The One About Chopped Up Plants and Brokenness and Hope

In her book and I shall have some peace there, Margaret Roach tells a story of self-awareness when she took a week off to garden at her then weekend home in upstate New York.  Her two friends from Seattle, fabulous gardeners–Charles and Glenn, were there to help her.  As she was working in one part of the yard, she looked over and saw Charles whacking away at her Hylemecon Japonicum, a plant she had nurtured and watched over for ten years, an unusual find at a Wildflower Society Sale in New England.  She was DEVASTATED, which probably showed in the volume of her voice and the things she said to Charles at the time.  She just could not imagine her plant not being right there where she’d planted it, growing back each spring after curling up and lying dormant underground each winter.  It looks dead each winter, but really it’s not.

Devastated.  Lost.

But there’s a happy ending.  The next April, and each spring after, Ms. Roach’s yard was literally blanketed in this precious plant.  There is great joy and reminder in the sight of all that has come from the chopping up of her plant.

I thought about this a couple of days ago when I planted our new butterfly bushes.  I remember the first time I pulled up at Mama and Daddy’s house and saw the butterfly bushes I’d given Daddy–the ones that had been THRIVING–were cut back to almost nothingness.  Oh my word, who had lost their mind and WHY?  Daddy explained to me that this was so they would grow even stronger the next spring.  And he was right.  I grew up around peaches, and they were a big part of my life at one point.  It was so hard to watch the trees being pruned and to fear that the ones who wielded the pruning shears would not be careful enough.  But it was for the better growth of the trees.  The Lantana Daddy kept by the air conditioner unit outside is the same way.  Roses too.  Cut them back in winter, they’ll grow back in the spring.

I can sympathize with Ms. Roach.  Last fall we were cleaning up the flower beds and preparing to put out more pinestraw.  I had walked away for a moment to catch up with my sweet neighborfriend.  When I turned around I saw my husband using a shovel to dig up what he thought was a weed.  I couldn’t breathe.  Tears were ready to flow.  He was digging and chopping up my Hairy Wandering Jew that my gardening friend had not only given me but planted in the bed herself, showing me that it would grow better outside of the pot she had brought it over in.  (And that’s another lesson my friends–for another time.)

More Hairy Wandering Jew and purple behind it--all gifts from my gardening friend and waiting to be put in the ground to grow and thrive.

My Hairy Wandering Jew and the purple behind it–all gifts from my gardening friend and waiting to be put in the ground to grow and thrive.

Devastated doesn’t even begin to cut it.  Mad.  Upset.  Hurt.  Check, check, and check.  As I stood over the delicate tendrils of my little plant–all whacked to pieces and lying limply in the soil, I cried and reached down.  I didn’t have it in me to throw the pieces out.  I covered them in pinestraw and walked away.  Heartbroken.  I know, it’s just a plant, but it meant something to me because of the love and care of a friend that it represented.  And because it was something I was helping to live.  That was huge.

I had no idea that these plants have the amazing ability to come back, like roses and butterfly bushes and peaches.  And so much else in our world.  Maybe even–me?

Today I was out repotting some of my herbs and cacti, and I looked over at that flower bed and smiled.  Because instead of the one little cluster of Hairy Wandering Jew, there is a great spread of them.  Growing and thriving.  Determined.  Beautiful.

My little plant, before all broken apart, now growing and spreading and thriving.

My little plant, before all broken apart, now growing and spreading and thriving.

It is mind-blowing to me that what looks like death, like THE END, only serves to strengthen the growth when the dormant period is over.  The idea that brokenness can not only be mended but actually fosters more growth than before.  Mind.  Blown.  It defies logic.  C’mon, this is amazing stuff, right?

Last year I gave Mama a pink geranium for Mother’s Day.  She loved it.  Unfortunately between her HospitalStay last August and then the horrible one in January-February, we didn’t take very good care of it.  I’ll just say it–we let it die.  Our minds were on other things besides watering and pruning and the like.

At the beginning of spring, I was over at the house taking care of a few things, and I noticed a tiny bit of green in the abandoned pot sitting over by the edge of the back porch steps.  Surely not.  But I moved it to sit against Daddy’s building–it would get sun but not a lot, and maybe a little more rain than normal from what would run off the roof.  I was not going to be able to water it regularly.  Taking her from her home did not enter my mind, oddly enough.  And look at her go now!

Mama's geranium coming back full force after a winter of me thinking it was gone.

Mama’s geranium coming back full force after a winter of me thinking it was gone.

I may be oversimplifying things, but I find comfort in knowing that that which is broken, that which appears to be without life can actually be getting ready to grow better than ever before.  I know what brokenness feels like from the inside out.  Most of us do.  I know what dormancy is like.  I often have those days now.  Call me silly, but I look at these plants, these flowers, and knowing what they looked like just a few months ago, I find a bit of peace and some hope to cling to.  Maybe, just maybe, all the raw brokenness inside and all that which seems dead will, after a time of dormancy, be ready to grow again.  Ready to grow and spread all that was planted inside of me by my Mama and Daddy–seeds of loving unconditionally, seeking justice, fighting for what’s right, walking away from what’s not, and just being there for each other.

I found this quote today.  It speaks to what I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with Spring —-  George Santayana

I have always savored the anticipation of the next season coming along, while being fairly content in the current season.   The point is, without the quiet and death-like dormancy of Winter in our lives, there would be no Spring and all that beautiful growth.  And that fills me with hope.  And as I just wrote to a friend, “Always.  Always hold onto hope.  It’s free.  So why not?”

Always

always

Oh Good Grief

Grief.  There’s an odd duck, right?  It’s like that friend you had in school you weren’t quite sure why you were friends, but he was always around, so you had to put up with him.  And he was so unpredictable.  Today you might get along okay, but then tomorrow…..who knows?

Well, thank you, Agent Obvious, for scoping out and sharing that in-depth insight.  Yes, I know, it is obvious.  You’d think none of this would surprise me since I worked with Hospice for over two years, and I learned so much from the precious families I was lucky enough to work with.

And yet, yes, I have been surprised.

Like when I bought this last week at the GW Boutique–

If she were here, Mama would have already washed, ironed, and worn this shirt at least twice since I bought it last week.

If she were here, Mama would have already washed, ironed, and worn this shirt at least twice since I bought it last week.

I bought my Mama a shirt.  Is that crazy?  It’s even her favorite brand.  The thing is, when I was buying it, I thought I was getting it for me.  A navy linen shirt for wearing over a sleeveless top or something like that.  It was after I washed it and was putting it away that it hit me.  If Mama were here, I would have delighted in surprising her with it.  She would have loved it.  The three-quarter length sleeves were her favorites.  I expect she would have worn it with a white top and khaki slacks to the two services and the Sunday School Class she attended at her church each Sunday.  And then she would have called to tell me that she’d worn it and how much she’d enjoyed it.  She was like that.  She loved to tell you when she enjoyed something you’d given her. Don’t get me wrong–if she didn’t care for it, I knew that too.  But over the years, especially in the past four since Daddy got so sick, I’ve gotten better at shopping for her.  And now less so for myself, I guess.  I look at this shirt and wonder if I’ll ever wear it.  And yet, I don’t think I can get give it away just yet.

And then yesterday at our favorite Used Bookstore, I picked up this book.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz.  I think Daddy might have enjoyed reading this.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. I think Daddy might have enjoyed reading this.

I did stop short of buying it after it hit me that I was looking at it with Daddy in mind.  He was an eclectic reader; he liked different sorts of books, and this one for sure sounded like an interesting read.  I put it back gingerly, almost patting it in place.  Maybe one day I will read it, but without Daddy to talk about it with, I just don’t know.

I’ve been surprised on this journey of loss and grief on more than one occasion.  Like my first time at the grocery store after Daddy died.  I wandered through somewhat aimlessly and then, going down the sugar aisle, saw some candy that I knew he would love.  I reached for it and then I remembered.  Or my first time in Target after Mama passed.  I had been on a mission to find her a new pair of khaki slacks for quite a while.  As I headed back to pick up what I had come for, I found myself detouring to look for the pants.  And again, I remembered.  Surprised.  I don’t know why our hearts and brains work the way they do, but I find it fascinating that they both can be taken by surprise regarding something I KNOW.

But I’ve also been surprised in good ways.  Surprised by how close I feel to them at times.  Like they are right there in the moment.  Usually it’s when I’m in my car by myself, which is not often.  Once I found myself replying to what I knew Mama had/would have said in that moment.  (That was interesting for anyone around, I’m sure–it was quite an animated conversation, as I recall.)  I also feel close to Daddy when I’m planting or with one of the animals or just outside at all.  I feel close to Mama at her kitchen table.  Or when I’m reading.  Sometimes *whispering* it feels like they aren’t even gone at all.

I’ve been surprised by laughter.  When my Daddy first went in the hospital I told my brother that I would not be able to breathe if anything happened to Daddy.  Some days it’s hard to take one breath after another, but then others, the laughter comes easily.  And hard.  And often.  And I know he would like that.

I’ve been surprised that I can function.  That I can cook the meals and wash the clothes.  TCB’ing, Mama called it, short for taking care of business.  It is when I actually finish doing something, like getting all the clothes washed and put away (before the ones they’re wearing are ready for washing), that I think YES! and know she would be cheering alongside me.  When I actually clean the floors and mop, and I would have called her to hear her say, “Well don’t you feel sanctimonious!”, that’s when I smile.  I know she’s still cheering me on.  I can feel it.

Last summer one of my aunts asked me how I was doing.  I was going out to the cemetery once or twice a week to water the tea olive we’d planted on Daddy’s birthday the previous March.   I told her that when I went out there by myself I felt like laying down next to Daddy’s headstone and just staying put.  She replied, almost immediately:

P.S.  If you want to lie down beside your daddy’s headstone, go for it.  Just be careful of the fire ants.

I love her and her wisdom, this aunt of mine, who has had more to mourn than most.  She made me laugh.  On my very next trip to the quiet little country church cemetery, as I was standing there talking to Daddy and crying and pouring the eight gallons of water from Blackberry Flats over the little tree, I felt a bite.  On my toe.  Great.  I stopped crying long enough to check for more ants.  Seeing none, I went back to my emotional breakdown, talking and crying and pouring, letting out all of the storm raging within.  Then *ouch* a second bite.

I laughed.

How could I not?

I am reminded of Mama’s favorite verses from the Good Book.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  

 a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up

Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (RSV)

I guess what my aunt and those ants (the irony here is not lost on me) were trying to tell me is there is a time to grieve and break down, and a time to build yourself up, move through it, and take care of business.

Now I just have to work on figuring out which is when.  Preferably without any help from those ants.

Mama wrote this on the back of her Mary Engelbreit Page a Day calendar pages she used for note paper.  She handed it to me to remind me to read it.  I carry it with me in my wallet always.  I am finally starting to get what she was trying to tell me.  Thank you, Mama. <3

Mama wrote this on the back of one of her Mary Engelbreit Page a Day calendar pages she used for note paper. She handed it to me to remind me to read it. I carry it with me in my wallet always. I am finally starting to get what she was trying to tell me. Thank you, Mama.

The Giant Didn’t Win

It was so hot that day.  September can be like that in Georgia, and that day in 2009 was no different.  Especially on the roof of the parking deck at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.  I had walked all the way to the elevator, taken it down, and was on my way into the hospital when I remembered.  I’d forgotten them.

The rocks I took to Daddy when he was at Emory--in the back our newly planted butterfly bushes and lantana, it all makes me think of him.  He taught me to use a shovel and dig a hole for planting.

The rocks I took to Daddy when he was at Emory–in the background are our newly planted butterfly bushes and lantana, it all makes me think of him. He taught me to use a shovel and dig a hole for planting, and he got me the birdbath and set it up right there. 

The rocks I’d brought him.  From home.  Blackberry Flats.

Just a day or two before, I’d been at their house checking on things.  As I pulled out of the dirt driveway, I remembered I wanted to take him rocks from home.  So I put the car in park, hit the hazard lights, and got out to pick up five rocks from the gravel they’d brought in to level out the ruts in the drive.

Five rocks.  I’d read that five was the number of rocks David had when he went to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40).  Daddy was definitely in a fight for his life against some kind of Giant.  I figured he needed all the fighting power he could get.

Over the next two years, Daddy and I would have some interesting conversations about David.  “A man after God’s own heart.”  How did that even happen?  Have you heard what he did?  What he was capable of?  Wow.  It must be hard, when you’ve lived your life doing pretty much as you should (there was that one story about the rabbit tobacco) and then some, and you find yourself fighting something that is hard to fully comprehend, it must be really hard then to hear a story about someone who did some pretty awful things and yet found “God’s favor.”  I’m just sayin’.

But that day in September of 2009, I made the trek back to my Blazer, refusing to hear the “Oh, just leave them, you can take them to him next time” echoing in my head.  The “what if there’s not a next time” conversations were much, much louder.  Always.  Those words pretty much ruled my actions, plans, and routines for the next two years.  And I don’t regret it at all.

I kept the rocks in my pocket during our time together in the small hospital room there at Emory.  Just before this visit we’d learned the name of this Giant.  Lymphoma.  Of the brain.  A rare form.  As I prepared to leave, I placed the rocks in Daddy’s hands and said, “For the fight, Daddy.  You can fight this Giant.  We know its name and it’s got nothing on you.”

And he did fight it.  For a long time.  After Daddy died in November 2011, Mama gave me the rocks, placed safely in one of those plastic bags the newspapers come in on rainy days.  I brought them home and tucked them in a drawer, unable to bear even holding them in my hands.  A few days ago, I found them and they made me smile.

Because now I’m trying to use them to remind me of Daddy’s spirit in the battle.  In an email I sent out on September 8th, the day the Giant was given a name, I wrote:

Daddy walked around the hall 8 times today!  I asked Mama if he did it because he felt like it or if it made him feel better.  She said neither.  He just did it because they want him to, it helps keep things circulating, and because, though he’s very tired, he’s in this fight.

Rock 1–Persevere.  Even when you don’t feel like it.

I also wrote:

I don’t have a lot more information on the disease because I just can’t make myself google it and “borrow trouble.”  I’m clinging to the doctor’s word “treatable.”

Rock 2–Hope.  That was Daddy’s rule.  Do not borrow trouble.  Whether it was anticipating rain or worrying over the surgery to do his brain biopsy, we were not to borrow trouble.  I have many days I have to remind myself of that rule.  MANY.

Daddy’s form of lymphoma was so rare, the doctors weren’t really sure what type it was.  Mama and Daddy asked the doctor a question about it, and he said he’d have to get back to them on that.  Yeah, we’re still waiting on that one.  In the same e-mail I added:

One of my aunts said, “Well, that’s your Daddy for you–he’s usually in rare form.”  We’re not immune to laughter around here. 

Rock 3–Laugh.  A lot.

When Daddy finally made it home after over a month at Emory, he walked in the back door of his house to find me and the crew there waiting (like one hungry dog does another–ahem) to eat pizza with him.  They had not seen him at all during his time at Emory.  It was such a precious homecoming.  My little guy looked up, mouth full of pizza, and in one of the most anticlimactic moments ever, said, “Hey Cap!” with a big cheesy grin.  Daddy stopped for a second, looked at him, smiled just as big, and said, “Hey, Cooter!”  Happiness abounded.

Rock 4–Treasure the little things.  From katydids on dahlias to baby girls looking for Mustangs to little guys driving Matchbox cars around the hospital bed rails.  Find joy in every moment you can.

Rock 5–Give up.  In his lifetime and especially after his diagnosis, Daddy gave up a lot.  Prejudices, expectations, dreams, plans.  And so much more.  In giving up, Daddy showed us how to fight the Giant with dignity and hope and peace, rather than with the anger and bitterness that could have just as easily taken over our lives.

So I think I’ll put these rocks out where I can see them.  And treasure memories of my Daddy who loved and lived for others, especially his family.  And remember the lessons he taught us as he fought to slay the Giant and prepared to say goodbye.

Because the Giant didn’t win.  It might have beaten his body but it never conquered his spirit.  With each rock Daddy threw–persevering, staying hopeful, all that wonderful laughter, treasuring the stories and time with those he loved, and giving up the script he might have written for himself–with each rock–he kept that Giant from taking over his mind, his heart, and his spirit.  And for that, I’ll always be thankful.

Our Princess playing soccer with her Cap in 2008.  The littles talk about how he can play soccer again now, in Heaven, and they just hope he's playing "really good."

Our Princess playing soccer with her Cap in 2008. The littles talk about how he can play soccer again now, in Heaven, and they just hope he’s playing “really good.”

Do You Think They’re Afraid?

Today on one of our many adventures, the littles and I got two butterfly bushes in addition to some other fun things to plant.  The butterfly bushes were, I suppose, an attempt to make my yard a little more hospitable.  To, you know, the critters.  (I heard a friend share that she has no bees in her yard, and I got sad, okay?  And it’s not for her lack of trying, so I got worried, since this spring, gardening wise, I’ve pretty much been a slacker.) In hindsight, perhaps it was my subconscious remembering the two I gave Daddy one year for his birthday. They are such happy, busy plants.  Critters always hovering and dancing around them.

A pretty butterfly bush

A pretty butterfly bush

Daddy had planted them next to his building.  (A workshop of sorts, I suppose really, but we always called it “Daddy’s building.”)  If his truck wasn’t parked right there facing the bushes, that was my parking spot in the yard–and still is.  The butterfly bushes grew fast and were fairly low maintenance, until one cold day I pulled up and they were all cut back.  But that’s what you do–cut them back so they will grow well the next spring.  And that’s another whole discussion for some other time.

So regardless of the reason, we brought these two home to plant in the back where we had a tree that died and had to be cut down.  My little friend was out there in my ground up stump pile last week trying to dig a big hole, and I thought what better to put in there than a butterfly bush.  (I’m afraid he’s not going to get my pool dug before he moves.)  I would love to have lots of butterflies out there celebrating, sharing with all their butterfly friends that THIS is the place to be.  Last summer we were lucky that my horticultural genius of a friend shared some of her cocoons with us.  We watched them hatch and then let them go when they were ready.  It was when I looked the little butterfly that was sitting on my finger in his precious little face that I wondered:

pic of caterpillar making cocoon 2When he made his cocoon, was he afraid?

Did he wonder what was about to happen?  Did he know where he was going?  Did he know just how beautiful and free and DIFFERENT his new life was going to be?  Had anyone told him?  Did he believe them?  Was he afraid?

I’ve thought about this a lot.

Because, well, if he was afraid, I just don’t think I could bear it.

But maybe I’m not just talking about butterflies anymore.

Tomorrow I will go out and plant my new butterfly bushes.  And wonder.  And remember.  Party on, my friends, you’ve had quite the journey.  Welcome home.

American Lady butterflies taken by greenart.com

American Lady butterflies taken by greenart.com

What Does Your Shirt Say?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning with t-shirts on the brain. In my dream just before I woke up, my little guy ran by with some sort of lime green shirt on that I didn’t recognize. I woke up just as I stopped him to read it and make sure it was appropriate.

And then I couldn’t go back to sleep.

It seems to me that t-shirts have become a culture all their own–complete with messages and pictures that people use quite often to make a statement. I support this, this is my favorite, I am against this, isn’t this funny, I’m hip because this shirt is this brand…..

I’ve always been pretty particular about the shirts I let my children wear. I mean, really, sometimes there’s just no need. I became more aware of shirt messages when I had my little guy after having two girls. For whatever reason, shirts for little girls seem to have sweeter messages–until they hit the teen sizes.   Buying clothes for a baby boy also coincided with my oldest hitting the teen sizes.

And these were among my choices.

Let's just go ahead and set up a great self-fulfilling prophecy for our new little one now, 'kay?

Let’s just go ahead and set up a great self-fulfilling prophecy for our new little one now, ‘kay?

Oh yes, the shirt every teenager needs--NOT.

Oh yes, the shirt every teenager needs–NOT.

What on earth?!

I put my foot down.  The happy bunny shirts were everywhere, and it’s a little harder to convince a 12-year-old female than it is a 1-year-old male that something isn’t appropriate, but that’s how I felt.  Yes, the words, “I don’t care what everyone else is wearing…..” actually left my mouth and entered airspace for all around to hear.  I mean, REALLY?  Who decides this is a good idea?  Who wants their children carrying these messages around all day?

In the past couple of weeks, there has been quite the stir about a t-shirt sold by Abercrombie and Fitch.  Really A & F? Showing such wisdom again?   The shirt is white with a sparkly silver message:  “#more boyfriends than t.s.”  with their trademark moose beneath.

Wow.  Apparently A & F didn’t know what they didn’t know.  Turns out Taylor Swift fans are not only loyal, but they can get things done.  They started a petition and in the end, A & F removed the shirt from their line.  Good for them.  Because here’s the thing, when did it become okay in our world to knock other people down?  And on our clothing?  I understand that maybe Ms. Swift hasn’t made the wisest choices relationship-wise, but she hasn’t married any of these guys.  She’s dating them.  I know young people who aren’t famous who date and date and date, and no one’s publicly ostracizing them.  Besides, it’s NONE OF OUR BUSINESS.  And who would wear this shirt?  What kind of message was it intended to project?  Positive?  Negative?  Did they even know when they designed it?

Whose job is it to come up with these shirt slogans?  Seriously, because I have a feeling they are making big bucks.  I want that job.  Or if not me, could the people who are designing t-shirt slogans crack open a book sometime?  Or if books elude you, could you please google great quotes? If our shirts are to be used as walking billboards, could we please aim for classier humor or messages that are affirming and worth sharing?

My Aunt embroidered a shirt with an awesome message on it for my cousin–“Save Our Planet.  It’s the only one with chocolate.”  See? That right there?  That’s what I am talking about.  One of my favorites is my red t-shirt from Jessi July that says, “Skeeters, Gnats, and Baseball Bats–Southern Summer.”  Another is a shirt my oldest has from my all-women alma mater (which will soon be her alma mater).  It has a football helmet on it–“Wesleyan College:  Undefeated Since 1836.”  Love that one.  Like folks say about letting someone you’re upset with live in your head rent-free, I’m just not for broadcasting thoughts that I don’t like–rent free on my outfit.

So, what do you think?  What’s your favorite slogan on your t-shirt or hoodie?  Any suggestions for something you’d like to see on one?  I think it’s time we make these folks earn their money–get creative and fun without all the negativity.  Ideas?

She Showed Me the Rainbows

It sure has been raining a lot this summer. I’m not complaining. It’s been nice, keeping things green and not as hot as usual. It reminds me of my summer in Valdosta in 1985 when it seemed to rain around the same time every afternoon, leaving the evenings unbearably humid when the sun would come out again. I am grateful it’s not imitating the summer of 1994–the one when it started raining and didn’t stop until we had all kinds of flood damage around here.

Yesterday evening we were at Daybreak up in Macon. The meal was over and folks were heading out, trying to find cover before the impending storm hit. I kept watching out the back window of the building as the dark clouds came closer and closer. I wondered if it would hit before we left. I used to love rainy weather and all that it entailed until I started going up to Come to the Fountain and Daybreak and getting to know our friends who have no place to call home. Now it comes with worry–where will our friends go? How will they weather yet one more downpour?

As I was gathering my thoughts and the discarded plates and soupbowls, one of our friends and fellow volunteers tapped me on my arm–“Hey look, a rainbow!” He pointed out the side window. The whole time I’d been watching through the back windows, focused on the storm approaching, there through the side window a beautiful rainbow could be seen.

My littles gazing out at the rainbow through the side window at Daybreak

My littles gazing out at the rainbow through the side window at Daybreak

Well, the picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was there.  I gathered my littles and took them over to the window for a closer look.  As it seemed to be fading, it was harder for them to see it, but once they did, oh the joy on their sweet faces!

Today I’ve had my Mama on my heart more than usual.  I miss her so much.  She was good at that, you know.  In the storms of life, instead of watching the storm approach or cowering in the midst of it, she was always looking for that rainbow.  Some days feel a little stormier than others.  I sure could use her here to help me look at things from a different point of view and see the rainbow, instead of panicking about the storm.  She was someone who saw many storms, bad ones, from a very young age.  Yet she worked to prevent storms from hitting us, her babies (always her babies, she’d say), head-on.  When one inevitably did, she was there with open arms–to gather us close, to dry our tears, and to help us seek the rainbow–a sign of hope.  And if we were headstrong and just wouldn’t look, so bogged down in our own misery, she was the first one to call us out, and say, “Get up! Look around.  There’s a whole world of good out there.  Don’t let this define you.”

I am thankful for the time I had with my Mama.  Is it okay to say it wasn’t enough?  I am so thankful that today when my Aub and I were talking about what Mama would have said about something, we were both quoting her back and forth verbatim.  Because she’s in our hearts, we know what she’d say most of the time.  It’s just we miss having her say it, hearing the love in her voice and seeing the light in her eyes as she did.  I really appreciate that my friend, who had no idea the turbulence in my heart right now, was looking out for the rainbow and took the time to share it.  I think that’s what we are called to do–show each other encouragement.  And hope.  And point out the rainbows even as the storm clouds gather.  Sometimes, when there’s just no words to fix it, that’s the best we can do.

Where are the Channel Changers?

A few nights ago my neighbors and I were visiting in our backyard while our children played for a few minutes before heading in for baths and bed.  The husband and I somehow got into a conversation about who had it “harder” growing up, while his wife stood back and laughed.  “Y’all sound like a couple of old folks,” she said.

Things like when we got a color TV, how old we were when we first had central heat and air, and such as that.  It made me laugh to think about how different my own growing up was compared to what my children will remember.  We had baseboard heaters and an attic fan that pulled cool air through the windows–only if there was a storm you couldn’t use it because it would pull in rain too.  I was in high school before we had color TV or a VCR or a computer.  Our first computer was a TI-99/4A that hooked up to a tv–yep, a little black and white.  I was SO excited when we got it.  Wow.  Little did I know where that kind of technology was headed.  Today what used to be huge bag phones are really pocket-sized computers, cameras, and boom boxes all rolled into one “smart” phone.  Amazing.

I think what we laughed the hardest over was our televisions and how we changed the channel.  This was back in the day before television remotes.  Hush your mouth, you mean there ever was a time such as that?  There sure was. Hard times.  You had to get up and WALK TO THE TV to change the channel or the volume.  I think I was grown and married before I saw a remote for a TV.

My friend said that he and his sisters sat just far enough away that they could still turn the dial for changing the channel with their feet.  Usually his older sister, the tallest of the bunch, was elected to do it.  I love the picture of them scooching across the floor until just close enough to use their feet to operate the television.  Too funny.

But I win.

Because this is how we changed the channel at my house.

pic of slip joint pliersChannel changers.

Say what?  Pliers?  Noooooo, those are channel changers.  To this day, that is what my family calls them.

See, the plastic dial on the TV that you gripped and turned had broken off of our old black and white set, leaving only a metal stick-shaped piece jutting out.  Being the good steward he was, Daddy figured out everything still worked perfectly well if we took the channel changers, gripped the metal piece and turned.  Voila! Perfection.  The only problem was when those blame things had been carried off to be used for something other than their intended purpose–changing the channel.  (And this was not a job you could do with your fingers–believe me, I tried.)  That was when whoever was trying to watch something different could be heard calling from the living room–“Where are the CHANNEL CHANGERS?!?!!!” Well, that and you never knew what channel it was on until you sat and watched for a few minutes.  Oh, and that was the other thing, we only had one television set.  In the whole house.

The thing I love about my conversation with my friend is that we both were acting as though we had it SO hard growing up.  And maybe by the standards of some, we did, but I don’t think either one of us thought we had it hard when we were living it.  It was just the way it was.  And life was pretty doggone good.

Tonight I’m thankful for great friends and laughing over the past together.  I give thanks for my resourceful Daddy who could fix just about anything.   He taught me to see beyond something’s prescribed purpose and be a problem solver.  Though I may not know where the screwdriver or hammer got off to, and even though I don’t need them for that purpose anymore, I always keep the channel changers handy.  Because you just never know.

Now We’re the Pineapple People

One of my favorite people in the world is turning four next month.  He is our neighbor and one of my little guy’s best friends.  He cracks me up.  He is full of energy and life and I just love him.

I have watched him grow from a newborn to a fellow who says, “Let’s play ‘Ready Set Go.'”  Then you say those three words and he revs his “engine” and takes off.  Bless him, I wish I had that energy.  Even just five minutes a day would be good.

Within our little corner of the world here, we have a street full of young’uns ranging from three to eight in this group that plays together.  Their birthdays fall throughout the year, so it seems like there is always a birthday coming up for one of the children.  As you might imagine, they have their fair share of–ahem–discussions as well.  My almost four-year old friend came up with what I believe may be the greatest indication of where you stand with him.  One of the children did something to frustrate him, and he told his Mama, “She’s off my birfday wist.”  It doesn’t get much more serious than that folks.  He is for real.

But grace abounds.  You can right a wrong and he’ll put you back on his list.  Which is good.  Seeing as how his birthday is next month, I’m trying to be careful and not take any chances.

The shovel in our ground up tree stump pile.....that pool is really coming along!

The shovel in our ground up tree stump pile…..that pool is really coming along!

Two nights ago we were out back in our ground up tree stump pile. (Yes, that’s what it is, doesn’t everyone have one?)  Our friend likes to dig in it with the shovel my Daddy got our Princess for digging years ago.  He was digging for all he was worth–I think he might be digging me a pool, and I’m really quite pleased.  He would toss the dirt behind him.  On one toss he threw dirt all over his brother’s shirt.  The next one he threw dirt all in the Princess’ hair.  All was well because they knew he didn’t mean to.  I really don’t think they forgave him because of his upcoming festivities, but then again, you never know.  As his sweet Mama was gathering her two to head home, I took the shovel and dug a little out, almost without thought.  Sure enough, my little bit of dirt flew onto my friend’s shoes.  Oh dear.  He was NOT happy.  At all.  Fearfully, I said, “Am I still on your birthday list?”  He frowned and folded his arms across his chest and shook his head.  I’ve got to tell you, I was just about devastated.  As they started heading home, I followed behind him and told him he could play again the next morning.  He laughed, and when I asked, I was BACK ON the birthday list.  Huge sigh of relief.

My friend and his precious brother, both my guy’s best friends, are moving.  Such is the life of the military family.  Saying goodbyes, packing up, moving.  My heart is breaking.  Our children have had their own Roxaboxen out here.  I have loved this family and been loved by them.  I will miss the way my little guy and their older son, both two when they moved in, prefer to ride the other’s Big Wheels.  Every single time.  I’ll miss their games of good guy bad guy, when the little brother, my friend, runs after them with his siren blaring.  The three boys love to aggravate our Princess and her friend, and five minutes later they are all sitting together in my front yard playing “Duck Duck Goose.”  They all call my three by our family nicknames, which is so precious to me.  Their Daddy is the one who replaced the tire on our Princess’ bike when our Daddy was serving overseas.  Another time he was the one who helped us figure out what to do with the lethargic little chipmunk who found his way into our garage.  (We returned him to the woods where he is scampering playfully to this day–disagree and you’re not on my birfday list anymore.)  Their Mama and I have had so many late afternoon visits standing in her front yard or mine, sitting on her back porch or my front one.  When I got the call from Mama to come say goodbye to my Daddy nineteen months ago, she knew because she saw me leave my house so early and she KNOWS me.  When Mama went in for her HospitalStay, my sweet neighbor friend cooked a huge meal (actually several in one) for all of us, even remembering my Aub’s and my sister’s special food allergies.   And when our washing machine went out and we had no way to wash our clothes for Mama’s funeral, she was the one who said, “Bring them over here.  I got this.”  And she did.  Washed, dried, and hung up ready to go.  Neighbors and dear friends like that don’t come around very often.  I will miss her sweet spirit that she shares so generously.

pic of pineapple statue

When our neighbors moved in four years ago, one of the first things we noticed was a pineapple on their mailbox.  Pineapples represent hospitality, and this is one family that embodies that a thousandfold.  A week ago, I came home and the pineapple was on our mailbox.  We are only keeping it until this sweet family returns to our neighborhood in a few years.  But it was at that moment that the tears started flowing and the loss became real for me.

Change and goodbyes, you are not on my birfday list.  And I don’t think you will be back on it anytime soon.

Don’t Blink

pic of aardvark day

Today I took my oldest to college to register for classes.  Wow.  When did that even happen?  Seriously, just yesterday I was up with her three-month old self for three hours straight because she wanted to play and would not go to sleep.  And today?  We’re registering for COLLEGE CLASSES?  The world has gone insane.

My Aub is going to my Alma Mater, Wesleyan College.  I’m thrilled, but it was completely and totally her choice, which brings me even greater joy.  She told someone today she’d wanted to go since she was five.  I think back to her pulling out my yearbooks that were almost too heavy for her to tote, then crashing on her bed, flipping through pictures of those good ol’ days.  In a year she will have a yearbook of her own filled with her first year memories.  Again, wow.

After we arrived, we sat downstairs in an area that used to be either the post office or the snack bar; I’ve gotten so turned around I can’t be sure.  We were asked to arrive early and wait for her name to be called.  They called her name and off she went.  Without me.  Big steps, people, big steps.  For me, that is.  She was fine.  I sat and worked on my challenge I’ve given myself–not to fiddle with my cell phone while waiting.  I’m trying to take in all around me and visit with folks when appropriate.  As I sat back in the chair, I heard voices carrying from around the corner.  It seemed to be a Dad talking to his daughter about her class schedule.

“See…..this is what you want here.  This will give you time to get up, exercise, shower, and then get ready for class…..” Dad said.

Whaaaaat?

Then Mom shared, “When your Day Planner arrives–it’s like your agenda from school–you can put all these in it.”

Hmmmmm.

Aren’t they cute?  I mean, really, couldn’t you just hug ’em?  I don’t know if I ever saw the family as it was starting to get crowded.  But if I’d seen them, I would have had to resist the urge.

Y’all are precious.  You think you’ve got her days mapped out just how they should go, AND that they are going to go just that way.

And they might.  For a few days.

I can remember days of 8:15 classes (good news, baby girl–now they’re backed up 15 minutes to 8 on the dot!), rolling out of bed, hairbrush, toothbrush, grab my books and roll–arriving in class with about two seconds to spare.  No breakfast, no exercise, no morning meditation.  I am sure this was not how my parents would have suggested I prepare for my days of learning, and it wasn’t how I started off my college experience, but it was what it was.

These young women have the opportunity to re-create themselves.  They get to try, if they want, being the person who gets up two hours before class, jogs, showers, meets friends for breakfast, and then on to class.  Or the person who wears yoga pants and t-shirts to class everyday.  Or the person who has never really been athletic but joins her class soccer team…..or volleyball…..or takes a Zumba or water aerobics class.  The person who didn’t study in high school can become the studious one whom everyone turns to for help in preparing for the mid-term.  The young woman who hasn’t been on stage since her fourth grade class play can try out for the first play of the season and find her niche in Porter Auditorium.  Though she may never have been very outgoing before, she might decide to run for class vice-president and win the election.  She can begin college thinking she’s going to be a teacher but instead graduate with a Psychology degree and dreams of graduate school.  So many doors are opening for these young women, they only have to decide which ones to walk through.

And that’s what I try to remind myself.  When I tell my girl about the adventures I had there, I want to remember she will create her own adventures.  She may want to be on STUNT Committee or become a Peer Counselor and RA, but she MIGHT NOT.  She may never set foot on the stage of Porter or put a toe in the pool.  And that is okay.  Did you hear that, Aub?  It’s okay.  I share these stories just to share them.  No pressure, no expectations.  Except two.

Be who you are.  And (quoting Mama) be your very best self.

Unless of course–

Yeah.  Pretty much the best advice.  Ever.

Yeah. Pretty much the best advice. Ever.

A Night to Celebrate!

Original Artwork by my young'un

Original Artwork by my young’un

Tonight this is how I feel!

Today the weather has been beautiful.  Here it is the first day of summer and I must say, June, you are behaving yourself just fine.  The breeze, the sun, the clouds, the less than normal temperature.  GORGEOUS.  Today I was treated to some unexpected visits with people I love–the crew and I made an impromptu visit to my Aunt’s, where, in the shade of the pecan trees, the littles played on the swings and Aub, Aunt, and I laughed and talked about a little bit of this and a whole lot of that.  As the breeze drifted through the leaves I watched the pattern of the sunlight filtering through the trees change and move.  Ahh, said my soul, I’ll take a double helping of this today.  And everyday.  Please.

I also ran into my sister at the doctor’s office complex where we were all well but just taking care of prevention business with different doctors.  She is a beautiful sight to see and her smile brightened my day.  Our time together doesn’t come often enough, so this was a real gift–the hug I had needed but not expected.  Later this evening I had a visit full of laughs when I ran into some of my favorite folks at my favorite coffeehouse.  I am so thankful that all of these people were interruptible and had time for visiting, laughing, and hugs.

Add into the equation our planned visit with some dear friends who are moving soon.  We celebrated with a trip to the pizza place.  Yes, that one.  But both dads were in charge of the Game Room tonight, so one more reason to be happy.  After we all got home the party continued as the children played between our yard and theirs, and my neighbor friend and I played “who’s older and had it harder growing up” game.  Ha.  His wife said we both sounded like a couple of old people.  Ahem.  Well, if the shoe fits…..

So yes, a good, good day.

But there’s more.

THIS IS MY ONE HUNDREDTH POST!!!!!

Yessiree, I am beyond happy happy happy.  When I started back writing again in April, I set a goal to write something each day.   I  guess I didn’t think I would really do it, because I couldn’t believe it last night when the site said 99 posts published. Wow.  I am doing this.  I have surprised myself.  It’s not just a dream anymore, I am writing.  Whoo hoo!  My soul is soaring, and I am overjoyed.

So tonight is about laughter and stories and you.  If it weren’t for you, would I still write?  I hope so.  But the encouragement you give me, the times you comment on what resonates with you and what doesn’t, that makes a world of difference.  The times I see you out and about, and you say “Hey Girl” or “That thing last night?  I heard that!”–those times give me the motivation to continue on.  And for the special ones who say they usually start their mornings with their cup of coffee or tea and this blog–well, I am humbled and I thank you.  When I’ve thought, well, missing just this once won’t matter, I thought of you and I got it written and I was glad I did.  Thank you for the support and motivation.  Love you. You know who you are.

Thank you also for sharing your stories with me.  I love that you do that.  My Daddy could tell great stories, but I remember so many sunny summer afternoons, sitting on my Granny’s couch listening to Granny tell Daddy stories.  Daddy knew how to listen too, and I’m working on being as good as he was.  Mama was also a good listener.  Family lore has it a wrong number called in the middle of the night, said she was sorry, hung up, and then called back to tell Mama her life story.  For over an hour.  And Mama listened.  So please, I love hearing your stories.  Your dreams.  Your joys and your sorrows.  Thank you for sharing them.  I look forward to hearing more.

Before I close tonight, in honor of 100 posts, I thought I’d share with you a few miscellaneous things just for fun.

Facts about me:

I’m the oldest of four–three girls and a boy.  Daddy told me I was named after my Aunt, the baby sister whom he and my Uncle called The Little Terror.  They both thought Tara (a twist on the pronunciation) would be a nice name and agreed the first one to have a girl would name her that.  My cousin was a boy, so here I am.  I don’t know how true this story is, but I like it, and I like it just fine that I’m named after someone so special.

Peaches paid my way through college and during a small portion of my life put food on the table and a roof over my head.  So I’m kind of a peach snob.  Most folks choose to forgive me for that and move on.  I don’t get peaches until after the fourth of July and I prefer to get the ones picked straight from the orchard.  It just is what it is.

I’m backroads and homegrown and a homebody.  I’d rather bake than cook.  I love old things and I have an obsession with blankets, bags, and sweaters.  Mostly either handmade or from the GW Boutique.  I think I may have warmth issues. (I’ve been known to “rescue” handmade blankets from the GW.)  I learned to crochet from my third grade teacher on the playground at recess, and I learned to knit over a year ago from my friend Casey.  I think crocheting is much easier than knitting, and my cousin, who is truly a talented artisan, thinks knitting is easier.  Whatever.  I love her anyway.

The first thing I read in complete sentences was a note my Mama wrote me on pink paper that said, “IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU MAY HAVE A GLASS OF COKE.”  That was no joke.  You didn’t get Coca-Cola very often in my house.  I’ve been reading ever since.  And I’d rather have a book in my hand than on the Kindle, but I’ve read both and been quite happy doing so.

I’ve been to the movies by myself.  It was empowering, and no, I won’t tell you if I ate all the popcorn all by myself.

I love my family, the ones I live with and the ones I don’t.  One of my favorite places on earth is Blackberry Flats, where I grew up.  I love laughing and country music. I grew up on Elvis and the Beatles and John Denver.  We called Willie Nelson “Uncle Willie,” so I thought we might be related.  I also like pop music.  And I think Taylor Swift is pretty much a philosopher–“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  Come on, that’s brilliant truth right there.

I thought about closing out with a video of the song “Celebration” because that’s what I’m doing tonight all by my big girl self, sitting here at the counter with the laptop.  But that would be predictable, wouldn’t it?  And I try never to be predictable if I can help it.  Life’s so much more fun that way.  So I thought I’d close with a video that makes me happy every time I see it.  (Thanks to my brother for this one.) And later tonight or tomorrow?  When you can’t get the song out of your head?  Well, you are very welcome.

You’ve got to keep on keepin’ on…..

Thank you all for coming along on this journey with me!  I can’t wait to see where the next 100 posts will take us.  Love to all.