Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lap Dogs and Burp Rags

Well, today was just plain interesting!  I discovered two things that make life more challenging: jealous lap dogs and colicy babies.  My eldest nephew was sick today, so Aunt Cat was left alone with an almost four week old!!!  Four burp rags, two blowout diapers, a shirt change, and about thirty minutes of what I like to call just plain pissed off infant later, success!!!  Lincoln was asleep in what I have lovingly dubbed the Aunt Cat papasan chair which is really just my thighs made into an elevated chair, but whatever!!!  It works, and if it ain't broke don't fix it!  At this moment my little miniature schnauzer, Bridget, decided the best place for her was also my lap.  She whined.  She cried.  And yes, she ended up in my lap too.  She's just a wee bit jealous and can't really figure out who or what Lincoln is yet.  I have always been so hesitant around babies and children.  That's why I chose to teach high school after all, but what I'm learning through this time in my life is that babies are hard, babies cry A LOT, but babies make you see life through a different lens.  I'm seeing life differently, and I like it, burp rags, spit up, jealous lap dogs, and all!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ten Things a Single Girl Learns While Living with Two Kids

In September my brother and sister in law (with one on the way) and my five year old nephew moved in with me.  Needless to say it's been a wild adventure.  Here are some things I've learned along the way.  Let's just say my life will never be the same because of this experience!!!

10.  What appears in the diaper of a newborn looks like dijon mustard, but I'm not going to spread it on a sandwich any time soon!

9.  Morning coffee goes well with the witty humor of Phineas and Ferb cartoons!

8.  Five year olds make the best listeners and parrots, so I better watch what I say!

7.  Every toy has some assembly required and usually makes me feel incredibly stupid:)!

6.  When Corn Pops are the requested cereal for the morning, but you don't hear the request the first time, a tantrum will follow that is possibly one of the most hilarious things I've seen in awhile!

5.  Every story or explanation or description must be repeated three, four, five, six, seven, etc, times when it comes to five year olds laying it all out for you:)!

4.  When sitting at the dinner table coming up with good words to practice rhyming don't ever throw out the words chicken or truck!!!  And yes, I say this from clueless, single girl experience!

3.  A nursing baby sounds like a wild wombat or some other small animal!!!

2.  I'm much better at this whole kid thing than I ever thought I would be!!!

1.  Hugs and snuggles are the sweetest things, and I wouldn't change any of this!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Have A VOICE--What Will You SAY???

Learning is my love.  Education is my passion.  Books are my solace.  Sometimes I feel as if I have lived a thousand lifetimes because of the places books have taken me and the characters I have met along the way.  Stories speak to me.  When I think of some of my most intimate comrades from my youth, not all were living, breathing companions, but the experiences and connections I had with them were not diminished by the fact that they existed solely on the page and in my imagination.  Even today, my bedroom and living room are littered with tomes of every subject and genre.  Literature allows the opportunity to engage in dialogue with great figures, to travel to exotic locales, and to sharpen the powers of reflection and analysis.  Literacy taught me how to tell stories.  It taught me and equipped me with the power to speak out against injustice and to use my LIFE to say something! Books, fiction and non-fiction, and the reservoirs of knowledge contained within their pages give me a voice and challenge me to consider what I will do with that voice.  I have a VOICE, a powerful voice that has been blessed beyond understanding with countless resources to grow and strengthen.  My recent fourth trip to Haiti over Thanksgiving break reminded me of how strong my voice is.  The country of Haiti, the land of contrasts and contradictions-immense beauty paralleled with utter desolation, forces so many people into silence through illiteracy, ignorance, oppression, poverty, illness, hunger, yet if you look deep into their eyes and take the time to listen to their hearts tell their stories you will hear voices so powerful, so strong, so eloquent and beautiful crying out to be heard. 
I am a teacher by trade and a student by heart.  I am curious.  I do not merely read.  I wallow in the printed word.  I have friends who say “Nerd Alerts” go off whenever I am near.  In light of that, I am currently rereading The Tragedy of Julius Caesar with my English II students, and although I do not usually relate closely with the melodramatic, slightly neurotic character of Caius Cassius, I do find myself connecting with something Caesar says about him.  Caesar says of Cassius, “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much, such men are dangerous…He reads much, He is a great observer, and he looks quite through the deeds of men.”  Granted Cassius is a jealous, power-hungry conniver, but embedded here in Caesar’s observation is to me a resounding truth—people need the opportunity to be curious, to have that “lean and hungry look,” to question authority, to learn, to think for themselves, ultimately, to have a VOICE and something to SAY!  In Haiti stomachs are empty and needing be fed, but after many lengthy conversations with my Haitian friends, Haiti is also a land of hungry minds longing to be filled with the sustenance of knowledge and learning.  A quick glance at the literacy rates in Haiti shows them to be dismal at best.  According to CIA: The World Factbook, only 52.9 percent over the age of fifteen can read and write.  That number is slightly higher regarding the male population (54.8 percent) and slightly lower regarding females (51.2 percent).  Why these statistics?  I can attest that it is not the result of lack of hunger for an education.  When I sit and talk with my Haitian friends, we discuss Montesquieu, Rousseau, Sartre, Plato, etc.  I traveled back from Haiti this time with a list of books by French philosophers and poets and French language resources to locate and bring back to my friends who are hungry for education and knowledge.  The voices of the Haitian people are strong, but there needs to be more of an opportunity for the youth of Haiti to find their voices. 
Enter two amazing people with vision and passion and above all faithful dedication to lives in Haiti.  I want to introduce you to Mike and Missy Wilson and their story.  My two friends have a passion that is undeniable!  For a person who loves stories, the vision of their lives speaks directly to the heart of who I am.  Mike and Missy have stepped out in faith to address the challenge of changing the lives of Haitian orphans one life at a time.  With their organization myLIFEspeaks (You can discover more of their story at they are embarking on the journey of feeding the stomachs, hearts, and minds of Haitian youth.  They know how important education is not only to typical children but also special needs children.  The myLIFEspeaks campus will begin with housing special needs and typical orphans in a family atmosphere, and then one day develop into a campus that is beyond comprehension.  Mike and Missy know first hand how important the opportunity for quality education is as they have been active participants in the educations of their three biological sons, one of which is an amazing special needs child, and their two adoptive daughters from Haiti.  Doors have opened for countless partnerships with people from all walks of life to be a part of myLIFEspeaks-- from physical therapists, occupational therapists, and businessmen and women to artists, teachers, and community involvement professionals, etc.  Each of these who have been exposed to the myLIFEspeaks vision, and honestly it is a vision so much bigger than any one individual, have been challenged to address the question, “What is your LIFE saying?” 
For a person who values words and relishes in the truths of storytelling, I want to make sure that not only am I lover of reading stories but that I am also a person who is about having my LIFE tell a story.  I also want to be a person who is about helping others find their own stories and helping them gain the tools to use their voices to SPEAK.  The verse from Proverbs (31:8) that Mike and Missy have chosen to define their passion and vision says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed (NLT).”  I want to be about that.  I have a VOICE, and that VOICE is strong because, by no cause of my own, I was born in a land of freedom and opportunity.  I chose to take that opportunity and immerse myself in a world of curious discovery, a world of literature and information.  I have had more than ample resources placed in my path, both human and material, that have aided me along my journey of searching for knowledge.  Now, it is time for me to take my voice and teach others how to find theirs. 
For a decade now I have had the opportunity to help American students find their voices.  This summer, however, I will begin a journey of being able to do the same with Haitian students.  What that will look like, who knows, but I do know that I have two and half months this summer to give people a chance to discover how to use their lives to tell the world their stories.  If you spend any time at all reading Haitian history or Haitian literature, you will discover that the Haitian people have powerful stories to tell.  They have strong voices and passionate hearts.  Through an Internet search of Haitian poetry, I discovered a poem by Prosper “Makendal” Sylvain, Jr., a true artist of written and spoken verse, who poignantly expresses the strength of the Haitian voice and the Haitian resolve.  Please ponder the following excerpt from his poem “I Don’t Look Haitian?” 
Mad I think you may be at my nationality
Are you still upset because we declared we were free
after riding the freedom train to its 1,804th last stop,
upset still because we made the world’s mouth drop…
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Haitians have declared themselves free.
Napoleon and Leclerc embarrassed internationally!
Haiti becomes the original Statue of Liberty!
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!”
We held truths to be self evident before the first shackle,
built an above ground railroad way before Harriet went Underground,
gave birth to Kings and had dreams before Martin,
knew any means necessary before Malcolm,
knew rivers before Langston,
released caged birds to sing before Maya,
tripped egos before Nikki
spoke to American pharaohs like Moses to let our people go,
took one giant step for mankind before any man on the moon,
took the road less traveled before Frost,
married freedom before any other Caribbean nation
and answered the question to be or not to be by being free and being Haitian,
spoke with the same tongue as Patrick did, give me liberty or give me death!
Our minds and our hunger for freedom
were blatant weapons of mass destruction
long before Gomorrah attacked their Saddam
Did I not look Haitian when I took over The Brooklyn Bridge?
Did I not look Haitian on MTV wrapped in a blue and red flag of Ayiti?
Did I not look Haitian when I founded the city of Chicago?
Did I not look Haitian when I destroyed slavery?
There is a VOICE in Ayiti.  It is strong.  It is vibrant.  It is powerful.  It has long history of speaking out against injustice and speaking out for those cannot speak for themselves.  But it is a voice that has fallen silent because it has not had ample opportunity to learn how to shout.  There are needs, great needs, in Haiti.  It has been said that trying to help Haiti is like putting a small band aid on a gaping and gushing wound, but the way I see it is I can find one or five or ten, etc. who want to learn how to use their voices.   Well, I choose to cry out on behalf of my Haitian brothers and sisters the way I have for my American ones.   I WILL teach others how to find their voices.  What about you?  Will you let your LIFE speak?  Will you use your VOICE to speak for those who cannot?  Will you join in with myLIFEspeaks and their vision?  The choice is on the table!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thirty-three and Still Counting: A Year in the Life...

From birthday 2010 to birthday 2011 (March 21st) was quite the roller coaster. A year in the life of Cat... As far as years go, this was probably the most eventful for myriad reasons. There were losses and gains. The losses, at the time, hurt like hell, and the gains have made my life so bountiful in ways that I'm not sure my limited capabilities can express. SO, here goes nothing. Let's measure this year in the life...

March 21, 2010 was six days before I was supposed to walk down the aisle and pledge my life to another. However, March 27th ended up being a day and night where, instead of pledging eternal love, I gathered with friends and family to watch the paper symbols of that event go up in flames. It was, in a way, my own Phoenix moment. Looking back on this past year, I really feel like I have risen from those ashes, the death of a love (but was it ever really love?), stronger and more cognizant of who I am as a woman. I have purged my life of all physical connections and reminders of that time in my life, but I'm not sure I will ever purge the memories. They still come upon me like waves on the beach. Sometimes they are calm, little waves that merely graze my feet, but at other times, (although these powerful waves are so rare these days, they still show up) they are sizable waves that come and knock me on my arse. The waves force me to deal and process and discover who I am and what I want my life to represent. I have learned from the heartache and the tears. At times I still want to punch the wall, and the tears still stain my cheeks. BUT then I look inwardly and around me, and I know there are endless reservoirs of strength at my disposal.

In April of 2010, I became a homeowner. Honestly that decision and action almost literally scared me into incapacitation. THIS wasn't how things were supposed to play out. I wasn't supposed to purchase my first house on my own. These were not the decisions I was supposed to make solo. BUT, I did it. I learned. I figured it out.  I walked around with an anxious pit in my stomach for weeks as the process unfolded, unbelieving each step of the way and seeing my unbelief turn into belief as each step began to fall into place. I still have the pen I signed that mountain of papers with at the closing. Pushing that key into the front door and knowing that THIS worked when everything around me seemed to not was a moment that I will treasure.

Later on in June of 2010, I ventured, for the first time, 700 or so miles off the coast of Miami to the tiny island nation of Haiti. This trip has become a milestone in my life and in the year 2010 for several reasons. Call it a reality check. Call it an eye-opener. Whatever it is called, this trip changed me. I have helped people before. I have seen poverty before, but nothing prepared me for what I saw during my first trip to Haiti. I don't want to dwell on the negatives of this country though because it gets too overwhelming. It is definitely a place where a middle class girl from suburban Texas can get blindsided by the tragedy if she doesn't look into the eyes and hearts of the people, eyes and hearts of people who live immersed in community. It truly takes a village in Haiti. The smiles and spirits of the people in the midst of such brokenness resonated to the depth of me. I was searching for the meaning of relationship and connectedness when I got on that plane. My world had been ripped apart at the seams and shattered, and I was still making desperate attempts to reassemble it.  While there, I saw the beauty of community all around me in the spirit of the Haitian people.  The beauty that I saw there forever changed me.

Spaced throughout late spring, summer, fall, and winter 2010, a friend whose presence I didn't realize had been desperately missing returned to my life. Thank you, thank you, Ann Pittman. She is the first friend who was a sister to me. Although the distance from Midlothian to Austin keeps our friendship physically apart, I have no problem heading south on 35 for the conversations, Biblical discussions, musical viewing, movie laughter, and the partaking of coffee, drinks, and meals where much of the aforementioned happens as well. Ann keeps this mess that is Cat in line, and I owe her more thanks than I will ever be able to express.

2010, the holidays, oh the holidays. Thanksgiving saw me back on a plane headed to Haiti once more. I can't think of a better place to give thanks for the things that truly matter. I can't think of a better way to express thanks and love than helping a family rebuild their home that had been destroyed by the earthquake. I can't think of a Thanksgiving meal that has ever tasted better than the one we had on Friday, not Thursday, because after all, it's Haiti, and you just roll with it!!! As the sign made by the Haitian workers said at dinner that night, this truly was a "Happ Tanks Given!" Christmas was a different story. Christmas didn't have the distractions that Thanksgiving had that kept my mind off the loneliness. It's hard to be the single, no children having family member and friend during the holidays. I searched for the joy and found it, but in the midst of the joy of the holiday season, I still cried a few tears when the loneliness really crept in.

On the anniversary of the horrible, no good, very bad day (February 8th), I fondued it up with two amazing friends at The Melting Pot, what a beautifully symbolic name for the restaurant chosen to celebrate the year that brought me to that night. We laughed, we talked, and we raised our glasses to what didn't happen and what amazing things and people have entered my life because of the horrible, no good, very bad day!!! I'll take the valleys. I'll trudge through them with amazing people at my side. I'll go through them because I have learned the valleys make the mountaintops that much more glorious and mind blowing.

To reference my FAVORITE song from the musical Rent, "Seasons of Love," I have measured March 21, 2010-March 21, 2011 in love. Part of the year has to be measured in the loss of love, but most of it is measured in the love I have been shown and the love I have had the opportunity to show. I leave you with the lyrics that always cause me to reflect and ponder. May you also measure in love!

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love? Measure in love

Seasons of love. Seasons of love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes!
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.

It's time now to sing out,
Tho' the story never ends
Let's celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Seasons of love!

Oh you got to got to
Remember the love!
You know that love is a gift from up above
Share love, give love spread love
Measure measure your life in love

The conversations over coffee matter. The sunrises and sunsets remind us how small we are. The strife and tears and bridges burned cause us to grow and make us stronger. We learn lessons from our journeys. LOVE holds it all together and binds us to each other. Measure in love!!! Love, when it comes down to it, is the overarching theme of this year in the life of Cat!