The Sign on the Path Oft Taken

First, this is not a political post or commentary.  That would be breaking one of my Daddy’s major rules for life–do not talk about politics in general company.  If you know me at all, you know I try not to ever disappoint my Daddy–or my Mama for that matter–even still.  I try to give them no cause to come back and give me a talking to.

Second, there is some language coming up.  I warn you in case you might have littles close by while you’re reading.  My apologies in advance.

Monday afternoon Cooter and I were riding up the interstate as we do several times a week–this time for his drama program.  Roles for the spring show were going to be announced, and between being excited about that and talking about his birthday coming up very soon, we were in high spirits.

As we got close to our exit, we saw the sign…..the sign that for many years has made clear that this business didn’t support our previous President but does support our current one.  It’s not an electronic sign, but the kind you have to put the letters up manually, so each message tends to stay a while.  There was a new one up on Monday.

I haven’t really had a problem with their political messages.  It’s their sign, their business, their right to put up their message.  Folks can choose not to read if they don’t agree, just as I do with social media posts that don’t geehaw with my way of thinking.

But Monday.  Monday.

Cooter saw it first.  And the question he asked drew my attention to it just before we passed it.

What.  On.  Earth.

Surely not.

“Mama, what does ‘MF’er’ mean?”

Y’all.

I did not want to have to talk to my 11 year old about that.  NOT AT ALL.  I’m not even sure I’d like to talk with my 23 year old about it.  Yep.  I just thought about it.  I would not.

After a quick glance at the sign which said, “Re-elect the @*’er 2020,” and a deep breath, I explained to him that it stood for a very ugly term and he wasn’t to ever use it.

He got it.

“Oh.”  He paused, as I turned on my turn signal for our exit.  “But Mama, they really should not, I mean SHOULD NOT have that on the sign!  I mean, that’s ugly.  What if a small child read that?”

Bless.  He has no idea that in my heart, he’ll always be my small child.

He paused again.  “I think we should sue them!”

(Sometimes I think having a sister in law school has him a little lawsuit happy.)

We talked about how suing them wasn’t feasible or likely to do any good.  “But can you tell them it’s not nice? That they shouldn’t put that up there?”

And so it was that I found myself on the phone today.  We double checked the name of the business on our way yesterday, because just as a I can quote you a commercial but not remember what the product was, I have passed by this place for years, but couldn’t remember what the business was called.

It turns out they have a few locations in our state, and the one closest to us is not the headquarters.  When a man answered the phone at the headquarters, I told him the location I was calling about.  Yes, they are all owned by the same person.

Our conversation started off nice enough.  Then I explained.

“I’m calling you because the language used on the sign at your location close to us is inappropriate and offensive.  I have no problem with the political commentary on the sign over the years, but if they were trying to win me over to their way of thinking, that would lose me right there.  I hate that I had to explain to my 11 year old what that term is and how ugly it is.  Even my child recognized that it is inappropriate and asked me to call you and tell you it’s ugly and ask you to take it down because he’s worried about small children reading it.  A child knows it’s wrong, but an adult–I assume it was an adult who put the message up–doesn’t?”

There was a pause. I wondered if maybe they hadn’t been aware. And then–

“Well–“he seemed to be shuffling a bit–“an adult said it first.”

Y’all.  *wide eyed stare*

I nearly choked on my indignation and disbelief.  An adult said it first?  I’m sorry, what?!?

I gathered my senses enough to reply.  “But don’t we teach our children that we don’t repeat everything we hear?  To discern right from wrong for themselves?  This is wrong.”

He sighed and said he’d share it with the owner.  I asked to speak to the owner and was told he was out to lunch, but that he’d give him my message.

And so that was that.

My heart was heavy and I had a bad taste in my mouth.  This is what is wrong with our world today.

My Mama raised us on several basic principles, but the top two were the Golden Rule–“Do unto others as you’d have done unto you,” and “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  I might have those in reverse order, as there was many a time one of the four of us would use as an excuse for some wrongdoing, “But he did it first…..” “But she was the one who…..” “and then he…..” “she said…..”

My Mama didn’t play that.  Ever.

I can almost see my Mama’s eyes rolling at the man’s response today.  Maybe because I saw my own in the mirror after I ended the call, and I look more like her everyday.  (I was hiding in my room for the call, as one does when privacy in a house full of folks is needed.)  Or maybe it’s because I know, I KNOW, she’d have had something to say about that excuse–“But an adult said it first.”

I can also hear my Mama, “well if an adult jumped off the bridge, would you?”

No ma’am.  NO MA’AM.

My heart breaks that this is what we’ve come to.  We respond, we retaliate, we follow blindly behind others–whether it be responding with inappropriate comments because someone said it first or participating in illegal or harmful activities because someone else was doing it first.

If someone else doing it first makes things justifiable, we are headed towards a whole lot worse world of hurt than we are in now.  Please, y’all, please–will you help me spread the word that taking the high road, the one oft less travelled, is best? (I know it’s hard–I struggle myself at times.)  Not responding in kind when hurtful words are spoken, not taking a sip or a puff when underage drinking or illegal drugs are present, not following along just because “everyone else is doing it.”  Can we please encourage and support each other to be stronger and better than that? Can we please break this vicious cycle before it breaks us?

Cooter was pleased I’d made the call.  Unfortunately he thought that would fix it, so he was very disappointed when we passed by tonight and the sign with its ugly combination of letters was still there.  “I hate that sign,” he mumbled, almost under his breath.

Oh buddy, I know.  I hate it too, and all that it represents–a world where tit for tat is okay.

But I hope that he never stops speaking up and out for what he sees is right and just and true.

Tonight I leave you with the wish below.  For you, for me, for Cooter, for the folks who made the decision to put those words on that business sign, and for all who feel the brokenness  in this world.  PEACE.  Love to all.

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Art by macon.ink Instagram @macon.ink

 

Car Trouble

“You got a car, you got car trouble.”

I think it was my Papa who first said that.  But I heard my Daddy say it many, many times over the years.  Usually followed by that sigh of his.  And the acceptance of the inevitable.

And it’s the truth, isn’t it?  Eventually, something will go wrong.  And it’s rarely when you’ve planned for it ahead of time.

This afternoon, following an appointment, the littles and I went to the big craft store to pick up some gift bags and other small things for holiday festivity’ing.  We left in good spirits and headed out into the misting rain and a nip in the air that hadn’t been quite as chilling when we walked into the store.  We got to the vehicle, unlocked it, loaded up, and were ready to head out.  Only the vehicle wasn’t.  I turned the key.  All kinds of blinking lights on the dash and distressing sounds and then…..nothing.

Well, that’s new.

Actually, it was new to this vehicle. But not new to me.

My Daddy knew his way around a vehicle.  He had to, considering we never owned a brand new vehicle.  He could usually diagnose and often fix what ailed a vehicle.  And when he couldn’t he knew a good mechanic whom he trusted.  “I’m bringing it over, so I reckon you can make your next payment on your car,” he’d tell the mechanic.  It usually was something significant if Daddy took it to the mechanic.

In that moment of realizing we were stranded, I became a sixteen year old girl again.  Needing my Daddy to come fix things.  Everything.

And the feeling of missing him was so overwhelming.

Not just for fixing my vehicle, but for fixing me.  He knew how to calm me down.

I used to joke that when things went awry, I did what all good southern girls do, I called my Daddy.  This grief of not being able to do so was not a six year old grief–suddenly it was raw and new.  All over again.

Unable to fix it myself or call my Daddy, I did the next best thing.  I called the Fella, who did what needed to be done to get to us as soon as possible.

Which he did.  But being he was finishing up work and we were all the way across town, it took a little bit.

I took the littles back in the store so we wouldn’t be sitting in a cold vehicle.  We window shopped and then went back to the vehicle when he texted that he’d be there in a few minutes.

Two things went wrong.  First, it hadn’t occurred to me until we were walking out in the parking lot that I have electric locks.  ELECTRIC.  Battery needed.  UGH.  Also I have one of these weird keys now that isn’t really a key so no way it’s going to unlock a door the old-fashioned way.  I looked it over and over as the cold set in and I started shivering, again regretting that I hadn’t gone back in the house when we’d set out and gotten a jacket.  I saw a little piece that could slide from one side to the other.  I figured it was the key (pun intended) to solving my problem, but none of us could figure out how to free the key that I was certain was hidden inside.  I even texted my law student, who is studying for first semester finals (all the good thoughts needed, by the way), who assured me that yes, sliding that thing would reveal the key.  Ummm, okay, sure.  But no.

That was when our Fella pulled up.  Before I could tell him that the slide thingy wasn’t working, he had a key revealed and was unlocking my door.  Okay then.

The rest of the story is long and wears me out thinking about it again–two different jumpstarts, a stalled vehicle in the middle of the road, Leroy bringing tools from his house (which was closer) so he and the Fella could install a new battery, having the alternator checked and cleared, and two hours later…..I was on my way home in my vehicle.

The littles had stayed in the truck with their Daddy, so I had the rare moment of driving by myself.  I belted out music from Cooter’s program that I had enjoyed so much, and I sang, and then a sad one came on, and I realized I was finally just then defrosting, and I bawled at a stop light because Daddy and…..I just miss him.

It was beginning to get dark as we finally headed back home.  Not even 6 pm.  (Whoever’s idea this getting dark early is, you are off my birthday list!) It wasn’t dark dark, but the light was dimming.  I knew my vehicle was running–I was driving it for goodness’ sake, but I had this fear that my headlights weren’t on.  It wasn’t dark enough for me to tell if they were yet, but I knew they needed to be on so others could see me.

Good gravy.  So much to worry over in this life, isn’t there?

It occurred to me as I searched for signs that my lights were on (besides the light on my dash indicating such–it’s been telling me my brake is on for the past several months–sorry–NOT) that this is how it is when things take a turn we weren’t expecting.  When things start to go south, we don’t know, we can’t see that our own light is there.  That we are still shining out for others to see.  We doubt that we are doing any good.  Sometimes it takes pure darkness setting in before we realize that our lights are indeed still shining.

And by then we’re so tired from worrying over it all.

Friends, your lights are shining.  I see them.  If you doubt it, come sit by me, and I’ll hold your hand and tell you stories about the laughter and joy and light that was and will be again.  And I’ll tell you how your light has blessed me.  Encouraged me.  How your light has been what I focused on through the tears, as I cried through the grief and sadness and pain.

Your light is a gift to this world.  And even when you can’t see it, the rest of us can.

May it shine forevermore.

But if your battery ever needs recharging I wish for you to have someone–a Daddy, a Fella, a friend, a sister, a Leroy,  a stranger–there to help bring it back to its beautiful brilliance.

Shine on, friends, it won’t be long and the days will be lighter and brighter again.

Love to all.

headlights in the dark

By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon (Route 52 Snow Storm) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Secret to Making Biscuits

One of my favorite memories from this past holiday season happened less than two weeks ago.  On the day after New Year’s my brother Bubba taught my oldest, Aub, how to make Maemae’s biscuits.

She even stood on a stool beside him, just like she used to with her Maemae.

Bubba told us the story of how he learned. Years ago he went to Mama in the kitchen and told her he’d like to learn how to make her biscuits.  She said, “Well, go ask your Daddy.  He taught me how to make them.”

So he went and found Daddy.  He made his request of Daddy, who asked him if he knew what the ingredients were.  Bubba replied, “Buttermilk, flour, and shortening.”

Daddy nodded.

Then he shared the most important part of biscuit making there is.

“The thing you need to know, the secret to making biscuits, is to remember that any biscuit is better than no biscuits at all.  Because you are going to make some bad ones.  It will happen, before you can get good at it.  But any biscuit is better than none.”  Daddy paused for a second.  “Now go on in the kitchen and let your Mama show you how to make them.”

And so he did.

Bubba was known for his cathead biscuits when he was in college.  Apparently grad school too, as his sweet wife whom he met there shared that she might have had her head turned by his biscuit making abilities.

I don’t blame her.

That boy can flat out make some biscuits.

Well, now.

It wasn’t always the case, but remember, any biscuit is better than…..

well, you know.  It’s the secret to making biscuits.  But let’s keep it amongst ourselves, shall we?

Tonight I’m thankful for the passing along of this family legacy–the biscuit making.  I’m thankful for a brother who makes time to share the stories and the gifts that he was given, and I’m thankful for our time together over the holidays.  It was far too short and more precious than all the gold or winning that big ol’ jackpot folks keep talking about right now.

Family, stories, and biscuits.  It’s hard to have a bad day when you’ve got all three of those treasures.

Love to all.

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Bubba’s biscuits as he rolled them out on the pan.

 

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I tried to get a photo of the whole pan, but someone was too quick for me to do it.  They were that good!

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Cooter’s biscuit with honey.  Mmmmm mmmmm.  That’s good eatin’ right there.  

Butter, Sugar, and Wise Words from My Daddy

One of my friends posted on Facebook today about something that inevitably happens to many of us during the holidays.

She was preparing a dessert, and she realized she didn’t have one very important ingredient.  It happens.  More often than not around here, if you want to know the truth.  When I wrote her that I hoped all would work out, she shared that she had already looked up how to adapt the recipe on-line and was going to give it a shot.

That’s when I told her my Daddy’s mantra about cooking.

She replied that he was wise and must have been very good to have in the kitchen.

She was correct on both of those.

Not that my Daddy cooked much.  I don’t remember that happening much at all actually.  He could make a sandwich like nobody’s business and the way he slathered peanut butter on vanilla wafers, saltines, pound cake, whatever–well, he had it down to an art.

But cooking?  I do seem to remember a pan of burnt toast when Mama was at the hospital having my baby brother.  But then–maybe that was the excitement and distraction of the birth of his fourth child and not so much an indication of his skill set.

No, my Daddy was great to have in the kitchen because he knew just what to say.

Or not say.

After all, his mantra was based on my Mama’s self-doubts about her creative concoctions in the kitchen.  On more than one occasion when she’d start questioning what she had thrown together or how this or that would turn out, Daddy would say, “Look, you put enough butter and sugar in anything, it’s going to be good.”

This would make Mama laugh.  The grace in those words could work magic.

Never mind that they were TRUE.

I made the Poor Man’s Pecan Pie for today, which is very similar to the Mock Pecan Pie I made in June.  It’s the one with no nuts at all.  Or pretzels.  I saw a lot of Faux Pecan Pie pictures today–the ones made with pretzels instead of pecans, and they really looked delicious.  So yes, we’ll be trying that one soon too.

We took the pie over to Mess Cat’s for our family Thanksgiving dinner together.  When I finally cut into it, it was a bit soupy in the middle still.  Of course it was.  Because I FOLLOWED THE RECIPE.  Last time, I had to substitute for the Karo syrup I didn’t have, and it turned out beautifully.

Still the one who requested it was pleased.  “Mama, it is so good.  I like it better than the last one, ” Aub said.  (The last one which was perfection itself and not soupy at all?  Huh.  Okay then.)

That was when I thought of my Daddy.  And how much he would have loved this pie.  Because when you put enough butter and sugar in anything…..

Tonight I am thankful for hearing my Daddy’s words in my heart just when I needed them. I am grateful for the example he set in loving the cook and appreciating what was put on the plate.  He indeed had a grateful heart, and he let my Mama know it.  He and I shared an affinity for the sweet things, and I sure do miss bringing him sweet, buttery things that would make him smile.

Hoping you all had a day of sharing all the best stories and of merry memory-making with those you hold dear.

Love to all.

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The Last Gift My Daddy Gave Me

There’s this thing on Facebook where nearly every morning I am greeted with a “memory” from one of the past four years, with the option to see all of my memories from this day in each year past.

This morning the face of my sweet cousin-in-law, who was pregnant in the picture from four years ago, started my day.  I smiled to think that just over four years ago we were at one of our family’s Fall Hootenannies and Turkey Egg Hunts.  And then I remembered.

As if I could really forget what this time of year was about four years ago and again two years ago.  It would be impossible enough to forget without Facebook’s prompting, but with it, I’m there.  Again.

Four years ago, my Daddy wasn’t doing so well.  He was worn out from his long battle with the Giant–Lymphoma.  It had taken away so much from him, but not his spirit.  And yet, he was growing weary.  When we talked about the upcoming gathering at his sister’s house about an hour or so north of here, he encouraged me to go.  Whether I wanted to admit it to myself or not, I knew things were changing.  I don’t think I realized just how short the time we had left together would be, but I knew Daddy was not healing as we had hoped.

It was the first Saturday in November, and my sisters had talked about coming down and being with Mama and Daddy for the day.  I thought I should be there too, but Daddy said no.  He thought I should go to see my aunts and uncles and cousins and let my children play and for us to have a great time as always.

Go, he said.  I’ll still be here.

Oh, Daddy.

Little did any of us realize at that gathering that exactly two weeks later, we’d be gathered in my Mama’s yard, not in the comfortable fall wear from before but in stiff shoes, shined bright, and slacks and dresses and combed hair.  We’d be loading up in cars to make the drive out to the little cemetery by the old church, where the gravestones read like our family tree.  And now there would be one more.

I though back on that today–Daddy sending me for a day of normal.  A day of extraordinary ordinary time with family.  His family.  Our people.  What a gift he gave me.  I think he was sending me to the arms of the ones he knew would carry me through the years to come.  He knew, my Daddy did, that time was short.  But he also knew that time would become long, and we would need each other to laugh and cry with, to celebrate and grieve with, and to share our stories.

Upon reflection, I look at Daddy and the way he lived and what he shared with me, and I realize that the greatest gift we can give our children is the chance to live a good story.  Multitudes of them, in fact.  They don’t have to be outstanding, but there’s nothing like a good story.  My Daddy lived them, he shared them, and he raised us smack dab in the middle of many a good story.  The next greatest gift we can leave our children is folks to share those stories with–whether family or friends or folks who are both.

And that’s what my Daddy was doing that day.  He wanted me and mine to have one more good story to put in our books.  He wanted us to be with those who share in so many of our stories, and who would walk with us through the hardest one of all.

In “An Affair to Remember” Deborah Kerr’s character says to Cary Grant’s:

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Tonight I’m thankful for the warm memories that come to me just as the coldest time of year is about to be upon us.  I’m thankful for the stories I’ve heard and the stories I’ve lived, and for the storytellers who raised me to appreciate both.  Tonight I marvel at the man who looked at me that day and knew exactly what I needed, and despite where he was on his journey, was unselfish and encouraged me to make that happen.  From the moment I took my first breath until the moment he took his last, he was the best Daddy that ever was, and in his wisdom, one of the last things he did was remind me to turn to our stories and the people in them for warmth and comfort and love.

Giving thanks for the memories…..

Love to all.

Passing Down the Grace

Today I picked up the book 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts by R. J. Palacio and thumbed through it for a minute.  This quote jumped out at me:

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These words made me think of my parents.  While I know they weren’t perfect, and I’m sure this wasn’t always the case, when I knew them, they were wise.  Some of the wisest folks I knew.  And as I got older, their wisdom (it couldn’t have been my perspective, right?) only grew.

And yet, I like this quote.  A lot.  It gives me the grace to take my own path, to trek in places that my folks never went and might never have wanted to go–and yet, their lessons about being good stewards of our world and all what inhabit it, their lessons about loving one another, about kindness and respect and giving–all of those things they sought and sought to teach us, they are in my knapsack as I make my own way.

seeking what they sought
but in my own way

With these words, Bashō-san, a 17th century Japanese poet, gives me the grace I have long looked for.  That I don’t have to do everything just as Mama and Daddy did, as long as I keep the big picture in mind.  I can remember what they taught me and what they were seeking…..and head out thataway.  On my own path.

Grace.  I am not my parents.  But I can honor them with how I live, even if it looks different from what they might have chosen.

Today I was “mother henning” my oldest–pecking and pushing and making all the suggestions about how she should handle this or that.  As I was typing my next message, wanting to “suggest” one last thing to her, I wrote, “And while I am mothering you…..”

only the word police, also known as Ms. AutoCorrect, not only didn’t like my word choice, she knew better.  She knows me and she knows my girl, apparently, because, in the words of the young folks, I got served.

AutoCorrect changed it to “And while I am not being you…..”

Ahem.  Well.  AC, you can just drop the mic and walk away, because what you said…..

truth.

I hear you.  I get it.

I am not being my girl.

And she is not being me.

And that is a beautiful and wonderful and magnificent thing.  That we can all be different and yet have some of the same things on our hearts–that we can live those things out in different ways, on different paths, with different styles and dreams and plans for reaching the same goal.  That is really good stuff.

Peace.  Kindness.  Love.  Justice.  Mercy.  Compassion.  Laughter.  Joy.

All the good things.  With so many paths to find it.  And so many ways to show it.

All the love.

Tonight I am thankful for a message that came to me not once but twice today.  And I’m thankful that when I was given this grace, I was reminded to pass it on to my own fabulous daughter who is no longer a child, but a young adult–filled with her own dreams and goals and beliefs and her own plans for seeking many of the same things I’ve been going after all these years.

Just looks a little different, that’s all.

And that is absolutely, slap dab, downright wonderful.

Somehow it makes this journey a little easier knowing that.  We can do it together–we just don’t have to be each other while doing it.

May you find the message of grace you need today in a book or billboard or in your very own heart.  Or maybe even in AutoCorrect.  It can happen.

Love to all.

Grabbing My Computer and Other Things I Didn’t Use To Do

Today I was on one of those “Hold for the next available representative” calls with a government agency.  My estimated wait time was 30-60 minutes, which was more than I want to sit and wait for most anything, but I put the phone on “speaker” and continued on about my day to dailies, listening for a break in the music.  When it came, I grabbed the phone and *fortunately* remembered to hit the speaker button and not the talk button–just as I had practiced.

Yeah.  I practiced it.  This was the real deal.  Nobody deserves to be disconnected after waiting that long.  NOBODY.

I was very lucky, and I got a friendly representative who was extremely helpful.  Maybe it’s because I introduced myself and said it was nice to meet her  (seriously, it was–did I mention the WAIT TIME–I was just thankful to have a person on the line at all) or maybe it was because it’s Friday or maybe she was just having a great day.  Or she was a genuinely kind person.

I’m inclined to think it might have been a little bit of all of that.

She was telling me about yet another form I needed to fill out and send back to them.  Well, great.  I was worried that I might not have the right form AND that I wouldn’t know what I was doing, so I asked her a favor.

“Ummm, Ms. B, do you mind if I look up that form and make sure I know what you’re talking about before I let you go?”

“Honey, you go right ahead.  Take your time.”  Bless her.  Okay, maybe not so much for the people still on hold, but I appreciated her for that.  And for calling me honey.  That eased all kinds of stress.

“Okay, thank you ma’am, let me grab my computer, and I’ll look it right up.”

And that’s when it hit me how much things have changed even in my lifetime.  The fact that I said “grab my computer” rather than “go to my computer”–the portability of internet access is amazing.

Amazing and challenging.

I was recently in conversation with folks who work with college students.  It’s a whole new ballgame now.  The students can “Facebook stalk” or check out other students on other social media way before they even set foot on campus.  First impressions are already made.

We wrote letters way back when I started college.  You know, “back in my day.”  In the snow.  In the shadow of the dinosaurs.

There’s the world of social media which can do so much good and so much harm–an extension of what our words can do all by themselves, amplified by the number of “friends” “listening.”  There are the laptops and tablets and smartphones and even watches for goodness’ sake that keep us accessible to information, entertainment, and each other way more than ever before.  In fact, the only reason some folks are ever out of “touch” is the WiFi is down.  Or they are in a poor service area.

Seems a shame, doesn’t it?

And yet, when we can send pictures of newborns and graduates and ballet dances and first bike rides along the way to loved ones who might not otherwise have seen them, it’s a win for the advancement we’ve seen in technology.  When a parent can check in with her college student without setting foot on campus or calling every single night, that’s a definite win.  When a company can interview someone who is perfect for the position but would need to relocate, technology is the reason why.  And when a family can laugh and talk and visit with that someone they love who is thousands of miles away, that is a huge win.

Tonight I’m thankful for kind souls who work in jobs where they never see the person they are helping and still treat them like people–with compassion and respect.  I’m thankful for the advancements in technology that allow folks to stay connected–seeing smiles, sharing moments, laughter, and tears.  Most of all, I give thanks that I can still hear my Daddy’s words on a regular basis in my head and heart.  Words that keep me in check.  “Make it work for you, you don’t work for it.” He was talking about Facebook specifically, but I’m pretty sure he’d agree it applies to all of technology in general.

May we all continue to strive for that balance.

Love to all.

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