Slack Tide

July 30, 2012

Every life has a series of tides, times of transition and fluctuating circumstances. For example, as children grow up, a parent’s focus changes from the physical care of changing diapers and feeing babies to supervising homework, and on to grilling teenagers about where they’re going and who they will be with. Parenting is a series of ebbs and flows as children’s needs change from one day to the next. Marriages, friendships, jobs, hobbies and interests all have their own rhythms of ebb and flow.

I’ve been thinking about ebbs and flows as my son prepares for his senior year in high school. In most ways he requires little care, and can even be helpful. In others, we’ve had to tighten up certain rules and practices. We’ve also made it a point to spend as much time with him as possible (and as he will allow!) while he’s still at home. In a short time (God willing) he’ll be gone, and we’ll be faced with the complete ebb of our roles as parents.

While this is happening, I’m trying to shift my focus from household responsibilities to writing projects. I’m finding this hard to do because there’s no guarantee my writing projects will be successful (and they’re certainly not contributing to the family finances right at this moment) and it’s easy to see when the bathroom is clean, the laundry is done and dinner is on the table. The problem is, my writing projects will never be successful if they don’t get the time and attention they need to blossom. That time and attention has to come from somewhere, and I can’t (and don’t want to) give up all leisure time, so some household stuff is just going to have to take a backseat.

While I’m learning to cope with the ebbs and flows of life, I’ve found these principles helpful.

Pay attention. What you need, what your family and friends need from you, may—will!—change. Maybe instead of a nap you need a bike ride, or vice versa. Maybe your best friend needs a kick in the pants instead of a listening ear, or vice versa. What was soothing or energizing last month might not do the trick today. As a sailor studies tides, watch for changes in the current of your life.

Go with the flow. Don’t fight the current. Don’t get hung up on what you “should” do or “should” have or “should” want. If you feel strongly that the tide is taking you away from where you want to be, know that new tides will come. The ocean, and your life, is always moving, always changing. Down times give way to up times. Try to keep your head above water and watch for a break in the current. Fighting the tides will exhaust you and can be dangerous. Allow the current to take you. You might end up someplace wonderful.

Float when you get the chance. Slack water, or slack tide, is the moment that tidal current ceases. This occurs just before the tide turns and begins running the other direction. If you’ve been paying attention and going with the flow, you should be able to sense this change and float for a while before flowing off to who knows where. Relax, gather strength and look forward to what’s next. (That’s kind of where I feel I am now.)

Ocean tides are among the most reliable natural phenomena in the world. In life, we are sure to face times of ebb and flow, just like the ocean. How about you? What is flowing into your life? Out of it?

P.S. I’ve had a big uptick in spam lately, so I’m putting word verification on for at least a little while—sorry for the inconvenience!


What Kind of Bird Is That?

July 27, 2012

Is the coast clear?

Yum, yum…

Oh, you saw that? Well, you meant for me to eat this, right?

Happy Friday. I’m going to go refill the feeder so the birds will have something to eat…


A Happier Life

July 25, 2012

There is a type of poem, the Found Poem, that records an author’s discovery of the beauty that occasionally occurs in the everyday discourse of others. Such a poem might be words scrawled on a wadded scrap of paper, or buried in the classified ads, or on a billboard by the road. The poet makes it his or her poem by holding it up for us to look at. Here the Washington, D.C., poet Joshua Weiner directs us to the poetry in a letter written not by him but to him. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Found Letter

What makes for a happier life, Josh, comes to this:   
Gifts freely given, that you never earned;   
Open affection with your wife and kids;   
Clear pipes in winter, in summer screens that fit;   
Few days in court, with little consequence;   
A quiet mind, a strong body, short hours   
In the office; close friends who speak the truth;   
Good food, cooked simply; a memory that’s rich   
Enough to build the future with; a bed   
In which to love, read, dream, and re-imagine love;   
A warm, dry field for laying down in sleep,   
And sleep to trim the long night coming;   
Knowledge of who you are, the wish to be   
None other; freedom to forget the time;   
To know the soul exceeds where it’s confined   
Yet does not seek the terms of its release,   
Like a child’s kite catching at the wind   
That flies because the hand holds tight the line.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2006 by Joshua Weiner. Reprinted from “From the Book of Giants,” University of Chicago Press, 2006, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Beautiful moments

Noticing the Beautiful Moments

July 23, 2012

Life’s so busy, isn’t it? Our days are full of work, play, family, friends—and it’s good to have a full life. But it’s also good to slow down once in a while to notice the beautiful moments. Summer is perfect for this, because generally life’s fast pace slows down somewhat, and you might have a little more time to look for and appreciate those moments.

I’d like to share two beautiful moments I’ve had recently with my horse, Tank. He now shares a paddock with a small group of horses during the day (he still eats and spends the night in his smaller “private” paddock). I think likes being with his new friends, all mares except for a two-year old colt. At first, I wondered how this would affect how he feels about my coming to get him. When he lived alone, he was eager to see me. Would he still whinny, come to meet me at the gate, be happy to see me? Happily, the answer to these questions is yes. One of those moments I was talking about occurred last week as I stood at the gate of the large paddock, lead rope and halter in hand. Tank left his buddies and came to me, ears pricked, expression asking, “What are we doing today?” I stood there, melting into my boots (and not just because it was 92 degrees), marveling that this lovely, powerful creature belongs to me, knows me, looks to me for attention and guidance. After owning him for eight years, I sometimes take him for granted. Every now and then, I wake up the miracle of his presence in my life.

The second moment with Tank happened on Saturday. After we tacked up, I had a few minutes to wait until the riding lesson started, so I sat down in one of the green plastic outdoor chairs clustered under the trees. Tank stood next to me, relaxed, so I began to stroke and massage his ears and poll (the top of his head). He seemed to like it, slowly blinking his eyes and lowering his head. When I stopped, he left his head low, so I leaned forward and breathed into his nostrils (one way horses greet each other). I gently touched his muzzle with my forehead while we inhaled and exhaled together. We stayed like that for a few minutes, and I don’t know about Tank, but I found this so soothing that I nearly fell asleep.

My beautiful moments had nothing to do with achievement or accomplishing a goal. For once, I put aside my jabbering mind, my busyness, and relaxed into the present moment. I want to have more experiences like this—with Tank and in all areas of my life—moments where time stands still and the to-do list falls from memory, moments in which I truly realize how lucky I am and how grateful I am for my life.

I hope that you experience beautiful moments such as these. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.


Play Ball!

July 20, 2012

Ah, the crack of the bat, the noise of the crowd, the smell of the…pressed Cuban sandwiches? That’s how we do it, here in Tampa Bay.

Yesterday my family and I went to a Tampa Bay Rays game—I’m the baseball fan in the family, so a summer isn’t complete for me without a game or two over at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. We like going to day games during the week—the crowds are usually smaller and we don’t get home at midnight.  (We’re fuddy-duddies, I admit.)

We had a great crowd today, more than 27,000. Lots of kids from local camps and childcare centers banging thunder sticks and hoping to catch a foul ball.

My favorite part:

The Tropicana Field roof—and the air conditioning contained therein.

Rays lefthander David Price getting ready to pitch.

Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the Cuban sandwich before we ate it...

Oh, and best of all, the Rays beat Cleveland 6-0. And since Rays pitching struck out 10, we all get coupons for free pizza from Papa John’s!

Rays baseball—an awesome summer tradition. What are you favorite summer traditions?