Quietude: A Relationship Baseline

My story is not everyone’s story, of course, but some will identify with it. My relationship with my children has revolved around quiet times more than any other type of activity. I won’t say that we abhorred noise (got some stories to negate that) but our household was quiet, and I think we came to associate that with comfort, safety, calm, peace, refuge and rest.

When they were small, the girls did a lot of quiet playing. We read a lot. During their school years, they studied at home so the house was quiet during school hours. They liked being in their rooms, having friends over to talk or play games. As music got more prominent in their lives, there were occasional loud moments but there didn’t seem to be a time when they were afraid of silence.

Sunset silence, on a walk.

This is a very loud world and I’m kind of glad that we adopted quietude as a way of life, a baseline. I still see Julie and Esther doing their best to plan quietude into their lives. I have many memories of morning coffee time with one or the other of them, in a quiet coffee shop or outside on the patio. We take quiet walks, just us and nature. We sit around campfires with only the sound of the flames and some nightbirds. We sit in the kitchen late at night talking, but not always talking, sometimes just being. We like quiet sports, bike riding, hiking, kayaking and horseback rides. It’s not just okay to be quiet, it’s actually healthy and healing.

Quietude is also about calming and bringing peace, and often when I’m bothered about the twists and turns of life, I call or text my girls. The relationships we’ve built help settle me, make me feel known, heard and somehow calmer. A quiet talk with someone who loves me, listens to my story, maybe even prays with me is the best medicine ever!

Quietude in our relationships tells us it is okay to retreat to a dark room with a headache if we need to. We understand when one of us needs to leave the crowd, or get away from overstimulation. One on one has always been my preferred way of interacting and definitely preferred in my relationship with my daughters. It allows for being quiet, personal, and more deeply relational.

My daughters don’t live near enough to have regular, in person quiet times with me, but my mom and my youngest brother do. Most every morning I take the short walk over to Mom’s front door and open it, knowing the smell of fresh coffee will be there inside. Mom will wave at me from her recliner and we will just sit for a while before we begin to talk. A few minutes later we will hear the door open again and my brother will come in and sit down with us. We talk about what we’re reading, what’s on our mind, how our families are getting along, what our plans are for the day. But often we are quiet, just sitting, thinking. And that’s okay.

Just thinking, in the woods where it’s quiet.

Planting: Relationship in the Garden

Planting, in the garden, was a very early relationship building activity. Julia and I both love dirt and have a long history with it. As a family, we have always had some kind of garden on our property, and except for a few hot days picking beans or hoeing, Julie and Esther loved being there. During their teen years, they didn’t feel the ownership of the garden quite as keenly but I still preached it as an important way to connect with God, nature, and fellow gardeners.

Now that they are grown, I see that has paid off. They are plant lovers, landscapers, gardeners, people who appreciate things that grow. They both have their own style, suitable to the places they live and the time they have to invest. It’s another thing we love to do together when I visit. There are always things to do in their yards or gardens.

I have always loved that taking care of plants is such a learning experience. Going through the seasonal process of planting, growing, harvesting and resting provides such teachable moments. I have tried to convey to them that a garden is truly a kind of spiritual place. Air, sunshine, water and earth are clearly seen as elements of life. We get to watch the miracle of a dead looking seed respond to these elements and become something completely different. We get to see how weeds can take over and choke out useful plants. Unprotected borders let rabbits and deer in to eat. We have also killed our share of plants, but that is the price to be paid. Plants don’t live forever either and there is something to be learned even in that. I can hardly be in the garden without a God-analogy coming to mind.

Esther lives in an urban community and has a small but beautiful yard. She loves small space gardening, and has a yard where entertaining is easy and fun. Plants thrive in the mild climate in Washington state. Almost every time I visit we go to her favorite garden center and look (well, and buy).

A couple weeks ago I was in North Carolina, where the grass is already green and the trees are flowering. Julie had a day off and we had nothing planned. Of all that we could have chosen, planting the salad garden and working in the yard was what we wanted to do. She too knows that I would rather work in the garden than sit around.

If you discover that planting is an activity that someone in your life would like to do with you, go for it. And don’t forget – plants are alive. We don’t know what they are thinking, if they think, but we know they have likes and dislikes and they seem to know when they are being treated kindly. It’s a bit spooky if you think about it. Makes it more fun. Just sayin’…

Organizing: Can Cleaning Closets Build Relationship?

Yeah, let’s whip this into shape!

I wouldn’t have thought organizing was an activity, or that by doing it, we could be working on our relationships, but it was and we did. However, my two daughters gave me completely different experiences of organization.

One of them, (not saying which one) had her ways and was very particular. You could take a look at her sock drawer, every pair bundled and stacked according to color and thickness, and you knew what kind of a kid you were dealing with. I couldn’t really say she was a collector, but she seldom got rid of anything so she had to organize to make the best use of her space. That is who she was at twelve, that is pretty much how she is today.

The other one only organized certain things, on occasion. We had some very sweet relationship building times cleaning her room. I would come in, sit down on the bed, if I could find it, and we would pick up one thing at a time and ask “where does this go?” Eventually it would all get into place. She loved a clean room but it wasn’t a necessity. She gives me credit for the quotable sentence “A messy room is not an indictment, it’s an opportunity.” For us, it was an opportunity to spend time together (and find lost stuff…).

Our times together organizing have a somewhat different flavor, now that we are all adults. When I visit them, we often go through closets, looking for things to fold, stack, throw away and give away. Those are hard chores that people tend to put off doing, but they are easier when there are two of us. We might even love going through kitchen cupboards, rearranging, and finding out what’s in there.

I especially like seeing all their shoes. Believe it or not, their shoe choices (and whether or not there are both a right and a left to be found) give me clues as to what is going on in their lives. Has she gone sensible yet, or is she really wearing those six inch heels? Has she been feeling the need for shopping therapy or is she okay? There are clues to all these things.

I am always making out pretty good after these organizing sessions. Both girls give me clothes they don’t want any more. That is the only reason I have anything from Nordstrom’s in my closet. But, speaking of my closet, I’m about due for some organization soon and plan to have that fun activity on the schedule the next time I get a visit.

By organizing and sharing our various ways of creating order, we have helped each other, we have been productive, we’ve communicated values, and we’ve spent time together. It’s been good for our relationships, and actually, we’ve found a lot of missing stuff.

Noticing: A Relationship Building Skill

Not too long ago, I was waiting outside a public men’s restroom for my husband to come out. He is disabled and whenever we go travel, there are challenges to be dealt with. I’m often aware that we are slow and inconvenient for people around us. I’m also aware that the husband needs to have his dignity protected and his needs addressed with kindness. This is a balancing act and my patience or lack thereof is often on display.

We are slow and careful, but people often notice and help us by holding doors and waiting. Much appreciated!

On this particular day a man came out of the restroom ahead of my husband and stopped to encourage me. I forget exactly what he said, but it was something about having noticed us and feeling that we were a good example. He evidently had caught one of my more patient moments and had given thought to what life was like for us.

As he went on down the hall, he stopped to talk to another elderly woman who was sitting on a bench. He got down on a knee to be on eye level with her. This man was an expert “noticer”. He was building relationships. I found out later that he was a very prominent man in the community and in his field of business. He had at one time addressed a United Nations assembly. I believe his behavior and his prominence are related.

Sometimes I notice, and sometimes I don’t. The more often I notice people, really see them, the better my relationships with them become. But noticing is something of an art.

There are times when I am so focused on what’s going on in my head that I’m blind to what’s going on around me. People have facial expressions, body language, behaviors and words and I should be paying attention if I value the relationship with them.

It’s the best feeling in the world when I’m able to do a successful “notice”. Especially with my daughters, if I’m able to pick up on when they are frustrated and need to talk, I can just listen. When I sense they need some privacy or alone time, I can disappear. And when they need some help, I can figure out a way to help them. Over the years we have learned to count on each other to notice because they do the same for me. Our relationships are all the more comfortable and beneficial because we know each other from our years of noticing.

Noticing is very much like the present trend of being “in the moment” and fully aware. It’s probably not something any of us can do all the time but we can intentionally get better at it. We once had a neighbor who was a police artist. My mom took some art lessons from him and they talked at length about how few people are prepared to be expert witnesses, because they don’t notice with intent. See if this exercise gives you increased awareness of what you notice:

Think of a person you love, with whom you have a relationship – someone you are with often. If you had to describe them, or if you tried to draw them yourself, what would that be like? Think of the details of their face, the most prominent features, their most usual expression. If you were asked what their most recent concern was, would you be able to name it? When you last spoke, did you leave them in a better mood than you found them? How could you tell?

I value the people around me who notice. It can be painful to be in a relationship where I am not noticed. I imagine you feel much the same. We want good relationships. Let’s go out and, quietly but intentionally, notice our important “others” and see what happens.

Laughter: Relationship Necessity

Laughter is the lifeblood of my most important relationships. Sometimes it is all we can do. After we have talked, struggled together, cried, and hugged, if we can still find the smallest of reasons to laugh at our circumstances or ourselves, the relationship will survive. Laughter is precious.

I would not say that any of us in our family are gifted comedians. Other than my husband who is master of “dad jokes” and teasing, our humor tends to be more on the dry, satirical side. I am not good at telling jokes, never have been. I laugh quietly with an occasional explosion. When something is really hilarious, I like to watch others laugh more than doing it myself. But I am laughing on the inside…

Master of Dad jokes. DO. NOT. GET. HIM. STARTED.

What I can say about my family, and the relationships we have built, is that we like to look for the humor in ordinary circumstances and play that up any way we can. Whenever I get “needy” for fun I love to text my girls and get a conversation going. It often breeds laughter because, for some reason, it’s easier to be ridiculous with the instant written word. We get funny, pretty easily and I so enjoy those times.

The girls love to add memes to family photos.

An interesting experiment that anyone with a smart phone can try is to let predictive text write for you. Pick a like minded individual to text and start choosing words as they are offered to you. Sooner or later you are going to have to laugh. Try it.

You can also build a laughter bond by looking at old photos with your adult children and pointing out how trendy you all dressed years ago (not). And the hair, always the hair…

Since the digital age, I have saved photos of my girls that make me laugh. It is so much easier to get them in funny poses or crazy situations. I’m not sure how those photos make them feel, but when I look at them and laugh I simply could not love them more.

I keep this one with me in my planner, for low moments.

Every now and then, we sit with each other, talk and laugh and enjoy the comfort of it. It’s not so much the things we laugh at, it’s the sharing of a funny moment with someone I know will remember and treasure it as much as I do. It kind of cements that tribal feeling.

It’s not just a family thing, of course. I feel the same way with others as I work at building relationship with them. Conversations are better, healthier, when they are mixed with frequent laughter. It’s a tool, a good one.

Movies: Choices in Relationship Building

This topic has become a more serious one for me of late. I’m aware that what goes into my mind in any form has consequences for my mental, emotional and physical health so I do what I can to guard those parts of me.

The room is dark but the glow from the computer monitor reflects off surfaces throughout the room. We are spellbound and immovable, except to push pause and rush to the kitchen for more snacks. We have both hopped into another world, another time and are making memories, living vicariously through the characters in our chosen story. We are engaging in 21st century binge watching. In recent years I have done this with both daughters during visits to their homes.

Eons ago when they still lived at home, lots of movies were watched. Julia’s room was more of a theater than a place to sleep, with a projector on a ceiling mount and a sheet for a screen. Friends coming over to watch movies was a frequent event. We didn’t have hours upon hours of a single story available, so we often watched the same two hour movie over multiple times. It still amazes me that they can quote a good portion of Princess Bride, or certain episodes of Mystery Science Theater, or Monty Python. Useful phrases like “anybody want a peanut?” should forever be available at a moment’s notice. Fun times.

What a character. I love him.

Then came mini-series and shows online with no commercials (yay!). Often the girls would have something that they were wanting to watch and we would do two or three hours at a time some evenings. The stories often had an historical bent or exciting plot that we couldn’t wait to get back to. Watching “Victoria”, “The Man in the High Castle”, “Poldark”, “Larkspur to Candleford”, “Madame Secretary” and “Downton Abbey” all have produced memorable times in my relationships with family members. It is easy for me to recall the details of sitting and watching with them, and discussing how it made us feel.

What I have to admit is that I don’t watch much on any screen the last few years and am pretty ignorant about what is out there. For a long while I grew weary of looking for movies that had content good enough to balance out the violence, perversion or superficiality also included. It was disheartening, and a waste of my time.

I think that is the important question for me – is it a waste of my time? I have decided to be very discriminating in what I watch when with others or alone. Like reading a good book, a good movie can be a wonderful way to escape my own problems and thoughts for a limited time. What really adds to its value though is watching with someone else and using it to build relationship.

Because movies are a reflection of the culture they come out of, and some are made with intent to influence, I always try to be aware of that with anything I watch. Even when controversial, movies can be starting points for some interesting discussions. Discussions are part of being relational, and getting to know others, so in that sense they are not a waste of time, but a tool.

Another consideration, cinematography has gotten so much better and more complex that it is sometimes the main focus of a film. Sometimes the realism is frightening. Sometimes I have to ask if a movie could actually be detrimental to healthy relationships. This is where discrimination is important.

Summing it up, movies and film in general are a big part of the world we live in and we end up making decisions about how we use our viewing. These stories and images can be a fun, interesting, educational tool in building our relationships, or something other than that. I’m glad that we do get to decide. Just sayin’…

Best movie you’ve watched recently?

Karaoke: Giving Voice to Relationship Building

There are probably some people reading this who remember being four years old and singing dramatically into a hairbrush “microphone”. Or better yet, you might have had access to a “singing machine” where you practiced your dream of making the songs you loved come out of your own mouth.

Confess. You want to pick one of these up and test it out. Yeah, you do.

Karaoke is what it’s called now and it’s come a long way, technically speaking. The words and music to thousands of songs are available through apps on the web. With very little trouble, anyone can have a fun night of singing in their own home, with their favorite people.

Because both the husband and I were musicians, our girls were always involved in singing and as karaoke became a thing, we often had our own singing events at family gatherings. I will give my brother Gary credit for starting it. He brought his machine to a reunion and had everyone wanting to join in before the night was over. Music in general is a great relationship builder (letter M is coming up) but I think there are special things about karaoke that give it a different twist. We all have ears, and voices, so the chance to pick up a mic and sing is a very accessible tool.

One of our early karaoke nights, when we were the young ones. My four brothers all like to sing.

The goal at our family sings is never to be just like a particular artist. We don’t kid ourselves about perfect pitch and tone, or knowing a song perfectly – we know we don’t. We applaud those brave enough to risk looking a little silly. Even before a very friendly audience, it is sometimes scary to do challenging things that are as personal as singing. Sometimes we sit waiting for the next volunteer singer, someone who is brave enough to mentor the rest.

This is what I’ve noticed. The bravery is contagious. We have a lot of younger family members, including my daughters, who willingly (I might even say eagerly) plan what they will sing for the next get together. Having fun and participating are both the goals and the rewards, and as the young ones get better and better from practice, we, the older, get more humble – as it should be.

The bottom line is that there is fun to be had. Not everyone sings but we all love to be entertained. We enjoy relationships built around fun, and we can acquire a reputation for being fun people, even if we do sing a bit funny.

Here is a screen shot from Kara-Fun, the karaoke app I have on my IPad. We’ve been able to find something for everyone to sing, so far. You can find it in your App Store for a reasonable subscription price.

Jigsaw Puzzles: Relationship Building Tools

The letter J has given me much anguish. After finishing a post with which I was very satisfied, I selected the text and moved my hand to select “copy”. My hand inadvertently touched something it shouldn’t have and most of the post disappeared. I could not make it reappear although I tried for an hour. I also could not remember what I had written. Wow.

A puzzle on a table in a public space is like a magnet to me. I will find myself working it with strangers who become friends, briefly.

To be up front, I consider jigsaw puzzles a diversion, an activity somewhat like washing the dishes, riding in a car or sitting around a fire. When you are lucky enough to be doing them with another person, you might as well talk while you’re working at them. You’re in close quarters with fellow puzzlers, doing something methodical and fun, and you can slow down if you wish. It’s pretty good for low stress relationship building.

My family often has a puzzle going somewhere in the house, and always at larger family gatherings, especially Thanksgiving. We even make jigsaw puzzles out of our family pics, just for fun. My daughters have grown up in this culture (loosely defined) and both will do a puzzle with me. Esther will join in for an hour. Julia has to be pulled away when the lights are shut out.

Name of puzzle: Family in Silly Hats at Thanksgiving
Even the turkey got in on this one.

Since people respond differently to this activity, when the goal is working on a relationship, it’s good to consider carefully if it’s the right tool for a particular person. Some people think it’s absolutely crazy to spend hours fitting 1000 pieces of a picture together so you can take it apart and put it back in the box a day later. I have found that even those people will stick it out for an hour or so. They aren’t much help but they will converse, and that’s sometimes the whole point, right?

There are others of us who feel like puzzling is exercise for the brain and totally worthwhile. Our eyes are seeing the slight variations in colors and shapes and our memories of where on the table that exact piece is – well, doing all that is keeping us sharp. We have our methods of working on each type of puzzle and frankly, we’ve never met a puzzle we didn’t like. Or almost never.

Because of all this, you actually can find “your people” and develop some good relationships over jigsaw puzzles. So many times our Thanksgiving puzzle marathons have ended wit high fives and such a feeling of corporate satisfaction. We did it, and it was a hard one too!

I have also discovered that there is a far deeper level of puzzle love than even I knew about. Some people are perfectly content, maybe even prefer, to do puzzles by themselves. They find community by sharing their accomplishments on social media and developing their relationships there. They trade names of their favorite puzzle brands and talk about what they do and don’t like. They have a whole social world built around puzzling.

Even the Coke can is a puzzle.

This is my present puzzle stash. Most of these beauties have been passed on to me by friends, because puzzle trading is a practical thing. I’m going to be paring down and would love to share some of these with anyone who is able to come get them, because I don’t usually get emotionally attached to any of them. This is not always the case. One of my puzzle friends has passed on her jig saw genes to her daughter who works as an artist for a puzzle company. Those puzzles are rightfully considered as family art and she probably won’t be parting with them any time soon. To her, puzzles have a definite relational aspect. Her puzzle library is also a little more extensive than mine. It’s serious, just sayin’…

Dedicated space, all categorized, dates of completion recorded… did I say serious? Yes, I did.

Inquire: Building Relationships

I love questions. Good questions. In the interest of building relationships, I am trying to learn to quit talking and ask good questions of people.

I’ve had some mentors along this line, like cousin Ruth. She comes armed to all family gatherings with a list of things she would be interested in knowing about us, and she inquires. We can count on her to get conversation going, and not just about superficial topics. I feel honored when she makes sure I get a chance to think on and answer her questions. She listens, maybe asks more questions, and she remembers. Ruth has built relationships with many of us based on wanting to know, inquiring and listening. How rare.

Sometimes I go from year to year, in my relationships with my adult children, thinking that I know them already. After all, I lived with them from their birth and was around when they became themselves. Who should know them better? But no. They have now lived more years apart from me than with me, and nobody, nobody tells Mommy everything. My history with my children does give me some advantage, but I realize that I don’t know everything about them, and some good, respectful questions can add to our relationship.

“What is one thing about yourself, that you wouldn’t mind telling me, that you’re pretty sure I don’t know?” I consider asking this question, and almost feel like it takes a bit of courage to ask it. It’s then I realize that my children are their own persons, not a known extension of me or my own thinking. I might be surprised by their answer, and that’s okay.

You would not believe some of the questions in this book. They were very thorough! Bravery required.

My relationship with my own mother has deepened through inquiry – not my own but that of a “do-it-yourself memoir”. She doesn’t like to write, so I write down her answers for her in this small, hard bound book. They aren’t all relevant questions but the ones she does answer provide details about her life and who she is that I would not have discovered any other way. Lots of our history and even our thoughts and philosophies, don’t come out in common, everyday living. I get a more complete picture of who Mom is through questions.

Actually, inquiry, is at the heart of most of my in-person visits to my children. I hope when I come that they feel my desire to know them better. I want to see with my own eyes what life is like for them, how they respond to the people in their lives, their work, their pressures, their joys and sorrows. I don’t want to “snoop”, I want to see what they don’t mind showing me, for the purpose of loving, supporting and building relationship.

Can you think of a really interesting, respectful question that you would like to ask in a relationship building encounter? Share it please!

I have to add this. I listen to a lot of podcasts and interviews and one of my pet peeves is the phrase “that is such a good question” given after every question, whether it is a good one or not. Just answer the question, okay? We’ll decide if it was good.

Hike: Relationship Building Activities

This is the end of the first week of A to Z Challenge 2022. I have been completing posts A through H while on a trip and that has made it more of a challenge than other years. I have had to keep it very simple, knowing that it doesn’t compare to some of the other great blogs I’ve been reading. It is still fun to put it together and share. Hope you are enjoying the read.

Having always been a walker, but mostly for the purpose of getting from point A to point Z, hiking was not really a “thing” in life until 2000. That was the year we hosted an exchange student from Sardinia for her last year of high school in the U.S. Having mastered her English enough to graduate, Maura was all set to go to Cancun with a number of classmates to celebrate. I wasn’t very comfortable with that. There were horror stories of young girls disappearing from the beach and never being seen again. I said no.

I had to come up with an alternative activity. I can’t remember why hiking the Appalachian Trail sounded like a reasonable project. Maybe I already had it on my list. At any rate, we put together a small band of adventurers including my daughters and one of their friends, five of us. None with hiking experience.

We survived and we bonded, as often happens with challenging experiences. We got blisters, sore backs, got thirsty, hungry and sleep deprived. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

While it is comforting to young people to know that their elders are capable and resourceful, it only adds to the depth of a relationship to find out that they are not always that. I think it may have been one of the first times that I was the weak one, needing to be rescued from dehydration and lifted to the next camp via truck. Those girls hiked, by themselves, the twelve miles that day and arrived in camp in record time.

It was a successful hike overall and we had great satisfaction in getting to our car on the fifth day, somewhat more experienced as hikers. Olive Garden fresh salad, bread and Alfredo sauce never tasted as good as it did on that trip home.

Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

Since that time, hiking has been a passion for me, and it is always better with a daughter or a family member. There are so many good shared moments walking through nature, talking about what we see, making camp, and dividing up chores. We see how we behave when we have less convenience and less distraction. It is getting to know each other in a unique way.

To me, hiking is a special kind of walking, in a particular planned area just for the intent of seeing what’s there and spending time with companions. It can be an hour long, or a week long – distance is not the issue, purpose is. In the last 20 years my girls and I have made lots of memories and seen some amazing places. It has been an important factor in the relationships we have with each other.

Find a friend or family member who you want to get to know better, plan a hike, and get walking!

Springer Mountain. We were there.