When I was 11 or so, a new family moved to the corner house on our street. They had one tow-head toddler who couldn’t say Kelli, so he called me Ki Ki. Soon, another baby boy was on the way. The parents and my parents made fast friends. I spent many, many summer days with tan lines and blood shot eyes chasing those two little boys, and my younger brother, around the pool.
The scent of burning charcoal briquettes immediately takes me back to these happy days. Our parents would grill and lounge in the shade and we would squeal and play and be utterly exhausted by the time night fell. (In retrospect, this was a brilliant parenting strategy.)
In time, I became the babysitter. I’d watch the two boys regularly over the next few years. I loved the brothers like they were my own. I read their favorite books to the point of memorization. I rocked them goodnight and gave them baths. I watched Aladdin on VHS tape approximately 10,000 times. I helped teach them to swim.
In 1994, I left my family (and theirs) to study in Mexico for a year. I was 14 and communication home was expensive. I’d call home on Sundays, and sometimes sneak a call to my dad at work. He’d always accept the charges. It was on one of those calls, when I stood at a pay phone in the foyer of the Mexican high school library, that my dad relayed the bad news. Gently, he told me the younger of the two neighbor boys was sick. He’d been sick for a while and they hadn’t been able to figure it out. Finally, they knew. He had a form of pediatric cancer and was off to Minnesota for treatment. His mom left her job and was living in the Ronald McDonald house.
I cried the tears of a gulping teenage girl whose world view had cracked, and was 1500 miles from those she loved most.
My mom helped watch the older brother, still just a little one, and my parents together kept an eye on their dad, who must have been out of his mind with grief and potential loss. The details of those days and months are not clear in my memory. What I do remember is returning home six months later and the youngest brother was still alive, in recovery, everyone back at home. When I went to visit, I realized that while he was alive, he was still dealing with the repercussions of having cell-altering chemicals and radiation at a tender age of growth. His color wasn’t right for a long time, his skin black and gray. And my last memory of him as a kindergarten student a few years later was one where he used a walker, dragging a foot behind him.
But he was alive!
The years rolled on, and soon the family was off to the Pacific Northwest for work. Their house sold quickly. I don’t remember ever saying goodbye. I do remember feeling like a piece of my childhood was packed in their moving truck, tucked between the towels that always smelled of chlorine and the tonka trucks. During the next 20 years, I spent more than a few hours looking for their family online with no luck.
Imagine my utter shock when about six weeks ago, laying on my mat in silence before a yoga class, a woman leaned her head next to mine and said, “KELLI!”
It was their mother. By sheer coincidence, after more than a decade of living elsewhere, we are neighbors again in an entirely different neighborhood. I hugged her with a ferocity that I think scared us both, and told her through tears how I’d searched for them. How was her youngest son? I asked it hesitantly, wondering all these years if the cancer had come back.
“Oh, he just graduated college. He lives with us! He’s great.”
He is great. That weekend, I got together with their family. Their eldest son, now a PhD candidate in northern California, was home visiting for the weekend — again by chance. We sat and reminisced, and I soon realized that while it was so important to my childhood — the time we’d spent together — the boys barely remembered me. They were more than ten years younger and their memories, of course, were those of little ones: blurry at best. But they did know of our family from the stories their parents had repeated, and I hugged them like an older sister would.
It was, and remains, a wonderful set of coincidences that brought a friendship together again.
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- Arizona, Faith, Family
Some family friends recently opened their home to a foster baby, just a few days old. They have welcomed this child into their family fully — loving her with all their hearts. I made this baby quilt for that child, whose future custody is uncertain but may she always know she was loved. By many. By those who haven’t even met her.
Nonnie, your future is bright!
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- Blessings, Colorado, Domestic Art, handmade
Have you read this nonsense this week? The silly story from an NYC-based pastor on the 10 types of women Christian men shouldn’t marry. The list is a doozy and of course all based on scripture. (Cliff notes: the older woman, the woman who doesn’t want children, the divorcee, the career-first woman, etc.)
Let’s just call bullshit on this right now, shall we?
You know who Jesus spent a lot of time with? Mary Magdalene. She who is mentioned more than most of the apostles in the gospels. She who stood by Jesus during his crucifixion. And she who was the one who witnessed the resurrection.
Oh, and also? She who was previously, maybe, a prostitute. (Jesus forgave her for being a “sinful woman.” Draw your own conclusions. This point is highly debated.)
That’s right. One of Jesus’ most trusted confidants — the one who sounded the horns of celebration that the son of God had risen from the dead — was a woman of disrepute.
So, before we spend time creating silly lists about the types of people Christians should or shouldn’t marry, just maybe we should spend more time thinking about those cast aside. Is it based in fear? In the ugly within us? Because these sorts of lists are not based on New Testament scripture.
Jesus didn’t walk among the rich and mighty. He spent his time among the poor, the sick and those who had been set aside.
Enough! If you want to walk the talk, enough with the “them vs. us” — regardless of your faith! As my friend Nadia Bolz-Weber says, whenever you draw a line in the sand on where your love and compassion stop, Jesus is on the other side.
One older, career-driven, childless woman who loves Jesus
(And am created in the image of my maker — exactly the way He wanted)
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This weekend, we got away for a quick break north to Prescott — where it was mercifully a good 20 degrees cooler.
Three cheers to: excellent coffee and breakfast burritos at The Raven Cafe; fun thrift, the courthouse weekend art show, great people watching, time away alone with the man I love, and did I already mention the cooler weather?
Yes. Sweet Mary and Moses, I cannot wait for another break. I’m melting this summer.
Thank you, Prescott! We’ll be back soon.
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- Arizona, Blessings
This is my dad, Rex.
He is my hero, and my brother’s hero. He is my mother’s best friend. He is kind to animals and strangers and loves nothing more at this point in life than playing in his men’s club at the golf course with a bunch of guys who have 20 years on him. Or hunting with his son and brothers.
He also likes to talk about the weather, water the lawn while sipping a beer, or and chase those noisy raccoon out of the church attic; those golf geezers might be wearing off a bit.
This week a DJ was asking radio callers, “What is the one skill you use most that your father taught you?”
Immediately, I knew. Kindness.
Sure, he taught me to ride a bike, throw a ball, take care of a car, stick with goals, and a handful of other skills. But sincerely, he (and my mom) taught us kindness. I vividly remember him telling us when we started elementary school that our jobs as Donleys were to find the kids on the playground no one else wanted to play with, and to be their friends and protectors. No matter what, we were to be kind to everyone.
Granted, I still fail at this — but I remember the pep talk when I’m walking into difficult conversations at work, or dealing with the exhausted and rude postal service clerk. Kindness goes a long way. And my father is one of the most generous, kindest people you’ll ever meet. As a result, my life is rich with friends far and wide, interesting people I know in person and from this blog. I’m really lucky to have had the examples in my parents that being kind and creating friendships makes life much sweeter.
Thank you, Papi. You really are the very best dad in the entire world, and you are beloved.
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There is this Celtic belief concerning the “thin place,” where the earth is so close to heaven, the two blend. For each person, this place is different. It may vary with time, or location. The idea is, if you are open to prayer and the Holy Spirit, you may find yourself one day feeling so close to God, the space between you and heaven blurs.
My mind and heart have been heavy, carrying the burdens of many I love. There are my own worries too. The last year has been a constant calendar of big life changes.
I was praying last week, writing in a journal, before returning home to take Nelson on a walk around the local lake. During the walk, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, “The Moth.” The storyteller this time was Krista Tippett, someone I’ve long admired — having listened to her faith podcast “On Being” for years. She talked about her relationship with her grandfather, visiting Scotland, and hearing about the thin place. Several of her fellow travelers had visited a local “stone reader” in Scotland who somehow knew things about their lives. They urged her reluctantly into going. And when she did, the stone reading woman told her that her beloved and misunderstood grandfather was there with them. He wanted her to know how proud he was of her. And he, a teetotaler in this life, was raising a glass of champagne to her in the next.
I fell to my knees in the emerald green spring grass lining the lake’s edge and breathed deeply. Proud. I had just prayed that morning, in a moment of sorrow, that I hoped my grandmother was proud. (Sometimes prayers take the tone of a babbling child. So it goes, when you are completely, wildly vulnerable.)
And here she was, in her own way, telling me to pull myself up by my own kinda-Celtic bootstraps and to carry on. She was proud.
I ran my hands through the grass, feeling the earth beneath my fingers. They came upon something cool, nearly out of reach. A stone, turquoise in the light. Her favorite color, and mine too. The stone reader sending me a message from a continent away.
Carry on. It is what the women in our family do. Chin up, stone in hand, I grabbed the leash and we finished our walk with my grandmother’s spirit keeping my own afloat.
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- Arizona, Earth Mama, Faith
Who would have thought the world would change if a Pope came to power who actually embodied the characteristic love and kindness of Jesus?
Who would have thought any human, Pope or otherwise, could be this good? Someone who seeks social justice, works for the poor, eschews the fame and glory of such a prominent role, and instead reminds those who report to him to him “no intrigue, gossip, power pacts, or favoritism.”
Who couldn’t use a reminder that intrigue, gossip, power pacts and favoritism — at home and at work — hurt us all? (Hey Arizona legislators, please consider this.)
I am loving Pope Francis. He gives me hope for the global Catholic church.
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Robyn and I don’t really know each other. But we have long read each other’s blogs and supported each other. Well, really she has supported me. She and her community of knitting friends regularly pitch in for my variety of projects. Boxes of hats, scarves and other hand knits have arrived from around the country for homeless vets, for example. Her generosity knows no bounds.
She is expecting a little girl soon. Her first! I thought it would be nice to send some non-pink or purple love her way to celebrate the addition to their family.
Pattern: Kimono Wrap in Mason Dixon Knitting
Yarn: Peaches and Cream cotton
Time: This knit up within a couple weeks. It took far longer to decide what to do about the closure. With the move, my sewing supplies are packed (and machine is in the shop) so when Sue suggested braided ties, I jumped on the idea. I love the colors of this yarn; they remind me of the sea.
Next up: ball band cotton dish cloths — a pattern from the same book. I have a lot of small bits of cotton yarn remaining from a variety of projects I’d like to clean up, and a few friends moving and settling into new houses. Perfect fit.
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- Blessings, Community, Domestic Art, Earth Mama
Africa is hurting. The people of Central African Republic are under siege. The folks of South Sudan are involved in a brutal, new civil war. For Zimbabwe, falling again into man-made, infuriating famine. The Second Congo war rages on, killing more people than any other conflict since WWII.
My prayers are for these people. The women who huddle under plastic tarps as the humid equatorial rain pours at night, unable to comfort their children. There is no comfort when hiding from violence. For the health care workers who may be able to stop wounds from bleeding, but cannot keep the malarial mosquitoes or dirty water away from the thousands and thousands who huddle in makeshift refugee camps. For those coordinating food and medical supply drops — may there be fewer hungry bellies on the great continent.
For the leaders — to be strong, courageous, peaceful and just.
My prayers and heart are with you, great Africa.
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- Africa, Faith
I’ve struggled finding sleep lately. Wide awake from midnight to 3 am is becoming the new routine. I listen as Nelson chases bunnies in his sleep from the foot of the bed. As the landscaping company meticulously blows every leaf from the Sprouts’ parking lot across the street, into the street at 1 am. As our neighbor, who is a bouncer at some Scottsdale club, returns on his Harley Davidson around 2:30 am, grinding the throttle as he parks in his garage.
With plenty of time to think, I’ve wrestled with the idea of staying on the right path in life, and how temptation is constantly present. Imagine walking down a path in the rainforest. The brush has been hacked away and bare feet of those who have traveled before you created a winding line of worn earth that leads deeper and deeper into the unknown. Light trickles down from the canopy overhead, where birds and monkeys fight to sing the loudest chorus.
If you stay on the path, you know there will eventually be an end. It is impossible to turn around, as much as you may try. The path disappears behind you. Your memories are the only trace. There are highs and lows. Vistas that take your breath away, moments of intense pleasure. And also bogs you must wade through, quicksand that suffocates with grief and hardship. Times that are hard to shake off.
But if you can just get back on the path, you know these highs and lows become easier to navigate. You’ve found and developed tools along the way. Yet the biggest challenge you face are the vines. These try to pull you off course toward bright and shiny objects of desire that seem so worth stopping to admire in the moment. But if you linger just a moment too long, the kudzu starts at your feet and slowly works upward until the shiny object is all you have. The forest has enclosed around you. The path is gone. You are forever lost. Your beloved item is no longer so shiny.
I feel the pull.
I had dinner recently with a married couple who are friends. The woman is my age and does not have a wrinkle or freckle on her truly beautiful face. I stared at her wondering if it was more than genetics. Regardless, I came home to examine the ever increasing map of an Arizona childhood playing out across my brow and began to consider what I could do to stop time. The vanity vine wound itself around my feet as I pulled here and thought about injecting that there. A patch of gray hairs continue to sprout from my crown. Gravity is doing my figure no favors.
How does she do it? So beautiful and thin and put together? Why can’t I look like that?
We stayed in another friends’ home during the holidays in Denver. They are newly married and purchased a home that is just my style. I wandered it, admiring the furniture and linens and thinking about my life — which is a bit chipped and stained and worn after so many moves in the last few years. I watched as Nelson ran outside in the beautiful yard, chasing squirrels and sticking his nose happily in mounds of snow. The vine of envy took root.
Why don’t I live in a home like this? Why haven’t I been smarter with money?
Again commuting, although mercifully a short distance, I find my patience wanes the moment I get behind the wheel. I tell others jokingly, “I’m a pacifist outside of my car.” And in that flash of stupid anger when my temper flares, I feel the vine of wrath wrapped around shaking fists.
Why am I sitting in this damn traffic?
The extra glass of wine I shouldn’t drink. The married man who winks and smirks. The snarky judgments I hurl at women. And the swears. Oh, the swears.
The vines never cease.
My strongest tool is faith. I have faith that the life I am leading is perfectly imperfect. I have faith that I will be a better person today than I was yesterday. I have faith that my Grandmother Maxine, gone one year today, is helping guide my steps through her experience.
I have faith in an all-loving, compassionate, wonderful God.
And, worst case scenario, Botox is fairly cheap in these here parts…
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