Looking Forward To…..

Such a lovely day today.  The sunshine.  The crisp fall leaves beneath our feet.  The colors of the trees, the faint smell of fall in the air.  The children ran as far as they could until they collapsed in a pile of arms and legs, laughing.  We explored the park, read the historical signs, the children played, and we adults talked about all and none of the important things.  Moments of conversation punctuated by laughter and shared stories and companionable silences, during which all that was unsaid was understood.

A picnic lunch under the trees wrapped up the morning.  The quiet except for the rustling of napkins and children chomping away was a testament to the energy expended and fun had. As goodbyes were said and pictures taken to remember, we all hugged and nodded, “Yes, we will do this again soon.”

After a brief afternoon slumber to recuperate and rejuvenate, we were off again.  To share coffee with friends and do gymnastics and visit with my sister and her family. Again with the storytelling and remembering and catching up.  I think my favorite moments in life will always be the ones where stories are told–whether I’ve heard them ten times before or not.  After a lovely supper and candles and cake and singing and wishing, we were headed for home and closing the house and the day up tight.

Such a lovely day to have a birthday.

Except that none of this is true.

And yet–it was still a day with lovely moments.

Poor Cooter.  He is a sick little fella.  Round two with this cold/allergy/upper respiratory MESS.  We are so over it.  (But not over it, if you get what I’m saying.) Our Princess had two bouts with it and came out a winner, but then she had the help of her inhaler.  Cooter has no such help.  He only has his secret weapon.  Me.

Bless him.

He wound up in the bed with me last night, which suits me fine.  I like to be able to hear them breathing and check for fevers and besides, when they are sick, it’s just so pitiful.  When he woke up this morning, he lay there for a while, looking at the ceiling or a book and then, suddenly, he popped up, “Hey!”  He looked really close into my eyes, “Today is your birthday, isn’t it?”  I nodded.  “Well, happy birthday!” he said, with his croupy little voice.  Then, “I’m sorry I’m messing it up by being sick.”

For the love.  Priceless.  No, buddy, no.

Tonight as I hugged our Princess good night, she said, “I am worried that I messed up your birthday.”

“How?”

“By playing too much Minecraft and not just sitting with you.”

Oh my stars.  Can’t you just picture that?  Let’s all celebrate my birthday by sitting around together.  And hanging out.  And just sitting here.  With folks glancing at their watches (okay, phones) to see how much longer is left in this. very. special. day.  Hoping it will be over soon so we can all return to our regularly scheduled way of living.

Ummm, no.  I assured her that I did not begrudge her the bit of time she had played her game.  No worries.  She smiled and hugged me once more (when did she get to be as tall as I am?) and headed off to bed.

Between the moments of my littles’ worries about my day, there were some very precious moments.  My children’s neighborfriends wishing me a happy birthday because a little birdie had told them it was.  A gift bag on my doorstep from my sweet neighborfriend.  Message after message from all the people from different parts of my story sending well wishes for the day.  Phone calls from people I love, offering to go get Ginger Ale or whatever we might need, offering to tote my non-sick child to her practice, offering best wishes and much love.  Seeing faces I love on the screen, live and recorded, thinking of me on this day of days.  Cards in the mailbox and old pictures coming out of the woodwork. And the laughter.  Yes.  That too.

Mama's Lucia Pepparkakor cookies, using her old birthday cake cookie cutter.

Mama’s Lucia Pepparkakor cookies, using her old birthday cake cookie cutter.

This evening I baked my Mama’s special fall cookies with her birthday cake cookie cutter.  She made those cookies for me so many times over the years.  I love the recipe, I love that cookie cutter, and I love remembering her hands making them.  I can see so clearly what the early morning on my birthday was like all those years ago–walking in to the dining room where my present was sitting in my chair waiting for me.  That is, until the year I told them I really didn’t like getting my present first thing in the morning.  I liked it better after supper–because it gave me something to look forward to all day.

Which is why my cards are sitting right there, waiting on me to finish writing to open them.  I’ve been looking forward to this all day.

So lucky to be so loved.

So lucky to be so loved.

And perhaps that is what I have learned today–that while much of birthdays can be about looking back and remembering those of years past, it is just as much about looking to the future.  Now that I’m a woman “of a certain age,” *ahem* I find myself a little braver, a little louder, a little less serious, and a lot more in touch with where I am right now.  And I’m looking forward to the wheres of tomorrow and a year from now and years beyond that.  Some days I’m just plain looking forward, and while things might be too far in the distance to see them clearly, I do know that I’m heading in the right direction.  Oh I’ll still glance backwards every now and again, there’s nothing wrong and everything right with that.  But I can’t live there, though goodness knows I’ve been tempted.

I am looking forward, because if life has taught me anything, it’s that there is so much waiting there for me at the end of the day.  So much to treasure and unwrap.  So much joy.

Love and happy everyday to all.

The Love Behind the Extra Leaves and Card Tables

I miss our big family get togethers from when I was little.

It doesn’t matter where. From my great Granddaddy’s to my Great Aunt’s to my Granny’s to Mama’s. I loved them all. The hustle and bustle of activity, tables or counters or stovetops groaning, laden with all kinds of good foods–and some that I wasn’t so fond of, but it didn’t matter.  In that setting, a no thank you helping was palatable.  Sweet foods were piled on the plates next to the casseroles.  Some casseroles were having an identity crisis and could have passed for both. (Pineapple cheese casserole, I’m looking at you.)  They had all the goodies of a church potluck, but these were even better–they were with our very own people.

I am still not quite sure how Granny fit all of us in her little house. But she did.  Some folks ate at the counter that ran between the kitchen and the living room.  Others ate at the card tables she set up for folks in front of the couch with chairs on the other side.  Still, how her four children, their spouses and all the grands fit in there, it boggles my mind. Never mind how she prepared enough food for all of us.  It was so good that you had to work not to eat too much, because tucked away in the back bedroom–first known as the “Cold Room” and then the “Pretty room” after its denim and red bandana curtain/bedding makeover–was all of the homemade candy Granny had been preparing.  Divinity, buckeyes, Marth Washingtons…..oh my land.  I just gained ten pounds sitting here drooling over the memory.  I’m pretty sure Granny’s love language must have been food.  If you left hungry, it was your own fault.

Gatherings with my Mama’s side of the family took place first at my Great Grandaddy’s house.  He had a big table, so we’d all gather round the table piled high with food.  What I remember the most from their house was breakfast before dawn (Granddaddy was a retired probate judge and farmer)–biscuits and red-eye gravy.  Excuse me, while I wipe away a tear.  Those things were melt in my mouth GOOD.  For dessert a four layer cake with lemon cheese icing was a given.

Oh me.

After Granddaddy passed, we’d gather at my Great Aunt’s house.  I think she’s on my mind especially today as it’s her birthday.  A few years back I planted a yellow rosebush on her birthday because they were her favorites.  I expect later on I’ll go cut one and bring it inside and smile at all the ways she shaped who I am.

I was beyond thrilled the year I was deemed old enough to go get the extra leaf for her table.  She and my Great Uncle had a lovely table, but what with it being just the two of them, they usually kept it as a small round table.  As we all arrived, there would be a conversation as to how many leaves we needed–one or two.  Then someone would go fetch the required number of leaves carefully from under my Great Aunt’s bed.

Oh my, what a precious moment.  The gently gliding it out from under the bed, wrapped in its sheet.  Then the careful unwrapping and folding the sheet and placing it aside for later.  I carried it upright with both hands through two doorways, calling out to my siblings with a voice that near trembled with the weight of my responsibility, “Move please.  Step out of the way.  Don’t bump me.”  I could NOT hit the walls or doorway with this treasured piece.  The process of dropping it in place and securing it always fascinated me.  After it was all together, it was time to set the table and watch my Great Uncle fry up the okra.  That and my Great Aunt adding almond slivers to the snap beans or a casserole or two were the finishing touches before we sat down to eat.

These days such gatherings are few and far between.  I miss there being more people than I can count, but knowing every face I saw.  I miss the ritual of preparing for the people. It was sacred, a moment of reverence, of appreciating and honoring and creating a place for each one gathered there.  Each one mattered.  Each one had a spot at the table, the card table, or the counter.  And in our hearts.

Today I’m thankful for these memories.  For the hush in my heart when I remember sliding the leaf out from under the bed and feeling the beautiful wood.  For the taste of foods I haven’t eaten in years.  For the smiles and laughter and “scooching” over just a bit to fit in one more person. Because there was always room for just one more.  Most of all, I’m thankful for my Daddy’s sisters who have continued this tradition in their own way.  Who continue to set a place and gather us all close.  The words “thank you” just don’t seem enough.  But I do appreciate them so much.

May you all find yourselves in need of an extra leaf or a card table–surrounded by the people you love.

Love to all.

buried dreams

for J and for L, always 

over there in the far corner beyond the well manicured bits of the lawn
lies a little stone
in the grass
with a name
and two dates
that are the same

beneath the stone
all the dreams and hopes
and unwhispered I love you’s
are tucked away

never to be

hearts were broken
especially the one
whose heart he listened to,
the steady beat
preparing him for a life of his own

that was never to be

why can never be known
how, it is futile to ask
instead hands are held
and hugs are longer
and tears flow through smiles and eyes
that try to see the good

casseroles come
as they do
and cards and sorrowful phrases

until they too eventually end

and her hand is as empty
as her arms

and heart

and I wish I could hold her hand now
and hear all her dreams and hopes
all the words she needs to say
or not say
for the little one

who was never able to be

I lean down and trace the letters
of the name I never got to speak
the cheeks I never got to kiss
the eyes I never gazed into,
love intensely shining

the breeze blows and
the tall grass dances
to the tune played by the frogs in the bottom
as the sun sets

another day passes
and the pain remains
how long can she bear what weighs on her heart?
how long can I?

how long before our hands touch
and our tears fall together
tracing a river in the dry wasteland
where we’ve been for so long

far too long

By Lionel Allorge (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lionel Allorge (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Isaiah 43:19 

For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

When You Can, Do This

The Fella went on a trip to do the do that he does.  For three and a half weeks.  He was scheduled to come home today.

He did not come home as scheduled.

I’ve had this day circled in my mind, my heart, and with everything that has gone wrong around here–I’ve counted down the days.

The backed up kitchen sink.

The brand new washing machine flooding water on the laundry room floor.

The vacuum cleaner belt broken.

The dryer running hot, and therefore, not at all.

Each thing, I’d say–we can do this.  For 21 more days, fifteen, ten, six, two, and then yesterday morning I woke up thinking, “One more day.”

I almost cried.

We’ve had some good times while he’s been gone.  Cooter tried out and made the swim team.  The littles wrapped up their summer gymnastics fun.  Aub got an A in her summer class, and worked out continuing her summer job she loves so much as a Fall internship.  We’ve visited with friends and family and eaten breakfast for supper and lots of yogurt and pizza.  We’ve gone and gotten peaches, and I’ve put nearly all of them up in the freezer.  The littles have played at their cousin’s, and Aub and I’ve had a couple of “Big Girl” days.  All in all, we’ve not only survived, but we’ve lived.

However, this day, today, that I had circled in my mind, was the day I was going to pass the reins over to another adult and sit down and take a long needed deep breath.  (Oh and someone else would be taking out the garbage. Yay.)

Yesterday afternoon, after the crew and I had been out running errands, doing our day to dailies, I was tidying up in the house a little.  The littles and Aub were scattered around the rooms, doing different things, when the phone rang.  Our Princess answered, calling out that it was Daddy, and then she talked for a minute or two.  After that she handed the phone to Cooter.  I was back and forth between the room they were in and the kitchen.  When I walked back in, Cooter was off the phone.

“Did you hang up?”  He can get easily distracted, so it would have been like him to be so distracted his Daddy would say he’d just call back later.

“No,” Cooter said.  “He said he had to go.”

Huh.  Well, that was weird.  He didn’t want to talk to me?!  I was working up my indignation, when Anxiety Girl whispered that maybe the plane had broken down and he was trying to come up with a way to tell me he wouldn’t be home on time.

I walked back into the kitchen and heard Aub coming in from the garage.  I wondered why she’d gone out there.  I also wondered why she was closing the door so carefully instead of tossing it shut like she and I usually do.  I was about to call her out for doing that, saying that it made me think the Fella had come home early, when I realized I saw her feet in the recliner.

And I saw my Fella standing in the doorway.

With the biggest grin on his face.

We don’t have to go into detail about my expression (goofy), but the only words I could get out were, “What are you doing here?”

And then chaos and laughter and “gotcha’s” ensued.

Seems that the original return home date was only for the first few days of him being gone.  It was then backed up to Friday and had been for about three weeks.

And he kept the secret this whole time.  Every time I’d say “so, Saturday the 2nd, right?” calculating how much more I could handle without losing my cool or how I could do laundry considering and so on–he would reply, “Yep, if the plane takes off on time.”

Ha.

That man had the biggest grin on his face the whole afternoon and evening.  Pretty pleased with himself he was.  At one point I looked over, glad he was home–he had already fixed the dryer, thank goodness–and I asked, “What were you even thinking?”

And he said, “Well, I figured you were due for a good surprise.”

Yessir.  I think I pretty much was.  We all were.  And that he struggled to keep his secret for that long (and believe me, as much as I asked him about it–and even three days ago said “just go get on a plane and come home early”–it had to have been a struggle) makes it pretty awesome.

Tonight I’m thankful that all that fell apart while he was gone, including emotions and worries and vacuum cleaners, have all pretty much been repaired.  Now we are all catching up on sleep and preparing to say goodbye to summer together.

Which is really when we are at our best.  When we’re together–all five of us.  Oops, six–sorry, Miss Sophie. I’m pretty sure she thought something really bad had happened to him the way she refused to let me out of her sight.

If you ever get a chance to give someone a good surprise, big or small, do it.  Please.  There are far too few of those in this lifetime.

Wishing you all something that makes you smile so much you just about can’t stop.

Love to all.

Following Through

It’s been a long summer, y’all.

Yes, I realize it’s not exactly over, but since we are on week 3 of school and the schools around here are starting in a week and a half, there is something of a farewell feel in the air.

And then there are the farewells themselves, of course, but that’s for another night.

Tonight was the last night of swim lessons for the summer for my little guy Cooter.  This is his third summer of taking lessons.  He enjoys his time in the water, and since his sister made the swim team at the end of last summer’s lessons, he’s had his eye guardedly on the prize.

Guardedly as in he wanted it but he didn’t want anyone to know he wanted it.  *sigh* Only eight years old and already worried about how he’s being perceived.  I’m not even sure what to do with that.

So he took lessons.  All summer.

This round Cooter was finally able to swim his twenty-five freestyle and twenty-five backstroke.  Without stopping.  He’s had moments before this summer when he was just about able to, but he wasn’t consistent.  And this week he was.  I saw a smile on his face and a light in his eyes that had been missing–he was back on his game.  And I was thankful.

Still, I didn’t want him to get his hopes up. There will be another round of lessons in a few weeks, and I figured one more round would do the trick.  Help him build up his stamina and be more consistent in his strokes.

Then last night he did really well.  That smile though, y’all.  He knew it.

Last night I saw this on one of my favorite Facebook pages–Sweatpants and Coffee.  Nanea Hoffman is a very wise woman.  The two words jumped out at me.  Follow through.

YES.

That’s what I wanted for my little guy.  For him to follow through.  Follow through on his strokes.  On his practice.  On his focus, his mindset.  On respecting his coaches.  And on his dream.  Follow through on making it happen.  With hard work and lots of practice.

So we talked.  I don’t know how much sank in, but we talked about how he might feel if he wasn’t invited to try out for swim team this time around.  How he might feel and what our game plan would be–which had a lot to do with practicing and continuing to work hard towards his goal.

But following through.

And with a good attitude.

Because, in the words of my Mama, this is “all for the fun of it.”

Tonight when lessons ended under a cloudy sky leftover from the earlier storms, with rain threatening to fall on all of us, the coaches gathered up all the children and their families.  They handed out certificates to all the students and added a check mark for those who had completed the lessons and were ready to try out for the team.

Cooter’s teacher went last.  She handed out two certificates and then said she had two who were ready to try out.  Oh my heart.  Cooter looked around and I could see the wheels turning in his head.  There were only two others in the class, and he was one of them.  With a look of wonderment mixed with joy on his face, he turned to the teacher and walked up to get his certificate.

Well done, little man, well done.

Tonight I’m thankful for the words of Nanea Hoffman that gave me what I needed to tell my son that no matter what, if this was something he wanted, he needed to continue to follow through.  Right to the end.  Which is now a new beginning.  I give thanks for young people who dedicate their time, energy, compassion, and encouragement into making swimming a good experience for these little ones. (When one of his coaches from last summer and the first of this one came up and high fived him, I was undone–love these teachers!) And yes, I’m even thankful that swim lessons are over for the summer, and that, in a few weeks, after a lot of practice between now and then, we will have another swim team member in the house.  Most of all, I give thanks for the joy that spread through all of our hearts tonight–we did this as a family, and that is priceless.  From his oldest sister videoing the awarding of certificates “just in case” to his middle sister whom you can hear in the background squealing “I knew it, I told y’all he would get it, I knew it!” to us proud parents, holding our breath, hoping for the best but ready to catch him if it didn’t happen…..family.

Let today be a day of following through.  On anything.  But something.  You can do it.

Love to all.

IMG_9022

Cooter making his way down the lane encouraged by his swim coach/teacher.

mater

each moment one of the pieces of my heart
sets foot through the door of our home,
our sanctuary
for an hour, a day, three and a half weeks

they carry my heart with them
and I’m never whole, at peace, until they are home
once again
safe and sound

I never sleep better
than the nights they are all here
tucked away in the dark of night
under the covers I’ve washed and put on their beds,
dreaming of adventures

that will take them hither and yon
and away again
carrying my heart with them
wherever their life
and dreams
take them

By gcardinal from Norway (Hear of ice) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By gcardinal from Norway (Hear of ice) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Grandmothers Are Very Good Cooks”

Last Sunday we spent the day at Lake LBJ in Texas.  My Fella’s aunt and uncle have a house there, and his parents, siblings, and their families all joined us there for a day of hanging out, visiting, and having fun.

The day was warm but not too hot.  The water was just right, and wasn’t much over two feet for a good ways out.  A beautiful day of merry memory-making.  Laughter, story-telling, looking through old photographs, good food, and time together.  Priceless.

At one point, Cooter came up and asked me if we would be eating supper there.

“Yes, buddy, we are.”

“Oh YAY!” he all but shouted, complete with fist pump.  I laughed in surprise.

“Why are you so excited?” I had to ask.

“Because I can’t wait to see what we are having.” He looked very serious. “Grandmothers are very good cooks.”

Bless him.  Yes, baby boy, they are.  And yours was one of the best.

I’m so glad he knows and remembers.

I love that he saw his great Aunt and immediately saw a Grandmother.  He was drawn to her and she doted on him too.  A little while after he finished his supper, he came up and asked me if he could please have an ice cream sandwich.  Behind him was his Great Aunt K, standing there with her hands and face begging with a smile to PLEASE let him have one.

And of course he could.  Ice cream sandwiches and grandmothers–those are two of life’s great joys.

This Sunday is a day of remembering and honoring.  Many folks will be feeling the pain of loss on this day.  It will be my fourth one without my Daddy here with us, and just writing that blows my mind.

Instead of being sad though, I’m going to give thanks for the ones who step in when there’s a space.  Who listen and show compassion and offer a smile, a hug, or an ice cream sandwich or strawberry frozen yogurt when there’s someone to love right there in front of them.

Folks like Great Aunt K, my Aunt, my knitting diva friend and her dapper Fella, my sisterfriend’s Grandma and so many others.  They don’t try to fill the shoes of those who are no longer here, but they sure do fill the hearts of those who are.

And for that I give thanks.

For his wisdom and how my little guy sees the world, I am very thankful.  I give thanks for those who love the ones who are theirs and also the ones who aren’t.  Because, in the end, don’t we really all belong to each other?

And in the words of my Mama, “Happy Everyday!”

Love to all.