Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seeding The Beach



  It was the late 60’s, somewhere near St. Petersburg, Florida when my grandparents took my brother and me to the beach.  While I was too young for many of the memories to stay with me, I vividly remember two things…the red, green and blue lights that lit up the Palm trees at night and walking on the beach, holding my “Pop Pop’s” hand as we searched for seashells.  We would get up at the break of day to ensure we were first to walk the sand and find the very best shells.  They were large and whole and came in a variety of shapes that can only be found today in the shell stores that line the beach highway.   It was a wonderful time.

  When my children were born, I knew that I would treat them to the same experience one day. When that day finally arrived and we pulled up to the beach in our giant conversion van with buckets, shovels, floaties and more, I knew the magic was about to begin.   Since it was late afternoon we had missed all the good shells and made plans to walk the beach earlier the next day.  We had a large bucket to collect the many seashells such early risers were certain to find.

  Just after sun-up, my son and I hit the beach only to realize that some unexplainable scientific phenomenon had occurred, as all the shells were gone.  A few broken pieces of shells were scattered along the shore, but the ones like those of my childhood were nowhere to be found.   I promised my son it would be better the next day, but it wasn’t.  My mind filled with shell theories and doubt about those shell stores that obviously had an insider connection to shell gathering.   Giving no thought to the outcome of my actions, I purchased a bag of beautiful shells in all sizes and shapes.  And then it happened… I pulled my husband into my conspiracy and made him walk ahead of me on the beach, secretly seeding it with cleaned, bleached, polished seashells.  My child squealed with delight as he filled his shell bucket with treasures from the sea.   Other parents looked in our bucket of shells with great doubt as our son pulled out conch shells and horn shells and ones that looked like little ashtrays.   He was so happy.  We were so wrong… but it continued even as the second child was born and two parents and a brother seeded the beach for the next child to enjoy. 

  Unfortunately, as the second child aged, so did we and it happened that we weren’t quite so discreet in our shell placement. My husband would walk ahead of us and fling shells from his pockets.  My daughter was about ten when she looked up at me and said, “You know I can see Dad, don’t you?”  I smiled and gave her that same look as when she questioned Santa.    She knew, but it was more fun to continue believing. 

  The kids continued to grow up and we eventually stopped seeding the beach.  We came to accept that the days of great shelling were over.  This past year, as an older version of us visited the beach, I watched as other families kept the hope alive and searched for any sign of treasure from the sea.  None could be found.  After a week of algae filled water and diminished hope that the gulf would clear up for swimming, we woke to crystal clear water.  It was as if God had brushed His hand across the sea and returned it to its beauty.  The kids grabbed their snorkel gear and jumped in the water only to discover a world of beautiful shells just short of the shoreline.  They gathered shells for hours and reveled in their find.   The magic was still there, just waiting to be found.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Memory Lane Is No Place For A Picnic


 

  Some ideas are better in theory than they are when realized.  My family learned this, recently, when we thought it would be a good idea to stop during an eleven hour road trip through the Deep South for a picnic lunch.  This would be a good time to point out that if you can avoid exiting the vehicle while traveling through the Mississippi heat, you should do just that.

  The first mistake began with a GPS re-route around the thee hour traffic jam that is the Mobile tunnel.  We skirted across lower Mississippi traveling back roads that had not seen beach traffic in forty years.  My mother could not understand why there were no roadside parks on this two lane highway through the middle of nowhere.  My husband would have opted for pulling over on the side of the road and eating off of the tailgate of his truck.  The kids wanted something from the modern world such as a Chili's or Zaxsbys.   We were set for failure from the beginning.

  I stopped at a small gas station in Laurel, Mississippi and asked for directions to the public park.  Tired from trying to meet the dining expectations of the ten people traveling with me, I pulled up to the first picnic table I saw.  Our tiny caravan of beach goers pulled in behind me and we offloaded lunch.   The heat was sweltering.  The boys chose to stay in their Fiat and requested drive through service.   They did not get it.  

  The picnic table had an unusual design as it was very tall and the seats were set oddly close to the table. When you sat down, you were tucked in so tight that your chin could rest on the table top.  While this position was fine with me as I was ready to lay my head somewhere, it was not functional for dining.

  We ended up eating from the tailgate of my husband's truck after all.  My mother had prepared a feast of chicken salad, pasta salad, deli meats and cheeses, fresh fruit, homemade cookies and lemonade.  Eleven people inhaled the lemonade as the Mississippi heat enveloped us.  About the time the food was laid out, ready to be consumed, the flies smelled the sweet nectar that was our lemonade and the battle was on.  We swatted the beasts out of our way as we tried, in vain, to make sandwiches and serve up sweet treats.


  Everyone ate as fast as they possibly could so they could return to the comfort of their cars to escape the flies and the heat.  It was the shortest picnic I have ever been on.  I suppose it was a good idea pulled from memory when we traveled in a station wagon with no air conditioning and a stop at a park was a welcome change.  Our modern day travelers who move with climate control, a bird's eye view of their path, stereo sound, and a Starbucks latte in their cup holder are not looking to escape the confines of the wonderful environment they travel in. Never again will we choose to picnic in Mississippi in the summer heat!   Some ideas should remain just that...ideas, thoughts or simply a good memory that belongs only on memory lane.





Friday, June 20, 2014

Changing Seats


 
  Better planning on my part would have prevented the untimely arrival of my long awaited dream car in the very same month that my daughter received her learner’s permit.  While I mistakenly assumed the new car belonged to me, I should have noticed the tiny Cadillac reflections in my child’s eyes.  My heart sank and her excitement grew, thus tugging at opposite ends of the wellness spectrum.   No one had explained to me that the arrival of her license to drive meant the end of my place in the heated seat behind the wheel.  Without fanfare, the pecking order changed and suddenly I was on the wrong side of the ATM and unable to catch a full view of the drive-up menu ever again.

  After weeks of driving down unknown roads and failed attempts at parking between the lines at the Sonic Drive-In, my child had quenched her thirst for grape Slurpees and gained the skills needed for safe driving.  She had learned that the rear view mirror was not placed in the car for her to watch herself drive.  She learned that turning the wrong way on a one-way street will cause immediate screaming from all passengers and someone in the backseat will capture it on film and place it on social media for all to see.  She had become a good driver and had rightfully earned the paperwork entitling her to a driver’s permit.

  As she smiled for the camera, excited about her license, the agent asked her, “Do you want to be an organ donor?”  Time stopped.  We were not prepared for this question.  While organ donation saves lives, I could foresee the 2:00 a.m. cry from my child’s bedroom, “I gave away my liver!”  Unable to change her answer from yes to no at 2:00 a.m., a few layers of plastic laminate would prevent me from stopping the oncoming panic attack that was headed our way, just like the cars on the one-way street. 

  I chose to postpone any personal commitment to organ donation until we could sit down and talk about it at length.  In the past, I had reserved such important talks for those times my child was trapped in the passenger seat and we were driving down the road at 70 miles per hour, thus making her a captive audience.  She had learned the truth of Santa, Sex and the Easter Bunny all while I clutched the wheel of a moving vehicle, unable to make direct eye contact with her.  No longer able to hide behind the wheel of my car, I realized future talks of life will be given from the passenger side of my daughter’s new ride.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Health Food Nut



As my 50th birthday approaches, a silent panic sets in by the demand for a heart healthy lifestyle.  I'm keenly aware that a midnight movie binge with buttered popcorn and liters of soda don't fit into the image of the 50 year old me that I have in mind, but the joy in those midnight treats still calls to me.  In an effort to tame the snack monster that rides around on my shoulder whispering sweet nothings, I purged my kitchen of all treats tasty and wondrous. As the Doritos, trans fats and hydrogenated oil products disappeared into the trash, I knew I must be on the brink of something wonderful and healthy that my family would embrace.

I would like to point out that health eating is expensive eating as indicated by my $250 grocery bill.  I stocked my pantry with nuts, grains, fruits and seeds - all whole foods promising energy and wellness.  A 24 pack of assorted chips used to last two weeks.  A $9 can of pistachios lasted two hours.  I watched in dismay as hungry children gobbled up banana chips, sunflower seeds and pecans.  It took half a bag of oranges to get enough juice for a few good drinks and I wondered what the true cost of all of this would be. My worry set in and I sought out a Reese's cup and Coca Cola, but none were to be found. I downed a few sunflower seeds and pieces of beef jerky.  While tasty, they didn't give me that sugar rush I wanted from chocolate and soda.

After a day of healthy eating and drinking lots of water, I settled in for a good night's sleep, proud that I was making healthy choices for my family.  It was about 2:00 a.m. when I woke to the feeling of being run over by a truck.  I thought these healthy foods were supposed to make me feel better!  There wasn't a joint in my body that didn't hurt.  Perhaps it was withdrawal from the buttery goodness that once filled my cabinets and possibly the spaces between my joints. I sought comfort in a jar of natural peanut butter and a bottle of Motrin,  my new midnight friends.

Out with the old and in with the new.  Fifty may be screaming at me from the horizon, but I plan to greet it in a pair of running shoes with a bottle of Fiji Water in hand.  After all, this is just the beginning of the next fifty and I want them to be grand!




Sunday, May 25, 2014

Yogurt Mountain

  While millions of dollars have been spent on personality inventories to help people understand themselves better, I've discovered a much better tool for identifying personality types at a local hot spot called Yogurt Mountain.  I had this epiphany one afternoon as I was enjoying some frozen yogurt with my children.  The end product that we each created from the wide variety of choices perfectly described the personality of each maker.

  My daughter is always first to jump in.  Her eyes open wide as she sees the new flavors and she races to fill her tester cup with Mango Delight and Triple Chocolate Monkey Crunch. I'll scan the choices several times as I don't want to waste my two chances to use my tester cups and get a free taste of the wrong thing.  My son stands back and checks his watch, sends a text message to a few friends, and simply disconnects from his mother and sister who are riding the roller coaster of choices up and down Yogurt Mountain.  

  We each branch off in our own direction, traveling further into the unknown as we move past tester cups and begin creating the final yogurt choice that we will have to live with.  Without fail, I always retreat to the classic flavors of vanilla and chocolate, filling my cup with equal amounts of yogurty goodness.  I'll toss in a blackberry or two for good health and call it complete.  My daughter will load her cup with an assortment of flavors that may actually glow in the dark and then finish it off with a topping of sour candies and gummie worms that hang over the side of the cup.  It is at this exact moment that I begin to make bad decisions and return to inventory the choices once again.  A small dollop of Watermelon freeze or Red Raspberry yogurt couldn't hurt and I'll add a little to my cup... an impromptu decision I will regret once I join my family at the table. 

  My son has been moving quietly in the background the entire time and will arrive to the cash register with some concoction that must have been crafted in the Southern Living test kitchens.  A small amount of vanilla yogurt has been perfectly dusted with graham cracker crumbs, walnuts and a spoonful of fresh strawberries.   It is apparent to everyone in the restaurant that these are flavors that naturally go well together and scream of summertime goodness.   They might as well just hand him a blue ribbon to go with his spoon.

  As we sit at the table to enjoy our treats, I'll wish for a cup of yogurt like my son's.  My daughter will enjoy her cup of frozen candy and smile with blue lips at the choice she made. I'll dig around in my cup of frozen yogurt and push the bad decision out of the way and mine for the goodness that is buried there somewhere underneath the blackberries and artificial raspberry goo, knowing that I should not have ventured from that which I know to be good.  

  It takes no personality inventory to see the extrovert who loves life, the thinker who maps out a plan and carefully executes it and the woman who second guessed her good choices that were perfectly fine without the need for anything new.  

  Myers Briggs has nothing on Yogurt Mountain!  




Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Sound of Home





The sounds of home are one of life's greatest blessings and I want my children to remember these things.  From the creak of the back door to the clinking of a tiny metal "A" that hangs on my daughter's door handle and rattles every time her door opens in the middle of the night, these sounds are part of our world.  There is a comfort to be found in the gentle sloshing song of the dishwasher late in the evening and the soft, stretchy yawn of an old dog who sleeps inside now because it is late in life and the outdoors is simply too great of a beast for an old pup.    

In the mornings, there is timing to the symphony of sounds that softly wakes each person. There is a rush of water through the pipes in the walls as the first person to shower is greeted with the hottest water of the morning.  The hum of a hair dryer mixed with the scent of cologne is like a soft alarm clock telling us we are late and should have been out of bed before now.   The clinking of the door knob ornament tells us that Allie is up and getting ready.  My son's door will open later and brush against the tuft of the carpet letting us know he is awake and starting his day.  

Nighttime is full of wonderful sounds, too. One of the greatest that I am blessed to enjoy is the sound of string instruments as my son and nephew strum their guitars or ukuleles.  I never knew a uke' could produce such pleasing sounds, but the right hands can make magic with it.  Whether it is background sounds of someone writing songs in the den or a full concert of instruments in my living room, the laughter of children and the music in our home is nothing short of magical.    

With an extensive collection of songs and greatest hits from the decades' greatest artists, I would trade them all for one simple recording of the gentle sounds of home.  Time will come and these sounds will make homes elsewhere.  It is then, when I can't hear them anymore, that I hope I can close my eyes and recall them all with vivid detail.  As children return home, I will delight in the sounds they bring back with them.  While the creak of the back door signals coming and going, it always gives hope that familiar faces have found their way home. 
 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Pencil Salesman


  They say we entertain angels while unaware and because of this I want my children to know they have a duty to help when called upon.  In sixth grade, I failed to remember this and it took me twenty years to right my bad choice.

  It was at McNew's Pharmacy, a small drugstore and soda fountain tucked in the north Georgia mountains where students gathered after school for a snack and some fun with friends.  We could cram ten kids in a booth designed for four.  There was no shortage of laughter and fun. Peer pressure, however, is a powerful force, and to a young twelve year old girl who happened to be the new kid in town, it was important not to be different from the others.

  It was while we were dining on french fries and milkshakes, that a man walked in with a small box of pencils and handed our group a sign he had made.  The words on the sign seemed foreign to us as we read that this man could not speak or hear.  Mind you, this was the 70's and children in the south were not mainstreamed, so we really didn't know how to act around a person who seemed so very different from what we were used to.  He was selling his pencils to earn a few dollars that probably would have bought him dinner that night.  A small act of kindness could have gone so far.

  A group of kids, with plenty of change in their pockets and plenty to eat, pushed the pencils away and laughed.  I don't really remember if we were laughing at the man or laughing out of nervousness, not knowing what to do with this stranger who stood in front of us.   The man quietly took his pencils and his sign and departed.  The group of friends, who had no need for pencils, returned to their fun and laughter.

  That night, my heart broke, not so much for this man, as for the fact that I had not helped when given the opportunity.  It was that perfect cocktail of guilt, compassion and regret that placed me before my mother to tell her of my wrong doing.  She led me to her car and we drove all over the small mountain town looking for this stranger so that we could give him money in exchange for the pencils he was selling.  Sadly, the man was gone and I did not get a second chance to help this stranger.  My actions were something I would have to live with.

  God moves in mysterious ways though.....  move the clock ahead twenty plus years.  I was a young mom with a young son and an infant.  My son, now grown, still talks about the night the doorbell rang and his mother lit up with joy to find an old man standing at the door with a box of pencils in hand and sign around his neck indicating that he was deaf and mute.  I did not see the same thing my children saw.  My joy sprang from the fact that I saw my second chance. While it couldn't have been the same man from the mountains, I knew I wouldn't make the wrong decision twice.

  I'm sure the man wondered why a woman with two small children needed so many pencils, but he seemed just as delighted as I bought every one.  My son asked why pencils made me so happy and I told him the story.  After the man left, I ran back to the door to see if there was anything else I could do and he was nowhere to be found.  I looked up and down the street, but he was gone. Perhaps this was an angel.  Maybe it was the same man.  I'll never really know, but my child remembers quite clearly, how the act of giving brought me so much happiness.  I know without a doubt, that when an angel or a stranger appears before my children, in whatever form, they will do the right thing and any laughter will be born out of joy, not out of ridicule of that which we don't understand.