weeks from now. I’ll be sure to give you instructions for posting a review when the time comes, in case you need them.

Please let me know if you’d like to be part of this team. You can send me a message through the contact form on the “Contact” section of this website. (And if it’s not something you can do at the moment, no worries!)

Love,

Elise

Here’s the book blurb, to whet your appetite:

GUARDIAN OF THE GOLD BREATHERS

Twelve-year-old Liam Finley doesn’t expect anything good when he is forced to move from Dublin to his stepfather’s large country house on the edge of the wild woods. But after the first night there, Liam abandons his fears of dreary boredom when he discovers that fairy tales haunt his new home. Has he truly discovered a dragon egg?

The house’s old blind gardener Michael Moran claims to know Liam’s secret destiny, which lies in an enchanted Otherworld. He says Liam is the next Guardian of the Gold Breathers, a champion of dragons.

Time is not on Liam’s side. Can he complete his three tasks to prove himself as Guardian before the paths close between his world and the Guardian’s land? Liam wants to believe the mysterious tales of Michael, but should he instead seek shelter in the practical kindness of Hannah, the housekeeper who calls Michael’s stories “rubbish”? Liam’s heart tells him to trust the things of magic, but it’s the humans he can’t be sure about.

Themes in this story include losing a parent, family relationships, dealing with guilt, overcoming challenges, facing your fears, and standing up for what is right, even when it costs you something.  

No Regrets

 

birdsinnestI learned today that the author under whom I studied last summer did not offer the same high-intensity workshop this year. A squeeze tightened in my chest as the thought ran through me: Did I attend the last session he will offer? I don’t know the answer to this question, but it started me down a path of gratitude.

I’ve sometimes wondered in the time since attending the writing boot camp if it might have been easier if I’d waited for the workshop to be offered closer to my hometown, or if I’d given my son some more time to grow up, instead of dragging an eight-month-old along with my dear friend who came with me to care for him.

That workshop was seriously one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Now, as I ponder the possibility that it has become a final chance to study under a man I greatly admire, I feel sadness, and also a personal relief. It was effort well-spent, a worthwhile exhaustion, especially if it was indeed my last chance.

I know, in a solid, confirmed, way that I don’t need to regret the struggle I endured to make that journey possible.

I now stand on another threshold as I face-off with the very real choice between continuing my writing in the routine I’ve created, or dialing it back and having more time and attention to give to my family. My stubborn pride cries, “I will not surrender my talent and my calling in order to just stay at home with my kids!”

And yet, I’m seeing how very hard it is to write and edit and submit and publish and make appearances while my little guy is so small, and in so much need of my attention, affection, and nurturing.

I realize this balance need not be all-or-nothing, but I also know my current arrangement is also is due for an update. I don’t believe I’ll never stop writing, but I might very well take a break from writing massive novels. I don’t believe I’ll ever cease in my aspirations and literary goals, but I will need to rest from the break-neck speed that I use to pursue them.

I want to live with no regrets about the time I’m able to spend with my son and any younglings who might come after him.

This isn’t a goodbye (far from it!). This blog continues, as does my writing. I should have a new *published* book ready to show you early this fall. :) However, the only thing that’s constant in life is change, and I see another one around the bend.

A writer and mother friend of mine recently wrote this to me:

Nothing will matter more to you than being a mom during these first few years. The writing will be there. Enjoy your little monkey.

I intend to live my life with as few regrets as possible, and that means taking good care of all my responsibilities and relationships, not just making sure to nurture my writing career at all costs.

No regrets.

It’s a tall order, but I’m trying!

Lessons in Middle Eastern Hospitality

breakfastMy Lebanese grandparents taught me to play Likha, a card game similar to Hearts, but with more ways to accidentally earn unwanted points, and no means to shoot the moon. They taught me to love Greek-style yogurt and spices with olive oil on pita bread for my breakfast. They taught me what lavish generosity looked like.

They also taught my mother Middle Eastern hospitality, and she helped them pass the model along to me.

I’m never aware that my thoughts are molded by another culture until something startles or offends or baffles me, but it doesn’t seem to trouble those around me.

When I reach that point, I must stop and wonder what lens is shifting my vision. I’ll give a couple examples to show you what I mean:

Potluck Scenario:

  • Response 1: Bring the chips and salsa and Sprite (because it’s cheap and easy and takes no prep time).
  • Response 2: Bring a macaroni casserole.
  • Response 3: Bring an ornate salad with hand-carved carrots, homemade dressing, and fresh-roasted nuts to sprinkle on top.

Somewhere along the way, I was taught that bringing food to an event was a time for showing off my best stuff, for bringing an exciting gift to the community. Having a dish that people complimented was always nice, too.

Somewhere, somehow, I grew to believe in the importance of planning ahead and making the group meal a jubilant festivity of delicious, fresh, food.

(If it’s not obvious, the Middle Eastern option in the scenario above would, in my experience, be Response 3).

Overnight Guest Scenario

  • Response 1: Welcome guest, show them linen closet and hand them a towel.
  • Response 2: Welcome guest, make up guest bed/couch with folded towels at foot of bed.
  • Response 3: Welcome guest, make up guest bed, write welcome note, arrange vase of flowers on bedside table, include basket with granola bars, fruit, and bottle of travel shampoo.

That’s right folks! It’s Response 3, once again, that was the norm in my house!

The spirit behind this level of hospitality is something that makes the recipient feel as if they are royalty come to visit. It requires thoughtfulness. It takes more time. It’s an act of service. (And for the record, I forget all the time to offer people something as simple as even a glass of water when they come to visit my house. I’m not perfect at this!)

But if we are working to practice this Middle Eastern level of hospitality, the difference in the potluck scenario is that your kitchen becomes a fountain that blesses the heart and the stomach of those it touches. If you’re having people over to eat, your dining table becomes a gift basket that people want to encircle. When you have people come to stay with you, your home becomes a haven of beauty and rest.

Everyone has their own things they do or don’t do with regards to hospitality. This isn’t about giving us all one more thing to do, it’s re-thinking how we view the social convention.

You will find the level of hospitality that fits your lifestyle, talents, and artistic taste. I’m sharing what my grandparents’ culture passed along to me. I love the idea of making my guests and friends feel showered with fine things and leaning into a lifestyle of abundance instead of the scooting by on the bare minimum. It’s a way of spreading beauty and joy. It’s an expression of love.

Do you have any lessons in hospitality that you’d like to post here?

She Grows Up (and I Write Her a Letter)

erikagradMy sister was born in the beginning of summer and named after the feminine form of the god of war. She lived up to her fiery namesake and was a fierce little wildcat in her younger years.

Later, she poured her passionate dreams into her artwork. I’ve watched her blow glass fearlessly, sculpt clay into dramatic forms, sketch a story in paint across a canvas and, more than all of these, I’ve watched her stick to her work with a determination and dedication that matches her old toddler ferocity. (You really should have heard the growl she used in imitation of a mountain lion’s roar. She liked showing it to strangers).

She has the most wonderful, organic handwriting. It looks like tropical vines from a rain forest.

Love has always been her strong suit. Love for her friends, her family, her little nephew (my son). She loves people to the point of tears. She loves in the way that she lives.

Yesterday my little fish entered the big sea. I stood high above and blew her kisses from the sun-baked bleacher seats of Husky Stadium as she graduated with the Class of 2015.

She caught the kisses from me and from my parents and pressed them to her heart.

I remember when I walked through this same stadium, wearing my own cap and gown. I had hopes for a brilliant career in writing. I had a summer internship with a UW professor. I thought that getting a job would not be much of a challenge for someone with my skill set.

The ceremony of Commencement is filled with high hopes and soaring expectations. It’s also shadowed with the fear of the unknown.

My dear sister,

If I could tell you anything about graduating, it’s to keep your community close to you. They will become your precious lifeboat and first aid supply as you learn the new set of rules that we like to chuckle and call “the real world.” 

Ask for help with anything that confuses you. Find ways to continue learning, whether that is books or classes or people who agree to mentor you. 

Take those cries for fear and the desperate dreams of your heart and share them with God. He hears you and he desires wonderful things for you. He gave you your talents and he has already made many plans for how they’ll be used.

You’ll be tempted, somewhere along this post-college road, to bottle up your dreams of art and to just find that “real job” that makes you money so that you can “be an adult” and do responsible things like renting your own place and paying the electric bill. Those things are good to do, but don’t let any tell you those are the most important.

My future course was changed when I was a college senior, just like you, and a writing professor told me to work as little as possible so that I had time to do what I loved, When you find a job, you’ll have to forge creative ways to work in time for your art. If this art is a deep part of you, you have to keep doing it, even if that means picking up your tools only once a week at time. You must keep nourishing your creative soul. Start that habit now, when you still have the freedom to form your schedule and commitments.

I love you, Sister. I am so proud to see that you’ve found a place where you excel. You have already brought such beauty to the world. I await with joy to see what you will make in the years to come.

Love,

Elise

 

For those of you interested in looking closer at her incredible art, she can be found at www.ersaba.com.

 

Divisions

Sunset on Lake purple Light

I’m a bit obsessed with prioritizing.

Sometimes I divide my life so carefully into priorities, I create a hierarchy of things that are “worthy” and “unworthy” of the time I can presently give. This works fine and helps narrow my focus when I’m in survival mode. It allows me to just do what I can to meet immediate needs and make sure nothing catches on fire (and now that I have a toddler, that no longer needs to be a figurative sense of fire).

The thing is, when my crisis has passed or the massive project is finally complete, I step out of my survival mode and, after a moment of gloriously resting that lasts about 24 hours, I decide that the things I’d been ignoring are dull and uninteresting and perhaps should be ignored indefinitely. (I’m quite certain this is not a completely healthy way to view life’s less-than-thrilling necessities (i.e. answering emails and paying bills)).

I enjoy living with work piled high around me and a frantic energy to tackle as much of it as I possibly can, but I’m also seeing the toll it takes on my emotional outlook, my levels of energy, my relationship with my husband, my ability to help other people, my patience with my son…to name a few. All-consuming artistic projects are fun. They’re draining.

They have a cost.

I can’t naively think it’s possible to move from the end of one project into the beginning of another (though you should see my brain try to convince me!). I can’t make my temporary divisions of “high priority” and “low priority” activities remain the same. There’s a time to play catch-up.

It’s actually a healthy thing.

Wiseness (AKA Wisdom)

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Wisdom. Do we all want to have it?

Some people I know prefer to walk the paths their passion calls them to, even if it goes contrary to advice they’ve received. We all know there’s such a thing as bad advice, but regardless of how good the advice might be, these friends would rather learn the hard way than submit blindly to directions. They want to learn the truth for themselves.

Other people prefer to be told the best researched, strategic approach to doing something so that they don’t have to experience the discomforts, set-backs, or embarrassments that go along with mistakes and mishaps.

I fall squarely inside the second category. I like discovering the “right” way of doing something before setting out to do it. (You can ask my close friends, this grown woman still sometimes gets distraught when she fails to do something well the first time. I’m not entirely proud of this.)

Some knowledge can only come when it’s learned through genuine experience. I turn thirty next year, and this life milestone is making me ponder the reality that I really am not a “young adult” anymore. What wisdom have I acquired for during this enormous time spent on planet Earth?

These are a few things that I know with certainty have changed in me over the last few years:

  1. I’ve embraced a moderate level of insanity and disorder in my life.  The chaos of a home shared with a rambunctious toddler is better than the impossibility of constantly striving to keep my world in a detailed, organized state.
  2. I apologize quickly and seek ways to make up for my blunders. I make sure my intent is clear when I communicate. Life is too short for grudges and incorrect assumptions. Pride and stubbornness still have a hold on me, but I’ve grown more fed up and annoyed with them, which means they don’t fester for long.
  3. I cry in public and don’t apologize for it. Too many of us wish we could feel more deeply on a daily basis (numbness is a strangely prevalent disease) and emotions should be embraced when they surface.
  4. I know what I want. I want to be a mama. I want to write fiction. I want to work from within the peace and closeness of my home. I want to love Jesus more every day and listen to his guidance for my life. I want to always grow and learn. I want to help other creative artists to reach their dreams.

When I was in college, when I thought wisdom had the aura of profound solemnity. Maybe I gave too much weight to the word “wisdom.” It doesn’t have to be intimidating.

When I see the ways that I’ve grown in comfort and bravery, in what I stand for, I think this counts as wisdom. Sometimes this knowledge comes in the shape of boundaries that I won’t flinch to protect because I’ve finally identified what’s precious to me.

This post goes out to all of you who feel like you somehow aren’t smart enough to be counted as “wise.” We can always grow if you take the time to pause and reflect, to stop and make stillness in the day to weigh your thoughts. The days when I take the time to pray before I rush into the fray of craziness are the ones when I have a steadier heartbeat.

Here’s to the time that lies ahead of us, filled with new, undaunting discoveries of wisdom and “wiseness” and knowledge.

P.S. To those of you who’ve been missing my blog posts, I’ve been extremely busy, but am hoping to return with more regularity in the near future. Thanks very much for your patience. Xoxo

Toys of My Youth

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Store-bought Barbie doll houses were often on my wish-list, but never a reality for me. My need for the products I’d seen on TV was the mother of my inventions.

I tucked fabric around VHS clam shell cases and stuffed a “pillow” lump on one end to make a bed. I clipped photos of flower arrangements from a floral catalog and taped them to the wall beside the bed. Years later, I wrote a “will” and bequeathed the precious dolls to my younger sister as a Christmas gift. Their hold on my had faded. I don’t even know what happened to the Barbies.

My son is inheriting toys. New ones from his grandparents with big wooden rings that stack. Cars on wheels from his parents because we know what he’s most obsessed with. A second-hand electric keyboard and activity box from our next door neighbors whose grandson has gone off to preschool.

My siblings and I once owned a massive collection of Beanie Babies. We’d build villages of Duplos for them and attacked the land with floods of blue scarves. We’d laugh and dream and imagine adventures for our little animals. It was a team sport. My brother and I will still toss out snatches of phrases from our times of Beanie Adventures.

And then we all must grow up.

My Barbies are a distant memory of resourceful strategizing as I did my best to recreate the commercial items I coveted. My son will also outgrow his toys and they will become a gift for another young child to discover. The small pile of Beanie Babies that remain to me are mostly designated as gifts for future baby showers. My siblings and I have moved on to playing mystery video games in which we solve puzzles collectively and crack jokes about the strange personalities we meet in the game.

We’re all constantly leaving toys and memories and old habits behind. It strikes me that adults have left themselves too few toys to play with, urged to discard childish things in the rush to be sophisticated. When I pull out The Trickster’s Hat and do a strange creative art project, I get excited and playful again. It’s a taste of my childhood. Some of my best inventions come from that place.

Growing up and moving on is unstoppable. But I’ll always be that girl who designed her own Barbie room decor and managed the plot lines of the Beanie Adventures. My son will bring his love for music and rhythm beyond the confines of his toy drum and keyboard and his Raffi Soundtracks.

Peter Pan had a bit of it right. For those of us who are determined to make it so, we never have to grow up completely.

A story lingers in my mind as I come to the end of this post: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s an enchanting, fantastical story, told by an adult looking back at the world through the beautiful eyes of a young person. Read it if you haven’t. I’ve read it twice and each time it filled me with child-like hope.

All of us can stay young.

Wet Earth

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Yesterday we buried our dead baby. This is going to be a sad post, so read on only if you choose to bear witness to a grief that is too often silenced.

For those of you who know my family, my 18 month old son is perfectly fine and healthy. It’s his younger sibling I refer to.

January was a dark month for us. We had our car stolen from in front of our house, retrieved by the police, but returned to us filled with damage and filth. Then, a week or so later, we discovered our growing baby was dead at 11 weeks old in my womb. There was an ambulance ride and a trip to the emergency–I’d lost too much blood too quickly.

I passed through all of this in a quiet horror, a deep sorrow that was accompanied by a strange calm. I think God must have been holding me tightly to himself, rocking me as I entered unbearable loss.

In the hospital, as they wheeled me back from one of my tests, I heard the sound of Brahms’s Lullaby playing over the speakers. Every time a baby is born, the hospital staff plays that song to celebrate a new little one’s arrival.

That was when I wept.

A baby was born just as I received confirmation that mine was dead.

I don’t believe this is morbid. These are hard truths and real things that women–so very many women–have borne in wordless sorrow. I will put mine to words.

We buried our small one yesterday in a patch of mossy wet earth. We wish we could have played with this child, brought along on adventures, tickled, held in our arms. But that is gone and all we have left is love and tears and the hope of seeing this young one face-to-face when this life is behind us.

The current chapter of my life is rocky and hard and literally feels like the Valley of the Shadow of Death, at times, but I know I’m not alone. God is holding me, even as he is holding my child. I have friends who’ve brought us meals and companionship that lightens the heaviness of grief for a while. I have the arms of my husband, who is there in the night when I can barely breathe through my snot and tears. I have the tiny kisses of my little toddler, who doesn’t understand his parents’ sadness, but offers fresh love and playfulness each day, healing us with joy, bit by bit.

My heart feels more pain than it knows how to handle, but it also feels more peace and love than it could have hoped for.

So I can say this and still mean it:

It is well with my soul.