Why I Want to Wear Black

pic of gibran quote

Yesterday I spent most of the morning with my children cleaning my great aunt’s house.  It has sat empty for over three years now.  We have a new realtor and high hopes this time.  When I went in for the first time in quite a while on Friday, meeting with the realtor, I knew we would have to come back and clean.  It was not a requirement or even a request.  It was a gift to one of the strong women who helped raise me.  I couldn’t kiss her forehead when she left, nor could I wash her face and hands one last time.  But I can make sure that folks who come into her home know someone cares and that it doesn’t look thrown away.  So we vacuumed and dusted and polished and swept.  It was a sacred morning.

Last night I was filled with sorrow and joy all at the same time (I know, I’m the crazy one in our family), and the first thing I thought was, “I want to tell Mama.”  And it all came rushing back.  I’m afraid the emotional tidal wave had me pouring my heart out in a raw, broken way.  And I’m sorry about that.

But I feel raw.  And broken.  Even still.  I get invited to do lovely things with wonderful people, and I want to do these things.  But when I think about it, the panic sets in and I just can’t.  I am so sorry for that too.  The panic.  The not being able to do things.  Be with people.  I do apologize.  But there it is.  And I don’t know what to do about it.  But wait, maybe?

This morning I thought about something I wrote less than a month after Daddy left this world.  Considering the trip I took on the Grief Wheel last night, I offer this for whatever it can be.  An explanation.  An apology.  The map of where I am for the time being.  With love to all.

I originally wrote this the morning of 12/13/2011. It is just as true today, and even more so.

The journey is over
He, who fought so hard, and did so much to stay
Had to leave
He told me so
Not long after he left and we all said goodbye
I saw him, in my dream
We were all gathered to say goodbye, and he was there
I ran to him and hugged him
“What are you doing here?” I was ecstatic and a little confused.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he hugged me back
“I had to go. I’m sorry.”
He looked so good. Healthy. Strong. Ready to take on the world again.
To create with wood and words and make us all laugh and keep us all straight. He looked full of life.
I know he is healed. So many remind me, trying to bring comfort.
One said, “God needed your Daddy more than you did.” I don’t think so. I cannot breathe sometimes I need him so much. But thank you for taking time to speak to me.
Others choose not to say anything or ask anything. Grief is not a fashionable accessory. It can make a lot of folks uncomfortable. And that is okay too.
And those that ask, I wonder. How long can I be honest? How long can I tear up when they ask? How long before someone tells me enough is enough? How long before the world continues on, as though the sky did not fall, as though it can still breathe, as though he did not even exist? As though none of this matters anymore?

There are things to do, hustle and bustle, and appointments to keep, projects to produce, shows to watch and restaurants to visit, vacations to take, and trips to plan. How long before Life throws its hands up and says, “Really we must go on without you, because this whole grief thing…..well, it’s really getting old.”
Perhaps the tradition of wearing black for a year is not as unfounded as we may have thought. If one is mourning, and one is marked as a mourner, perhaps that is enough. There is grace in that, I think. So that when I start to cry in the candy aisle at the grocery store, because I just thought about buying that candy for him because he loves it, folks will know. Or when I feel drawn to the cancer center, to reach out and hug someone going through just what we have, maybe folks won’t think I’m strange, because they will know. Or when I am trying to remember the name of the person who worked with Daddy, and I think, I need to ask him…..and then it hits me, and I burst into sobs. Folks will know. I need for them to know.

I need for them to know, because one day, one day soon I fear, I will reach out and grab hold of the closest person around and I will beg them to hold me, to wipe out all of the brokenness in this—my Mama who is alone; my sister who shuts the door to her office and cries at work; the grandchild on the way who will never know what a special man he is and was; my children who miss him so, the oldest who misses the man who loved her and raised her and the youngest who doesn’t know what to make of all this but just misses his car playing buddy who let him drive his cars around the rails of the hospital bed…..over and over; and his sister, who cries quietly because she misses her brother. I will reach out and grab hold and I won’t let go. As I cry and sob and let it all out, I won’t let go. Because I’ve done that already, and it hurts so much I cannot breathe. I need for them to know. Because I cannot forget.

pic of things quote

Don’t Save It, Use It

Last night we had “Messy Church.” A kind and talented young man, Micah, came two weeks ago, (when we missed because of sick young’un, round two) and led the group in creating papier-mache’ globes. Last night he returned, leading the multi-generational group in coloring, painting, and writing on these globes that are to become “bare bulbs” hanging from the rafters of the coffeehouse where we go to church.

Our younger daughter was so excited. Art is her thing. She grabbed markers and had so much fun decorating her bulb. In the midst of all of the art, there was great fellowship. Truly light was being shared all around the room. There was a cake, celebrating the birthday of the church, and Micah had brought a treat, Orange Stuff. It is his grandmother’s recipe, and he shared that he makes it to stay connected to her. That right there. Precious.

One of the “bulbs” was designated to be hung for the children to swing at and try to break. It was already filled with candy–pinata time! Our girl finished decorating hers, and passed it along to her Daddy for him to add his own touch to it. She was so excited about the whole thing. She came up to me, “Oh Mama, I can’t wait to knock mine down. It’s going to be so fun.” I pulled her aside and explained that hers would be hung up in the shop, but that the one that Mr. Micah had was the one we would be swinging at. Tears welled up in her eyes, and sadness was evident in her voice, “But Mama, I want to do mine too. That’s what it’s for.” I tried to talk her into being happy that she whenever she walked into the shop, she would see her bulb and remember the fun she had making it. In that moment, she was inconsolable, but the fun of the evening caught up with her, and when it was her turn with the “bat,” she was all smiles.

It took a few swings and then, as pinatas often do, it lost its string and fell to the floor, still intact. A few creative moves from one of the older children, and everyone was squealing excitedly over all of the candy that was scattered around.

Candy and crimped paper.....y'all know how I love me some paper crimping!

Candy and crimped paper…..y’all know how I love me some paper crimping!

It was on the way home that I thought about the evening, and I wish I had done things differently.  Oh, I think in the end our girl will be tickled to point out her bulb each time we go to the shop.  I think it will make her smile and feel special.  But I wonder if I gave her the wrong message.

She was happy creating and making something.  And she was looking forward to seeing it in action, this thing she had put time and energy into.  She wanted to see it used for its intended purpose.

And I said no.

So often we have special things that we put aside and don’t use, saving them for a special occasion.  The china, the real silver, a dress, a special pair of boots, the handmade quilt.  I am guilty of all of these.  The sad thing is that it seems like the special occasions rarely if ever come.  And the things sit.  Collected.  Protected.  Unused.

This happens with our gifts and talents too, I think.  We have a skill, there’s something we are pretty good at.  Maybe it’s baking.  Maybe it’s knitting.  Maybe it’s organizing events.  Maybe our special gift is kindness and laughter.  And we let it sit on the shelf until it is NEEDED.  In a major way.  When there’s a sign-up sheet.  Sometimes we don’t see the value in using our gifts a little (or a lot) in the day to day.  We don’t use them for their intended purpose–to shed light in the world and love on other folks. Every day.

I have a set of fun dishes that it took me a while to start using.  All different colors with polka dots.  Oh I just love those dots.  And sure enough, in the using of this set, we have had three of the small plates bite the dust.   There was a time when I would have kept them in their boxes–as a matter of fact I did in the beginning.  But honestly, the joy that those dishes have brought me by sitting in my kitchen, making my children smile, getting excited over choosing (and yes, fighting *sigh*) their color plate or bowl or cup–that’s worth the sadness of the broken dishes.

So, no, I don’t think we’ll go and take the bulb down and bash it to pieces.  That’s not where this is headed.  However, as the bulb hanging down from the rafters of Bare Bulb Coffee will make my girl smile and remember a fun night when she created and did something she loved, it will remind me that life is short–that I should use what I have here and now.  For its intended purpose.  To love on folks.  All of them.  And not save it for a day or time or need that just may not ever come.

Our girl's light bulb--she decorated it herself.  Someone asked her, after reading it, who her teacher was, and she said "My Mama."  Yeah, folks "bestest," that's how we roll around here.

Our girl’s light bulb–she decorated it all herself. Someone asked her, after reading it, who her teacher was, and she said “My Mama.” She wrote, “God is the bestest.” Yeah, folks, “bestest,” that’s how we roll around here.

If You Were Ever A Child…..

The homeschool curriculum I use with my littles is literature based. There is a list of books for “required” reading and then another list of “suggested” books if you have the time and your child loves to read.

Which mine does.

It was touch and go her kindergarten and first grade year. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. I gave her a copy of “Old Hat, New Hat” in November of her first grade year. Hoping she could read it. Eventually. Less than five months later she was reading Magic Tree House books. Something finally clicked. Now her favorites are the Rainbow Magic Fairy books by Daisy Meadows. I’m thinking that’s a pen name–you?

As we are looking at wrapping up the school year, I went through the suggested book list and put in many hold requests at the library. (Can I just say I LOVE Interlibrary loans?) We are running a bit behind this year because of the January/February HospitalStay, but reading will be a wonderful pastime for our summer break as well.

Yesterday the first of our hold requests came through, and we ran by and picked it up. Last night my second grader, who loves to read all the time, asked if I would come and read her a story. This was a special treat for me, as she enjoys being an independent reader. I picked up our library book, and we began reading.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLernan, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Oh my, bless it. Precious.

If you have a child or know a child or were ever a child, you should find this book. And read it. Right now. It’s a story of children playing, imaginations taking flight, and the memories we carry with us into adulthood.

Yes, I cried. It was that good.

It reminded me of our little brick house on Old Boy Scout Road. The little two bedroom house where, when she brought home my baby brother, child number four, Mama told Daddy, “I don’t think another thing will fit in here.” And so we moved to Blackberry Flats. But before I was nine, we lived in that little brick house. There was a spot under the pines between our house and the one next door that was perfect for sweeping out and using the pine needles to mark off rooms and houses. At one point, two young girls lived next door and we would play out there for hours, sweeping and building and playing.

It also reminded me of playing at my Granny’s, where we built toadhouses along the banks between her yard and the peach orchard right next to her. We created whole villages and were allowed to bring cars out (“be particular”) to drive in and out of them. My cousins and I used to play “Cowboys and Indians” at their old house on Rabbit Road, where the deep slope of the yard made for some great chases and use of imagination.

When we moved to Blackberry Flats, we had a horse, Betsy. Each fall Daddy would go and get a load of hay to put back for the winter. I can remember the smell of the sweet hay and the feeling of hefting up a bale and handing it down off the truck to him. He stacked it up in the side area of his building. (I guess it was a workshop, but all we ever called it was “Daddy’s building.”) I remember crawling up to the top of the stack of hay in that little shed and reading. Mama let us have the boxes their checkbooks came in, and we created a post office, each of us having our own “mailbox.” We made up our “names,” and we spent lots of time writing letters and “mailing” them.

Creating. Dreaming. Playing. Imagining. Only it all seemed so real.

Just like in Roxaboxen.

I’ve driven by the old home place on Old Boy Scout Road since I was grown. It seems so much smaller now, like the woods crept up towards the house. The old sand pile is still visible at my Granny’s old house. And while there is no hay, the shed at Daddy’s is still standing, stock full of memories that bring a smile and a tear.

I am thankful for those happy memories of a carefree childhood and for my own “Roxaboxen” places. I give thanks for my girls who love to read and dream, and hang onto the hope that my little guy will also find a love of reading one day. As I write this I look out my front window where my two little ones are playing with their friends, and soon they will come in all breathless, eager to tell me about their latest “adventures.” I love that they too have their own “Roxaboxen” right here on our little cul-de-sac. And I give thanks for those who have gone before, sharing stories and reading books with us, helping us to dream and play and imagine. Right now, I can’t think of a better gift that’s ever been given.

Lessons in Legos

pic of legos

Today we went to what my littles call “Lego Building School.”  It is put on by the local franchise of Bricks4Kidz, and my crew all love it.  It is a combination of free play building with all sorts of Legos and a mini-class, where they learn about something and then build a model according to the directions they are given.  In the past we have built mechanized spiders, a dragster, and a windmill.  Like most things, it is the people who run it who make it the most fun.  They love what they do, and they take the time to get to know the children there.

Last month the assigned project was a Venus Flytrap.  Thanks to the lesson about them, my two became interested in these fascinating plants again, and we are on the lookout for one.  We had my nephew with us that day, as my sister was in China and we asked my brother-in-law to let him join us.  My little man paired up with his Daddy to build the Venus Flytrap model.  My poor nephew was stuck with me.   It was a complicated model, complete with friction bushings and gears that had to meet just so.  Oh let’s face it, I was totally inadequate when it came to helping my sister’s baby boy with this.  In the end, he gave up on me and wandered off to test the one the teacher had built.  Correctly. Mine never would snap just right when triggered.  One of the instructors tried to correct whatever it was that I done incorrectly, bless her.  It was not salvageable.  I left with my head down, feeling like I had let my nephew down.  Though I don’t think he was much upset.  He still got his mini-fig that he built to take home and a lunch of pizza after.  I’m pretty sure he has let it go.

I only wish I could.

Today we arrived to find that we would be building two projects.  As my two were the only ones there (whoo hoo!), they handed my husband a kit.  One of the instructors asked if I would like one too.  The shame from last month overshadowing me, I said rather meekly, “Oh no, I don’t think so.”

However the other instructor, Mr. Tom, did not hear me.  He brought me a kit and a manual and told us we could start on our projects–a paper crimper.  Okay.  Sure.  I was very hesitant as I pulled out the 1 by 12 tech plates and bushings and so on.  But my confidence gained when my gears were moving together.  Could it be I was on the right track?  The Venus Flytrap in my mind whispered and giggled, “As if!”  Oh my.

But there it was.  The last step.  I was finished, and I was ready to attach the battery.  As I was the first one done, I had no idea exactly what it was supposed to look like.  I gave the switch a flip and voila!  It was running.  I was handed a pile of 1/4″ wide paper strips.  I ran one through.  Coolest. Thing.  Ever.  (or at least this morning)  So cool.  It came out all crimped up like those fancy strips you can buy to put in gift baskets or bags.  Awesome!  Win.  Soon all four of us were whirring paper through and laughing triumphantly.

Our Princess with her Lego paper crimper running smoothly

Our Princess with her Lego paper crimper running smoothly

Time to take it apart and build the second project–which was a stand for spiral art.  It spun a plate in circles while you held a marker in place.  Really cool art resulted.

As I was attempting to put the pieces back in their correct spot in the kit, I noticed a “Key to Difficulty” on the last page of the directions.  Wow, I thought.  I wonder how hard this one I just did was.  I was probably a little full of myself at this point, I have to admit.  I felt redeemed after last month’s failure.  I just wish my nephew had been there to see me.

I turned to the front cover.  A green dot.  What did that stand for?  I looked back.  Green dot.  Green dot.  Green.  Dot.  Oh my.  Easy.  (Facile)  Sigh.  My spirits sank.  I think I may heard the Venus Fly Trap snicker.  I tried to let that go, and I put the Spiral Art Stand together.  Again, no problem, and it was so much fun making the picture.  I did not even look at its level of difficulty.  I have a feeling I know.  And there is the looming feeling that perhaps my failure last month is the reason for this month’s projects’ levels of difficulty?

It was this evening when a couple of things came to mind.

If I had let last month’s failure keep me from participating this month, I would have missed out on an awful lot of joy this time around.  I mean, it was really, really fun.  Lesson #1.  As Mama and Daddy said, “Try, try again.”  (Or “When you fall off the horse, you have to get back on.” Literally, in my case.)  Pretty obvious, that one.  But for some reason I have to keep learning it.

When I saw the level of difficulty, I let some of the joy escape for a minute or two.  In a sense I was comparing myself to the “others” who set the skill level.  Daddy often said in his later years, “When you compare, you lose.”  Every.  Single.  Time.  Errahday.  Thank you, Daddy, for that reminder.  Lesson #2.

When we have failures, no matter how little, it is hard to get back in the game.  We tend to compare ourselves to how so-and-so or the generic “they” would have done it.   But I’m thinking tonight we should give ourselves grace in these situations.  Steps, even if they are baby ones, are still steps.  Some days that’s just as good as it can get.  And if we find joy in the “easy” or “simple,” so be it.  We should embrace that.  If it brings you joy, and it ain’t hurting anybody, don’t let anyone, especially not an old Venus Flytrap, tell you it’s not worth doing a jig over.  Take that joy and hold it close.  Joy don’t grow on trees, so when you do find some, treasure it.  Even if it’s VERY FACILE.

Joy and beauty with Legos.

Joy and beauty with Legos.

Why I Am Not Blessed

In Japan, the Maneki Neko is the Lucky Cat.

In Japan, the Maneki Neko is the Lucky Cat.

Twenty years ago I worked as Director of a childcare center for low-income working families.  As the day started, and we would greet each other, we would usually call out, “Hey, how are you?”  One member of the staff, the assistant cook, would always smile and answer, “Just blessed, and you?”

It took some getting used to.

Eventually, as time passed, I barely noticed.  I did stop to wonder sometimes if she really felt that way or if she were answering by rote.  Not that it was my business, I just wondered.

Last night I got to have supper with a great friend and writer, Ashley of Baddest Mother Ever.  Somehow in the midst of laughing about video games we could so market and sell and sharing our experiences with grief, we got on the subject of blessed and lucky.

I’ve thought a lot about it, as today was not the first time.  So, just to clarify, I looked up the definition of blessed:

bless·ed  

adjective 1. consecrated; sacred; holy; sanctified: the Blessed Sacrament.

2. worthy of adoration, reverence, or worship: the Blessed Trinity.

3. divinely or supremely favored; fortunate: to be blessed with a strong, healthy body; blessed with an ability to find friends.

4. blissfully happy or contented.

5. Roman Catholic Church , beatified

I am most definitely NOT blessed.

Okay, with the exception of definition number 4 from time to time.

Then I looked up the definition of lucky:

lucky  

adjective \ˈlə-kē\ luck·i·er luck·i·est

1: having good luck

2: happening by chance : fortuitous

3: producing or resulting in good by chance : favorable

4: seeming to bring good luck <a lucky rabbit’s foot>

Here’s where I have a problem.

If I can say on a day that I don’t get a flat tire, someone pays for my coffee in the drive-thru, and my children actually obey the first time they are asked to do something…..if I can say I am blessed on a day such as this, what do I say on a day when my cat is sick, the freezer breaks down, and I am almost out of gas in my vehicle?  Am I cursed?  If so, then who’s doing the blessing and who’s doing the cursing?  As blessed as green lights, my favorite song on the radio, or a great find at the GW Boutique can make me feel, I just don’t think God is into all of that.

I started thinking a lot more about this when we began going to the Sunday night suppers for folks in need at the park.  How was I not in their shoes?  My oldest daughter and I, years ago, were in a bad situation.  We had family to go to, but was that because we were lucky?  Or blessed?  Many of my friends would say “blessed.”  And I can respect that.  I hope they can respect that I say we were lucky.  Because for me, blessed would imply “worthiness, holiness, or being supremely favored.”  And if that were the case, why us?  Why not the woman with the thirteen year old daughter who comes each week to the shelter and barely speaks as her daughter gets them each a hot chocolate?  Do I tell them I’m blessed, or do I just consider myself pretty darn lucky?

Here’s how I see it–blessed is a passive word.  It implies that I am being blessed by someone.  I can use it in that sense just fine.  My cousin blessed me by giving me Granny’s car when my old one broke down and I was in a bind.  My friend blessed me with her laughter and words of wisdom when my spirits were down.  I am a-okay with that usage.  What gets me is when people used Blessed with a capital b.  Blessed by God.  Because then that becomes us-them.  I am blessed, and “he/she/they” are not.  That means that the all-loving God that I believe in has chosen to bless me and…..not the mother whose teenage daughter is pregnant, putting an end to the dreams of a different life for her child……not the man who sat night after night in the park, fighting his yearning for alcohol, asking God to take the taste away from him……and definitely not the foster child whose 18th birthday is coming, and she has nowhere to go but the streets.  Why are their lives so different than mine?

I’m lucky.  And that’s where it stops.   I can’t go there.  That I have been chosen and someone else has not.  It just doesn’t geehaw with me.  I am. Not. Worthy.

I have a child with a health issue that affects what we get to do, where we can go.  It’s a hassle.  Is it something that she or I feel cursed by?  No.  And neither do I feel that my other two children are blessed because they don’t have the same issue.  If I had to tell my baby girl, sorry, they are blessed, you are not, I can only imagine that the first words out of her mouth would be–why?  What did I do?  I’m sorry, but that kind of theology can mess a person up.

And that’s the thing.  I think we are here to bless each other.  Hugh Hollowell, founder and director of Love Wins ministry, writes about prayer in his post here.  This gave me something to think on back in 2011 when Daddy’s lymphoma was winning and my faith grew shaky and shakier.  At the end, Mr. Hollowell shares his belief that while people wait on God to answer their prayers, God is waiting on us. He writes: “We are the means by which God brings heaven to earth.”

Today I visited with a sweet older couple in a small town south of here.  I played with their daughter when I visited family there when I was little.  She died tragically when we were teenagers.  I hugged their necks and cherished their smiles and was thankful that I could be with them, if only for a few moments.  Y’all, it broke my heart.  I am here, and she is not.   I really don’t know how to understand the brokenness in this life.

I do not think that I am Blessed by God as I go on this journey.  I know that I am very lucky, and I have been blessed by friends and family along the way.  And I am LOVED by God just like every other human being on this planet.  I think we are put here to love each other and to help wherever we can…..if we are able to do that, we are lucky…..and that is where the blessing comes in.

Good Math

About twelve years ago, I was working as a social worker and grief therapist for Hospice.  I drove quite a bit with my job, making home visits.  At the time I was driving my Granny’s car, a Mercury Grand Marquis, that my cousin had given me when I needed it most.  It was on one sunny summer afternoon that I got a flat tire driving towards Perry on South Houston Lake Road, on my way to see a dear, sweet patient.  I did what all good Southern girls do in such a fix.  I called my Daddy.

He, Mama, and Auburn loaded up in their car and headed out to get me.  Daddy changed my tire on the side of the road, a precarious task.  He had me up and going fairly quickly.   Auburn was tickled to see me “on my job,” and told the story for years of “when we rescued Mama.”

It was nearly a year ago, as I sat with a group of women at our book group that I got a call from Mama.  She rarely used her cell phone so I knew something was wrong.  “Tara, I have a flat tire.  I don’t know how it happened.  These tires are brand new.  Can you call the tire company, and ask him if he has roadside service?”

I called and they didn’t.  Then I called Mama’s insurance agent and asked if they had it.  They did, but she’d have to call someone to repair it on her own.  I called Mama back.

“Okay, I can do that.”

“Mama, I’m going to come out there,”  I told her.  She refused, said there was no need, that she would be fine.

As this was the first time that something like this had happened since before Daddy got sick, I could not bear the thought of her being alone.  So I headed over there.  It took me a few minutes to find where she actually was, because as Mama admitted herself, she had no sense of direction.

When I got there, I called the mechanic as she hadn’t been able to get anyone.  We sat and waited together for the guy to come.  I could see Mama’s memory wheel churning and the tears she was holding back.  So we just sat.  Finally, the mechanic came and made quick work of changing the tire.  He was efficient and kind, suggesting what we should do next about getting the flat fixed and switched back out with the spare.  I told Mama I would follow her to the tire company.  She said no, and then acquiesced but said, “You lead me there.  I’m not quite sure the best route to go.”  So off we went.   It turned out to be a good day.  Because it was going to take the repairs a couple of hours, we got a surprise lunchtime visit with Maemae at our house.   We just made a day of it.  A good memory, despite its rocky start.

I was thinking about both these flat tires tonight on my way home from Macon.  Not because I had one or was even concerned about having one.  I had the unexpected gift tonight of laughter and sharing stories with a treasured friend, and  on the way home my mind drifted for some reason to that day with the tire.  I thought about how Daddy fixed my tire.  And how I couldn’t fix Mama’s, but I wanted to go be with her anyway.  What would I have done if Daddy couldn’t have fixed mine?  Truth is, I still would have called him.  I think the greatest thing he did that day was show up.  Knowing that he, Mama, and Aub were on their way settled my uneasiness.   Even though Mama told me not to come, when I did show up she was visibly relieved.

It hit me tonight that I don’t always have the right words to say to someone in every situation.  Sometimes the words just do not exist.  So what I can do?  Show up.  I’ve learned this from the folks who have shown up for us during sunshine and dark days.  Maybe it hasn’t always been physically–it might be an e-mail, or a phone call, or a cup of coffee delivered with a note written on the side.  It doesn’t matter how they’ve shown up, it has only mattered that I no longer felt alone in that moment. The showing up says, “You matter. You are worth it. You are loved.”

Tonight I’m thankful for folks who have shown up.  Whether for flat tires or to hold my hand as I said goodbye.  To celebrate a milestone for my daughter or to sit with me as I handle the legal mumbo jumbo that follows losing folks you love.  I am thankful for those who show up and share laughter and stories over a bowl of salsa and a basket of chips, or who listen and love over a cup of coffee.  For those who show up sharing their gifts unselfishly and making a difference in my world, I am very grateful.  They inspire me to pay it forward.

pic of chips and salsa

Mama always said that we help each other divide our sorrows and multiply our joys.  That’s good math I can live with right there.   And use.  Everyday.

We Are All One

So I saw this video today…..

Hugh Hollowell, who runs Love Wins Ministry in Raleigh, North Carolina, shared it and his thoughts along with it.  You can read what he wrote here.

I’ve had this on my mind a lot today.

I get what this young man is trying to do.  I respect that he has a problem with how A&F feels and what they are doing.  Being outside their desired demographic (I have never been nor will I ever be one of the “cool kids,” and we won’t even talk about their sizing), I don’t like what they are trying to do either.  I really cannot fathom burning clothes.  Especially ones that don’t have rips or broken zippers.  Ahem.  (I mean, I have a Repurposing board on Pinterest, for goodness’ sake–we just don’t throw clothes away.)

I have only been in one of their stores once.  It was dark, and the music was way too loud, and we were stared down as we walked through.  We were there to exchange a gift that was the wrong size.  I left there with a headache and a general lack of being impressed at all.  I won’t ever go back in there.  I don’t need that kind of stress again.

Here’s the deal.  I don’t know why their clothes are “The Thing.”  I don’t get it.  Just like I don’t get why other brands of jeans without the comfort waistband or the ones that ride so low that when I bend over that I could get arrested are considered hip.  But whatever.  It’s his company, he can do as he pleases, as can I.  I vote with my dollar.  I can refuse to give him any of my money.  Which I do.  For many reasons, not the least of which is that his merchandise is way over-priced and they have had questionable labor practices.  (Do NOT get me started on fair trade issues tonight.)

So I guess I get that this young man is protesting.  He is asking us to vote with our actions.  I don’t think he meant any harm.  I just think he picked the wrong action.  Did you notice in the video that the people he is handing the clothes to are not sure of what is going on?  They seem hesitant?  I wonder if he got permission to share their faces all across the internet.  Because here’s the important thing to remember–

They are people.  Just like me.  And you.  There is no us and them.  We are all one.

If someone videoed me and showed it all over the place without checking with me first, I’d be really ticked off.  It feels like he is using them as props in his video and that really makes me sad.

In the past three years, I have had the opportunity to build relationships with folks, some of whom I call family, who have found themselves homeless at one point or another.  The reasons why vary as much as they themselves.  It is not a situation anyone chooses for him/herself.   And usually it’s not something that happens overnight.  But there it is.  And they have to live with it.  No, wait.  We all have to live with it.

I have learned a lot during these three years.  I have learned, among other things, that handing out “stuff” creates a have/have not relationship–and that’s not a healthy basis for any relationship.  I’m ashamed to say I know this from experience.

The director of the program we volunteer with has taught me a lot, and the stories I’ve heard would curl your hair.  There is one sweet lady who wanders around downtown with a shopping cart loaded down with full suitcases and other items.  One day when I was leaving the hospital from seeing Mama, the lady was trying to cross the street.  She started to push her cart ahead of her and then realized the light had changed.  She tried to stop it, but the cart was so heavy it pulled her into the street a few feet.  The last thing she needs is an A&F sweater to add to her load.   There was another lady who had a chance to stay in a shelter.  She was offered a ride there, but she insisted that she had to go back to the park and get her bags of stuff first.  She wouldn’t hear of anything else.  In doing so, she lost her spot at the shelter.  And the “stuff?”  Turns out much of it was baby or children’s clothing–and she has no children.  For quite a few of our friends in these circumstances, it is difficult for them to let go of things.

I guess some of what troubles me about the video is the nonchalance in his handing out the clothes…..there is no assessing need.  I mean, the man with the guitar on his back?  Did he really seem like he was going to hang on to it beyond the next corner?  It just hit me.  What hurts the most here is that there is NO RELATIONSHIP.  He is walking around handing out A&F clothes to people willy-nilly.  In trying to make a point to the A&F CEO, he’s making a point to the people he’s walking among.  If YOU wear this, it will really upset them.  Because you are not cool, you are not important, you are not good enough–not even good enough for me to do more than pull something out of my stack here and hand over whatever my hand touches to the next person I come across.

It’s based on his message, not the needs of those he’s “reaching out” to.

Ouch.

I heard the story about someone driving through the park tossing sandwiches out of their car at the folks sitting scattered through the park.  People, this breaks my heart.  We are called to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe those who are in need.  These are active verbs.  As in action.  As in, engaging the other person and assessing.  Are they hungry?  Thirsty?  In need?  THE ONLY WAY to know this is to know the person.  Talk to them.  Build a relationship.  If we just hand out STUFF, we are only meeting one person’s need–our own.

I don’t mean to suggest that donating food and clothes to missions is wrong.  Not at all.  Missions have game plans and procedures for assessing needs and distributing accordingly.  Most of them do this well.  What I am saying is that when we come across people who are different, people without homes, from different faiths, from different cultures, with different beliefs–we need to see that we are one.  All differences aside–One people.  If even one is suffering, we are all suffering.  If one is objectified, we all are.  If one is downtrodden…..well, you get my point.  It’s simply not an us-them.

pic of liberation quote

So if the information shared in the video and the policies of A&F trouble you, think about it.  Consider how your voice can be heard.   And then Act.  That’s important.  But consider, before you act, whom your actions are affecting.   For in the end, we are all one, and what we do to one of us, we are doing to all of us.  And if even one of us is hurt by it…..it’s just not worth it.

Grass Clippings

It’s that time again.  Time to mow the grass.  I suppose it’s on my mind even more so this year because I am overseeing the care of three yards for a while.  I am thankful for the folks helping me in this for sure.  And no, it’s not these guys.  Thank goodness.

Thank goodness I don't have these guys helping me.

Thank goodness I don’t have these guys helping me.

As I watch the grass turning green and hear the buzz of the mowers, I am carried back to when I was much younger and our yard at Blackberry Flats, where I grew up.  When we first moved out there, I was nine.  All we had at the time was a push mower.  On some Saturday mornings, I was offered the choice of doing my usual chores, which included dusting, or heading outside to help with the yard.  Suffice to say, I despise dusting.  So out I went.  Once the sun had burned off the dew.  Daddy had two major rules in mowing–no mowing on Sunday mornings and no mowing wet grass.

Eventually we were fortunate enough to have a hand-me-down riding mower.  Seems like I remember it having a handle-bar like steering mechanism instead of a steering wheel.  I don’t remember too much about that one, because I don’t think I got to drive it much, if at all.  My job was to do the trimming with the push mower.  I remember one time when I was assigned the trimming, and in stereotypical teenage fashion, I had gotten slack.  Daddy, of course, noticed this and called me to task.

“You doing your best out there?” he asked, when I came in for a glass of water.

“Yessir,” I said.

“Good,” he replied.

I went back out and “finished” up.   When I went to tell him I was done, he said, “Are you sure?”

“Yessir.”

“Okay, if I go out there and find some that you didn’t do, I’m going to give you a pair of scissors to finish trimming with.  Are you still sure?”

I shrugged.  I knew I hadn’t done it perfectly, but I figured he really wouldn’t check that closely.

WRONG.

He found it.  The patch of grass around the birdbath.  Yep, I had been sloppy, and I could only look at the ground as he pointed it out.  He handed me a pair of scissors.  About a half hour and several blisters later, I finally had it trimmed beautifully, the way I should have to begin with.  I never did that again, I tell you what.

Then I graduated to mowing with the riding mower.  Only by this time, I think we had one with a real steering wheel.   The deal was I could mow with it, as long as I helped with the trimming.  I loved it.  This was before I had my license, so I had all kinds of fun with that mower and my imagination.  Until…..

Well, let’s just say there were once three cedar trees in the side yard.  Instead of two.  They were newly transplanted little babies then.  Where everyone parks in the side yard?  Yeah, there.  And to all who have parked there, you’re welcome.  I didn’t meant to run over it one too many times, but there you go.

And the rose bush in the front yard.  I’m sorry, it was like a magnet.  I love trees and plants, I really do.  It’s just me and that power mower–we’re a bit dangerous together.  And in my defense, I think I was in reverse each time, so it’s not like it was an intentional act.  (I was probably trying to trim with the riding mower, so I wouldn’t have to get that push mower back out.)

Mowing and the aftermath has given us some great stories.  The stuff legends are made of.  Like the time that Aub and I were living there, and I was out in the yard with Mama raking up the thick clippings.  (No bag on that mower.)  It was like hay out there, so we were raking it up and putting it around some of the trees in the yard.  (Yes, the ones that survived the lawn mower massacre. Ahem.)  Daddy had gone in for a while, and it was an early summer evening.  Aub, about four years old, started pointing at the tall Leyland Cypress I had given Daddy one year for Father’s Day.  Her eyes were big as saucers.

“What? What is it?” I asked.

She pointed again.  “A snake.  In that tree.”

I turned around quickly, and sure enough, looking almost like a misplaced branch, was an extremely long, healthy-looking black snake poking his head out from all that green.

I froze.  “Go.  Get.  Cap.”  She didn’t need to be told twice.  She took off for the house.

Daddy came out, and he took the rake from me and used it to try to get the snake out of the tree.  He was going to carry him out to the “high grass,” our old horse pasture in the back.  Unfortunately the snake had different ideas.  He kept going around and around on the branches of the tree.  Daddy followed him around, pulling back branches, trying to reach him.  And then, all of a sudden, that big ol’ black snake shot out of the tree from a height of at least seven feet.  Oh.  My.  Land.

Mama let out a startled squeal.  I probably did too, but the snake never noticed me.  He ran straight for Mama.  Who ran too.  There they were, Mama and the snake, running for all they were worth.  Mama was convinced he was after her, and he was probably convinced we were after him.  She finally went off to one side and he kept on going, headin’ for the hills.  (Or the high grass as the case may be.)  Auburn told Mama in amazement that she had never seen her run so fast.   To this day, all one of us has to do is say, “Hey, remember the time that snake chased Mama…..”  We always get in trouble, because we can’t help but giggle.  Mama assured us it was not the leastbitfunny.

The smell of cut grass is a memory trigger for me.  To this day, it takes me back to those days at Blackberry Flats, and I’m never quite sure why.  But I love it.  I miss those lazy Saturdays when I was everything but lazy, mowing and trimming, and apologizing for whatever I’d run over.  I miss the smell of sun-dried sheets and supper cooking, and the taste of ice cold water from the well.  The sweet relief of the first evening breeze just as the sun starts to sink below the horizon.  And the sound of Mama’s voice, calling out to remind us, “Brush all that grass off of you before you come in that back door.  I just cleaned these floors.”

Ah, the precious sweetness of summer memories and the longing for days gone by.

pic of old lawn mower

Best Cookbook Ever

I love cookbooks.  One of my favorites is Aunt Bea’s Mayberry Cookbook that I got for Christmas probably twenty years ago.  I have some stand-by recipes from that one, including Mr. McBeevee’s Make Ahead Breakfast Casserole that I make every year for Christmas morning.  (And that is our big meal of the day!  I know, awesome, right?  I love our Christmases.)  I also love a cookbook that a dear sweet lady from Perry gave me as a wedding gift eleven years ago.  It is a small-town cookbook with awesome recipes, and I love that the ladies who wrote it tell you who in the family loved what recipe.  I use the sour cream pound cake recipe in that one faithfully.  (And I know that Miss Nelle always used 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup Crisco and Miss Mary used two sticks of margarine.  This is the kind of thing they share throughout.  Just precious.)

But I have to say that my all time favorite cookbook is one that has never been published.

It was when I was pregnant with my little guy almost seven years ago that I got a manila envelope in the mail from my youngest cousin.  She is a very smart young woman.  She knows how to cook delicious, healthy foods from scratch.  She can knit like nobody’s business, has a yen for yarn, and a heart for those in need all over the world.  And I love her more than I can put into words.

My most FAVORITE cookbook ever--filled with delicious recipes, all handwritten! (I've added the stains over the years.)

My most FAVORITE cookbook ever–filled with delicious recipes, all handwritten! (I’ve added the stains over the years.)

In the manila envelope was a four by six notebook.  It was lovely on the outside and I thought, well, how sweet.  I had no idea.  When I turned the cover, I saw that this notebook was filled on EVERY page.  With recipes.  Great ones.  But get this.  All.  Hand.  Written.  She sent it to congratulate us and to share her favorite recipes.  We are alike in this respect–we both love to bake, but cooking not as much.  One of my sisters says that my children are better off than hers, as she likes to cook and not bake.  “You’re going to feed yours, that’s a given…..and you’re going to bake.  Mine?  They pretty much get fed.  Baking not so much.”

So in this treasure of recipes, I have found some favorites that I have made over and over.  One of them is for Ginger Crinkles.  Guaranteed to put someone in labor.  I am not kidding.  After my little guy was born, I called my cousin and left her a message.  “The baby is here,” I said, and I left my number at the hospital.  We’re old school and hadn’t found out the gender, so of course she had to call back and say, “Well?”  I told her “it’s a boy” and his name, we chatted over his measurements, and then I said, “And it’s all your fault and those Ginger Crinkles.”  (I had made some on the Wednesday before he was born on Saturday–and I had been munching on them quite a bit.)

She laughed a little, and replied, “Yeah.  Sorry about that.”

“What?  I was just teasing you.”

She proceeded to tell me that ginger has properties that can speed up labor for a woman whose body is getting prepared.  She’s smart like that.  A wealth of knowledge that one.  And believe me, I’ve taken advantage of that wealth.  (She rescued us more than once while Mama was in the hospital.  Wow.  I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her for that.)

So it turns out that the Ginger Crinkles, which I tend to make a lot in the fall, are extra special cookies.  Good for you and extra, extra delicious.  I promise you I will never buy another ginger snap.   (And these cookies had similar results for both of my sisters when they were pregnant!)

Another favorite is the Cocoa Apple Cake.  For years, a red velvet cake made by Mama (without all the red dye–come on, people–that stuff canNOT be good for you) was my traditional cake.  But since I started making my own cake the past couple of years during Daddy’s fight with lymphoma, this has been my go-to cake.  Yes, I know chocolate, apple, allspice, and cinnamon might not sound that good, but oh my, you cannot imagine what you are missing.   It is amazing.  I could seriously eat it all in one sitting, I think.

There are so many others that we have tried and enjoyed, especially all of the muffin recipes, but I think the one we have made the most often is her Banana Bread recipe.  It has been called by one friend, “World Peace Banana Bread,” because, he says, if it were sent to warring countries, they would stop fighting.  It is just that good.  Tonight before we headed out on our walk (I made good on my promise from last night), I used up our bananas that were on their way out the door, and made a double batch of this bread.  Oh.  My.  Land.  It is so good, the one big pan is almost gone.  And that’s just from three of us eating on it.  I like to tell myself that with the fruit, the oatmeal, and the wheat germ, it has to be good for us, right?

Best banana bread ever!

Best banana bread ever!

I was thinking about the cookbook from my cousin as I prepared the banana bread once again this evening, and how many memories are tied into the different recipes (just like in Miss Nelle’s and Miss Mary’s cookbook).  And as we went on our walk after, I reflected on those memories.  I am so blessed, and I don’t take that lightly.  Well not most of the time anyway.

Tonight I am thankful for treasured gifts.  For my Mama who let me flour up the kitchen and bake whatever I wanted to try.  My Mama would come over after I was grown, look at the floor in my kitchen, and say, “Oh you’ve been baking, have you?”  Guilty.  I make a mess when I bake.  Always have.  Good stuff can come from great messes, my friends.

I’m also thankful for the treasured gift of my sweet and spunky cousin who sent me this precious memory-filled, hand-written cookbook.  She’s been on my mind and heart a lot lately.  I cannot imagine how much time it took her to put this together for me.  Or what time, energy, and patience the socks that she made for me during our dark times must have taken. (She even made sure the yarn was fair trade and environmentally friendly–have I mentioned how much I love her?) And what a treasure the shawl she knitted for me is, the one that I’ve used to wrap myself up in love and comfort as I’ve said goodbye to both of my parents.  I am thankful for her generous spirit that has her giving so freely of her gifts and her knowledge.  She is one who honks less and seeks more–she inspires me with the way she uses her gifts and talents to share with those in need, and how she empowers her children to do the same.   Mostly I am thankful for her love.  She loves with all her being, and I, among many, am blessed by that.  Family.  If you got a good one, hang on tight.  And love on them as much as you can, even if it gets a little messy.  Remember that good stuff I mentioned before?  That.  Family–they are one of life’s greatest gifts.

Me, a few years ago, during my baker apprenticeship

Me, a few years ago, during my baker apprenticeship

It’s Over…..

It's over!

It’s over!

This love affair is over.

I suppose it was bound to happen.  What has been full of love and affection and excitement for as long as I can remember is now OVER.  I’m done.  Let me out of this madness.

I’m done with Daylight Savings Time.

Since I was very young, I LOVED DST.  I could hardly wait for it to begin.  First weekend in April until last weekend in October.  I would get almost giddy as April approached.  Anyone want to know when the time change was happening?  Ask me, I always kept up with it.  And as the end of October approached, a certain sadness would creep in.  When they added on a few weeks of March and a few days in November, I was OVERJOYED.

But NO MORE.

I guess my first indication of trouble on the horizon occurred in 2007, when my little guy was almost six months old, and our Princess was three months shy of turning 3, and Aub was right at 12 years old.  My husband was deployed, and we were learning the ropes in our new neighborhood, new house, the first time he was gone since the birth of number three.  I was now extremely outnumbered.  Zone to zone defense was not even a possibility; my only goal was survival.  Because it didn’t get dark until around 9 p.m., I was likely waiting until 7 to get around to supper.  It was just how things were rolling.  I remember one evening when I was close to tears, the two littles were in tears, and I don’t recall Aub being very pleasant either.  It just wasn’t pretty.  At all.  I called Mama, as I would do, and just wanted some sympathy.  (On a scale of one to ten, I probably needed six “poor baby”‘s.)  She told me we were all too tired, and just bathe everyone and go to bed.  “But Mama,” I said through the gritted teeth and tears, “we haven’t had supper yet.”

“Tara, feed those babies.  They’re hungry.  Tomorrow night feed them at 5:30, bathe them, and y’all get ready for bed earlier.  Maybe that will help.”

And if you’ve been with me for very long in this, I am sure it won’t surprise you to find out that she was absolutely right.  The time change had thrown me all off.   In the winter we eat about dark, so I was programmed wait until closer to dark.  And up to that point, it had worked out okay.  But that was the beginning of the end.

Mama said she never was a fan of DST.  She dreaded it and didn’t like having to adjust.  I loved it so, and I would argue with her about it, trying to bring her over to my side.  I guess she never thought she’d live to see the day I would say I’m done with it, and I reckon she was right.  But Mama, wherever you are, I get it now.  Some days I beg for rain, just so I can have a reprieve from the happy happy joy joy of sunlight for over twelve hours. Each day.  And the pressure to make use of it.  All of it.

The last straw was tonight.  I’ve been feeling it for a while.  Honestly when the time rolled around in March to change the clocks, I was not in the mood.  The winter darkness suited my soul, and I just wasn’t ready.  So I guess I’ve been dragging my heels on this, not wanting to accept it.  Like when our little neighbor from one street over comes over at five minutes before 7 p.m. wanting to know if the littles can come out to play.  Or when there are still things I could be doing outside in the light, but my body is still on winter time, saying, “No, get ready for bed!”

It’s been a long year this weekend y’all.  Good mostly but very busy.  From the big festivities going on Friday to being tentative about today, visiting with our dear out of town friend, and still doing the “do,” I am tired.  So please forgive me for this “bad Mama” moment.  Everyone did get fed tonight, so there’s a plus.

I was putting things away tonight and had headed to the shower when there was a knock at the bathroom door.

“Yes?”

“Mama, I want us to take a Mother’s Day walk.”  It was the Princess.  Oh my.

“Really?  ‘Cause I’m getting in the shower. How about we go tomorrow?”

I won’t elaborate, but my tiredness and headache just said no, so her Daddy and her brother joined her.  I have promised to make it happen tomorrow evening, barring anything unforeseen.  Oh, the guilt.

I know.  Bad Mama.  But in my defense, it was after 7:30 p.m.  Doggone that Daylight Saving’s Time.  If we were in the middle of winter, we’d all have had supper, baths/showers, and be getting ready for bed.  That extra sunlight–it’s just too much pressure y’all.  I’m not up for it.  I don’t have all that in me.  I’m still in hibernation mode.  *sigh*  Maybe by the time we’re on the downhill slide in June, I’ll be a little more adapted.  But for tonight, me and DST–we’re over.  Or maybe I just need a nap.

pic of DST