You Know You’re Loved When…..

Yesterday the littles and I were heading over to my Aunt’s for some cousin time and to circle the wagons.  As we traveled the familiar path, our Princess announced from the backseat, hairbrush in hand: “I just want my hair to look nice, and I’m worried that it doesn’t.”

Yes.  We are those people.  We keep a hairbrush in the car.  (Maybe even two) It has made me a better Mama to be honest.  Instead of losing it as we are trying to head out the door and realizing I need to send someone (HER usually) back to brush their hair and wait THAT MUCH LONGER to pull out of the driveway, we just get in the car and she (or you know, whoever) can deal with it there.

I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that she had actually already brushed it and pulled it into a side ponytail style of sorts.  It looked brushed, and really, that’s all I’m aiming for.

I was actually impressed.  This is the child whom my great Aunt W once looked at and commented, “She sure is pretty.  She’d be even prettier if you’d brush her hair.”

What could I say?  I was busted.  She was right.  Our girl has never been a fan of having her hair brushed.

So you can understand why I was VERY confused that my child was suddenly so concerned about the condition of her hair.

She was brushing it and looking quite serious.  “Do you want to know why I’m so worried about my hair?”

Well, ummm, YEAH.  “Sure.  I’d love to know.”

“Well I want Aunt to know how glad I am to see her.  See, I heard that if you show up just thrown together and everything, it will seem like you aren’t glad to be there and you don’t care about that person.  And I don’t want Aunt to think I don’t care.  So I want my hair to look nice.”

Well.

For the love.

I’m not sure where she acquired such information, and I do intend to ask her, only I keep forgetting in the busy-ness of our day to dailies, but I will.  I mean, it’s not a bad thing to do, putting yourself together because you care.  Still, I am curious as to where she might have come across information such as that…..the mind boggles.

Tonight I’m thankful for my Aunt, the one our Princess loves enough to brush her hair for. (And y’all know that’s some for real, no kidding love.) I’m thankful for Cousins and laughter and dancing in the rain.  For cups of coffee around a kitchen table and holding on to love and stories and the need to be together.  I wouldn’t trade anything for my time with my people, and that I can have that, I am eternally grateful.

May you all have someone so happy to be with you they’re willing to do just about anything to show it–even brushing their hair.

Love to all.

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By Mr. Brian (Brushes) [CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Story of the Lamp Box Present

Many moons ago before my oldest entered this world, I sat around the Christmas tree with people I loved as we were opening presents.  I try to be meticulous when I am unwrapping a present, and even more so at this point in my life–as I have wrapped many a present and can appreciate the time and energy and resources it takes to perfectly crease and fold and tape. (And there really is such a thing as the perfect wrapping paper–as I have used the cheap that tears and allows for pre-Christmas morning peeking and I have used the heavier kind that doesn’t let the tape stick to it very well at all, which pops open and also allows for peeking. The perfect paper falls somewhere in between these two.)

When I finally got the paper off of the box, I looked at the outside and was thrilled.  I mean, I hadn’t expressed my need or desire for a lamp, but if the picture was any indication, it was a lovely one and whimsical–two qualities I could and still can appreciate.

Only the picture wasn’t any indication.

As I oohed and ached and told the gift givers thank you for oh such a lovely lamp, I began to open the box.  They both chuckled and one managed to look a little sheepish while the other teased, “What on earth makes you think it’s a lamp?”

Because it wasn’t, y’all.

I laughed it off, though at age 24 I suppose I was a little embarrassed.  I don’t remember what was actually in the box now, but the not-a-lamp gift taught me a couple of lessons.

First, don’t thank folks for a gift until it is all the way, no kidding, you are touching it in your hands, opened.  Just add that to your file on Christmas etiquette.  You’re welcome.

Second, though, and more importantly, it wasn’t what it appeared to be.  I thought I was being given something that I could enjoy, but it really wasn’t that at all.  Instead it was something even better.  I just needed to give it time to open and unfold.  I didn’t need to stop at the surface.

And so it is with life, I think.

We have something on our plate, in our lap, on our radar, and we think it’s something wonderful or not so much, and we immediately start reacting.  (“Oh thank you” “Oh no” “Oh my”)  Instead, if we would wait and take the time to really dig in and discover what is in front of us, we might find out that it really is something quite different from what we expected.

And perhaps even more wonderful.

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I was thinking about this when I was wrapping a gift for my oldest.  I used a Vera Bradley store bag that a friend had used to send something totally not Vera Bradley-related to me in.  Aub had been wanting a VB tote, but she has heard the story of the not-a-lamp more than once, so she was very cautious and said, “Well let me see what is in the Vera bag–likely to be hydrocortisone ointment or underwear or something.”

Or maybe–it might just be a VB bag…..that was acquired for a song from the GW Boutique.

Life can be full of surprises–and some of them can be quite fun.

Wishing you all a day of good surprises.

Love to all.

Best Cookbook Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?  I was just teasing you.”

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

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

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

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

Best banana bread ever!

Best banana bread ever!

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

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

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

Me, a few years ago, during my baker apprenticeship

Me, a few years ago, during my baker apprenticeship

The Three Gifts

Twenty-four hours into the HospitalStay with Mama, she and I rode in an ambulance from Warner Robins to Macon, a very painful ride for Mama, only made more so by the driver blasting Q106–Classic Rock.  Yeah, there’s another letter to write.  I’ll add it to my to-do list.

Forty-eight hours in, I had spent a night in the CVICU waiting room, been home the next morning for a few hours, and then returned mid-afternoon to hang out with Mama again.  The game plan was for me to stay until visiting hours were over for the night at 9 p.m.  Mama and I talked some, she dozed some, and we sat in companionable silence too.  One of the care techs came in and shared her story with Mama, while holding her hand and trying to take her mind off the pain.  Mama was like that–folks were always sharing their stories with her.  She was a great listener.

As the evening wore on, Mama was getting tired, but the pain kept her from getting good rest.  It was about 8:15 when she said, “Why don’t you head on home? It’s almost time, and I’ll be fine.”  I told her no.  I just didn’t feel like I could leave yet.  I am thankful for that still, small voice that told me to stay.  It was only a few minutes later when I noticed a flurry of activity at the nurses’ station.  Doctors and other staff were gathered and looking towards our room and then moving with purpose towards us.  I knew something big was about to happen.

There was a very kind doctor who had a great smile–remember Enos from Dukes of Hazzard?  Yeah, that kind of smile.  He came in and explained that the latest MRI confirmed what they had suspected, and that Mama would need emergency surgery within the hour.  We were both in shock.  Mama did not want to have surgery.  When my brain started functioning again, I thought about Sandy, my sister who had been there earlier that day for several hours.  She had probably only been home for a couple of hours actually.  I called her and put her on speaker phone.  She talked to Mama about the surgery and listened to what the doctor had to say.  She told Mama, “I don’t think we have a choice.  I’m coming Mama.  I’m leaving now.”

I looked at Mama and she looked at me.  I knew her fears on this, but we really had no choice.  She finally nodded and said, “Go ahead.  Sign it.”  She was in so much pain she hadn’t been able to sign anything for herself since being admitted.  “If it will make this pain go away…..I’ll do anything.”

There was a rush of getting things together and then wheeling Mama down.  One of the last things she told me was, “Don’t let Sandy do anything foolish.”  Meaning what, Mama?  Mama was worried about her making the two hour drive late at night by herself and wasn’t sure Sandy should come.  I tried to reassure her, but I knew it was on her mind.

After meeting the surgeons and anesthesiologist, I was led out to a waiting area.  To sit by myself.  And wait.  I had called my other sister and my brother and let them know.  I talked to my aunt again.  While I was talking to her, she said to be sure to check my cell phone, that my cousin had texted me.  I told her I would, and we said goodbye.

And there was the first gift of the night.

The gift of presence

The gift of presence

My cousin and his wife had come down to stay with his folks for the weekend.  When they heard what was happening, they decided to come and sit with me.  When I read this I shed the first tears of the night.  That they would make their lives interruptible, travel a half hour up that late in the evening, that they didn’t want me to be alone–have I mentioned how incredible my people are?  And they brought me a bottle of water and homemade peach cobbler.  There is that too.

In the meantime I had texted my dear friend and minister, who also said she was coming.  Bless her heart, I was tucked away in a waiting area that no one knew about apparently, so she wound up wandering the hallways of this enormous hospital complex, until she was rescued by a kind soul who led her to where we were.  And then I got the second gift:

The gift of comfort

The gift of comfort

My sweet friend had heard all about my experience of spending the night in the waiting area the night before without the comfort of pillow and blanket.  On her way out her door, she grabbed these blankets and a pillow for me and my sister to have as we sat through the night in the surgery waiting area.  Bless her.  Yes, they were as cuddly as they look.

What a gift she is! Wouldn't you be happy to see that face too?  Here she is saying, "Are you serious?" when a dear friend offered to bring us the Best.  Coffee.  Ever.  (She was, thank goodness.)

What a gift she is! Wouldn’t you be happy to see that face too? Here she is saying, “Are you serious?” when a dear friend offered to bring us the Best. Coffee. Ever. (She was, thank goodness.)

My third gift arrived in a bit of comic relief.  My sister was trying to figure out how to get to the right parking deck.  We could SEE her from the windows in the waiting area.  It was pitch black out, but there she was, trying to get around one way and closed streets to where I was telling her to go.  Finally my sweet cousin pulled out her phone and used the GPS to lead Sandy in.  I was so relieved and thankful when she was finally sitting next to me.  And I looked around.  Sitting around us were people who loved us, who made time to be with us during a very dark and scary time.  And there were so many more who were holding us in their hearts who couldn’t be physically present.  So thankful for them all.

One of my heroes, Hugh Hollowell, who runs Love Wins Ministry in North Carolina tells the story of one of his friends in need asking him for help with her utilities.  She became quite upset when he told her he just didn’t have it.  “I thought you were my friend,” she said.  And Hugh told her he was.  And that though he couldn’t keep her lights from going off, he would come and sit with her in the dark…..because that’s what he thinks Jesus does.  Sits with us in the dark.*

Tonight I am thankful for family and friends who sit with us in the dark.  Who hold our hands and tell us it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay not to want to do this again.  So soon.  And who bring us comfort in the form of warmth and a most delicious peach cobbler.  Most of all, I am thankful for folks who show up.  They may not be able to fix things–things may not even be fixable.  But in the midst of the darkness, they show up.  In whatever way they are able to–bringing meals, sending messages, making phone calls, dropping off goody bags, delivering cups of coffee, offering hugs in a hallway, listening,  sharing muffins on a Wednesday aftenoon, through all of this–sitting with us in the dark.  And that is one of the greatest things any of us can do for each other.

*This story can be read in the chapter “The Marine,” in Karen Spears Zacharias’ book “Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide?: ‘Cause I Need More Room for my Plasma TV“.  Or you can meet Hugh Hollowell here http://lovewins.info/ or here (yes, it’s 18 minutes long, but I’m pretty sure you will love him):