Move a Mountain Monday

There’s a group on Facebook, the Canny Women, who promote doing instead of buying, and every Tuesday they cheer their followers on through “Tackle a Pile Tuesday.”  They can inspire or frustrate you depending on where you’re at–just being honest here.  Today, they inspired me.

First I had seriously contemplated taking my only day that we didn’t have some place to be and going with the littles to the grocery store.  They’re not a problem in the stores at all, it’s me.  As the day progressed, and we all piled up and listened to our Princess read “Wiley and the Hairy Man” aloud, I just wanted to be home.  I saw a post this afternoon by Canny Women where they asked what everyone was fixing for supper, and there was their slogan–“DO instead of BUY.  Shop at home first.”  Did I have food here?  Yes.  Could we make it without the trip to the grocery store?  (well, I really wanted to get a few things to mix up our snack mix…..*whining*) YES, we absolutely could.  Even our Princess who insisted she was out of shampoo realized that she really wasn’t, and all was well with the world again.  We stayed home, we had three good meals and a snack today, and we actually have enough that tomorrow is going to be grocery store free as well.  A great big whoo hoo!

And even though it’s not Tuesday, I decided to go one step further and make it “Move a Mountain Monday.”  Yeah, piles just didn’t describe what I was facing anymore.  Here’s what was in that mountain–

College advertisements, enticing, tempting, offering my child money and all kinds of perks.  This is what happens when you take the SAT not knowing you are going to graduate a year early.  The other colleges didn’t get the memo, so I have another whole year of her getting college letters, brochures, and catalogs.  All with her name on it, so that part goes in the shredder pile.  Don’t ask me why–I don’t know.  It’s what my people do.

Insurance and magazine advertisement junk mail.  And credit card applications.  Just no.  I do not like change much, so no on the insurance and nobody needs another credit card and dear magazines–if I haven’t already contacted you, I’m not gonna.  Just letting you know.  So these too, the parts with the personal information on it, get shredded.

Catalogs.  Oh good gravy.  Order something from a company just once because it was a special Christmas request for someone you had no other ideas for and from then on it’s catalog overload.  I think I’ve heard that there’s a way to stop the catalogs from coming, but that would require putting it on my to do list and following through.  Bigger gators closer to the canoe–and my brain’s been missing for months now, so that’s not likely to happen.  I can say I will try if someone tells me how to make it happen.  But I make no promises.  The inserts with my name and address and the mailing label all go into the shredder too.  (Once I had a company calling me about an order that I DID NOT place, so yeah, I must not let my catalogs get into the hands of folks with malicious intent.)

Then with all this unimportant stuff are all the things I need to sort and file and respond to.  Bills get paid, but that’s been about it.  I’m organizing and filing for our house and three other lives that were, so maybe you can understand how this mountain got out of hand.  Understand or no, it is what it is.

A mountain of disorganized mess.

I prepared myself mentally and sat down at the desk.  I pulled out my shredder.  It was a gift from Mama.  She taught me how to be organized and to protect myself.  I was so excited to get a shredder, probably more for the novelty than for the safety of it, but I loved my gift.  From time to time it gets jammed.  Which is why the pile of “to be shredded” was escalating.

One of the gifts from my Mama that I will always appreciate.

One of the gifts from my Mama that I will always appreciate.

I turned it off and worked at the tines until it was ready to go.  When I had it whirring, I was on a roll.  I created loads of shredded paper and knocked out one mountain and then two. All I have left to handle tomorrow is my “To Deal With” pile.  And thank goodness, it is a pile.  Not a mountain.

So many thoughts went through my head as all that information was buried in the mound of bits and pieces of numbers and letters, no longer discernible.  Mama was proud of the idea of giving me one, and she wanted me to be able to take care of my business carefully and responsibly.  She would say it took her years to perfect her system, and perfect it she did.  Sister asked to look through Mama’s desk at how it was organized before we started cleaning it out.  Mama was just that good at managing a household and so much more.  I think she overestimated me and my capabilities.  I seriously doubt I will ever have it as together as she did.  There will always be a day in the month that my stomach will clench and I will try to focus and remember–I did pay that bill, didn’t I?  Did I respond to that e-mail?  The answer is most often yes, but that’s how my mind works.  Because my system doesn’t.

The other thought that wandered through as I rhythmically fed the papers of all shapes and sizes and textures through the machine was wouldn’t it be nice if everything we needed to clear up could be handled this way.  All traces of whatever we’d like to leave behind, feed it into Life’s shredder and let it go.  No worries, no residue left behind–that’s a shredder I’d get in line to feed some things through.  Nothing left to carry in your heart or mind.  Just gone.  Swept out of your life with an old broken crayon and a few crumbs from the biscuits at breakfast.  Done.

But that’s not how it goes.  We have things we’ve done, choices we’ve made, things that have just happened, that have our names indelibly scrawled across them, and somehow we have to make peace with that and move on.  There is no Life shredder.

And yet tonight I think I’m okay with that.  Sure I’ve made some bad choices.  I’ve had things happen that I couldn’t and still don’t understand why they did.  But, and I apologize for the cliche’, having my name on those things make them a part of my journey.  And without those bits and pieces of the story, I would not be sitting here with sleeping children and the Fella home safe and sound and a snoozing puppy laid out on the floor waiting to be tucked into her little bed.  It would all be different.  Different good, different bad–not something I can know or even want to know.  It just is what it is.  And it’s okay.  If I were to put all those hard things in Life’s shredder, it is possible that I would only be more broken, much like the paper I handfed through today.

It's okay for the scraps of old mail and advertisements, but not for the bits and pieces of my story--even those I haven't made my peace with yet.

It’s okay for the scraps of old mail and advertisements, but not for the bits and pieces of my story–even those I haven’t made my peace with yet.

So maybe I wouldn’t get in line for that Life shredder if one ever existed.  I think I’ll hold on to the bits and pieces of paper and all those letters and numbers and words and exclamation points and question marks that make me ME.  And I’ll definitely hold onto the ellipses…..for some of the best stuff is waiting on the other side of those.

But I am thankful for my Mama who tried to teach me how to take care of business and wanted me to be safe in all kinds of way, including shredding stuff that could make things harder for me if I didn’t.  I think she would be proud of me for trying today.  Whenever we’d do something we especially did not like, she would say, “Aren’t we feeling sanctimonious?”  And you know what, I rather am a bit.  Most importantly, I think today I started moving more than a mountain of mail and such…..I think I started moving the mountain of mayhem in my life, including the parts of my story that are harder to be okay with.  And that’s something she’d really be proud of.  There was never anything I couldn’t share with her, no story she wouldn’t hear.  She loved me warts and messy mayhem and mood swings and all.  Maybe it’s time I start doing that for myself.  Time to move the mountain of maudlin regret and woes and worries.  Move it out of my heart and mind and make room for more of the good stuff.  I think that would really make her smile.

Good Job, God!

When Aub was about 18 months old, we started going to a little Wednesday afternoon playgroup.  From this little group our Mother’s Morning Out program began. Aub had a friend she met there, Kayla.  Little Miss Kayla’s Mama worked as a church secretary part-time at the church across the street from ours.  Occasionally, if her Mama had to work later, I would take Kayla home after our program ended.  Those two little blonde-headed girls had so much fun playing and giggling together, and after lunch we would all climb up in my bed and take a nap together.

One day we were driving home, and we saw a rainbow up ahead.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Suddenly from the backseat there came a loud and enthusiastic shout.  “Look at that rainbow.  Good job, God!”

It was Kayla, bless that sweet girl.  She saw God’s artwork in front of her and couldn’t help but share her approval.

That became a part of our family jargon after that.  Looking for the artistic stylings of our creative Creator and giving two thumbs up.  Like a purple field of flowers or the river of birds that fly over us on their way somewhere in late winter.  I’m reminded of the artist who said that each of us has an artist inside of us because we are created in the image of a Creator.   When we see it, we can appreciate it, because we are artists too.  Even if just a little bit.

I was reminded of Kayla and her precious praises tonight as we drove to Evening Prayer.  Driving into the sunset, and what a glorious one it was.  Even the littles stopped their playing in the backseat and said, “Oh wow.”  I smiled and whispered, “Good job, God!”

The sunset tonight.  God used all the colors and his most special paintbrush tonight.

The sunset tonight. The Artist used all the colors and the most special paintbrush tonight.

Just breathtaking.  We stopped as we were walking in just to soak in this view.

Just breathtaking. We stopped as we were walking in just to soak in this view.

The sky was on fire, wasn't it?  I would not even begin to know how to mix those colors.

The sky was on fire, wasn’t it? I would not even begin to know how to mix those colors.

When the Geese flew over us and honked, I felt like we'd just had a blessing said over us.  Peace be with you.  And also with you.

When the Geese flew over us and honked, I felt like we’d just had a blessing said over us. Peace be with you. And also with you.

Then as we were leaving Evening Prayer, the sky gave its benediction.

The moon was full and gorgeous tonight.  And it had a slight orange tint--like it knows it's October and wanted to dress appropriately.

The moon was full and gorgeous tonight. And it had a slight orange tint–like it knows it’s October and wanted to dress appropriately.

Tonight I’m thankful for that precious little girl all those many years ago who taught me to look for, appreciate, and praise the beauty in the world around me.  I am thankful for a beautiful welcome and sending out from Evening Prayer tonight.  The challenge, of course, is to look for the beauty in the gray clouds as well as fiery pink and orange ones–to marvel at a dark, cloudy night as well as one filled with magical moonlight.   I’m not always good at it, but more and more, I am learning to look at the world, its places and people, different and similar, foreign and strange and familiar, and say, “Good job, God!”  If we could do that about all kinds of days and nights and folks that walk this earth, imagine what we could make happen in this world.  Just imagine.  Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Maemae’s Special Ingredient

English: Own Camera

Mama could even add her special ingredient to frozen macaroni and cheese.  She was just that good.  English: Own Camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every third Saturday the men of Trinity UMC have a Men’s Breakfast.  What a great group of folks, so welcoming, and you can tell they really, really enjoy being together.  As a matter of fact, if you are male of any age, you should head on out and join them next month.  I know you’d be welcome, because this morning they were so gracious to me.

I suppose I was already a bit sentimental.  This was Mama’s church.  She went every Sunday she was felt up to it and attended two Sunday services and Sunday School in between.  She loved her Sundays at Trinity.  The good people there took her under their wings and gave her sanctuary, a place to mourn and heal in the fifteen months after Daddy died.  They were there for us, her children, after she died and we started our own journeys of mourning and healing all over again.  Good people, I tell you what.

I parked and went into the building where Mama attended the second service each Sunday.  I was greeted by one gentleman who welcomed me in and took me to meet the person who had invited me to speak.  I had been asked to come and share about one of my favorite places ever–Bare Bulb Coffee.

The men there made me feel right at home and shared their breakfast of sausage and biscuits and coffee and orange juice with me.  I sat and we talked about volunteering and life after retirement and grandchildren.  It seems that this is the first month they haven’t had a full-on breakfast buffet of sorts.  They are trying to be responsible with what funds they have, and they hope to get to a point where they have enough to provide breakfasts and contribute to missions.

Wow.  That touched my heart.

That’s good stuff.

They get it.  They realize that what is bringing folks to the breakfast is not really the food.  What keeps folks coming are the camaraderie, the friendships that are being built, the relationships that are already there.  That is what really matters.  The sausage biscuit or whatever else they decide to serve is just icing on the cake, so to speak. (And it was quite good “icing” I must say.)

It made me think about Mama and her love language.  That woman could put a hurting on a kitchen.  She could prepare a huge dinner with all kinds of vegetables and fried chicken or pork roast and gravy and biscuits and have a homemade dessert to chase it down with.  And don’t even get me started about Thanksgiving.  There just about wasn’t room for us to sit down and eat after we put all the food on the table.  It’s a wonder that table is still standing.   Oh me.  My mouth is watering just remembering.

On your birthday she would ask what you wanted for your special supper and she made it happen.  I dearly loved her pork roast and gravy over biscuits, but I am sure I asked for other things over the years.  Her homemade pizza was the best pizza ever.  Each year she made a Swedish version of Gingersnaps for me and used the Happy Birthday cake cookie cutter.  I miss all the little things she did to make the day extra special.  And she always said we had to celebrate for at least a week, so there were other times you could request your favorites too.  Oh how she loved us.

After Daddy was diagnosed with lymphoma four years ago, Mama wasn’t able to cook like she had been.  As it should be, her top priority was taking care of Daddy and making sure he was okay. If there was something he was hungry for, she started preparing it almost before her feet hit the kitchen.  But it wasn’t often that he was.  I can remember a few times that she cooked like before, but quite frankly she was exhausted and scared and worn out.  We encouraged her to let us cook or pick things up.  Picking up Stevi B’s was a special treat.  Daddy always teased me that I couldn’t just get a couple of pizzas–I had to bring the whole buffet to him.  Well, yeah, he was my Daddy and he deserved every bit of it.

After Daddy died, Mama so wanted to cook for us all again, but she was still so tired and, as we later realized, very sick.  Always a bargain shopper, she expanded her shopping list to include some already prepared things.  When Publix put their Stouffer’s meals on buy one, get one free, she was so excited she would call to let me know.  Our meals together when Mess Cat and her family came down from Atlanta would often be a Stouffer’s Lasagna, a Macaroni and Cheese, broccoli put in the oven to roast (y’all that is the BEST way to fix it!) and sometimes she’d feel up to frying okra.  She’d add applesauce or some kind of fruit in bowls and carrots and we’d have us a feast.  She always apologized, but we all had a good time, and that’s what we remember the most.  The joy of being together, the laughter at all of the stories we shared.  I remember the food being pretty good and how we’d all say how far those freezer meals had come over the years.  The macaroni and cheese mixed with the broccoli was really quite good.  It was time together and because Mama wasn’t spending all her time in the kitchen cooking, we had more time to visit with her.

And that’s what the men of Trinity UMC have figured out.  They have a good time, those Iron Chefs in the kitchen in the wee hours preparing all the food for their brothers.  But they realize that it’s the relationships that count the most, not what’s on the menu.

Don’t get me wrong.  I miss my Mama’s good cooking.  Something.  Fierce.  But as thankful as I am for her good cooking all those years, I realize now that what really fed us, filled our souls as well as our bellies, was her most special ingredient.

As our Princess tells it, one day she asked her Maemae why everything she made was the best thing ever. She asked Maemae what she added to make everything so good.  My Mama hugged her and laughed and said it was her special ingredient.

“Do you know what she said her special ingredient was?”

No, what?

“Love.  That’s what she added to everything she fixed.  That’s what made it extra good.”

And that’s what really feeds us, isn’t it?  I am thankful to the Men of Trinity UMC for their hospitality and for reminding me of something very important today–that special ingredient that we should add to everything we do.

Tiny Little Things and the Big Life Moments

We interrupt our regularly scheduled post to share with you this exciting news from the Adventures of the Zoo Crew.

This little bitty thing

My baby's first tooth to come out.....just put me out to pasture now.  How did he get so old so quickly?

My baby’s first tooth to come out…..just put me out to pasture now. How did he get so old so quickly?

came out of this little guy just a little while ago.

Look at that precious smile.  It's hard to tell him no.  I do it.  Quite a lot.  But that doesn't mean it's not hard.

Look at that precious smile. It’s hard to tell him no. I do it. Quite a lot. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

When did this happen?  That tooth just came in a few months ago.

I promise.

Or maybe it just seems like it was.  Maybe it was more like six years ago.

So much has happened in those six years.  He has gone from being what my Daddy called a “puddle of people” to an honest to goodness, walking, talking, forming opinions and sharing them, Star Wars obsessed funny guy.  Who is six.  Almost seven.  Just four months shy.  As he will make sure you know when you ask him how old he is.

Just tonight a couple of hours before Cooter lost his tooth, Aub was talking about him turning eleven. (She was eleven when he was born.) I had to make them *beep beep beep* back that up, because he is not even seven yet. “I know,” she said. “But I can’t even bear him turning seven.  Six is still a little boy, but when he turns seven, he won’t be little anymore.  Seven’s not a little boy, it’s just a boy.”

*sigh*

Yes, I’m aware.

How is it that this tiny little thing makes me cry such big tears?

In all actuality the tooth loss tonight was quite anticlimactic.  No blood or gore or tears from the toothless wonder.  It’s been hanging by a thread for such a long time I was starting to worry that he’d never let it go.  I almost started calling it the Bubba tooth.  Only it’s not really.  Many years ago, my dear sweet sister friend’s daughter with whom Aub grew up had a front top tooth that was similarly stubborn about coming out.  That joker was hanging sideways and still wouldn’t come out.  Nor would she let anyone touch it.  That, THAT was a Bubba tooth.  (My brother Bubba would probably agree.)

But like the Bubba tooth, Cooter’s little tooth finally just floated away from its dock, and he picked it up and said, “I just lost my tooth.  Can I call Baba?”  That’s his big sister Aub.  She didn’t seem to mind at all being interrupted at the football game to get the news.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my family?

And so the time ticks on.  In my mind and heart I think of what Mama and Daddy would have said when he called to tell them.  (Though it’s quite unlikely it would have lasted this long if Daddy had been here.  Pulling teeth was kind of his thing.) I guess this is just another in a long line of life moments that I will think about in such a way.

It doesn’t help that I’m so sentimental and I think about things like how little this tooth is and how it’s the beginning of the end of the “little boy” phase.  The day I have no Matchbox cars or Star Wars figures or Lego’s in my tote bag is the day y’all need to come over with chocolate, a pound cake, a gallon of sweet tea, and a big ol’ box of tissues.  I will be DONE. FOR.  This is my baby we are talking about.

I am happy for him.  Our neighbor friend who was three months younger was losing them regularly right before they moved this summer.  (I teased him incessantly that if he’d brush them maybe they’d stop falling out.  He would laugh every time, bless him.  Sure do miss them.)  And Shaker, Mess Cat’s son, who is six months younger, has already started losing teeth.  So yeah, it’s a rite of passage as far as Cooter sees it.  Although he’s trying to play it cool.  After the initial need to celebrate with his sister, he leaned back against the recliner and said, “Yeah.  It feels…..I don’t know…..without the tooth in my mouth, it’s kind of…..boring.”

Oh good gravy.  Get excited boy.  You just lost your first tooth!

And he is.  I could see it in his eyes.  But, you know, sometimes you just have to play it cool.

Then again, what do I know?  I sobbed for quite a while when his umbilical cord fell off.  And now this.  Only six and three-quarters years later.

How many more teeth losings do I have to go through?

A body and heart can only take so much.  I think I might need a nap.

The Ugly Duckling, Honey Boo Boo, and Belinda Carlisle–Oh My!

Disclaimer:  This is the post that won’t go away, keeps insisting on being written. Sometimes these stories do that–demand to be told. I can tolerate a lot of things but not intolerance.  So here it goes.

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Today was Grand Opera House Day.  I love live theater as I have mentioned before here.  So knowing this was coming up, I was excited.  I rarely tell my littles where we are going ahead of time–I learned my lesson one too many times when plans had to be changed.  We made the drive up to Macon with them guessing.  It was funny the guesses they made.  Finally Cooter said, “I bet it’s the Grand Opera House.”  I asked him why.  “Because you made me wear long pants and a nice shirt.”  Ahh, that would be correct.

Photo courtesy of Grand Opera House http://www.thegrandmacon.com/grandkids/

Photo courtesy of Grand Opera House http://www.thegrandmacon.com/grandkids/

The performance was very unique and entertaining.  It was The Tortoise and the Hare and The Ugly Duckling performed in Lightwire, a style I believe was created by the performers.  Performed in complete darkness, the characters were outlined and illustrated (for lack of a better word) with these colored lines that seemed to glow.  The Tortoise and the Hare was hilarious, set to classical music and some classic hits as well, as the hare became so distracted by his cell phone, a tv and remote, and a bunch of carrots.  (One of my favorite parts was that my children recognized and were excited by the tv theme songs from Gilligan’s Island and The Andy Griffith Show–yeah, we’re just that old school.)  In the time between the two shows, a worm came out and danced to “U Can’t Touch This.”  Young and old (ahem) alike were clapping and laughing and dancing in their seats.

It’s been a while since I read the Ugly Duckling.  The closest I’ve come to it lately was watching The Ugly Dachshund with the littles all over again. (Old Disney classic–if you haven’t watched it you should.)  Oh y’all.  This story broke my heart.  To the sound of classical music and songs from The Nutcracker, the little swan was born in the wrong nest and was turned away by the Mama Duck and her four new little baby ducklings.  The baby swan tried and tried to play and be friends, but they all turned their backs and shook their heads no.  In one poignant scene, the baby swan walked around sadly while “I Am Beautiful” sung by Christina Aguilera played.  I was close to tears.

“I am beautiful

in every single way

Words can’t bring me down”

And I guess what broke my heart is that we all know words can.  It seems more and more incomprehensible stories of bullying and the aftermath of it are being shared, and these horrors and heartbreak should NOT be happening.

As I sat listening to the song thinking how we do bring each other down with our words, Facebook came to mind.  Particularly some posts I’ve seen the past couple of days. There is a rumor going around locally that Honey Boo Boo might be moving into the area with her family and possibly attending a local elementary school.  Most of the comments were unkind and unfavorable and may I also say, unfair, in my opinion.  What made me saddest was these were people I know are caring and loving.  I’m just not sure where these comments were coming from but surely it wasn’t from their hearts.  I’ve seen that their hearts know better, but in their words about this, it didn’t show.  For goodness’ sake, she is a CHILD.  They are human beings.  Just like all the rest of us.

Here’s the deal.  Honey Boo Boo is a reality tv show.  She is a “character,” and from what I hear, a lot of the reality shows that fill our living rooms these days are scripted and directed to go in a certain direction.  Here’s what I do know. This is a family of hospitality.  They welcome folks to come see them, and they support their community through food and toy drives for one example.  People who have met them in person have shared how nice they thought the family was.  Can they be crass?  Sure.  Have they made choices different from what I would have?  Okay, yes.  Are they bad people I wouldn’t want living in my neighborhood?  I have to say no.  (Maybe Mama June would be my new BFF forevuh–Aub says I squint like her even with my glasses on.)  I’m afraid we are turning into a hypothetical “Love thy neighbor” society.  Love my neighbor.  Except for that swan that showed up out of nowhere.  And that crazy reality tv show family.  But other than that, yeah, love my neighbor just like the Good Book says.

No one is all good or bad. Not a single one of us. It’s all gray as I’ve come to realize more and more.  I don’t like it anymore than anyone else.  I wish I could put folks in a Good box or Bad box.  But it’s just not reality.  Reality is a family that burps and loves the mess out of each other.  Reality is a swan that is born in the midst of a bunch of ducks and just wants to be accepted.  Yes her honk is a lot louder and not very pretty, but she is strong and brave and cares enough to save the baby duckling from that mean cat (who later worked out his angry issues and changed for the better).

At the end of the play today, they made me a very happy girl.  They closed with the baby swan and a duckling and the cat and Mama Duck all dancing together to Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth

…………….

In this world we’re just beginning
To understand the miracle of living
Baby I was afraid before
But I’m not afraid anymore

I loved this song when I was back in college.  Turns out I still do.  Today as I watched the glowing critters dancing and making nice together, the words really hit me full force.  We can make heaven a place on earth by loving each other and pushing out the fears–fear of folks who are different and who believe or act differently than us.

The thing is our children are listening.  Those same children who heard Mama or Daddy pitching one more fit tonight that Honey Boo Boo and clan might be moving to town are the same ones who will turn their backs on her or whisper behind their hands at school tomorrow.  Those baby ducklings didn’t shake their heads and turn their tail feathers at that baby swan because they just knew how.  They were watching Mama Duck and following her lead.  And so it goes with all of us.

Our children are watching.  And listening.

Our children are watching. And listening.

I’ve become more aware of how much my children are watching me and what I say I believe and I’m hearing it come back to me as little echoes.  Sometimes I am pleased, but others I am not.  I know better, I’ve got to do better.  I am starting to understand the “miracle of living” and I think it might just be loving all folks, whatever they believe, however they live.  I don’t have to act like them, I don’t have to agree with them, I just have to be kind and to love them.  And if we could do that, we could be well on our way to bringing heaven to our earth.  And wouldn’t that be something?

Just In Case, Part 2

Today I learned a couple of things I wanted to share.

Apparently I am not the “Just in case” girl that I thought I was.   Oh sure, I can pack a “Family Fun Bag” with just about everything necessary for any possibility that could come along.  Yeah, I’ve got that whole glorified diaper bag thing down.

But when it comes to being prepared, I found out today I still have a lot to learn.

Today we were going to say goodbye and celebrate the life of a sweet and dear friend.  Our first funeral since Mama’s and Miss B’s services in February.  I felt like I was emotionally prepared–I knew it would be hard, as her passing has left a huge hole in all of our lives.   So I gathered my littles this morning and helped them get ready.

Oh dear.  Anyone else’s Mama have them lay their clothes out the night before?

I get it now.

Our life these days doesn’t require a lot of dressing up or coordinating shoes with outfits.  (And purses too?  Hang it up.  That’s why I didn’t carry one today.)  In fact we haven’t had to do this since February.

Time has passed, and the children have grown.

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As evidenced by the dress that has risen to just above knee level on our Princess.  And that the boots she wore then will not even come close to fitting her now.  I was lucky Cooter had a pair of khakis that fit–thank you GW Boutique shopping spree in August.  Throw on a polo and the loafers he insisted on wearing (“Cooter, you can wear your boots.” “No Mama, it’s a funeral; you have to dress right.”)…..and he was set.  Shoes for our Princess was another story.  There just weren’t any.  Until I pulled out a pair of my shoes that have fit a bit snug…..voila!  Okay then.  (We will not even discuss that my almost nine-year old’s foot is just about as big as mine.)  I found the black dress I wore to my Great Aunt’s service in 2010, threw on a blue sweater over it, and we were ready to go.

And believe it or not, we were NOT late.  Despite the bumpy start.  And my not being prepared for “just in case.”

It was on our journey that I figured out that our Princess has inherited the “just in case” gene.  I usually take a glass of water with me when we leave the house, so when she asked if she could take one, I wasn’t really surprised. The church is only about twenty minutes from the house at most, but whatever–I pick my battles and that wasn’t one of them.   When we got to the church, she hopped out of the van with her little  crocheted Granny square bag from the Fair two years ago.  “Look at what I brought, Mama, inside my little Fair bag.  It’s my rain jacket just in case.”

Yes, she said those words.  And yes, she really had packed her “in a pack” rain poncho.  And no your eyes did not deceive you today–sunny and 75.  Not a chance of rain.  That girl has a serious sense of “just in case.”  (I suppose this would be the time to confess that she was actually the one to remember the dress and pull it out of her closet. Thankful for that.)

I sighed and figured, okay, whatever, we were already walking toward the church.  We got to the front door and I realized she had also brought her cup with her.  (No I did not notice it before then.  I was distracted.  Yes, I know they make stuff for that.  Working on it.)  I was not carrying my usual “big” bag that I could have tucked it in, and the idea of carrying a cup into a church, into a funeral service……ummmm, no I just couldn’t do it.  We turned around and headed back to the parking lot where we saw the Fella pulling in from work to join us.  Since he was parked closer, he took the bag and cup back to his car.  Mission accomplished.

And we still were not late.

Today I’ve learned that I need to keep one dress outfit AND SHOES on hand for each one of us.  Just in case.  Because I don’t think Princess can get many more wearings out of that dress and I’m pretty sure her foot will outgrow mine in the next few months.  Cooter is bound to outgrow those wonderful hand-me-down loafers at some point, though he’s worn them longer than I had expected.  And when you’re already sad, shopping is the last thing you want to do, but if you’re not prepared it’s something you have to do.  Because, as Cooter said, “It’s a funeral.  You have to dress right.”

I’ve learned a lot today.  The perfect ending would be that it rained and Princess was deemed to be brilliant.  But I’ve learned there are no perfect endings.  I’ve learned all over again how much I hate the cancer, and how it chooses some of the best folks to take away from us.  It just makes no sense.  The hole in our hearts will never be quite the same, and there was no way to be prepared for this loss.  Sometimes I wish “Justin Case” were a superhero who, by keeping you prepared, could help you get through any situation without heartbreak or injury or embarrassing moments.  He could hang out with Anxiety Girl and keep stressful or sad things from happening or at least from taking us by surprise.  Unfortunately, that’s not real life and being prepared “just in case” doesn’t make the hard days any easier.  Sure wish it did…..

Who is your favorite Doctor?

English: Dr. Pepper 12 OZ Regular Can with the...

English: Dr. Pepper 12 OZ Regular Can with the current logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight the activity schedule allowed the Fella and our boy Cooter to have a Guys’ Night Out for supper.  Cooter had chosen earlier–his favorite chicken sandwich place plus playground.  When our Princess and I got home, he told us that he had so much fun at supper.

“I had Dr. Pepper.  I really like it.  I like Pepper, and he’s a Doctor.”  And then he laughed like he’d just said the funniest thing ever.

His laughter carried me back fifteen years to riding in my friend’s van.  It was a special day, one that she and I both had some free time.  We took my Aub and her little guy out to pick up a happy McLunch.  Born six weeks apart, they were the only two little ones at our church.  We had spent the morning together at the Mother’s Morning Out she and I ran, and then we decided to go for lunch.

As we started to pull up  to the speaker in the drive-thru, we asked the little ones what they would like to have to drink with their chicken bucket of joy.  Aub, a girl after her aunt Mess Cat’s own heart, called out happily, “I love Dr. Pepper.”  (She had had one or two before with Mess Cat.)  Drew, our little friend, piped up with, “I love my doctor too.  He’s Dr. Harvey.”

You can imagine the laughter coming from the front seats on that one.

Or maybe you had to be there.

The thing is I was there.  And for a few minutes tonight, as the weight of the day threatened to take me under with exhaustion and a little sadness, I was there again.  The sheer joy of having an unexpected outing with my friend, this friend who loved me through some pretty hard times and celebrated some really great ones as well, took me away from the woes and worries of the day just as it did then.  And the laughter of the three year olds after we started laughing, so sweet, and not having a clue what they were laughing about–precious.

I love having memories that can make me smile and bring back the warmth of a moment, of a day.  Driving home tonight I thought about what my greatest goal is right now.  To give my children good things to remember, much as my parents did for us.  I’m not talking about “Oh my parents took us to Disney every summer” or “We got everything on our wish list for our birthday each year.”  I’m thinking about things like how Mama tried cooking homemade pizza on the grill in the summer to keep from heating up the whole house, and how it was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.  Still.  Or how she and my Aunt helped us put together a Barbie wedding complete with a wiener roast after.  Or how Daddy didn’t play when it came to hard work and keeping your word, but he did make things like planting a garden or washing a car extra special just by talking and listening to you.  I hope one day my children can look back on the memories we are making now and find comfort and joy and maybe even a giggle or two.

Dr. Pepper.  That boy cracked me up.  He and Aub were a pair back in the day, that’s for sure.  Tonight I’m thankful for him and his “Blue’s Clues/Rugrats” loving self and all the laughter we shared those years ago.  And again tonight.  Mostly I’m thankful for the happy memories and the people who made them happen.

Wishing you all merry memory making.  One day someone will be glad you did.

Finding Strength in Moments of Weakness

As I sat on the hospital bed, the sun had begun to set.  The room, filled with light just a half hour before, began to darken.  How many sunsets had I sat through in this very hospital waiting for the darkness–with Daddy, with Mama, and with Miss B?  Too many.  Far too many.

Last night I went to the hospital to visit a friend I had never met.  We had a friend in common, my Writer Friend, who had led us to meet.  Lettie and I had been trying to plan a get together over the past couple of weeks. Work schedules and sick children kept delaying our plans.  She called me last Tuesday to tell me that she had today, Monday, off.  So we planned to meet.  Then I got the call on Saturday night–Lettie was in the hospital, had been since Thursday.  I told her I’d come see her on Sunday.  And so it was that we met for the first time in Room 431.  Just four doors down from where Mama was in August of last year.  For a ten days HospitalStay.

It was surreal being there, meeting this dear woman and her daughter and son-in-law from out of state.  It was an honor hearing her stories and sharing unspoken concerns through glances with her daughter as Lettie talked about her condition.  There was a lot of uncertainty, a little fear, and a whole lot of faith.  We talked about the beauty of sisterhood–the challenges and the rewards.  About how Lettie’s sister who is younger by 11 months took care of her when she had a hard time as a young girl, and how she sees it as her job to take care of her sister now.  (I completely understand that feeling.) We talked about how not even physical distance can separate sisters.  She made me laugh as she gave her honest opinion about hospital food–“You know it’s bad when even the staff says it’s not good.”  She was thankful her daughter and son-in-law had brought her some food from the house.  They left to go back home and eat.

My sweet friend took my hand and my heart and wrapped them both in warmth.

My sweet friend took my hand and my heart and wrapped them both in warmth.

I  continued to sit with Lettie as she took my hand and talked about what it’s like to have someone you love pass from this world to the next right there in front of your eyes.  With a squeeze I let her know that I understood.  It’s the most precious and holy moment in this life–being there as life comes into the world and as it goes out.

The quiet of the moment filled the room and our spirits.  She needed to get up, but she wasn’t supposed to do it without help.  The nurse came down.  One of Mama’s nurses, but of course she wouldn’t remember.  Too many people to care for between then and now.  She helped Lettie to the bathroom and took care of everything.  After we got Lettie settled back in her bed, I gave her a hug and told her I’d see her soon.  She took my hand again.  “I love you.  Thank you for coming.”

I love you too.

Oh my aching heart.

It was my honor to be there.  To hear her laughter.  Share her stories.  Have her share her worries and hopes with me.  Those very thin moments of one soul joining another along the journey.

Knowing you will never be quite the same again.

Tonight I am thankful for a new friendship that fell into place like it had always been there or was always meant to be.  My heart breaks for the uncertainty and tenuousness of her physical health.  And at the same time, it leaps with joy at the way she is facing what might come–with a smile and with faith.

She told me I could share anything about her story I wanted to.  She has an amazing story filled with pain and love and laughter and sadness, much as we all do.  But what I want most to share of her story is what I learned from her.  It’s okay to ask for help.  She has had to let her children and friends help her, and she is learning to accept that.  The other thing I learned was it’s okay to admit you are scared.  You can have faith and still be scared.  It reminds me of the line of a song by Rascal Flats, “I’m Moving On,” written by Phillip White and David Vincent Williams:

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“I’ve found you find strength in your moments of weakness.”

As I sat in that hospital that holds strong memories of my Daddy’s diagnosis of lymphoma four years ago–going to find him in a little room in the ER that first morning and again when he fell and broke his hip in spring of 2011, memories of Mama’s fear and faith working its way through her heart and mind and our lives over a year ago, and memories of Miss B telling me she wanted to have the surgery on her hip because she didn’t want to stay in a bed for the rest of her life.  I remember standing at Daddy’s window in the room upstairs and watching the sun go down over the town as the lights above the storefronts began twinkling.  Last year I sat in the chair next to Mama’s bed texting with my Writer Friend whose Mama was in the hospital at the same time; it breaks my heart that we’ve both since said goodbye to our sweet Mamas.  I could look out of Mama’s hospital room window and see my babies climb out of the Fella’s car as he pulled up to bring me something from home.  And last night I sat with a precious woman who gets that fear and faith can share the path and who squeezed my hand and said life is hard and smiled and filled the room with love.  It might sound crazy, but as I travelled down the elevator and to the parking lot, a trip I’ve made many, many times, I had peace in my heart.  Peace that came from a hand and from a heart and from a smile.  And a shared journey.  A peace that passes all understanding, and for that I give thanks.

Stitching Good Things Into Our Life Stories

Today we headed back down to the Fair.  You know, my very favorite time of the year.  Since today was the final day of the Fair, we loaded up the crew plus our angel and set out for fun and adventures.

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Despite the midway being my least favorite place, we spent time over there, and the littles loved their first time over there riding the rides.  The Fella had his fill after the Flying Kite ride where you lay down on your stomach and fly around and around in circles.  Mess Cat rode with our Princess, and the Fella rode with Cooter.  Yeah, I was the official photographer.  No rides for me.

Then it was time for my favorite place at the whole fair, the Crafts building.

20131013-212710.jpgThe quilts, the crocheted and knitted dolls, blankets, and other projects.  Canned goods and baked treats, camellias, paintings, photography, art by folks of all ages.  I love it.

Aub ran into an old friend while we were there, Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty.  She shared her sweet tea with him, which made him happy happy happy.

Aub and Uncle Si.  He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition.  I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

Aub and Uncle Si. He was a part of the 4-H scarecrow competition. I love seeing all the creativity the young people have in creating their scarecrows.

While we were there, the littles carried on the tradition of painting a wooden figure/ornament.

Each year they paint something to bring home.  I love traditions.

Each year they paint something to bring home. I love traditions.

They also started a new tradition.  The leatherwork folks were there, and you could make a leather bracelet or bookmark.  They both enjoyed this. It made me smile because when I was in elementary school the leather bracelet with your name on it was THE thing.  I almost made myself one today, but held back–all for the children’s sake, you know.  But oh, the memories.

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What was most special in the building were the memories.  I saw the camellias on display.  In my previous life, I did love camellias.  While walking through, I came across someone I worked with twenty-five years ago.  Mr. T, such a kind soul, sold the number two peaches when I was working my way through college at Sunburst Fruit Packers in the summers.  It was a sweet visit to the past.

Then there was this.

20131013-212643.jpgThe art of needlework on display.

This is the first year that I didn’t spend time going through all the creative displays (isn’t this one lovely?), looking for our cousin’s handiwork, checking to see if she won a ribbon, and taking a picture of it.  Miss B was Mama’s first cousin once removed, as her grandmother and Miss B’s mother were sisters.  Mama was Miss B’s guardian, as she was mildly mentally delayed.  The true story as to whether she was born with the delay or something happened is lost somewhere in the family lore.  The important thing is she was cared for by people who loved her–first her Mama, then her Aunt, whom she adored, then a cousin, and then my Mama.  Each year Mama encouraged Miss B in her needlework, and when it was done, Mama took it to be matted and framed, except for the year she embroidered the state birds quilt, the year she made a butterfly quilt, and the year she embroidered a shower curtain.  Yes, she was just that good.  Here, you can see for yourself.

All those intricate stitches.  There's no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently.  She truly had a gift--of patience and with the needle.

All those intricate stitches. There’s no telling how long this took her, sitting in her red chair, working away diligently. She truly had a gift–of patience and with the needle.

She knew I loved sunflowers.  The one below hung in her room.  Each time I visited her she told me she wanted me to have it one day.  “I know how you love your sunflowers.”

I dearly love this gift from Miss B.  She stitched with love and skill.

I dearly love this gift from Miss B. She stitched with love and skill.

While Mama was at her HospitalStay in February, Miss B was taken to the ER and later admitted to the hospital in another town.  It was her lung problems.  While there she fell and broke her hip.  In the end, I guess she never really recovered from the surgery for that.  Her lungs just weren’t strong enough.  So exactly one week after Mama left us for a better place, Miss B followed her on the journey.  It was appropriate, I think, that Mama, who had taken such good care of Miss B in life, went ahead to pave the way for her journey there.

This is the first Fair that I haven’t had the adventure of looking for her work.  While she was in the hospital, some of her kind ladies came to see her and talked to her about how she had to get back home so she could work on her Fair entry. Weeks later, when I was getting her room cleaned out, a dear friend of hers and Mama’s came to help me.  She pointed to the sunflowers, “You know those are yours.  She wanted you to have them, said you loved your sunflowers.”

Tears.  Of sadness.  Of joy.  Of gratitude and admiration.

By all reports, most likely she should not have been able to create the beautiful pieces she did.  She was so patient and intent on completing each project.  When I was going through her things, I found this blanket.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted.  Single.  Crocheted.  For real.  The time she put in this.....unbelievable.

Each stitch of this twin sized blanket is single crocheted. Single. Crocheted. For real. The time she put in this…..unbelievable.

Single crocheted.  Each and every stitch.  Pretty sure each color represents one skein of yarn.  The fact that it is single crocheted means it took a lot of time–no easy way out when you are making those tiny stitches.

She did what some might have deemed impossible.  Because she tried.  Because she focused, had a goal, and worked diligently towards it.  She also was very sweet and loved my family.  Our Princess was born on her birthday.  She was convinced it was because she had asked me to have her on that day.  From that moment on, our Princess was hers.  Pictures on her little mini-fridge in her room, and she cross-stitched ballet slippers for our Princess to hang on her wall.

Somehow I think she would have been proud of her Princess and Cooter today.  They set out with a goal and went after something that some would have deemed impossible.  Much like she did.  They set out to climb their own mountaintops…..just like her.

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone.  He kept on trying.  Way to go, bud!

Cooter was right behind his sister not to be outdone. He kept on trying. Way to go, bud!

Princess made it almost to the top.  So proud of her.  The whole thing was her idea.  She set her sights and went after it.  Keep that up baby and you'll go far!

Princess made it almost to the top. So proud of her. The whole thing was her idea. She set her sights and went after it. Keep that up baby and you’ll go far!

Tonight after an exhausting day of many steps down memory lane, I will lay my head down on my pillow with a full heart and a thankful one.  Miss B was a beautiful soul with a simple, beautiful heart.  She found joy in pretty things and she shared beauty with those she loved.  Her handiwork is the stuff of family heirlooms, and that is how we treat it.  Most of all the lesson of her patience and determination and dedication will last for generations to come.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.  Go after what you want but be willing to work and work hard to make it happen.  Those are the great things to stitch into our stories. The needlework of our lives comes together one stitch at a time to form the big, beautiful picture we call this life.

A bit sappy and sentimental tonight perhaps, but how could I not be?  Trips down memory lane can do that to a person.  Wishing you all happy trails on your own memory lanes…..love to all.

Turning Over an Old Leaf

A wet leaf with few insects on it

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tara, I have a mother.  She lives way up north of here,” my brother-in-law Leroy said.  He looked down at me and smiled.Last night at the Fair with Mess Cat and her family, the truth came out.

I try to fix people’s lives.  Way.  Too.  Much.

I don’t even remember what we were talking about that triggered this response from Leroy, but the

truth is it was probably long overdue.  No probably about it.  It was way overdue.

I teased him.  “You’ve never had a little sister before, have you?” I asked, knowing full well he hadn’t.

“No,” he answered.

“Well this is what one looks like.  All this I’ve been saying, it’s how a little sister acts.”

(Like I would know this.  I’ve never been a little sister in my life.  Leroy is the closest thing I have to an older sibling–all of my other in-laws are younger than I am.)

He laughed and I laughed and all was good.  And I really tried not to take care of things for him.  Until.

About five minutes later.  When we were looking for food, he decided he might forego what he had wanted to save a few minutes walk through the crowd of people.

When I started trying to “fix it” again before I could stop myself, Leroy turned to look at me.  I knew I was doing it again.  His look was patient and kind, but I knew.  Stop it, Tara.  Just stop it.

This morning I got a message from a sweet friend about something really bad that has happened in her family and she asked for prayers.  I was thinking about her taking time to let me know about this, and I take it very seriously.  She asked for prayers, and I have tried today to continuously let God know how much she means to me and ask that she have peace and that she not feel alone in this.   I do not take it lightly that she asked me to keep her in my prayers.

Later, as I was pondering her request and the honor and huge deal it was that she asked, my Fabulous Friend messaged me this:

“Sometimes everyone you know has too many opinions and bias when all you really need is an ear.” –Fabulous Friend

Yes.  Truth.

And yet, how can I possibly be this for someone?  I have it in me to try to fix situations/things/whatever for folks.  Is it being the oldest or my personality type that causes this?  Does it come from my fear of losing the people I want to fix things for because I’ve lost the ones I love the most?  I don’t know, but it’s in there.  And I’m having one more hard time trying to break myself of it.

To be an ear.  To just listen and not offer my help or my thoughts on how to fix whatever it is?  To simply be with someone? You’re asking for something mighty big there, my friend.

And yet, I think that is exactly what my sweet friend needs right now.

A week ago the guy who gets our fireplace up and running every year called and came out.  He is a really nice person.  We were catching up and he hesitated.  Then he shared with me that his daughter in her mid-twenties died in a car accident over the summer, leaving her son for them to raise.  Y’all.  Nothing will hush up somebody who’s a fixer faster than this.  There is nothing.  NOTHING.  that can fix bad stuff like this.  Which is a good thing, because that is exactly what I could come up with.  Nothing.  My mind was spinning, and I did wind up telling him about the children’s bereavement camp that the Hospice I worked with holds every year.  Right, wrong, or otherwise I felt the need to share that with him.  Maybe I should have just been quiet and only been an ear, but old habits die hard.  So it goes.

Since I heard from my sweet friend this morning about her family’s heartbreak, I have found out about another friend’s family member who died tragically, and about our Dear Lady friend whom my family loves and who is about to leave this world because of the cancer.  Cancer comes real close to making me cuss.  It makes me so mad whom it takes from us.  And so tonight I am sad.  For both of my friends and their losses and for this dear lady’s family and friends as they prepare to say “Bye for now.”  And what tears me up most is that there isn’t anything I can do to fix any of it.  Not a blame thing.

And so I look back to what my Fabulous Friend said.  I will try to be an ear and just listen and not try to fix it or suggest options or carry on about what I did in a similar situation.  I’m not promising anything, but I’m going to try.  You hear that, Leroy?

Tonight I will lay my head down on my pillow with a heavy heart, filled with love and peace-filled thoughts for my friends and our Dear Lady’s family.  I give thanks for friends who entrust me with their stories and who ask for my ear and my heart and my prayers.  And I am especially grateful for a brother-in-law who will call me on my stuff and still love me,  and for a wise Fabulous Friend who serves as a compass for me on my journey of letting go. I wish change weren’t so hard.