Whoa man!

In August 1994, in my previous life, my sister MessCat joined our family on vacation. We stayed in the little park home at the “campground” in Florida. It was called a campground, but everyone stayed in some kind of mobile/modular home on a little plot of grass across from the canal. Many had boats docked right across from their lot and most were year round residents. My in-laws who owned it were seasonal. We went down for a week each year, usually in August.

We had a great week, filled with cheese grits and fish, boating and gator tail, manatee watching and swimming in the gulf. There were late night UNO games on the screened porch and sleeping in and lots of sun exhaustion-induced afternoon naps. Shampoo and sunscreen were the perfume of the days. I can still smell that and the scent of the canal…..and listening to the sound of boat motors and frogs singing after dark.

On that trip MessCat told me about how college was going for her. It was her last year. She’d come across some interesting information and had been testing it out. Apparently, something she had heard or read said, if you repeat one thing over and over–an exclamation of sorts–others will start repeating it as well. She was well on her way to having, “That’s crunchy!” spoken by half of her campus. She expected the saying to be used by nearly all by the time she returned from vacation. All because one person repeated it over and over. And it stuck.

We decided to try it. She reminded me today that the line came from the poem from “So I Married An Axe Murderer.” (Woman…..Whoa man) We started saying “whoa man” about all kinds of things. Something surprising (whoa man, did you see that?), something good (whoa man, this sandwich is good), something that hurt (whoa man!), when we wanted someone to stop (whoa man *hand up*)…..and so on. If we could find a way, we did. My 8 year old little Bud was an amused observer, I think. MessCat might tell me differently, but I don’t think he ever blinked about it. The other adult though, it was sinking into his brain without him even knowing it. Until one evening, as MessCat, my Bud, and I were Reversing and Skipping Turns and changing colors, he came in from the canal, walked across the porch, and nearly fell off the two steps going into the house. “Whoa man!” he said, as he struggled to regain his balance.

We promptly lost it. MessCat and I nearly fell off our seats laughing so hard. Even my Bud joined in, though I’m not sure if he knew what was so funny or not. Or maybe two adults rolling around with laughing tears is funny enough on its own.

What occurred to me in the wee hours while I was asleep last night, was that this is happening right now. People keep saying things over and over. And then others start to repeat it. And others and still others. More and more. Until everyone is saying it, and very few–as evidenced by my need to call MessCat this morning to ask about the origin of the exclamation–really remember why.

It is not lost on me that the child was the last one to join in with the catchphrase, but eventually he did. Becuase he was hearing it from all of the adults in his life.

It’s odd, isn’t it? I haven’t thought about that trip or that incident in a long, long time. But for some reason it crawled back out last night from where it has been tucked away, interrupted my sleep, and demanded to be revisited and told.

We–me, you, all of us–need to be cautious about what we are speaking and giving life to. Someone is bound to repeat it. For whatever reason. And if that someone is a child…..

we have to be more careful. We…..I…..need to be more focused on speaking light into life. And love. And beauty and joy. And of course, laughter.

And if darkness tries to come creeping in…..

WHOA, MAN.

Love and light to all.

thinking about what we are saying /// watching for who’s listening

Remember the Math

I miss my Mama.

She’s been on my mind and heart so much more than usual in the recent past. I suppose it could be because January is her month. Her birthday is Friday the 15th, forever etched in my mind and soul. The day I give thanks for her presence on this earth and her presence in our hearts since she left this world almost 8 years ago.

I think it also could be because I so miss her words of wisdom, her hugs, her loving my babies through all kinds of things, her being where they could go when they are mad at me. I struggle these days, just as I am sure many of you are. What sense would Mama make of all of this, I wonder. I more than wonder. I yearn for her and her way of looking at life.

I was thinking about this last night when the lights were out and only the whispers of the wind outside and the gentle snoring of my feline and canine babies could be heard. And I heard my Mama, almost as if she were right beside me.

I have two younger sisters and a little brother. My sisters are three and five years younger than me, and my baby brother is almost nine years younger. With all of our personalities and varied interests piled up together in our childhood home, we were bound to get into (ahem) disagreements. It happened. Always certain that we each were RIGHT and the other was WRONG, we toted tales to Mama, who was at home with us the most.

“She did this, he said that, why does she get to, tell him not to, she’s not, he’s bugging me” and so on. You get the idea. Inevitably, when Mama asked one of us about a transgression, the answer would pop out almost without thinking.

(or completely without thinking, because we KNEW what Mama thought of what we were about to say)

“Yes ma’am, I did, but she—“

Oh boy.

That “but” would get Mama’s goat more than anything. Using what someone else did to justify our wrongdoing–whoo whee. Mama had one and only one opinion on that.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

That was how math worked in our house. (That and a null set for leaving folks out, but that’s another story.)

Mama didn’t play when it came to us thinking “but he said, but she did” justified anything we might do. “If you know better, do better.” No matter what someone else did or said. So she nipped that in bud.

Over and over. We were a little slow picking things up sometimes.

One of our family traditions was going to see the children’s plays at Mama’s alma mater (and eventually mine and my daughter’s). It was always in the fall. I have fond memories of Mama and Daddy both loading us up and going to see the young performers who seemed so adult to me at the time. They were STARS, and I was starstruck. I remember one play in particular when a princess came out in a flurry of pink tulle, in the midst of much chaos and unpleasant exchanges between the other characters, exclaiming in her high pitched princessy voice, “I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”

Oh my, how Mama loved that line and made it her own.

I loved my siblings then and still do. But we weren’t always on the same page when we were all in the same house. When we were “at cross purposes” as Mama called it and at odds with each other, we weren’t necessarily pleasant about it. Mama would say after encouraging us to bring it down to a “dull roar” those very words–“I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”

I remember her tone didn’t always suggest that she was fully one hundred percent committed to her belief in that statement. It was more of a reminder for us to get to wonderful…..in rapid fashion.

Bless her.

So that’s it.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.

That’s what I heard my Mama whisper that night. The week of her birthday, I got the gift of a reminder of her wisdom. In the dark of night, there was light.

While we are all out here in our day to dailies and posting things and speaking things and getting along (or not) with folks, let’s remember the math.

And please keep it down to a dull roar. I have a headache (and heartache) that won’t go away.

Love to all.

ps. What I’m not saying, because my Daddy had strict rules about what we could talk about in public, is this–bad and hard things have happened. Please don’t make light of them or justify making light of them because you feel that other hard or bad things have happened. We are all hurting. Let’s see if we can get to wonderful. And be light and love to each other. That’s all. Remember the math.

The Season We Are In

“I can’t do this.”

These four words have been rattling around in my head quite a bit lately. As the drops have fallen from the showerhead and my eyes, I have even whispered them aloud. “I. Can’t. Do. This.”

I’m okay. Things are okay. There are people who have more struggles every single day than I do. I don’t take my blessings lightly. And I don’t mean to make light of the very real hard things people around me and around the world are going through.

Still, if I’m keeping it real–and am transparent, I’ve had moments, especially in the past year, month, week, where I feel so blame overwhelmed, I just don’t know how to keep on keepin’ on. To be honest, I keep looking around for the grownup in charge.

Yesterday I decided to go outside and sit on my front steps. My front steps got me through a lot of the days at the beginning of this pandemic. We live on a culdesac, and my porch is surrounded by flora–a loropetalum on one side and a loquat tree on the other–so there is no shortage of sounds, smells, and sights to take in and just sit and be with. During loquat season, I watched one of my feathered friends come over and drink from the fruit and then hop over to another branch and clean his beak on a leaf before flying off. I’m just thankful my tree produces enough fruit for us to enjoy and to share with the squirrels and birds who reside with us in our little corner of our world.

I was taking in the afternoon, breathing in the fresh air and thankful that I could. Suddenly one of our resident bird friends hopped over to the walkway between lorapetalum and loquat. I said hello, and then saw this happen.

This amazing creature who defies logic by taking to the air and FLYING brought her snack over in front of me and proceeded to partake.

Y’all.

She ate a wasp.

A wasp.

And then she turned and looked me straight in the eye before she flew off to continue tending to her business.

I heard you, my winged wonder. I heard you as clearly as I heard the wind gently whispering through the leaves.

“You’ve got this, girl. I promise you this. If I can eat a flippin’ wasp, you’ve got this. It’s okay to be sad or feel overwhelmed, but when it comes down to it, take what you can find in this season and make it work–YOU’VE GOT THIS.”

And then she hopped off.

Because, I mean, she’d had her snack and she had lots more to do before the sun went down. After all, she has the wisdom to get things done while the sun shines and then rest when it doesn’t. Another thing I could learn from her.

It is not lost on me, this message that I so desperately needed to hear. This encouragement that my soul was crying out for. But the messenger is also not lost on me. My Daddy used to sit in his recliner by the window in our living room and watch the birds live out their stories in the arbor vitae along our dirt and gravel driveway. I wonder what lessons and messages he got from them over the years, especially his last one where that window was literally his window to the world as the hospice bed replaced the recliner. I can’t help but wonder if my bird friend was sent by my Daddy, as I have so wished he were here to ask for answers that would guide me and bring me some peace.

Take courage, my friends. As numbers and words and thoughts and opinions tend to divide and separate and cause doubt or pain or uncertainty or loss, know that you’ve got this. There are things out there that might seek to harm us, to sting us and take us down. But it’s important to remember, as the tears threaten to take over or emotions come wave after wave, that sting can be taken down. Literally and figuratively.

If you’re feeling like you can’t do this, know you are not alone. Take heart and remember our feathered friend. It was going to be cold that night. There’s no fruit on the loquat tree for her to munch on–that was a different season. The season we are in right now provided no sweetness for her; instead it offered her a wasp. And instead of giving up, she kept at it until she conquered it and made it work for her.

In this season we are in, let’s do that, y’all. Maybe together it will be easier. The season of sweetness will surely return, but for now, instead let’s take what we can find and make it work. Even that which would harm or divide us can serve a purpose, if only we stand together.

You are not alone. Love to all.

Thursday Takeout and Year End Musings

Thursday nights are Takeout nights.

Which is short for “Tara has had enough with the cooking of the things and needs a break, it’s almost the weekend, for goodness’ sake.”

Three nights a week our adventures and learning have us getting home later in the evening and one more has us getting home right around a late supper time. So Thursday, the last night each week of those adventures–that’s the night we drive through a drive thru and give thanks for folks who cook the food.

We recently have added a new place we can pick up from that is safe for our food allergies. Any day we can add another restaurant to our safe list, we dance around and celebrate with all the bells and whistles. It’s a very, very good thing.

A few weeks back, on a Thursday night, we went to the drive thru at this new place and ordered a smorgasbord of food to enjoy that night–and perhaps, when all was said and eaten, we’d be really lucky and there would be leftovers to flip for on Friday for lunch. When we pulled up, they asked us to hold for a minute. Gladly. I like to have the orders done and ready to relay, and, with preferences and requests coming from two in the car and one more via text message plus my own, I could use that minute wisely. It was probably a couple of minutes later when the voice asked me to go ahead with my order.

When we got to the window, they asked us to pull up ahead and said they’d bring it out. I think Text Message’s order required extra prep time, so there we were. Still, as I told them, “You’re cooking supper. I’m just really thankful for y’all because that means I don’t have to.” And I meant it. I don’t play with appreciation when I don’t have to cook. When you’ve learned to manipulate around food allergies in meal planning and prepping, there are times and phases and seasons when cooking is less fun and more tiresome.

We pulled ahead and waited only a couple of minutes. They were surprisingly quick. Also surprisingly, they had two young men bring out our food. One could have managed it I feel sure, but they both came out. They delivered our food, and then they thanked me.

They thanked me. Thanked us for being so nice about the delay and just in general, as “we’ve had some folks come through this evening and not be so nice…..so thank you, ma’am.”

That broke me. These two young men explained how they are understaffed and pulling double duty and how good it had been to be greeted with a smile and treated with kind words.

Y’all. I did nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary. My Mama raised me to say thank you to the person who cooked my food. My Fella was raised the same way, because, bless him, no matter what I put on a plate or in a bowl, he always, always thanks me for the meal. It was second nature to me to thank the people behind the glass window and masks. I didn’t even think about it–it just happened.

Sometimes my children call me “extra” when I carry on conversations with clerks and staff in different places we go. (Or should I say “used to go?”) But let me assure you there was nothing “extra” in my tired, worn out, ready to be home, hungry “thank y’all for cooking supper for us tonight.” Not one bit.

And yet–it was seen as such.

I’ve carried this with me for several reasons over the past month or so since it happened. It struck me how an easily spoken kind word can have a huge impact on someone, especially someone who is having a rough moment. In a past year, I’ve chosen the word “intentional” as my New Year’s word. I suppose that’s what I found myself thinking after that interaction with those weather-worn young men. I need to be more intentional with those kind words. Make it second nature to speak kindness into the air to pierce the darkness and heaviness and negativity. The only way that happens is by practice, speaking those words as many times in a day as I can. It might even–ahem–require I speak those kinds of words to the people in my own home–the ones 2020 has found me spending more time with than ever before. Kindness. Kind words. Putting them out there–making it as effortless as breathing. That’s a goal. (And I’m not gonna lie, some days, the struggle can be really real.)

Something else happened that night. We said good night and were humbled by their appreciation for such a simple thing as thank you. We drove off and as we headed back to the main road, my shotgun rider called for me to stop–she saw someone running after us. WHAT?! Sure enough, one of the young men had chased after us, for quite a distance (it was very dark out and I hadn’t noticed him), to ask us to come back for a small portion of the food we had ordered but that hadn’t been put in the bag originally.

That.

My children, 13 and 16, noticed this. They saw him and his persistence in completing his job and doing it well. As I maneuvered the divided highway to turn around and go back to the drive thru, they talked about him and the great service that we had gotten that night. Those young men had been extra EXTRA, and we noticed. It made a lasting mark on my people and their hearts. I am so thankful for that and for those employees and their example.

As this year comes to a close on this very different sort of day–this morning was our Christmas morning (due to Covid quarantine) and tonight is New Year’s Eve, complete with games (gifts from this morning) and fun snacks–I am thinking about those young men. I think about what made that night memorable, and it boils down to a few things.

Honest. Transparency. Appreciation. Relationship.

When I told them thank you for cooking supper, that I was worn out, I was being honest. My true self. Because Thursday night at the drive thru after a long week is as real as Tara gets. And in return, those young men felt safe being transparent about their evening. We all were appreciative of the other, and that right there set the stage for a good foundation for a relationship. And that relationship just might be why that young man chased me down. I really believe that. We are willing to go the extra mile for people we are in relationship with. Oh sure, I realize he might have been required to find me and ask me to come back, but the smile on his face behind the mask after that long run–that was all about the relationship. If ever so new, it was still there.

Whom can we be honest with about our struggles? Whom can we be transparent with and ask for help? Or offer to help when we see a need? Whom do we appreciate, even for the seemingly smallest of things? How can we let them know that? Let me just say, “I appreciate you,” are precious words to hear, especially on cold, dark nights when one is exhausted from all the day to dailies. They are magic words, because they can build a connection. And connections lead to relationships. And relationships? They are the lyrics to the melody of life, bringing meaning to and enriching our story.

Tonight as we end this year and turn the page on the calendar, I’ve chosen my word for 2021. (And no, the irony is not lost on me that last year’s word was “trash” and this year’s words were “make do.” I’m still shaking my head and laughing over that.)

My word for 2021 is extra.

Extra.

I plan to live it, give it, demand it, respect it, love it, and be it. Being extra has led to some of the most memorable moments of my life–and a Thursday night less than a month ago is one of them. May we be the people throwing out extra praise, running the extra mile to help someone, and may we live and love so extra that we are loved and treasured more than the extra packet of dipping sauce that is always a treat to find!

Much love and wishing you all a good year, one extra good day at the time.

December 25thmas and What You Didn’t Get For Christmas Day

Christmas of 2003 we were living in Japan, and I found myself trying to find the perfect gift for my 8 year old on her first Christmas away from Georgia. She was enchanted by American Girl dolls. After researching, I found that Gotz was the original maker of the dolls, and I found a beautiful Gotz Elizabeth Cady Stanton doll on eBay. I slipped a note to Santa about the doll and asked if it would be possible for him to deliver it for her. He promised to do his best.

Unfortunately, mail service being what it is overseas, Santa was delayed in bringing the doll for Christmas. He dropped it off when he and Mrs. Claus were on their way to vacation one evening the week after Christmas. The doll was perfect, and the story of her arrival while we were gone to our friends’ home one evening is a happy memory.

Over the years, we have created a new tradition that I trace back to that Christmas. There is inevitably a gift that doesn’t arrive in time. I may or may not have tucked something away and then not been able to put my hands on it on Christmas Eve…..I mean, maybe that’s happened. *ahem* So one year when there were a few things delayed, we started “What You Didn’t Get For Christmas” Day. Most years we celebrate it on or right after the 12th Day of Christmas–often it’s January 6th, Epiphany. It’s become a special tradition. It’s a time that is laid back and fun–it has become less about the gifts and more about the anticipation and the fun of a post-Christmas, once more before we put Christmas away, celebration. (Some years it’s been adapted to “What You Didn’t Give For Christmas” Day, and that was whole new kind of fun!)

I was thinking about What You Didn’t Get For Christmas Day last week when a small business owner wasn’t sure she could get something to us in time. I wrote her back and told her no worries, our tradition had it covered. It actually arrived two days after the seller mailed it, so score a win for the postal service. So now I have the choice to give the gift on Christmas or save it for WYDGFCDay.

But life had other plans. This year has been full of “other” plans, hasn’t it? If you, like us, realize that Christmas may not happen as or when you had hoped for and envisioned, maybe consider planning your own version of WYDGFCDay. (Sort of a Who You Didn’t Get To Be With On Christmas Day…..) Maybe Christmas has to take place later…..next week, next month. The thing that is most important about this day of celebrating the birth of Jesus~Light and Love, and we have been talking about this a lot this week, is who we are with, not when it happens. The love shared and memories made, not the presents wrapped under the tree (or enroute via one of the lettered delivery trucks).

So December 25thmas (as my youngest calls it now) may not be Christmas Day for us. And that is okay. I’ve thought a lot about the years my Fella was overseas at Christmas…..about those who work on December 25th and so their Christmas is celebrated another day–those on the frontlines of this virus who will be working and not see their families on the traditional day. I think about those who are sick and cannot be with the ones who matter most to them while the rest of the world celebrates.

So if your December 25thmas will look differently this year, know you are not alone. I hope that joy will find you no matter what your holidays look like, no matter what traditions you are missing this year. I hope that somewhere, sometime, you are able to make merry memories that one day will bring a smile as you remember them.

Wishing you all merry memory making!

Love to all.

Cats and Dogs and …..

We have added to our family. Two new furry babies, TimTom and Cardigan, have brought us so much joy over the past two months. We adore them. They are best friends, adventure buddies, and mischief makers. Cooter especially adores them, and he’s the reason they are here. But that’s another story for another night.

TimTom Kitty Boy and Cardigan

Whenever we go to the vet, I take them together as they are each other’s emotional support animal. At home whenever one is being cuddled by someone, the other is always looking for their buddy. So together it is. Masked up, I tote them together in a carrier that won’t hold both of them for much longer and head out. We love our veterinarian. We’ve been going there for years. Recently, they became the stars of their own TV show about their practice. We pass by their office just about every time we leave our house. Last week, Cooter pointed out that the filming crew was there as we drove by.

I didn’t think about that when I took TimTom and Cardi for their checkup two days later. They did well, and we were taken such good care of. If you love my babies, two feet or four, you’ve got me. I appreciate the staff there so much. As we were heading out, I noticed a man with a clear face shield on talking to a man standing next to his truck parked next to my van. As I unlocked my vehicle, I heard him say, “Okay, this will be good. Stan will get you mic’ed up, and we’ll do this. It’s going to be great.” And they walked off together.

Hmmm. I guess the filming crew was still going strong. I loaded my precious babies in their carrier in the van and told them how cute they are and how they could have been the stars of the show. After all, true to form just like she does at home, Cardi spit out her pill when the vet tech was showing me how to give her the medicine, surprising us both (see? I was telling the truth). She’s sneaky and spunky and completely adorable. TimTom is a love bug whose greatest skill is cuddling and crawling into tight spaces. Absolutely stars of the show material.

I got in on my side, and started to back out as a cameraman started going around to the back of the truck next to me. He was intensely focused on whatever was in the large crate in the back of that truck. He moved with skill, never taking his camera lens off this magnificent beast.

Because it must have been, right? Magnificent? I mean if they chose whatever it was over these two sweethearts…..well, you see where I’m going with this. I had to see what kind of dog was in that crate. I couldn’t tell from my vantage point on the side.

I carefully backed out, telling my babies how good they had been (already forgiving Miss Spit Out The Pill), with one eye on my rearview mirror and one eye on that crate. It was a tight space, so I had to do that ‘pull back in and then reverse one more time’ thing to get to where I could head out of the parking lot. I kept picturing in my head just what kind of dog it must be. And then finally I could see it.

A…..chicken?

Y’all. It was a chicken. I mean, I don’t know a lot about them, but I’m sure she was a very fine chicken. Beautiful even. Happily pecking around in the hay strewn around the bottom of that crate in the back of the pickup. Having no idea how her every move was being recorded for posterity and stardom.

I laughed out loud, and I told my babies it was all okay. Because it was a chicken.

That, my friends, was no baby kitten.

See, here’s the thing–and what I had forgotten. The theme of the show is their country practice. My two little bougie kittens do not fall under that category. But that does not take away from the fact that they are two of the most adorable kittens that ever made biscuits or from the fact that they are so very lovable and loved. It takes nothing away from who they really are.

Late that night it hit me that we do this kind of thing to ourselves. We see someone who is noticed or seen or we compare ourselves to someone else, and we see ourselves as less than.

But. We. Are. Not.

My Daddy used to say, “When you compare, you lose.”

And boy, was he ever right about that.

You, precious people, are indeed beautiful and treasured. Don’t knock yourself down or let yourself be disappointed by what you see in the mirror. You just better know that in a world looking for chickens, you are a spunky, sassy, cuddly, lovable kitten who is a treasure. Don’t go second guessing who you are just because you aren’t picked this time. The right one/ person/opportunity will come along and there you’ll be…..exactly what they are looking for. Today it’s a chicken, but tomorrow…..

Same goes with looking. If you want a chicken, don’t start filming kittens. No matter how cute they are.

‘Cause that’s another thing Daddy always said, “Don’t settle.”

Period.

It’s time for you to know that you are lovable and worthy and enough– chicken, kitten, dog, or iguana. Even the person you are right now. Enough. Worthy. LOVED.

Precious in the sight of the Creator and those around you.

Believe that.

I’m off to go cuddle my kittens. They might not be chickens, but they sure are good at being cuddly kittens just like they were created to be. I’m thankful for that and for them.

Love to all.

TimTom and Cardi chillin’ in the carrier at the vet–such sweet babies!

Toting Twigs and Wayward Worms

One of the gifts that these strange times have given us is longer walks in the mornings. When we were first asked to stay home during the beginning of this pandemic, Miss Sophie, whose routine was thrown way off because *we*never*left*, convinced me to take her on longer walks in the mornings. Or maybe it was the other way around. Instead of our quick, hurry up, I thought you had to go ritual, we had leisurely meanderings through our neighborhood, waving from a distance at neighbors we hadn’t seen in a while and some we’d never met. The mornings in March and April and even the beginning of May were unseasonably temperate, and it was lovely.

With spring upon us and yards being watered again, the tragedy that has broken my heart each spring and summer began once again. Earthworms, who had either floated without choice or, tempted by the early morning coolness, crawled from grass to sidewalk, were left stranded on the concrete walkways as the days grew hotter. Some were able to make it back to the safety of the grass, but so many were not.

I carry a stick when we walk. Not a big one. A twig really. It’s not meant to scare anyone or anything (supposedly a gator comes around occasionally or so I’ve heard). It’s my worm lifting tool.

Yep. That’s a real thing.

I don’t know how I got started or when the first worm called out to me for help. Before I started carrying my twig, I’d search frantically for a leaf or stick or strong blade of grass to gently slide underneath the sweltering, wiggling worm and lift him quickly to the safety of the dark, damp earth. I don’t know how many make it okay after or even the lifespan of a worm. I just know I can’t pass by one who has any wiggle left in him. He has to be moved to safety. (But no, for some reason, I haven’t brought myself to use my bare hands–I keep telling myself it’s gentler not to, but I’m pretty sure that’s what rationalizing looks like. ūüėČ )

It’s been a few years maybe that I’ve been doing this. I don’t think anything about it anymore. Neither does Sophie. As I go about my business, she takes a minute to ponder life or what smells were left where. So far no one has ever stopped me to say, “Hey! Whatcha doing all bent over and contorted like that?” or “Hey! Stop flinging earthworms in my yard, you crazy person!” All of which I am glad for.

It’s become such a natural thing for me on our walks that when the pandemic hit and Cooter decided to join me and Miss Sophie in the mornings, I didn’t think about him wondering what on earth his Mama was doing all stooped and bent over and talking to an earthworm like that–or why I was carrying a twig with me.

When curiosity got the better of him and he did ask, I explained sheepishly. I braced myself for my new teenager to have something sarcastic to say or some great knowledge to impart to me that would imply that maybe my efforts were all in vain. Let’s face it, I thought he’d tease me unmercifully. He loves me and respects me, but I could see it happening.

I did not expect him to go looking for his own twig and ask to “rescue” the next one.

But that’s what he did.

Side by side I walked with this man child who (don’t tell him I admitted to it) is now slightly taller than I am. He gained inches during this quarantine, and I’m now the shortest person in this family. Bless.

As we talked about everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) under the sun, we kept our eyes open for any wigglers. There were many who were already lost, sadly, but when we saw one still going, we’d excitedly and with gentle scolding (“look here buddy, go THAT way, no quit jumping, I’m TRYING TO HELP YOU, SIR) help another misguided bloke to safety. The joy was palpable, though we never tarried long after we got another one across. Miss Sophie’s patience has limits, my friends.

When I think of this quarantine, those lovely morning walks with dazzling blue skies, puffy white clouds, gentle breezes, and the perfect air temperature will be among my treasured memories. Walking with my favorite “little” fella and my precious pup, toting twigs and rescuing wayward worms–priceless.

I’ve thought a little more about those spring walks, since we don’t go quite as long or as far in the sauna that the outdoors here in Georgia has become. When he first joined me back in March, I didn’t set out to show my baby boy “how to keep worms from frying on the hot pavement.” He saw me carrying my twig and watched what I did with it. Then he found his own and copied me.

And I know that doesn’t just happen with sticks and worms. It happens with stock and words. What I take stock in, how I use my words to harm or heal…..he’s watching. Listening. Those hands that used to reach for mine– first to help him stand, then to step, and then to comfort–are growing and changing as much as his voice which is so much deeper with now only a few cracks or squeaks. Those hands, his voice–he can choose how they affect this world. He’s taking in what happens around him and choosing what he wants to be a part of, what he wants to change, encourage, develop, empower, study, share, love.

I’m thankful for a life where my baby boy carries a twig around our neighborhood and no one asks why. I’m thankful for a life where he carries a small stick for the survival of earthworms and not a bigger one for his own. The disparity in that is not lost on me. We are so fortunate that it moves me to tears.

Most of all, I’m thankful for parents who taught me to leave things better than I found them. To be a good steward of all around me. To know the little ones are watching and learning, whether we realize we are teaching or not. And that no creature is too small to care for and about. I’ve been one of those earthworms, finding myself somewhere on my journey that it turns out isn’t the best of places. I’m thankful for those who came along and nudged me back on the path, back where I could continue growing and living out my best story.

Wishing you all a walking buddy who wants to share all his thoughts and dreams and ideas with you along the way, a pup who is always glad to see you when you do actually finally leave the house, and someone to come along with a twig to lift you up and return you to safety when you find yourself lost and alone. Love to all.

I’m never quite sure what makes them leave their grassy homes.
My trusty twig and a backup piece of bark. It’s serious business, this, and one must always be prepared with backups.

Lydia and the Little Dish in the Freezer

I’ve read a few good books lately, and one of them is The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. ¬†I enjoyed it immensely, though it required quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. ¬†Which I am okay with, as I often feel like my own life is better when I apply that mechanism.

However as I read, I found myself struggling with some of the decisions Lydia made.  I pushed through because if there is one thing I have learned in the past thirty years of my life, it is that we all grieve differently.  And that is OKAY.

Grief comes in and out, intertwining in our lives, in almost as many ways as there are people who grieve, and for those who say “Well I’d never…..” I seriously wonder if they’ve ever lost someone they loved. ¬†Grace is most needed when grief is in our lives.

After cringing a little at one choice Lydia made in particular, I continued reading, emotionally invested in the story, because I remembered the container in my freezer that I found a few weeks ago.  Any sane person would likely judge me and be disgusted, grossed out, or say I needed help.

And all of that would be valid.

But still…..

The weekend of March 14 our dancer was supposed to go with her competition team to perform two numbers in Atlanta. ¬†The decision was made by the organizers on March 12 to postpone due to the governor’s decision to limit gatherings to groups of no more than 50 people at that time. ¬†So I found myself with a Saturday morning free that I had not expected. ¬†It was a pleasant day outside, so I decided to defrost my freezer. ¬†There are no incriminating photos, but suffice to say it’s been quite some time since I did this and IT NEEDED IT BADLY. ¬†I had a grocery pickup for later that day, and I wanted to have room for everything. ¬†I listened to music and loaded things into a cooler and turned on the blow dryer and watched ice melt.

It was actually quite pleasant.  And I felt productive, having no idea the long road we had ahead of us.

In the midst of my moving things to the cooler, I found an old small plastic container. ¬†I saw my Mama’s trademark masking tape she used for labelling things before I saw her red Sharpie handwriting with what was in it and the date.

Y’all.

As some of you may know, Mama left this world in February of 2013.  The label was for June of 2012.

I have most assuredly cleaned out this freezer many times before this year, and so each time I have, I guess I made the conscious decision (though I don’t recall) not to throw it out.

Because–grief.

My Mama used to make barbecue when I was growing up. ¬†She cooked the pork roast and shredded it and made her sauce from scratch. ¬†I still have the recipe here somewhere, and while I might have tried to make it a time or two, to be honest, I was never a really big fan of it. ¬†It was tangier than I liked back then (though now I have different tastes), so at some point Mama started putting some aside and making a gravy so that I had pork roast and gravy sandwiches instead of barbecue. ¬†This was not a common occurrence in our home. ¬†Picky eaters were not indulged, as we were a family of six and could ill afford to cater to everyone’s individual tastes and preferences on a regular basis. ¬†And while it might not have been every time she made barbecue, it is a precious memory for me that Mama took the time to do this on occasion. ¬†I felt seen, heard, and loved.

Never mind that it was delicious.

The label on the small container said “PORK ROAST W/GRAVY” along with the date in June of 2012.

A date of no significance.

It wasn’t my birthday or any other celebration. ¬†Just an everyday. ¬†Regular plain old get up and do the daytodailies kind of day.

But Mama made it special by making me this pork roast with gravy.

Feeding folks was her love language, you see, and I felt so loved by her. ¬†When she’d eat my mushrooms off my pizza (only as an adult–as a child I had to learn to eat some things I wasn’t exactly crazy about), when she made my quiche without bacon (it was a phase), when she made every single meal special somehow…..I felt loved.

And so that’s why I found that little container with my Mama’s handwriting on it seven years after she passed.

Because it reminds me I am loved.

And while I’ve had to let her go, I didn’t want to let go of that feeling. ¬†Or of the reminder, the symbol of being loved for all my quirks and both because and despite of who I am.

And remembering all of that, I forgave Lydia her choices and really loved the book.

Finding that dish reminded me we all have weird and off the wall and outside what might be deemed socially acceptable ways of handling loss.  ~Loss-such a funny little word for something that encompasses every breath and fiber of our being.~

As our lives have all changed so drastically, some more than others, since that day five weeks ago when I was cleaning out my freezer, grief is bound to come. ¬†I encourage you all to let it. ¬†And–as Mama used to say sometimes–“as long are you aren’t hurting anyone, I’ll allow it.” Grieve however you need to. ¬†And allow others to do the same. ¬†Grief and grace are best served together.

One more thing about that dish. ¬†As parents or anyone loving someone else through this new way of living we find ourselves in, please know you don’t have to make big gestures to show someone you love them or to make precious memories. ¬†And it doesn’t have to be a “special” day. ¬†What that little dish with my Mama’s handwriting on it reminds me is that everyday, the “every” ordinary day is just as good as any special occasion day to show someone how much they are seen, heard, treasured, and loved.

May we all find a way to remind someone of that and to be reminded. ¬†Make memories in the midst of the ordinary and the extraordinary. ¬†Today is a great day for that. ¬†In the words of my Mama, “Happy Everyday!”

Love to all.

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How to Get Lost (and a free book)

I’m not sure when it happened, but it was confirmed this past Christmas. ¬†We have moved past the toys on the wish list. ¬†My (not so) littles were hoping for things that supported their dreams–like dance and games and shoes. ¬†My little fella asked for a pair of Crocs (easy to slide on and off and APPARENTLY back in fashion?!?) and books. ¬†When I asked him what books–was there a series or author he preferred, he said “No ma’am, surprise me. ¬†I always love what you pick out.”

As they were excitedly planning what gifts they wanted to give each other, I was scratching my head about what books to suggest to Santa to bring for him. ¬†My little guy Cooter who didn’t read a lick until he turned 7 is an avid reader–magazines, books, cereal boxes…..whatever he can get his hands on. ¬†He loves it when I grab a paper at the grocery store and bring home to him. ¬†He reads it front to back, with extra attention to politics, comics, and ads for trucks. ¬†And gas prices. ¬†He’s a fanatic about watching gas prices.

Christmas morning was a delight and joy as we shared love and gifts and laughter and memories.  Cooter was intrigued by the book choices and said they looked promising.  Last fall he read the young adult version of Just Mercy because his big sister had read the original version, and there was a movie coming out.  He and his sister were fortunate to get to go to the advanced screening for the movie locally two days after Christmas.  He came home saying the book and movie had changed his life.  That moved me to tears because he has found a passion for justice and defeating wrong.  When looking for books for him, I knew to stick with history and books that would fall in this same realm.

One night about a week or so after Christmas, I was locking up and turning off the lights, preparing to go to bed a little after midnight. ¬†Cooter has always been my child who goes to bed before everyone else. ¬†10:30 is about the latest he can handle on the weekends, and he’s usually in bed way before that. ¬†The girls tend to be night owls in comparison. ¬†So I was surprised to see the light on underneath his door. ¬†I suspected he’d fallen asleep reading as he often does. ¬†When I opened the door, his face popped up from behind one of his Christmas books. ¬†Shocked, I asked, “Buddy, what are you doing? It’s after midnight!” His eyes got huge and he said, “What?! For real?” ¬†I recognized that look. ¬†I have been blessed to feel that more times than I can count in my life. ¬†He’d gotten so wrapped up in the story, he’d lost track of time completely.

Bless.

After he recounted the story to me, I encouraged him to put it away and turned off his light. ¬†My heart was light and thankful. ¬†He seemed to struggle–or maybe it was me–when he was little and reading was on the agenda. ¬†He never seemed to be able to get what the letters in front of him were doing. Or I couldn’t help him understand. Until he turned 7. ¬†And then it clicked. ¬†For the past almost six years he’s been a voracious reader. ¬†I’m so very thankful for that. ¬†For his anger over injustice, for his love of funny books, for his need to read the stories from the past, for his desire to share the stories with me. ¬†This year we are using a literature based curriculum for his lessons, and he is loving it. ¬†Who knew when I was close to tears over his lack of drive to learn to read that we’d be where we were that night…..with his little face showing the shock of coming back to reality after being so lost in a really good book.

It all started with reading him good books when he was small.

Actually, that’s not true.

It started with my Mama reading me books when I was small. ¬†I never felt our lives lacking, no matter what we did or didn’t have, because we were always surrounded by good stories.

Mama passed that and so many of those good books down to us. ¬†I have shelves of her books that are blending with ours. ¬†Children’s books that are still brought down and pored over and read and left sitting out to remind us that we are never too far from that child in us who first delighted over the pictures and rhythm of a well-written story.

That’s why I’m happy that me and mine are never too old to enjoy a good children’s book. ¬†Especially since all of the ones by one of my favorite children’s authors have been published after my three have traditionally aged out of those books.

But we say we’re never too old to love one.

Matthew Paul Turner has a new book coming out tomorrow–When God Made the World. ¬†You need this book for your littles, your grands, your friends, your home, yourself! Like all of his books before, he uses words to paint a story that your heart longs to hear–how each part of creation was designed lovingly and with a purpose–including and especially YOU! The author leaves us with a blessing and a charge–words that I find myself praying over my children as they enter this new chapter in their lives.

MPT when God made the world photo

I was talking to my sweet girl yesterday about her future and her dreams for it. ¬†She listened and responded and finally shrugged. ¬†“Mama, I’m just trying to figure out this being fifteen years old thing right now.”

Oh baby girl, I hear you.  And I get it.

Sometimes–actually quite often–it’s good to sit and simply reflect with gentle words and remember the stories from when we were small. ¬†When God Made the World¬†is just right for doing that. ¬†With rhymes and words that remind us to look around us in wonder and appreciate the gifts that God has put before us, paired with the lovely bright and vivid illustrations by Gillian Gamble, Matthew Paul Turner has given us the perfect book for those moments. ¬†He reminds us we are a part of a much bigger picture BUT a very important, precious, and unique part of it all.

MPT 4 books photo

The book releases tomorrow. ¬†If you pre-order TODAY, you can copy and paste your order number at this link and choose another of Matthew Paul Turner’s books to be sent to you ABSOLUTELY FREE. ¬†You don’t want to miss out on this. ¬†All of his books are wonderful and make great gifts. ¬†Or belong on your own shelf. ¬†Go ahead and treat yourself. ¬†I won’t tell.

Wishing you all some time today to get lost in a good book.  Cooter and I highly recommend it.

Love to all.

The Last Gift

Seven years ago.

Just another of the lasts to remember that January and the beginning of February bring.

Mama’s birthday. ¬†The last one she was here with us for.

Only, as life has a way of happening, we weren’t able to celebrate together. ¬†One of the littles had gymnastics and the other one was under the weather. ¬†So we had made plans on the phone that we would celebrate on Friday, three days later, at Stevi B’s with pizza and being together.

The one thing Mama had asked for was light.  In the form of fluorescent light bulbs for the fixture that hung over the dining room table.  The focus part, gathering spot, heart of her home.  Many a dream was shared, broken heart was comforted, peach was peeled, pea was shelled, homework was done, story was told, and guidance offered sitting around that table.  Under that light.

Fluorescent has never been my favorite, but it was the fixture Daddy installed after moving into that house on their December 17 anniversary weekend in 1977.  So in 2013, fourteen months after Daddy left this world, I was not going to argue the merits of lighting.  If Mama needed it, I was going to get it.

My tumbling little and I stopped by Lowe’s on the way to gymnastics. ¬†Mama’s house was on the way, so we planned to get her bulbs and drop them by and see her for a minute and then head on to class. ¬†I figured the errand of getting the long lights wouldn’t take long. ¬†In. ¬†Out. ¬†Done. ¬†On our way to see the birthday Maemae.

I was wrong.

I had NO IDEA that there were SO MANY options when it came to fluorescent lighting. ¬†Daylight, bright, not so bright–which is what I felt standing in front of the options. ¬†What if I picked the wrong one? ¬†I had no idea what she’d been using and suspected that she might not know as well, since I don’t think we’d had to purchase any since Daddy passed.

Also talking with an under ten year old about lighting options gets interesting, if not helpful, results.  In an almost panic, I recall getting the lights needed, fingers crossed, hoping for the best.

We stopped by Mama’s. ¬†I delivered her bulbs, which she said she was sure were fine, along with a hug, happy birthday wishes, and promises of pizza partying on Friday. ¬†That’s what she said, “We’ll party on Friday.”

Which, of course, as the story goes, we did not.  She and I spent that Friday together in a hospital room waiting for red tape and hospital bureaucracy to make it possible for her to be transferred to the bigger hospital.  Critical time as it turns out, because maybe an earlier diagnosis could have made for a different ending.

But it was not to be.

Today I’m remembering my Mama. ¬†On her birthday. ¬†I’m thankful for this day 74 years ago that found her light coming into this world. ¬†For this day that over the years I am sure she had to make most of her birthday cakes until one year when I woke up and realized, hey, maybe she doesn’t enjoy that as much as I think she does. ¬†I’m thankful for the laughter and stories and joy that remembering my sweet and sassy Mama brings.

And I’m thankful for the realization that came to me this morning on Miss Sophie’s walk that the last gift I gave my Mama was light. ¬†It was only a small beam compared to all the light she shone for me and so many others through the years. ¬†But still, I am thankful. ¬†She was a shining star who so often used her light to point towards the good. ¬†“Find something to be grateful for,” she’d say. ¬†“The Lord loves a grateful heart.”

It is with a grateful heart that I remember and thank God for the Mama I was given. ¬†The woman who challenged me, who held my hand, who came after me when I was lost, who guided me, who held me when I cried, who cheered me on, who made me madder and happier than anyone else ever could. ¬†I miss her with every breath. ¬†Those fluorescent lights I bought seven years ago today have long burned out, but my Mama’s light still shines brightly. ¬†Ever and always.

Love to all.

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