What is home anyway but a place that houses your people and/or the best of your memories?

But even when a home is filled with love and good intentions, sometimes finding peace in the moment remains so elusive.

How strange that we are just placed (born) into these family units with one another and, yet, our differences and our similarities make it so hard for us to get along day in and day out over the years. Familiarity brings challenges, even when we want to maintain that peace.

Our pasts together and personality quirks are so complicated. And then there are the circumstances into which we are born, ranging from simple birth order factors to the family’s mood at the time of our arrival. During hard times, war, illness, or following death, children still arrive. Life in a family is not easy, even in the best of times, but it’s all that any of us knows in our early years. But with any luck, we will continue to know family life throughout all our years, regardless of the challenges it brings us.

Despite my growing up with only my parents and one brother, I come from a large extended family. My past is filled from memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases and summer visits to my grandparents’ home—a home where all my aunts and uncles and cousins would gather in noisy groups—and in my dreams I still return to that mythical home where I gather once more with those people who were so important to who I am and who I became. Those sorts of dreams come also to my relatives in their sleep. This sense of home is definitely with us when we gather in other places, but we have never truly dreamed we could return to the house that cradled us and shaped us so.

That is we thought we could never return . . . until my cousin and her husband realized the dream of buying back the house that had passed from our family over 30 years ago.

After over a year of a whole lot of elbow grease, blood, sweat, tears, and money, the house is again the home of our dreams. When my cousin called us home to our recent Christmas in July reunion, the house—and our ability to gather together in it—was a present like no other.

I would love to tell you that the dream realized was all twinkly lights and laughter and hugs and songs sung in perfect harmony and moments captured in picture perfect clarity. It was all that and more, and, yet, as in any family, sour notes remain: sibling discord, marriages dissolved, children who won’t sleep, favoritism, regrets, and disagreements over shared history. What’s past is not often past.

The truth is I did leave swathed in a feeling not unlike the sunshine that streamed through the large windows or the peacefulness that came to me as I took in the bucolic views from those windows. I chose to feel the love—which is real and huge and something I know not everyone gets to feel in this life—and also chose to push away the cobwebs that lurked in the dark corners because I realize I am lucky enough that those cobwebs are only a small part of this thing called family in my life.

And, yet, my own home is also a microcosm of that larger family home. The love here is real and huge and something not everyone gets to experience. But sometimes the reality of who we are together and alone is simply too hard to bear. We forget that together we are the protection for one another from what happens outside our homes and instead project what others have done to us on those who love us most. And despite our best intentions, so often we cannot figure out how to be ourselves without hurting one another. In those moments our home becomes just another house.

The real dream of my grandparents’ house or my house or of any house will be that the house can be the peaceful space we can call home: that feeling that comes in those moments when family members forget or minimize any differences and just give into the love that binds us together.

Blest be the ties that bind our hearts and bring about fellowship of kindred minds—and remind us just why peace in our families—no matter how imperfect the peace or the family—is what really makes a house a home.

Freezing Out the Grapevine, @1990

Freezing Out the Grapevine, @1990

My daughter has the misfortune to work alongside a very chatty woman this summer. After hearing some of this woman’s topics, I agree with my daughter that her ability to work with the woman at all indicates just how well she deals with customers, even when the customer at hand is internal. But if that woman suggests one more time that my daughter should get married and/or have a baby, I’m going to go down there and have more than a chat with her!

Just kidding, I’m not really going to butt in on this conversation, but what is up with this woman who is also a mother of a young adult? Why is she acting as if all my daughter needs to do in life is get started on a marriage and a family? Why is this her business and what year is it anyway?

Both my mother and my mother-in-law expressed more than a little bitterness about how they were treated when they did not get married right away in the 1940s and 1950s. These women—gasp—finished their educations and worked professionally, not marrying until each was 29. I might have married a few years younger than they did, but I most definitely felt no pressure from them to start my own family right away—which I did not do. However, my daughter is just barely 22 and not yet out of college. So far she has only worked in summer jobs.

While I understand changing life’s plans to care for unexpected births, I do not think people should actively pursue marriage and families without a plan for how to do so without needing help from others. And I am not the kind of person who wants to wedge another growing family into my home.

I’m stating my position here—I am not going to provide child care for a grandchild. I have waited a long time in order to not to be taking care of someone else—my kids, my mother in her final years—and I am not putting my own plans aside now that my time has arrived. Watching my mother’s decline also taught me that health is not a given. I don’t want to wait so long for my own time that that time never comes.

Please, if a person does not have the means to support a family, do not go out of your way to encourage her or him to start one anyway. Meddling of this kind is even crazier in the current times where job growth for young adults has been so tenuous and many, such as my daughter, will have student loans to pay.

Besides, thanks to the scheduling and poor advising in the department of her major at her college, though she has 122 credits, she still has two semesters left, despite needing only 11 credits. Talk about an expensive way to finish a degree. So, no, my daughter does not need to hurry into having a child—she needs to focus on how she will provide for herself come next year.

And, while we’re on the topic, ask me how I feel about people getting married straight out of college. For all those for whom that worked really well, I am very happy for you. But in my family, my brother’s very happy college relationship ended with an early divorce, thanks to the couple’s inability to transition into living on their own together as grown-ups. The real world is very different from college. Better to take some time to see how the relationship weathers the real world; if the relationship remains stable or grows during the transition, then nothing has been lost in waiting a little bit to make the final commitment.

Life transitions are huge and very personal. Questions about babies and marriage—none of your business, OK? These areas should stay private for many reasons. Can’t figure out why some people seem to think idle speculation or gossip about these very big changes is harmless. In past times we had meddlers such as the relative in Sense and Sensibility who could not stay out of Elinor and Edward’s love life—now we have The National Enquirer and reality TV—and, apparently, meddlers such as the woman who works with my daughter.

Talk about the weather, talk about what you did last night, but for God’s sake, stop acting as if topics about getting married and having babies are matters of no consequence. Have your own baby and/or marriage, but leave others to their own timelines.

And, no, I’m not babysitting for you either.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

My husband Sherman and I have worked to create an authentic life together—one where we don’t put our efforts toward impressing people based on outward appearances. We have chosen to spend our whole marriage in a funky neighborhood that has no covenants; we do not drive fancy vehicles; and, we have not pursued the material path in any way. We yam what we yam.

And for some people of the upwardly mobile educated kind, all that makes us a little suspect. What are two people who hold master’s degrees doing living in that ‘hood (seriously people, check the home values), why don’t we have more money for our kids’ educations, and where are the pictures from our European vacations?

Frankly, it’s a little too exhausting to spend much time with people who are chasing outside proof of their success—and, more than a little boring. I don’t care about the slight jumps in the property values or what so-and-so is doing to what home model in a sub-division. When did obtaining an education become simply a license for consumption? If that’s what education is about, then count me out.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

I just want to spend time with real people who do things with their lives that are more than about what the neighbors are doing—and people who not only do not judge us for our 1976 Mobile Traveler RV but who also think it is pretty cool for what it allows us to do. And that’s almost as cool as going for a post-storm group run on a moonlit night followed by a post-run cooldown tailgate party of watermelon and chips and libations in the not-so-dark of one summer’s evening.

Oh, no, I don’t want to be around the cool kids at school—unless cool means cool in a geeky way that accepts what everyone has and does and is as part of living an authentic life, regardless of whether or not the “in” crowd would be impressed.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

She walks in beauty, but not necessarily because of raven tresses or the goodness she has done or traits such as calmness or softness or innocence. She walks in beauty because of the best of dark and bright within her eyes—eyes which shine with her essence, be her essence more of night or of “gaudy” day.

Women and girls get so hung upon the perfectness of features—the lips not too thin but not too full, the flat belly, skin lacking in acne or scars, hair that performs as expected, thighs and calves that fit into skinny jeans—most often whatever they do not personally possess—or what they used to possess. Whole industries are built around telling us we are not enough unless we purchase certain products that hide who we are.

But who we are is where the true beauty resides. A woman who is doing something she loves wears beauty she cannot purchase. Joy radiates, whether at night or day.

Yet joy does not come simply to women who live in innocence or in soft ways. Joy comes in searching or discovery or mastery. Joy also comes from spending time with people who bring out the real persons inside and is reduced by spending time with those who expect us to conform only to their wishes of who we should be.

If nothing else, beauty comes from believing in one’s own beauty. How many women have you known who walk as if they are beautiful and, even if all the little pieces are not beautiful—a nose too prominent, a waist too thick, a smile too crooked—still have you convinced that they indeed walk in beauty?

Show the world who you are and the world will see you walking in beauty.

P.S. For another day to discuss whether or not walking in beauty should even matter . . .

[See “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron (George Gordon)]

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Happy Independence Day! But right away, my mind is wandering from that topic as it relates to the United States of America and thinking more about individual independence. Oh, I’ve read David McCullough’s books, John Adams and 1776, and remain absolutely amazed about how our country came to be—and that it came to be at all. The great experiment of trying to create a new country in a new way had so many reasons to fail—and yet it did not. What I noted about the great minds behind our country’s formation was that they were men both of action and of deep thinking. However, I am convinced that living in a time when people spent so much time alone in their own thoughts made it easier for them to come up with the original ideas they used to found this nation together.

That’s why a story on the front page of my newspaper (yes, I still want to hold that paper) grabbed my attention—and shocked me with its lead-in line: “People, and especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they’d rather be in pain.” (See Rachel Feltman’s article in the Washington Post referencing results from studies, published this week in the journal Science.) Many people would rather receive an electric shock than be alone with their own minds for a mere six to fifteen minutes? Really?

The results of studies on the ability of people to let their minds “wander”—defined as having time to sit and do nothing but think—make me (and others, no doubt) question just how often we as a society are missing out on being able to produce great ideas simply because we don’t let our minds wander nearly enough. Certainly our founding fathers had fewer outside distractions due to distances or lack of lighting and such, but they were also born not so long after people in their families had made a bold choice to leave what they had known to come to live in a place full of uncertainties and undeveloped spaces that encouraged much time alone with their own thoughts.

Between my husband, my daughter, my son, and me—not a one of us understands being bored with our own thoughts. No wonder we so often do not understand other people—nor they us!

True confession here: I find my mind to be fascinating and always have. I grew up in a small town where most of my classmates were bused in to school, so summers and weekends I had a lot of time to myself and yet rarely felt bored. I also had insomnia growing up, though I kept my eyes closed and stayed in bed, trying to fall asleep. In order to pass time, I made up stories for myself.

Years later I became a runner, for a few years running up to thirty-six miles a week, spending most of those six hours a week alone. I’d be rich if I got paid something for every time a person asked me, “What do you think about while running?” or told me how boring running was.

A few years later, a college professor of mine put into words how I felt about boredom. He used to say, “You’re not bored—you’re boring.” While I understand that the physical movement of something like running might not appeal to everyone, I still think the aspect of being alone inside one’s mind should not seem so boring.

Don’t just wait for someone else to fill your minds or–for goodness’ sake–give you physical shocks just to break the boredom. Slow down enough to learn how to listen to yourselves and the real shock might be in discovering that your own thoughts are way more fascinating than you knew.

Oh, people, people. Time spent thinking alone—even when you let your minds ramble on their own—is a great way to gain control of your own lives—and, maybe, a way to make a big difference in the lives of others. That little thought that asks you to pursue it might just be the next great thought for which we have been waiting. Your independent thoughts combined with mine and your neighbors’ thoughts might just lead to the next creative revolution.

Our founding fathers made order from chaos—perhaps by giving up a little order to pursue the chaos of our own minds, we have our best chance to return to being the sort of free-thinking people who created this country and made it great. To wander with wonder–now that’s independence.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

The south side of our lawn is exploding with color—no thanks to us—well, not directly anyway. Those hollyhocks and sunflowers growing so boldly are volunteers who showed up thanks to what we’ve planted at some point in previous years. Due to efforts from birds, squirrels, and/or wind, they thrive, blooming wherever they find their seeds have taken root, with no particular pattern to where they are growing.

While bees hum and finches burst out in joyful song, I marvel at this harvest of sorts from seeds planted so long ago. These self-seeding plants remind me that even during long fallow periods, new life can spring up from past cultivation. The hollyhocks sunning themselves today are many generations removed from those seeds I put in the soil maybe eight years ago. Yet despite my current neglect of the garden space, they grow thanks to what I began so many seasons before.

When so much about growth seems to be difficult—the constant battles with weeds, bare patches, pests, fluctuating moisture, and challenging weather—unexpected abundance also teaches me that though life is a force only slightly within my control, it is also good. Growth that is meant to happen will do so, even under tough conditions—or maybe even because of those conditions.

Who knows what else will volunteer in my life—no thanks to any efforts of my own or so long after I worked my hands in the dirt that I have forgotten seeds once sown.

(c) 2014. Trina Lambert

(c) 2014. Trina Lambert

Details, people, details. The devil is in the details and sometimes the devil is in me when an organization’s lack of attention to detail causes me trouble. This is when I have to take deep breaths and remind myself that I firmly believe in treating service people with respect, no matter whether or not they deserve it. This is when I am supposed to apply that grace (that they most certainly have not earned) while making certain that details do get resolved as needed. This is also when I need both grace for the uncharitable thoughts I am thinking and prayers to help me get that devil out of my head.

Suppose we are buying a car to replace the one we just sold for cash and want to access investments to cover the difference between the cash just received and the purchase price of the new car. Since we do not know the exact amount we will need to cover costs of the car, licensing fees, and any upgrades we do to the car, such as putting on a hitch or other accessories, we decide to complete the purchase using our Discover Card. We have credit on the card, so not only will we know just how much to take out of our investment when the time comes, but we will also buy time to complete the not-so-quick transaction that allows us to receive that investment money, all while earning a Cashback Bonus for the purchase.

So, you ask, how did that really work for us?

Believe it or not, the charge appeared under the pending charges immediately, but disappeared after a few weeks. I finally called Discover Card to find out what happened to the charge—the truth was nothing had happened to the charge. It was still pending but since it had not been finalized by the dealer, the transaction was moved to some inactive file visible to Discover, but not to me. The representative and I had a good laugh about my “reduced” price car, but I told her we would be contacting the dealer.

The dealership thanked my husband when he called about the problem. And then the charges still didn’t show up. By now I was starting to wonder if this would delay our ability to get the license plates by the time the temporary license expired. I mean, the expiration date is July 7, one week from today, which is also the first Monday after a holiday weekend. I know better than to expect a good time any day at the DMV, but especially now thanks to the short work week falling between today and then.

Guess what? A few hours ago I went to my Discover account and discovered (ha, ha) that the pending charge went through, still dated May 9, as well as a new charge dated June 11—which is crazy since the last time I checked the account about a week ago—long past June 11—no charges showed anywhere. Then my husband and I divided duties—he called the dealership and I called Discover.

The representative at Discover Card told me it can take 15 days for merchant-authorized credits to show up, but not to worry. When I still seemed worried, he asked, “Haven’t you had refunds before?” Yes, but not for such a large amount! Forgive me for not feeling that patient. Plus, this artificially high usage of credit will now show on my credit reports, even if all goes as planned.

When my husband called the dealership again today, he was told a credit had been issued on Friday and should show up any time, plus the title should arrive this week. That’s right—don’t hurry with that paperwork. The post office and title offices aren’t affected by the short work week either—which means that at some point this week I may have to choose to go in to get an extension on that temporary plate. It’s only my time and money—don’t sweat the details, right?

I suppose it’s just the devil in me that wants to shout, “People—just get it right the first time!” I’ll concede that we all make errors from time to time, but I don’t believe it’s too much to ask that businesses correct errors in a timely manner after an error is pointed out—and then work really hard not to add more errors to the initial mistake.

Suppose you see me at the DMV twice in the next two weeks, I would advise you to stay the devil away from me—and that’s a detail to which you will want to attend, make no mistake about that.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

On one hand, I’m still the kid who used to eat one—and only one—Lay’s potato chip every time the Lay’s ads taunted me that I couldn’t do that. Trust me, I liked potato chips but didn’t like being told what I should or should not do. Back to that other hand, I’m the kind of person who likes to get along with people. If it’s in my best interest to say “no” to you, I just want to get it done and move on. Trust me, if I’ve turned you down, I mean it, even if you think I don’t.

Sometimes I think I was given a child like my son Jackson so I would get to practice saying “no” again and again. This kid was good at advanced rhetoric from a young age—I used to say he was born a teenager, but I rather think he was born a lawyer. He instinctively knew to ask a question three different ways or how to try to destroy the opposition’s (in other words, my) logic. However, just because I don’t like conflict, doesn’t mean I was going to change my decision on the fly, especially since my decision-making style is fairly measured and consistent.

Before Jackson had reached 18 months, I realized that I had just signed up for a lifetime of practicing the “no” word. To which I thought, “Well, then so be it. Not as if I don’t need the practice”—especially since it’s so much harder for me to say “no” to real people than it is to some distant corporation on a television screen.

As a people-pleaser, despite the practice, I can still get pretty anxious about having to state my opinions, though it’s so much easier with unknown strangers who call me or arrive at my door unannounced. I’ve learned that it does me no good to argue with telemarketers. I now say, “Thank you, but I’m not interested” and hang up the phone without listening further. And when people come to my door, it is my policy to reject them as politely as possible before quickly shutting the door. I’m not going to use a rude tone, but I do not buy from cold calls. If I want something, I do research and seek out the companies with which I want to interact.

All this saying “no” business is one of the reasons traveling to Mexico can raise my frustration level. Upon arriving at a Mexican airport, visitors must first run the gauntlet of helpful people offering to show them presentations. And then there’s the upselling at the car rental counters and in lobbies of hotels, as well as the offers of not-so-free help in grocery markets, on beaches, and in restaurants—offers of free jet-skiing, car rental, or whatever else abound in exchange for “just” hearing a time-share presentation. If those promised prizes seem worthy enough to spend several hours practicing those “noes” again, hapless tourists better be really good at that nay-saying, especially since sometimes the salesperson even accuses them of taking advantage of the system.

The use of guilt techniques at the presentation is just the final technique in the arsenal for trying to convince naysayers that they really meant to say “yes” to the very expensive proposal. As if sending out all those low level people who promise something in exchange for just listening isn’t the business model they have adopted. No, people you work very hard to receive the “free” gifts at those presentations.

That being said, if an encounter with a business or even with a friend or an acquaintance in my neighborhood starts to feel like a time-share presentation or a multi-level marketing promotion where my “yes” is more important than whether or not what is offered is what I need and/or want, then that encounter has already lost me. What right do you have to try to make me feel guilty for knowing my own mind? The fact you keep pushing for a different answer than I’ve given means you are not respecting my boundaries.

While I may have said “no” to extra potato chips because I was stubborn, over the years—especially thanks to my once toddler and now grown son—I have had many more opportunities to practice saying “no” for the right reasons. When I have made it clear that “no” is still my final answer, if you keep pushing me, I will likely go all Lay’s potato chips on you—and you’ll be lucky to get me to say “yes” to even one chip, no matter which hand you want to put it in.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Do you ever think that if you could just sit down to create and put together a really detailed spreadsheet, then life would be OK? I mean when worries wash over you, do you ever start heading for Excel? All will have to be OK with the world if you can just plug some information and formulas into some slots, hit return, and, voilà, the facts and answers will appear and all will be well? Or maybe this is just me?

Sometimes I like to work with numbers that just are, numbers that are black and unchanging, and, seemingly, nothing more. Find the number, drop it into the cell, and move on. The repetition calms me, lulling me into believing that those boxes can control and keep the data—as well as contain any possible associated messy meanings. A simple click on AutoFit column width and nothing can spill out or hide.

This, my friends, is why I am more than a creative. Somewhere deep inside in me I find comfort in putting things into boxes—except that with my ability to see shades of gray, things often escape from those boxes, despite my best efforts.

Though I am not enough of a nerd to assign emotions to particular numbers (trust me—my son can personify numbers in a manner far beyond my comprehension), deep down I realize that numbers can bring out emotions. If those supposedly black numbers take a turn into the red, my rational mind can become quite overwhelmed, especially when those numbers are personal to me. And sometimes, I know or discover that those numbers are not even as certain as I might like to believe.

Still, on a good day, I can give into the Zen of the spreadsheet and forget what significance lies in the big picture of totals, projections, associations, or anything beyond the next cell. In those times I am simply creating order out of chaos, recording history, and sticking with just the facts, ma’am.

so much depends

black roman

inserted with taps and

inside white columns and

(With apologies to William Carlos Williams and his “The Red Wheelbarrow” poem.)

The bud that opened after the storm.

The bud that opened after the storm.

The roofing representative shouted down from our roof, “I can’t believe it. Your roof is the only roof I’ve been up on in this town that has no damage anywhere.”

These wild, wet weeks have brought many storms into our region with some areas getting pummeled frequently with high winds and damaging hail. The capricious nature of these clouds reminds me that sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time and sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Oh, you or I or anyone else can do whatever we can to prepare for the storms—such as buying the 50-year shingles that the insurance company liked—but if the clouds had burst directly over my home, even those shingles would have taken a hit—or several. Just a matter of luck that the center of the storm hit a couple miles south.

Though hail piled up in corners of our yard, our only losses came in three large rose blooms. Mother Nature had strewn rose-petaled confetti across the wet blades of grass, but the rosebush itself, as well as the unopened buds—nearly two dozen—escaped disaster. Earlier in the spring, only dead canes remained after a winter and spring that were both colder than we had seen around here in years. Imagine my joy when new growth surprised me out of grieving for this bush I had received just three years earlier to honor my mother’s memory. Imagine my relief a few weeks later when I saw the storm’s fury had spared the long-term growth.

As the sky starts to change and darken again, I know that what will happen is mostly out of my hands. Very little I do or do not do will make me more or less deserving of what could happen. It’s all a matter of barometric pressure changes, moisture indices, geography, timing, and other factors—there is nothing personal in those clouds. (At least I prefer to believe that the Big Guy isn’t personally lobbing lightning bolts at any of us.)

Disaster-preparedness makes sense but can’t always keep the storms away. Life is lived more in figuring out how to weather the storms that do come rather than in assuming that they can all be avoided. Great shingles or not, it’s what you do after the storm that matters.

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