Blooming in the Desert

Last month, my morning walks with Harper became noticeably different. We live in the Sonoran desert, and it is as rugged and rough as one might imagine a desert to be. There are ominous prickly needles, not pleasant soft petals. It is no wonder so many analogies have the desert as a place of trial and hardship. Lush green landscapes or tropical rainforests represent the desirous places of rest and arrival, quite the opposite of our current landscape and setting. We definitely live in a dry and barren land.

But starting sometime in April, I would be hit in the face with the strong fragrance of Spring. It was unavoidable. It was delicious. It filled the wide open spaces of air with intensely pleasing aromas. To top it off, the cactus were visibly flowering. Perhaps you have never lived in the Southwest and did not realize that cactus flower. Yet walking around my neighborhood you would quickly realize that they do indeed bloom, and the blooms are magnificent. It’s as if the brown, rugged backdrop makes their beauty shine even brighter.

Normally these particular cactus look like the scary trees in a horror movie. They have outstretching skinny limbs that remind me of Medusa with her hair of writhing snakes. In Spring, they have multiple golden and orangish flowers that turn them into a glorious burning bush. Medusa got her hair done, darling, and it looks fabulous!

We have these short, round barrel-shaped cactus in our backyard. They are now blooming with bicolored flowers that are so gorgeous they actually make you forget the scent of Harper’s poop nearby…for a second.

These are some prickly pears by our mailbox. Those needles look so menacing and have resulted in a deflated basketball on multiple occasions. But now we at least get to look at pretty yellow flowers while we pump the ball back up.
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These low-lying cactus I see on my walking loop with Harper. They were seriously just showing off. Big time. Pictures cannot do justice to the bright red beauties.
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Our morning walks are the highlight of Harper’s day. I think they might be mine, too. I appreciate starting the morning with these quiet meditations in nature where I am reminded that even in the roughest conditions, living things can survive. Thrive. Make things beautiful. Bloom. And all of these flowers become fruit. They bear fruit. They feed the wildlife. They take their dry, barren situation and learn to adapt. They are often overlooked as ugly, as unwanted, as rough and prickly. But they are so much more than what they appear. I know I would never have understood that unless I had spent time in the desert myself. There is something about experiential knowledge that deepens the messages given on a walk or in conversation or in prayer.

Hey, you cactus, out there, I see you. I know you feel angry enough to spit out prickly pear needles, or feel life has you lying low, or terribly misunderstood. But your Spring time will come. It always does. And you will shine and make others marvel at your beauty. You will bloom and bear fruit. You will realize the desert is given a bad rap and is often a place of tremendous growth and desirable rest.

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#HarpGoneWild

Like many dog owners, I think my fur baby is one of the sweetest, not to mention cutest. Harper Jameek really is such a good girl. She will follow Mike around the yard off leash, and even if the biggest, juiciest steak were to walk by the house she would stay close to his side. However, even good girls just wanna have fun sometimes. So when the alpha male aka my husband left for a work trip, it was party time for our Harp-doggy-dog. She let loose and did all the things she normally would not in the presence of her dad.

Like this dinnertime scene to the tune of “Stuck on You” because she had a feeling deep down in her soul that this was the area with the highest probability of food droppings; usually she’s obediently lying on her dog bed while we eat:

And this “Movin’ on Up” to the couch side; she finally got a piece of her pie by taking over my spot:

This was honestly not 30 minutes after he left the house for the airport. She wasted no time and went straight for the big guns singing “Rebel Yell” for more, more, more morning snuggles on the bed with mama:

Lastly, I have no tunes for this one. I mean…do you?
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Harper lived on the edge this week. But in all honesty, she is a true Beckett whose definition of wild and crazy is what most do when on their best behavior, maybe taken down a minuscule notch. Like if all the teen girls got their belly button pierced, but you got a washable temporary tattoo that says, “I love my mom.” After the first morning, she never jumped on the bed again. She only got on the couch after the boys and I patted the surface vigorously and encouraged her with, “Come on, Harper!” The dinner scene was repeated and independently exercised because every Beckett prioritizes food. And the last scene was obviously us needing a new hobby besides torturing the dog for our own entertainment.

Truth is she is disappointingly good. We would love her regardless. Yet it is nice to know that when she finds the back gate accidentally ajar, she does not race off to paint the town red and leave us worried for days. Rather, her wild escape has her go to the front door and sit her brown butt down until we randomly look out the window and realize that we don’t have an unexpected UPS package but a ridiculously homebody dog waiting for us to let her back inside. Live it up, Harper. Get that washable temporary tattoo because mommy loves you, too!

 

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OMB!

You may be familiar with OMG (aka Oh My Goodness, for my parents who may not be as well-versed in the ridiculous ways our technical age has impacted our vocabulary), but I have a better acronym to blurt out when my loving soulmate inspires it. OMB! Oh, Michael Beckett! He is such a one-of-a-kind guy and provides so many moments that can carry no other responsive reaction other than…OMB.

Today is our anniversary. It’s our lucky 13th. To celebrate, I thought I’d make a fun, quick quiz to throw out to the world that seems to love knowing how they’ll do on quizzes assessing in 10 questions or less how they will die, what they will look like in 60 years, who their real bestie is, or how excellent their grammar skills are. How well do you know what makes my spouse the unique God-only-made-one-mold guy that he is? How skilled are you in accurately identifying these beloved OMB moments? Find out in 10 quick and easy questions!

1.) Nothing brings out financial generosity from Mike like:
A. Compassion when he sees the needs of others
B. The Holy Spirit prompting him to give dutifully
C. Tax credits and deductions
D. A gun to his head by a would-be robber

2.) When I tell the boys it’s supposed to be warm outside (70’s) and to dress appropriately, he responds:
A. “Wear shorts! This is HOT compared to when I was a kid in Chicago!”
B. “Warm? That’s not warm. 90 degrees is warm. Wear a hoodie!”
C. “Be free! Go naked!”
D. “Stop babying them! They should check the weather themselves!”

3.) When buying a blazer for work, Mike will:
A. Special order online from Italy.
B. Buy from Brooks Brothers because it’s his favorite work clothes store.
C. Buy from Brooks Brothers because he loves to splurge.
D. Buy from Brooks Brothers because he went back home, dug through the recycling bin on the curb, found a ripped up 40% off coupon, scotch-taped it back together, and took it back to the store to save himself some serious dough.

4.) Now with his attorney income, his last pair of work shoes he bought himself were:
A. Cole Haans from Nordstrom
B. Cole Haans from Nordstrom RACK
C. Kirklands from Costco
D. Whatever brand they sell at Payless Shoes

5.) If given the choice of what to order at a restaurant, he will choose:
A. Salad…with duck testicles
B. Something Italian
C. The biggest, fattest steak on the menu
D. One of everything

6.) When I complain about all the dog hair Harper sheds, he counters with:
A. “But she’s so cute.”
B. “I’ll clean it up this time.”
C. “Let’s take her back!”
D. “Does this mean you won’t let me get another dog?”

7.) He shows his romantic side to me regularly by:
A. Feeding the boys breakfast every morning and doing the dishes every night
B. Opening the car door for me
C. Writing sonnets declaring his unwavering devotion
D. Singing Frank Sinatra to me

8.) He is my go-to guru of knowledge when it comes to:
A. The latest political news
B. How to save for retirement
C. Pop culture nuggets like the love lives of The Voice coaches
D. All of the above

9.) He wrote happy 14 years (WRONG) in his anniversary card to me because:
A. He thought I was his ex-wife, and they were married 14 years.
B. He thought I wouldn’t notice because he got me a gift this year.
C. He thought he would keep me on my toes and see if I was paying attention to what he writes anymore.
D. He really thought it was 14 years.

10.) My reaction to the facts of question number 9:
A. OMB! That’s it. It’s over. That’s why 13 really is unlucky.
B. OMB! He is so superstitious and like the high rises in Chicago that don’t label their 13th floors, he skipped to 14 to keep bad luck away. (But our 1st condo was on the 13th floor and boldly labeled it as such.)
C. OMB! I knew he was never good at math despite being Asian.
D. OMB! I was so overwhelmed by a surprise present inserted in the card that I wasn’t expecting because he already generously treated me to a spa day at Miraval that was supposed to be my Valentines/Anniversary/Birthday/Christmas gifts all in one and he never surprises me nor gives me gifts that aren’t super practical like saying our new HVAC is my anniversary present that I saw the 14 years and did not give a flipping care at all because he is the best husband/dad ever. (Dad because he not only got me and him Hamilton tickets, but he also got two for the boys who are even bigger fans than I.)

Answers (in case they are not already quite obvious): 1) C, 2) B, 3) D, 4) D, 5) A, 6) C, 7) A, 8) D, 9) D, 10) D

Did you get all 10 correct? Congrats! You are an OMB Expert! You get to wear t-shirts with holes and the same hoodie every day! You better get that hoodie on ASAP because it’s ONLY a sunny 70 today.

Did you get 6-9 correct? Not bad! You can claim to be OMB Familiar and will not get de-friended from him during his annual purge on Facebook.

Did you get less than 5 correct? OMB Fail! Don’t feel too badly. His unique mold is hard to fathom in most minds, but to know him is to love him. 🙂

Happy anniversary, Michael Beckett! Here’s to the next 13 (THIRTEEN, Babe, THIRTEEN) years of fun!


 

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Small Eyes…Again

Five years ago, Ethan was being asked about his eyes from kids at school. I wrote about it here: Why Are Your Eyes Small? A couple weeks ago, the topic came up again this time from his younger brother. Connor is in 3rd grade. During a family dinner, he mentioned that he gets asked about his eyes at school probably much in the same way his older brother did. I wish I could remember exactly what he told me his response was to the question, but all I remember is that I gave him a high 5 over the salad bowl. In other words, he had a response, and I must have liked it. He had a response maybe because we have had these conversations before. He told me that another time he remembered something I had said about his eyes don’t NEED to be as big but can still see the same things. Again, I don’t remember exactly what I had said in past conversations, but I do know that my desire was for my boys to feel that the differences they have from the majority here are NOT deficits. And maybe in fact, some of those differences (counter to how they are made to feel) could actually be assets. To maybe make them feel less like freak shows and more like champions.

To that extent, I am less worried about my younger son needing to feel like a champion. This kid is abundantly blessed (blinded?) with an extremely high self-esteem. I seriously have no idea where he gets it because his father and I are not ones to coddle or inflate. In fact, we probably should praise our kids more. We are more likely to need to focus on positivity in our home because our default can be the opposite. Somehow, in the midst of this UN-lovey-dovey environment, Connor will tell us very matter-of-factly how great he is. “Mommy, I’m really good at (basketball, an iPad game, punting footballs, etc.).” He says it with a straight face, and no doubt believes it 100%. It cracks me up every time a new declaration is made. In last night’s dinner conversation, he calmly stated, “I’m really good at rock climbing.”

But still, our overly secure son brought up the small eyes comments again last night. This time he actually said that he gets “made fun of.” That slight change in description brought a barrage of questions from my husband and me. Is he SURE they are making fun of him? Are they just curious and simply asking honest questions? Does it sound like mean teasing, or they just aren’t used to having friends that look like you? I realized that in the questioning, I was hoping to be able to extend the benefit of the doubt. I was hoping like crazy that they were innocent questions of childhood. When cynicism overrode hope for a split second so that protective mama bear pictured her cub getting made fun, one question slid its way into the barrage at the end: do you want me to go beat them up for you? (Thankfully, he did not even humor that question with his attention because as he has matter-of-factly stated before, “I’m really mature for my age.”)

He instead says that when he described the school conversations to Ethan that his older brother told him that they were racist. Oh, dang. I hope my kids do not use that word lightly. They have seen movies like Selma (after which Connor especially asked me repeatedly why people were so racist). They know in that movie that racism involved blatant discrimination and horrific violence. I know they are not experiencing those latter things at school, but perhaps they recognize the roots of racism. It then suddenly feels like a lot of pressure to know how to tailor these dinner table conversations so that their responses can be catalysts to allow those roots to fizzle out and die rather than grow into  full-blown nightmares. I know in my head that the responsibility should not be theirs or ours. And in fact that most likely the root results rest in the hands of the families of the questioners. But still…my kids and some of their friends are the ones that will be more effected by those results than the questioners, so I still feel the pressure a little. More than pressure though, I want the guidebook on effectively handling these conversations and situations as a mother who loves her children and wants the very best for them.

I hope and pray it is simple childhood curiosity and innocent questioning. Many Asians who are used to being tokens or one of many know that feeling and can often differentiate when it is ignorance versus malicious racism. Ironically, their current school is almost 10% Asian which is higher than I expected. I had thought with this higher percentage they would be around others like them and the student body would also be more familiar with those that looked like them. But Connor gets asked these questions a lot here regardless. And growing up in a city like Tucson, they will definitely be tokens who stand out.

Standing out doesn’t just mean that people mistake you for the other Asians in town. It also means you don’t get the benefit of blending in as much. So when you talk back to a speeding car in your neighborhood who felt the need to stop and chastise you for not wearing reflective clothing at dusk, you are aware that now you will be easily spotted as the mouthy Asian girl from that particular driver. I couldn’t tell you who that driver was if I ran into him face-to-face again (Jeff Gordon maybe judging by his speed around the corner), but he could possibly remember me as one of only a small handful of Asian ladies in the neighborhood. When I make a funny (smart aleck) comment on the subdivision’s Facebook page, I realize now everyone could have opinions about that Asian girl who will be easier to spot than most other random commenters on the page. Sorry to all other Asians who may now bear the burden of my talking back, smart aleck mouth as representative of ALL Asians.

One day after millions of family dinner conversations maybe Connor will add to his repertoire, “I’m really good at handling conflict, representing my ethnicity, educating ignorance, and combating racism.” My motherly hope is that he will not just be “really good” at it, but that he will be a true champion.

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In the Spirit of Christmas

A couple days ago, my boys earned a lump of coal for Christmas. While they sprinted to start their iPad time, their quick mama noticed that the requisite piano practicing seemed shorter than it was supposed to be. Turns out, it was. Deliberately. They set timers for their piano playing, and my little deceiver set his timer short on purpose. I was not happy. Nor am I as quick as I thought because apparently they had done this repeatedly in the past. I really do not like being lied to, especially by my children. Their precious, beloved, almost sacred iPad time got significantly shortened. Two can play the shortened timer game! Plus they had to think about what they did with a writing exercise.


I think they are pretty good kids even with these sneaky transgressions. It would take a lot more than cheating on their piano time for them to actually get coal and no gifts. A LOT. Supposedly, Santa brings presents for the nice and coal for the naughty. Well, that’s not necessarily the case for our Santa. Our Santa always seems to bring them presents even when they pull stunts like this.

I love the magic of Christmas but am also aware of the unfairness of Santa on a larger scale. Kids with big hearts but little resources can get worse than coal, while kids with rotten attitudes may still get the best gifts money can buy (before they end up tripping basketball players for Duke). But parents tell this seasonal bribe for the hopes of better behavior (and who doesn’t need a little help with this!?), but also because there is something about the sentiment that rings true for us. Good behavior deserves rewards. Bad behavior deserves the opposite. We can extend behaviors to the entirety of a person. Good people deserve rewards. Bad people deserve the opposite. It sounds right, and in essence, it is. It just doesn’t always get played out rightly like it should in this imperfect world.

Last week, the boys and I spent an evening writing holiday cards to people incarcerated in our state. Connor didn’t seem to understand why we needed to do this. He said, “But they’re prisoners so….” and his tone suggested an ending such as they did something wrong, they deserve to be in there, and so why should we write to them. He and his brother are too young to read The New Jim Crow or Just Mercy. I doubt I could get them to watch 13th on Netflix instead of Star Wars Rebels. I want them to know why we do what we do, so I attempted an explanation.

Me: “Have you ever done anything wrong before or made any mistakes?”
Ethan: “DUH! Of course.”
Me: “Imagine that I sent you to your room. Then I made you stay there forever so that you had to miss Christmas, opening presents under the tree, and being with your family. How would you feel?
Boys: “Sad.”
Me: “Sometimes the system that is set up to be right doesn’t always get played out rightly by people who also can make mistakes. This can be true especially for people who are poor or face prejudice. Remember how you’d feel if I sent you to your room forever so that you missed Christmas, and try to write things that would cheer them up if you were them.”

I cannot say for sure, but I think that Connor’s subsequent silence held the formation of a new way of thinking. If his thinking was challenged and he began to see the humanity in someone he previously thought as less than himself, then it was well worth the time spreading Christmas cheer to someone behind bars. Maybe he will grow up to see this in all people. To see himself in someone no matter how different (or undeserving) they may seem on the surface. Or even better, to put that empathic connection into action.

I hope this season we all can try to see this common humanity in others, even those that we have a hard time putting in any other category than “UGH!!!!” (For me, that can be bigly hard.) When we promote the spirit of Christmas, it isn’t simply to correct wrongly played out truths, like helping Santa be what we say he is without real-world constraints. It is far better than the spirit of Santa. The spirit of Christmas is the world in its entirety truly deserving coal but being given the best gift that unconditional Love can buy. It showers upon us this abundance and the only proper way to respond is with thanksgiving and active imitation. To shower others with mercy and grace wrapped in Love whether we feel they deserve it or not. For all of us who has ever earned a lump of coal, God bless us, EVERY one. Merry Christmas!

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“S’UP!”

The date might be what most consider unlucky since it was the 13th, but my mother-in-law accurately said that November 13th was her husband’s lucky day. It was the day that he got to go to his true Home. It was the day that he no longer felt any of the aches and pains of arthritis or colitis or the various ailments of age and declining health. It was the day that he entered into the full glory of his foundational focus throughout his life – being in the unhindered, glorious presence of his God.

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Dad was born in NY, NY.

In my human imagination, I see him with his joyful grin entering the city of gold with wide-eyed wonder and delight. When he is shown the room that has been prepared for him, he asks if he can just have the campsite near the lake where the fishing is best. He is told of course that comes with it as well as the top-of-the line pontoon boat and a fresh thermos of coffee. I think he is served endless Dunkin Donuts. Since he gets the straight-from-the-source and angelic live version there, there is no longer a need for a portable radio to hear his beloved sermons and songs.

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He and his sister were MK’s

I only met my father-in-law around the last decade of his 77 years of life. It was just a fraction of time on the whole, but at least it was in the age of emails. With us always living hours and sometimes thousands of miles apart, we could communicate through this medium with ease. I will miss the group emails to Mike, Scott, Jenny, and me that started with “S’UP!” or “Guys, guys, guys” or “Guess what, guess what?!!?” He was eager to share many things with us whether a great sermon he just heard, a new book he loved reading, some interesting historical facts, his and mom’s gardening adventures, prayer requests, or sports tidbits. One of my latest emails from him simply said to Mike and me “Is you is or is you ain’t watching dem Bars?” He became a Michigan sports fan once he had relocated there, but he would egg us on about our Chicago teams like the Bears’ current season.

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50 years as loving spouses

He also had these precious emails with our boys. When Ethan brought home a sunflower seed from school, he provided what I (a black thumb) could not. He gave Ethan loads of advice on how to plant “Sunny” and sympathy when E later sent him a picture of Sunny’s grave. (My black thumb is really contagiously black.) When we got our dog Harper, there were plenty of emails about pet care since he and mom always had a pup in the house. He would even have his Tucker type “bow wow wow, arf, arf, bow wow” to the boys and Harper. Those emails were just one example of how he was such a loving grandpa.

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While visiting us in ABQ, he got to see the machine he worked with while serving in the Navy some 50 years earlier.

In their last visit with us, I was impatiently giving Ethan a stern lecture about his piano practicing. My exacerbation was clearly detectable and my words loaded with negativity. Dad just casually called from the couch how impressed he was with how well Ethan played. He said that when he was kid at a boarding house in Canada, he tried lessons but didn’t get that far. He smiled as he remarked how pleased he would have been had he been blessed with Ethan’s talent. He said with words loaded with love that he was so proud of his grandson. It was a million times more effective than my lecture and had Ethan turn around with a smile to finish practicing without complaint.

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Happy Grandpa

Dad Beckett did not have what this world would consider a lot. But he did not live for the aims of this world. There was no doubt that he had an intimate knowledge of and reliance on scripture. He had a verse for every occasion. Every Christmas he led us all in a time of family devotions to center us on the reason for the holiday. And every time we departed, he would lead us in a circle of prayer together.

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Mom & Dad in the latest church directory. They were faithful members of Bloomingdale Christian Church.

While he cared for others especially his family, he would never want to put anyone out for their care of him. It can be so humbling to have to rely on others when your body limits your independence and abilities. He had no choice but to depend on mom and others for many things. And each time, he would lament his bothering of those helpers as if asking for a mug of coffee was the same as asking for you to donate your kidney. He never took the things others did for him for granted. His deep humility only grew. Politics can be heated but especially so in an election year like this one. Yet even when we were on different sides of certain issues, he had such grace and humility that our exchanged emails felt constructive and edifying when the rest of the world resorted to name-calling or far worse.

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They got to visit us in Tucson just a couple weeks ago.

I am thankful that my boys were able to have known their paternal grandpa enough to mourn the loss of him. I pray they will heed their grandma’s tearful and heartfelt words to them and their cousins to follow Christ as that is what their Papa would have wanted the most. He left a legacy not of worldly possession or renown but something far greater in value. He left a legacy of faith that will continue to bear eternal fruit. We grieve the separation from him now but anticipate with hope and joy the reunion to come.

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A Candle’s Lit. The 80’s Play

A candle’s lit.
The 80’s play.

You went Home
One year today.
One (whole) year….

But grief remains.

You should’ve been able to say,
“Happy 4th, my son” yesterday.

The things you’ve missed…
And how you’re missed…

A candle’s lit.
The 80’s play.

You’re free from pain
In heaven’s glory,
Maybe you’d say
It’s better this way.

But grief remains.

It feels unfair…
Anniversaries…birthdays…mundane details of an average day…
You should be there.

I remember…
Your zest for life!
Your sense of justice
For doing what’s right.

A candle’s lit.
The 80’s play.

I remember…
You went Home today.

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