Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Homes is a memoir by Paula McLain about she and her two sisters growing up together in foster care. It is heartbreaking and melancholy and hopeful all at once.
Some of the places the sisters stayed were horrid. Some were sweet. But the impermanence and uncertainty of their situation was profound.
I can’t really come to the right words about this memoir. If I’m being honest, after finishing one particular chapter I was so upset by it I had to put it down and read something else for a few days. But I felt like I needed to know how the story played out, so I returned to finish it. And while there is hardly a movie-like, loose-ends-tied ending, you do get a sense of closure – a sense of hope.
I am a memoir junkie, and understand that’s not true for everyone. But if you enjoy memoirs, or if you have any interest at all in foster or adoptive care, it is a worthwhile read. Just have some chocolate or a glass of wine nearby. You may need it along the way.
Today felt as if God just plopped the day into my lap and said, “Here, I made this one just for you. Hope you like it.”
My husband and I were having a conversation the other day. It was in reference to a difference in opinion between he and a friend, and he kept saying, “I’m not sure that’s the right way to go about it.” I reminded him that in this circumstance neither he nor his friend were right or wrong – that they were both trying to make a good decision based on their values. Both of their ideas were good ideas, and that what he was trying to figure out is which way was best, not right.
He sincerely asked, “well what’s the difference?”
I’ve been thinking about this ever since our conversation. My husband is more of a black and white thinker than I am. And while I absolutely believe that there are times when there is a right or wrong answer (I am not referencing issues of morality or justice here), most of the time our decisions are not between something good and bad, but something bad, good, better or best. The best car for our family with two young children and my needing to regularly transport a decent amount of photo equipment is not going to be the same as the kid down the road heading off to college who is trying to pay insurance with her part time job on the weekends. Or how you choose to spend your free time on a weekend is often a choice between a right or wrong activity, but how to best rest or recharge or tackle home projects or _______ (whatever it is you want/need to accomplish on your time off).
I find so many of our disagreements about what we think are right and wrong are really disagreements about better and best. And this distinction makes a huge difference in how we approach those who disagree with us. If we are using a right/wrong dichotomy than we are then saying that anyone who chooses differently than us is wrong. If we approach problems instead with a bad/good/best angle, we can see that our values are simply different from people choosing differently from us and that is ok. Someone who values freedom and flexibility will approach a situation differently than someone who values structure and stability.
Do you find yourself thinking of things from a right/wrong perspective when really what you’re working through is better looked at as a better/best situation? How does that change your approach to your problem? How does that change your views of someone choosing differently than you?
It’s winter – the time of year I get to read again.
I saw The Other Wes Moore at the airport several years ago, but since I tend to overpack books when traveling, I resisted the urge to buy the book and instead put it on my Paper Back Swap wishlist. Restraint!
Anyway, the premise of the book is that there were two kids named Wes Moore who grew up fatherless in the same city and were nearly the same age. One Wes Moore (the one writing the book) grew up to graduate from college while having a successful career, the other after years of drug dealing landed in jail for an armed robbery that left a police officer dead.
The author, out curiosity about how two kids with such similar backgrounds and the same name could end up with such different outcomes, writes to the other Wes Moore in prison. These letters lead to visits and interviews which lead to the book.
The book itself is well written, and the author does a good job of going back and forth between their two lives in ways that are fluid and easy to follow. And while it is an interesting read, the Moore never speculates about the causes of their much different paths. He was wise to resist a “how I turned out ok and this guy didn’t” slant (which would have likely come across as condescending), but an exploration of factors that affect at-risk youth would have made it easier for the reader to feel a call to action. There is, however, a list of resources in the back of the book where a reader could do more research on their own. But from a sociological perspective even a brief exploration of the differences between their two lives that were most likely to have made the biggest differences in outcomes would have been fascinating.
The verdict: It’s ok. The writing is well done, but lacks a clear voice, but the contrasting stories were so interesting I really wanted to see how the “characters” ended up where I knew they were going. If you love memoirs or social sciences, this is worth your time. Otherwise, you’d probably not enjoy it much.
Back in high school, I was relatively athletic…for a geeky, somewhat clumsy girl. I cheered several years, took gymnastics all through junior and high school, and played tennis both for the school and a community league. I didn’t play team sports because I’m only competitive with myself and not the slightest bit aggressive. (“Go ahead, opposing team – you can have a turn. Good luck!”) In P.E., we had those national fitness tests you had to take annually – I always did fantastic on the sit and reach, passed sit ups and push ups with flying colors, and could usually eek out one chin up to pass.
Then there was the mile run.
I haaaaaa-ted running. I mean, I could run to start a round-off for a tumbling pass, or across the tennis court to return a serve, but running more than a couple dozen yards at a time sounded about as fun as doing extra algebra homework. Most years I managed to fail just slightly (I think passing was a 12-minute mile). But if my memory serves me correctly, once I finished around 17 minutes. I don’t even know how this is possible because you can walk a mile faster than that. Slowly.
Fast forward to my late twenties and I found myself wanting to be in better shape. I joined a gym and spent quite a bit of time walking on the treadmills (watching food network on the attached TV, of course). One day I thought I’d try running for about one minute, and made it about 90 seconds. The next day, two minutes. The next, four. I worked my way up to running an entire mile without walking, which at that point I had never done before. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant, and had to slow back down.
After I had my son, I went back to the gym, only to find out within about a month of joining I was pregnant…again. And after my daughter was born, I joined the gym and got back on the treadmill. This time I worked my way up to running 2 miles – very slowly – but it was improvement. Then my gym membership expired and all of the sudden it had been about eight months since I’d set foot on a treadmill (although I had attended a few exercise classes). Oops.
Some friends were going to train for a 5K back in June and asked if I wanted to join them. I had wanted to do one for a while just to prove to myself I could, but I declined because running a race in the summer heat sounds about as fun as… well, doing extra algebra homework. I prefer not to be hot. So I decided I’d run in a 5K on September 22 to benefit the Scleroderma Foundation in memory of Ann Caldwell, a friend who passed away with the disease a few years ago.
I started training at the end of July on an old treadmill at my in-laws house. (It was still quite hot outside.) The first week of doing the Couch to 5K program, I was WAY more couch than I realized. You start by running 1 minute then walking 1.5 minutes. I truly thought I might not make it through that first workout. But I did. And I kept doing it until last week I went to the park (it was cooler) and ran the entire 5k course three times.
The race was this past Saturday. I planned to start at the back of the runners pack and crossed my fingers that no walkers would pass me. My goal was to run the entire race without walking, and to make it in under 40 minutes. I finished without walking at 39:06. I even passed a couple of elementary-aged kids and a few senior citizens while I was at it.
Several years ago, when I was first starting out in business, I got a call from a guy named Bill who was a lawyer and needed a really simple logo drawn for his firm. His mom had referred me. We never met in person, and did all the revisions over the phone. I was struck by how full of life and funny he was.
Fast forward to about two years ago when a random Facebook interaction led to a random conversation which led me to suggesting he check out a book, Blue Like Jazz. He bought the book and promised he would read it. A couple months later I get a phone call from Bill, who is literally in tears. He had read through half the book while on vacation, immediately gave it to his cousin who he know would love it. She read it in one sitting, and woke him up in the middle of the night to talk about what it had meant to her, so he was calling me first thing the next day to thank me for the recommendation.
It turns out this would not be an uncommon interaction.
That was the first of many tear-filled phone calls I would receive from Bill. Some, like this one, were tears of gratitude over something he saw God doing in his life and just wanted to share. Others were tears of grief for circumstances he didn’t understand, so he would call and ask for prayer. Each time he apologized for crying, and each time I told him I would think it strange if he didn’t cry at least once each phone call. To be fair, he didn’t cry every time he called, but because our conversations were not at all frequent, he typically only called when he had something important to talk about.
This past February I was in an airport on my way to a conference in Las Vegas when I heard the news that Bill had – quite unexpectedly – passed away. I felt like the air had been sucked right out of my lungs. I was angry, confused, and sad. And I found it strange that I should be so upset over someone who didn’t know (relatively) all that well.
Bill’s Facebook page is still active. And by active I mean, people post on it regularly, even after these several months. It is obvious I was not the only person affected by Bill’s big personality, big laugh, big love for God, big love of art, big love of friends and family, and his incessant, contagious encouragement. I think of him nearly every day for one reason or another.
The last phone call I got from Bill was about a week before he died. He was dreaming – he was always dreaming – but this time it was about work on his house that he wanted to talk with my husband about, and dreaming about a future with his amazing girlfriend Amy. While I only had the opportunity to meet Amy once or twice, I know without a doubt that she is a most incredible woman to warrant such high esteem and affection from a man that was so incredible himself.
A year before he passed away, Bill asked if I would design him a little business card with the number 41 on it. He wanted it as a reminder to live with a heart fully engaged with God, and fully alive. I’m not sure if it’s true that only the good die young. But I do know that Bill lived and loved so well, and so hard, and so fully that it is possible that he lived more in his 41 years than the rest of us do if we make it twice as long. And so for me, every time I think of Bill (which is often), his life reminds me to live and love with all my might.
I have a meeting tomorrow with a client I’ve worked with for years. We haven’t met since early May, which is an unusually long amount of time. I was thinking about what had happened since then, and it looks something like this:
Evan had a bout of kidney stones that resulted in a hospital stay, and then three outpatient surgeries. He is on the mend now.
His paternal grandmother died over Memorial Day Weekend and his maternal grandfather died this past weekend, for which we traveled to Arkansas for the funeral.
The kids had a week and a half of swimming lessons and are practically fish.
I have photographed four weddings, and still need to finish editing two of those, and design an album. And of course had about a dozen sessions since then.
We had a gigantic windstorm that did (thankfully) minimal damage to our house and knocked out the electricity for about 24 hours.
Made a quick trip to Columbus for work and shopping. And Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.
Here’s hoping for a less, um, exciting July! Or at least a different kind of exciting.
If someone asks what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a photographer and designer. This is typically met with some interest and excitement. I admit it – it does sound exciting! But if someone were to ask what I day doing my job looked like, I would explain that it’s maybe 15% actually taking photographs or designing, and the rest of the time is spent at my desk. Scheduling meetings, sending e-mails, invoicing, editing, layout out pages, more editing, taxes, etc.
While I do really enjoy my work, I miss having any sort of physical hands-on aspect. Yes, with photography and design there are tangible products at the end of the process, but I don’t actually bind the books or print the photo or crank out the brochures. I just send in an electronic file and a few days later these things appear at my doorstep. Wizardry.
I’ve long been interested in the printing process, and with letterpress in particular. The lush, thick paper, the tactile feel of the ink pressed in, the vivid colors, the imperfections that accompany such am imprecise method. Through a random series of events nearly two years ago, I came into contact with Austin Jones, who has so graciously been apprenticing me at Heritage Farm Museum & Village in Huntington.
In my spare time (ha!) I’ve designed a couple note cards, with plans to develop more. But the best part is that when I step into the museum (or even when I get out the small press Mr. Jones let me borrow for use at home), it’s like time stands still. I love the smell of the ink, the heaviness of the metal, the varying shades of ink-stained and worn wood. I love how every step of the process is under my control and at the end, I have something useful, tangible, beautiful.
The images in this post are some blocks I found while rummaging through a box of plates at the museum. Some are from my hometown, and some just made me laugh.
I have a few hobbies (as this site demonstrates) but I don’t think I’ve yet mentioned this one. I feel like I’ve been holding out on you
Mother’s Day morning, I woke up foggy. I’d photographed a wedding the day before, and the day after photographers frequently come down with “wedding flu” – a mix of exhaustion, achy feet and legs, and a general feeling of did-I-get-hit-by-a-bus-ness.
Anyway, I had nearly forgotten it was Mother’s Day when my lively kids crawled into bed with us in the early morning. Evan told them to tell me what they got me. Mason replied, “A brown tree!” Evan whispered in his ear a more specific description, when Mason told me they got me a “Japanese Mable.” I think that little exchange is more precious than the actual tree.
I’ve long been a fan of the Japanese Maple. Their delicate leaves, their little tree with a big tree heart proportions. But we’ve been slow about working on our landscaping (to put it generously) and this is the first year where I have at least three blooming plants in my landscaping – that I planted last year! Success! So while I’ve always admired the Japanese Maple, my frugal self wouldn’t let me purchase one. So my husband (ahem, kids) did it for me.
Last night for kicks I went out and sat my camera on a tripod, with a long exposure, then lit the tree with the tiniest flashlight we had, using a technique called light painting. I think it’s lovely. Then I let the kids play with the flashlight and “draw” whatever they wanted. Brilliant!
Things I have been wondering this week.
1) Is it possible to be in a bad mood while listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia? (Please listen and respond.) Should I have named Sydney Cecilia because of this? (If video won’t load, you can listen here.)
2) If anyone ever saw my google search history I think I would die of embarrassment.
3) Why have I not yet learned to play my mandolin? If I sold it and bought a cello instead, would I learn to play that? Doubtful.
4) How is it that I can (or so it seems) be so quick and witty in writing, but in person I become a humorless, shy semi-geek? An excerpt from a description of my Myers-Briggs personality description. At least an estimated 4% of the population share this:
“INFPs are usually talented writers. They may be awkard and uncomfortable with expressing themselves verbally, but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they’re feeling on paper.”
5) Speaking of Myers-Briggs, were they some sort of sorcerers? How do they know so much about me?
6) Note to self: Take the Big Five Personality test (considered more accurate and reliable than my pet test, Myers-Briggs) for comparison. I predict I score high on conscientiousness. I wish more people scored high on conscientiousness.
7) Is anyone reading this even remotely interested in personality tests? Unlikely.
8 ) If I’m approximately 80% more productive when I work before 8:00 a.m., why can I not get out of bed earlier every day knowing the payoff is totally worth it.
9) Evan is going to have a sound wave treatment for kidney stones. He lays on a special pad that sends sound waves through is body, which will hopefully bust up two of the stones. I think this treatment HAS TO BE from the future. I imagine George Jetson will be administering the procedure.
10) On my front patio there is a peony bush in full bloom, along with wisteria climbing our pergola that is blooming. I am absolutely stunned that something we planted is not only not dead, but is thriving. Spring blessings.