Going Down the Fireman Pole–It’s a Big Deal

My little guy popped up out of the bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning.  As in, one second his eyes were completely closed and he was asleep, and the next he was sitting up and telling me his story.

“So I conquered one of my greatest fears…..I slid down the fireman pole.”

Sometimes I feel like I’ve walked in midway through a conversation he’s been having with me before I arrived.  Fireman pole?  He’d been having some kind of dream was all I could figure.  He continued on while I was trying to place what he was talking about.

“Wait, buddy, when was this? Did you dream it?”

He blew out an exasperated breath.

“No ma’am, see it was on the fireman pole.  Last night.”

Ummm?  Oh.  Yes.  The playground.

Last night was the last time for swim practice out in the open air. They are putting up the bubble to keep the swimmers a little warmer as the chilly air is going to hit us this weekend.  The pool where our Princess practices is at a park with a really nice playground.  Cooter likes to go over and play, but I am very overprotective about keeping an eye on him and telling him he can only go so far and never out of my sight.  Since it was a nice evening and the playground wasn’t crowded and it was the last night, I let him go over and play.

“Okay, the playground.  I gotcha.  Go ahead.”

“Well, see I faced my fear.  I went down the fireman pole for the first time, and I did it better than another boy who had been going down it over and over.”  I nodded.  “It was because he holds on too tight.  I let go a little bit, and that makes it work just right.”


I guess it does.

Another life lesson out of the mouths of babes.

When we hold on too tight, it’s really hard for things to work just right.  For us to move in the right direction.


Tonight I’m thankful for bright and cheery faces full of stories to share, even if it is first thing in the morning.  I’m thankful for the bravery of this one who faced his fears, all by himself.  And I give thanks for that smile.  The smile so full of joy over succeeding.  He’s learned something very important–the first step to any and every success is trying.  You can’t move anywhere–even down a fireman pole–if you don’t climb up there and take that first step.  Tonight I’m proud of my little guy’s 374th first step.  And that he wanted to share it with me?  Priceless.

Off to think about what first step I need to take–what I need to let go of just enough so I can move…..you?

Love to all.


The One About Creating and Failing

Today the littles and I went on an adventure.  We went to our local art gallery to visit this lovely in person.  We had never been there before, so we had no idea what to expect.

This lovely painting by one of my favorite artists, Barbara Wilkinson

This lovely painting by one of my favorite artists, Barbara Wilkinson


This beautiful picture is painted by one of my favorite artists.  She speaks to my soul, as she paints my stories before I even tell them.  I saw a photo of this work of art the day I had just finished writing about my Daddy’s rows in his garden and how he laid them straight.  Perfectly in sync.  I love the story in this painting.

At the art gallery we were privileged to see all sorts of different works–some more abstract than others.  We saw animals and scenery and still life.  Several joined my wish list, as their stories became a part of mine.  We enjoyed an impromptu tour with another of our favorite artists, Miss Jackie.  What a gift she gave us today–her presence and her time.  She had me laughing with the stories about a couple of her paintings.  Cooter picked out one that she had yet to finish and said he wanted to hang it in his room.  I was surprised but pleasantly so.  If my children find their own love of art, I will be ecstatic.

I had both Cooter and Princess find one piece to make up a story about.  They entertained me with the stories on the way home.  Both had me laughing.  Such creativity!  These are the kind of days that make homeschooling especially joyful.

When we reflected on our visit, we talked about all the different kinds of painting we saw–all the different media used, the different sized paintings, the different subjects, right down to the way the artists signed their work.  As we talked, they began to understand.

“Is there any right way to create art?” I asked them.

I was thrilled to see the light dawning and a smile slowly growing on their faces.  “No, there’s not.”  I swanee I think I saw a look of relief on Cooter’s face.  He had been talking earlier about how he didn’t know how to paint like the artists whose work we had seen.

Exactly, buddy, do you.  Paint like you.  I can promise you I’ll love it for always.

On our way home, we stopped to pick up some frozen broccoli.  Yes, that was it.  Of course, I knew we would likely pick up a few other things, but I have turned into my Mama when it comes to shopping.  I get certain things from certain stores.  And from this store–frozen broccoli, rice, paper products, shampoo, and printer ink.  Those things especially but I can get others.  They are the only ones who carry the big five-pound bag of broccoli florets.  I was out, we eat a lot of it, it was time to make the stop.  And since it was on the way home and no one was in a wet swimsuit or dance leotard…..the timing was perfect.

Before we went in, I led our merry band of misfits in our shopping mantra, “Hey, we’re going in with nothing, and we’re coming out with…..”

“NOTHING!” they chimed in correctly.  This is my way of preparing them for no toy aisle expectations.  Eh.  Sometimes it actually works.

“Yes, well, except for frozen broccoli.  We don’t even need to walk by the toy aisle, y’all.  Let’s get in and let’s get out.  Okay?”

As they were unbuckling and moving to the door, Cooter said with a sincerity that was a bit troubling, “I will help you find the broccoli, okay Mama?”

Princess whipped her head back around to him.  “Oh, you are just trying to get on her good side so you can walk through the toy aisle, that’s all!”  She was livid.

Cooter had the good grace to look sheepish as a grin covered his face.  He caught me watching in the rearview mirror.  “Really, Mama, I want to help.”

Ha.  Whatever.  Busted, my friend.

As is par for the course, when we got inside the need for shampoo and detangler and lip balm was realized.  We finally made it over to the frozen vegetables.  I was thrilled to see some of my favorite veggies back in stock, frozen by a local company.  I loaded up on them.  We found the bananas we needed and a couple of other things, and we headed for the checkout.

The crew helped me unload the buggy, and we were on our way home.  We’d gotten about a half mile from the store when it hit me.  “Frozen broccoli!”  If I hadn’t been driving, I totally would have slapped my forehead.  I mean are you kidding me?  All that, and I forgot what. I. went. in. for.

Oh me.

I had to laugh.  I could almost hear Mama saying, “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.”  I looked back at Cooter and pretended to be mad.

“Dude, you said you’d help me find the broccoli.  And neither one of us remembered…..” I kept on teasing him, and then I dropped the “f” bomb.  Pretending to give him a hard time, I said, “Dude, epic Fail.”

They were both laughing.  Then I heard Princess say, “Yeah, Cooter, you’re a failure.”

Wait.  What?


I seriously almost pulled the car over.

A failure?  No.  I knew then and there I had to straighten that out.

“No!  Cooter is not a failure.  Y’all you can completely fail at something, but that doesn’t make you a failure.  Ever.  That means that you tried and it didn’t work out, so you need to rethink it and try again a different way.  Or let it go for a while.  But trying and failing DOES. NOT.  MAKE.  YOU.  A. FAILURE.  No way, no how.  Y’all got that?”

Yeah, I might have raised my voice.

I feel just that strongly about it.

Because fear of failure means they might not try.  And I want them to try.  Always.  Try their best, and see where it takes them.  Sometimes failures can take you to some pretty neat destinations.  I can attest to that firsthand.  But I never want them to label themselves OR ANYONE ELSE a failure.  That’s not okay.

I think they heard me today.  About being you, doing you, creating your art.  I think they understood a little of what I was trying to say about falling down not making a person a failure.  I do.

But if homeschooling and raising this zany bunch has taught me anything, it’s that usually none of us get it on the first go round.  We have to read it or try it again.  So we will be talking about these things again.  And often.  Because I think they are related–being you, creating your own mark in the world that isn’t a copy of anyone else’s, and not being afraid of doing so because you might fail…..yeah, I think they are.

Failing at something is a bump in the road.  It’s not a place to live.  You hit the bump and keep on going.  Creating.  Loving.  Living.

That’s a good lesson for today.  And everyday.

Love to all.


Better to Guess Wrong Than Never to Guess at All

Hola! Como esta?

My littles are loving their Spanish lessons.  They are learning all kinds of words and how to dialogue.  One of their favorite things is when their Spanish teacher writes stories about the two of them with Miss Sophie in Spanish.  They love reading it aloud and translating it to English.

Their other favorite thing is something she shared a couple of weeks ago.


Remember that game?

You start off with the stand and spaces for a word or phrase sitting beneath it.  If you guess a letter correctly, the letter is placed on the correct space or spaces.  If you don’t, another body “part” is put on the stand.

The way they play is much like we used to.  We used to add facial features, fingers, toes, etc before we’d call someone out and done.  In the interest of giving them every chance we could.  The littles’ teacher plays much the same way.

I played with my Granny and Granddaddy when I was little.  They had the official red and blue plastic “game” version that had letter tiles and everything.  I remember looking up in the dictionary and finding the word “bilabial,” which of course they didn’t guess.  I messed up the pronunciation six ways to Sunday, and my Grandaddy told me I had picked a good word because they couldn’t figure it out.

Bless him.  Who could?  What was I thinking?

My littles had never really played the game in English, let alone Spanish. It has been entertaining to watch them learning how to play.

They are so nervous.  They are really, really afraid of choosing the wrong letter.  Each time they choose a letter that doesn’t have a spot and a body part gets added, they get so anxious because they are one. step. closer.  To it all being over.

No matter how much their teacher assures them they won’t be “hung”–no matter how often she gives them hints, they are so afraid of failing that they freeze up and can’t do anything.


It occurred to me yesterday morning when they were playing the game that this is what we do in life so often, isn’t it?  We become frozen with fear, and that keeps us from making any move at all.

When in fact, the move is what guarantees our success.  The more letters we guess, even if they are wrong, the closer we come to knowing what the answer is.  In fact, the wrong answers tell us very nearly as much as the correct ones do.

Ah yes, I see what you did there, Life.  Giving me an example of why I should move forward, push ahead, make a MOVE–and let go of the fear that keeps me from doing anything.  At.  All.  Learning through my children.

Very cool there, Jerry.  (Sometimes we use nicknames like that. But that’s another story.)

And so tonight I’m thankful for the enthusiasm my littles have for learning something new.  I love seeing the excitement when their sweet teacher pulls out the dry erase board and says, “Hangman!”  They tried something new, and they love it.  And hopefully one day they will realize that it is in the trying that they find true success.

You know, when I used to play with my brother, I’d add on all kinds of things–clothes, buttons, sunglasses–so he could keep choosing and not hang.  I wanted him to give him every chance I could to figure it out on his own.

Here’s to those who gave me the grace of “clothes and buttons and sunglasses” in my life–those who gave me every chance to succeed in life that they could.  Wishing you all someone like that as well.


L_V_   T_  _LL.


The Little Scarf-Maker Who Could

A while back my cousin sent me a link to a news story about a person in Canada who was scarf-bombing in his or her community–leaving knitted scarves strewn all over with notes attached:  “I am not lost! If you are stuck out in the cold, take this scarf to keep warm.”

What a beautiful thing.  Right?  Sharing light and love and warmth.  It made me wish I was a faster knitter.  What fun that would be to create and then go scarf-bombing!  But I’m not, so…..

A friend and sister from Wesleyan saw the same story.  She lives in Florida.  She also thought it was a great thing.  I’m not sure whether she knits or not, but she didn’t let anything discourage her from trying to make a difference.

At a table in the middle of her living room, she started making scarves out of fleece.  She also set up a campaign for funding on-line and set her goal of 100 scarves.  The campaign goal was $355.  She wrote that any funds raised over that would go towards making even more scarves.

And then an amazing thing happened.  Her total amount raised was $1026 with 48 supporters for a total of over four hundred scarves!  Forty-eight people who were also able to be a part of this loving and fun mission.  And then there were more.  As this giving artist discovered, people were getting excited.  I saw her post on Facebook several times where she would be bombing, and others were jumping in to join her.

Share the joy.

And she did.

The arctic blast that hit all over did not leave Florida out.  During that time, my friend was busy cutting and creating colorful and warm scarves.  She and friends put them out all over, focusing especially on the areas where they knew people with no homes tended to gather.

The little engine that could.

I mean scarf-maker.


She read an article and didn’t say, Oh isn’t that nice…..if only I could knit…..or crochet…..or If only I had time…..

and then move on.

She saw an idea, liked it, and recognized a need in her own area.  Then she figured out what she could do, with her gifts and talents, to make it happen.

And she did.

Because of my friend the scarf-maker, there have been scarf-bombings in Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, and Arizona.  For starters. The ripple effect of this one person in Canada is spreading far and wide.  All because of people who “could.”

Her story has stayed with me.  It’s a lesson in not letting our “cant’s” or lack of resources stop us.  It’s walking right up to that voice that is saying, “Well, sure, but you really don’t have what it takes” and saying right back in no uncertain terms–“YES.  I.  CAN.”

And I’m betting there are a lot of warm necks and bodies and souls who are glad she did.

Sweet dreams.  May we all dream of what we can do…..if only we try.

And then tomorrow, let’s wake up and DO IT.

The news story about my fellow Wesleyanne’s mission is here.

Be sure to read her story in her own words here.  Great story and awesome pictures!

It’s Okay to Fail…..or Make a D…..or Whatever…..Just TRY

This morning my little guy Cooter was working on his letters.  He was working on perfecting his lower case “f”s.  He was doing okay, but he knows I will call him out if he just throws something on the paper…..like he did yesterday.  He’s allowed to make mistakes.  He’s not allowed to just give up and not make an effort.

pic of handwritten f's

After about three “f”s were on the paper, he lamented, “Oh, I can’t do it.  I fail.”

Ahem.  He sounded like his big sister.  She’s said that a time or two…..or twenty in the past few years.

And so, I realize, as painful as it might be, it’s time for me to share this story.  (If you see me tomorrow and I’m hanging my head, you will know it’s because I am still carrying this one around in my heart.)

It was second semester of my first year in college.  I was very lucky because school seemed to come easy to me over the years, and I will say I didn’t take that for granted.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall and to be found out for the “fraud” I was.  Oh, just wait, sweetie, it was coming.  I took Calculus I first semester just because I had loved math in high school with Miss Eleanor Bell–the legend–and awesome teacher who taught my Daddy, my aunts, and my uncles.  Calc I seemed to be pretty much a review of what Miss Bell taught us the last six weeks of College Algebra.  I was not nor did I have any intentions of being a math major.  But I was on a roll or so I figured, so I signed up for Calculus II as an elective second semester.  I was cranking along the first few weeks okay.  Then STUNT season hit in full force…..it’s a busy time at my alma mater, Wesleyan College.  Each class writes, directs, and acts in their own thirty minute musical.  The time from mid January until March is chaotic.  Script rewrites, casting, all night paint sessions, rehearsals, and then the grand night itself.  So much fun.  I did something I’d never done before.  I let the homework problems slide a bit.  I did some each night but not all of them.  Our teacher told us as long as we kept up with the homework and understood the problems we’d do well in her class.  Well she was absolutely right because I didn’t and I didn’t and I didn’t.  (keep up, understand, do well)  At one point in the semester, *whispering and a big confessional gulp* I was pretty close to failing.  This was the end of the world in my book.  I could not grasp how this had actually happened.  Well yeah, I knew, but the problem was I really didn’t understand the material.  I hadn’t put the time and effort into the class that I should have or needed to.  It might as well have been Greek for all I could understand it.  Such a difference from first semester.  *sigh* I missed Miss Bell.

I called and talked to Daddy about it.  I didn’t want to have the conversation but I knew I could tell him anything.  I wanted to drop the class, just let it fly away into oblivion as if this failure had never even happened in my life.  Obviously it was my choice, but Daddy discouraged it.  “You can do this, Tara,” he said.  “Just put your mind to it.  It’s like getting back on a bicycle when you fall.  Get back on and keep pedaling. Apply yourself.”  I can still hear those words like he’s sitting beside me saying them now.

Never one to want to let my Daddy down, (though it had happened before and would happen again) I set my mind and heart to finish the path I’d started along.  The mess I was in was of my own creation.  I was the one who had chosen poorly.  I needed to make it right and pull my head out of the clouds and realize that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.  College was a different ball game.

I took that final with my stomach fluttering and my brain full of numbers and formulas and whatever else I’d studied to prepare.  But as I sat there in that classroom in Taylor Hall, working away at the problems on the exam, I imagined myself pedaling that bicycle.  One pump at a time.  And in the end, I pulled out a D in the course.  And I was doggone grateful to get it, I don’t mind telling you.  I messed up, but thanks to Daddy, I made the effort and pulled myself out of it (well somewhat).  By the time I graduated, the D from my first year was just a blip on the screen of a really good college run.  And maybe it was due in part to learning early on what a poor choice could lead to…..doubt I’ll ever know for sure.

So tonight I am writing this for my children.  My oldest compares her high school career to mine, her grades to mine, her gifts to mine.  This drives me nuts.  Yes, I did okay.  (And I point out to her–do my children mind me any better because of my high school honors?  Oh baby, those trophies are long gone–too much to dust around.  Enter the real world.)  But she has different gifts.  Each one of you, my precious children who make me crazier than most, has different gifts.  You are going to try things that interest you or that seem like a piece of cake or that you are curious about.  Sometimes you will succeed, sometimes you won’t.  But here’s a couple of things you need to know.

First of all, there’s no story you can’t bring home, nothing you can’t tell me.  Shoot straight, then we will deal with it together.  I. Mean. This.    Nothing.

And secondly, it’s okay to fail.  Yes, I’m serious.  (You ever hear that song lyric, “Win some or learn some” by Jason Mraz?)  Don’t ever let fear of failure keep you from trying.  Sometimes that is the only way to learn–what will work, what won’t, and so forth.  You can create some really beautiful things by trying.  But please don’t ever let me hear about you being lazy or not trying.  That’s what happened to me.  I got slack.  I didn’t keep my priorities straight and I paid for it.  I’m okay with failure if you’re trying, but if you’re just not even applying yourself, you’re wasting what precious time you have.  Ain’t nobody got patience–or time–for that.  What a waste of your awesome talents and gifts.

So Aub, Princess, Cooter–as Mama and Daddy quoted one of the local tv personalities quite often–“Keep on keeping on.”  Don’t bully yourself and beat yourself up when you try and it’s not perfect.  Just know if you are trying your best, that’s all I ever want.  More than anything, don’t give yourself an F and call yourself a failure for a poorly written “f.”  There’s a whole broken world out there ready to point fingers and condemn and blame.  Don’t do it to yourself.  Just keep on trying and one day you will get it just right, or maybe, if you keep trying, just maybe you’ll discover a whole new way of writing them–one that will change the world.

Okay, I didn’t get a nap today and my metaphors are way off, but I hope you hear me when I say this–I learned more about myself from that one D than I did from most all of my other classes.  I learned that I had the potential to get off track.  I am not infallible.  I learned what could happen when I didn’t keep my priorities straight.  I learned my parents loved me no matter what.  And I learned that I could turn things around, even my mistakes, when I set my mind and heart to it and got back on that bicycle and pedaled, one pump at a time, until I reached the goal.  Not easy but so worth it in the end.