Saturday, December 27, 2014

Vanity Is A Funny Thing

My daughter wanted a dressing table for her bedroom for Christmas and it was ordered long before the Christmas rush and safely stored in our garage.  You can imagine my shock when we removed it from the box, just days before Christmas, only to learn that it was the wrong item. The outside of the package clearly showed that we had received the white, five drawer unit that actually matched her furniture.  Sadly, the tiny black vanity would have to do until the correct one arrives.

As Christmas morning was only a few hours away, I asked my husband to move the vanity to the back door so we could easily bring it in after all were in bed.  I learned, after the fact, that you should not tell a young girl, on the cusp of driving by herself, that she can't go outside on Christmas Eve.  While I was trying to hide the likes of a dressing table, I never realized that my child would interpret this to mean that there may possibly be a new car out there.  She contained her excitement, yet lay in bed all night dreaming of the shiny black jeep that certainly awaited her.  Little did she know, it was only a shiny black dressing table. 

The next morning arrived and she flew to the Christmas tree with great excitement.  I should point out that giving someone a new key chain is a two part gift and it should never be given simply because it's a pretty key chain.  Unless there is a car that goes with such a gift, a key chain is a really bad gift idea.  I was completely unaware that my tiny beauty, sitting by the tree smiling at her new key holder, secretly clung to the idea that there was more we weren't telling her.  

As the morning closed and we rested back against a backdrop of discarded wrapping paper and boxes, I never saw any sign of disappointment from my child.  She basked in the joy of the tiny dressing table and the many sweaters, boots and scarves that she had received that morning.   

My joy was found in the new TV I received that would replace the outdated analog unit in our bedroom.  It had all the bells and whistles and could do everything short of launching spacecraft.  Sadly, I learned that it could not pick up cable TV channels.  You would think this would be something they would plaster on the front of the box in large print.   I've got Pandora and Netflix and can even send messages through Facebook on my TV, but I can't get the news or the weather.  My disappointment matched my daughter's, yet neither of us knew, as there were too many other things to be happy about. 

She spent much of the next day reorganizing her room to accommodate the new vanity and I tried in vain to pull channels out of the air.  We both learned to adjust our expectations and found we actually liked the gifts we had.  When the new vanity arrives, I will probably send it back as the sleek black unit works quite nicely.  Next Christmas, I will learn to read what's in boxes and be better prepared.  Nothing will be hidden outside unless it has four wheels and requires a key to operate.  While this Christmas was not the right time for a new car, the little vanity will go a long way in bringing happiness.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Do Not Eat This

    Now that I've reached  the age of fifty, I find that eating is more about nutrition than it is about counting calories in an attempt to fit into skinny jeans again.  While I would like to don those pants and breathe at the same time, my focus is on food that is good for my body.  The problem, I've found, is that while I'm surfing the Internet searching for whole foods that clean arteries and decrease sugar levels, I find myself snacking on a handful of buttery cookies or a bag of chips.  I realize this is counterintuitive, as I should be gnawing on a bag of carrots or other root vegetables. I printed out lists of foods that I should eat and those that I should avoid.  Interestingly enough, it's much like a game of Othello where one move counters another, changing good choices into bad ones.   By the time you've crossed off all the bad foods, there is little left to eat.

    While one diet encourages meats and vegetables, another warns to stay clear of red meats, beans and potatoes. I placed chicken on my approved list of foods but felt guilty that it wasn't grain fed and cage free. When I saw the price of free range chicken, my guilt disappeared.

    Thinking that oatmeal would be good for removing cholesterol, I sought out some steel cut oats, uncertain exactly how this differed from my five minute Quaker oatmeal. After twenty minutes of waiting for oats to boil, I ate the rest of my daughter's Pop-Tart and washed it down with a cold Coke. I later learned that oats were on the "bad" list, so I obviously made the right choice going for the left over pastry.

    With salt off the table, sugar a gift from the devil, butter filling up my vascular system with false promises of goodness, I find there are few choices left.  Cold water fish are filled with omega 3 fatty acids but then there is the concern of iodine.  The Paleo diet says to eat eggs, so my husband bought chickens and we now have extremely fresh eggs every day. They are high in cholesterol, though, and  that can't be good either.  There is also the concern of reaching down to gather eggs and grabbing a snake.  This will lead to a heart attack faster than my cholesterol filled arteries will.

    I learned that dairy, grains and animal oils are on the "Do Not Eat" list, thus leaving me with nothing to house my sandwich but a leaf of lettuce which works better in theory than it does on my plate. Turning to seafood for answers, I discovered that shellfish are scavengers and nobody should dine on the scraps devoured by a bottom feeder.   I can't argue with that line of thinking.  I reached out to The Maker's Diet for guidance on "clean" and "unclean" foods as prescribed by the dietary laws of Leviticus and additional foods were scratched of the list of acceptable choices.  I was now down to lean meats, limited fruits, and dark green vegetables only.

    I found a high priced blender that claims to "extract nutrition" from raw foods by pulverizing them at 10,000 revolutions per minute and comes with a promise of  health and wellness. Perhaps, I'm missing something, but isn't that what our teeth are for?  I really don't need a blender for six easy payments of $19.99 that will basically chew my food for me.  However, I don't particularly want to dine on a plate of raw spinach, kale, pineapple and flax seeds, so if I can blend it all up into a cup of joy juice that I can slug down and be on my way, I'm all for it.

    Beverages are another issue and I've concluded that if it is not water or pulverized fruit and veggies, it's not good. With a carton of Cokes staring at me and whispering sweet nothings to my nutritional wellness, I turned to tea as an acceptable alternative.  Then, as expected, I read about the perils of the many different teas in my pantry.  Hibiscus tea claims to be healthy, but will require me driving 50 miles to procure a box, so I'm back to water or a mystery mug of pureed Superfoods.

    With the list of approved foods continuing to diminish, I'm perplexed on what to eat.  My pantry has been purged of "bad foods" and I'm left with the hibiscus plant that is dying in my green house and a lean chicken who happens to be running around my back yard.  The ease and availability of the Taco Bell dollar menu calls to me and I imagine I will find myself in the drive thru line before the day is through.   One cannot live on a bag of nuts, a withered plant from the edge of my pool, and a well exercised chicken.  Then again.... maybe they can!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sound of Joy

Photo -

Joy can be found in the most unlikely places.

For years, my children have recorded voice notes on my cell phone.  I never realized the magic that was in my hand until the night I discovered five years worth of sound clips of my children laughing and singing.  The first note was recorded in 2009.  I froze when I heard the sweet, delicate sound of my daughter's voice at the age of ten.  My son, also five years younger, no longer had the deep tones in his voice of the young man that he is today.  We know these voices, but they slowly slip away without notice as life simply carries these children forward.

Suddenly, the cracked screen of my apparently five year old phone was no longer important. This broken device was a time machine that could carry me back to the days when my son would record his attempts at playing Pachelbel's Canon in D Major on an untuned piano.  It holds the sound of my daughter singing impromptu rap songs and then falling to the floor giggling.  In one of the longer notes, I heard my own voice reading to my children and laughing as my son tried in vain to distract us from this activity by narrating a completely different story than that which we were actually reading.

There are dozens upon dozens of songs, sounds, and memories that were left there only to be enjoyed years later. In one night, I heard my children's sweet voices change to that of the young man and young lady that they are today.

The sound of their laughter across a five year span was just the right thing to usher in this holiday season as family return home.  I know they don't realize as they pull up in their own vehicles from far away places that I still see the younger version of each of them.   Their laughter is what fills the spaces in time when they are gone.  Whether it is a good memory, an unexpected phone call or a voice note left on a broken phone, it fills me with joy!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Have Mercy

"Whether you are a devoted follower of Jesus, a skeptic giving this whole church thing a shot or somewhere in between - you are welcome here.  We will never assume that you have your life together, and humbly ask you not make that assumption about us.  We are a group of imperfect people, loved by a perfect God." These were the words I found as my family followed my son to his new church near the school he attends.  The facility, the Cannery Ballroom and Mercy Lounge, was a bar by night and a place of Christian fellowship by day.  I liked the contrast in the two and it made me smile because I believe that God shines brightest in the most unsuspecting places.

We were not dressed for church and came in blue jeans and tennis shoes.  My daughter wasn't feeling well and I gave her some cold medicine to help her get through the day.  Apparently, she cannot take such meds. As we stood, at the end of the bar, singing words of praise, I turned to tell my child that it was hot in this place.  She shook her head to tell me it was just me and my waves of menopause, because it was certainly not hot.  A few minutes later, still standing, she whispers to me that it is hot in here.  I returned a similar gaze offered by her earlier.  It was only a moment later that she turned ghostly white and shot out of the congregation, ill from the meds pulsing through her system.

She was sick now and had the shakes.  I went to the lobby where they offered complimentary coffee, tea and water to their guests.  I retrieved a cup of water and found a box of peanut butter crackers and health bars.  I knew the crackers would help calm her system and spent the next thirty minutes walking about the lobby with my water and crackers trying to help my child feel better.  We couldn't leave because my keys were on the other side of the building. We sat in a large window sill, the cold from the glass comforting her, sipping water and eating crackers while we watched the rest of the service.

It was just before Communion began that my family met us in the lobby with my purse and keys.  My mother pointed out the box of crackers on the table with the large sign I apparently missed.  It read, "If you don't know where your next meal is coming from, please help yourself."  My heart sank as I stood there with my contraband crackers in hand.  I had taken food from the homeless and was openly dining on it with my shaky child.  How did I miss this important instruction!  I left $20 and headed for the door.  It was my son who pointed out that my escape to a shiny red Cadillac didn't help my situation any.

I had to laugh and take comfort in the very words that met me at the door....  "We are a group of imperfect people."  Had Jesus, himself, been standing in the lobby that day, I know He would have handed my child a cracker or two.  Mercy was not just the lounge next door, it was the kindness of a group of people who thought enough to leave food out for those who may need it, no matter what the situation.  Thank you Ethos Church.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hot Yoga

  While driving down the road, my child asked me if I would like to do Hot Yoga with her.   With great excitement, she explained how you do yoga in a very hot room, detoxifying the body while getting an excellent workout.   I turned to look at her and said, "Do you know me?"   I have never taken heat well and become an entirely different person as the temperature rises. The thermostat in our house flies back and forth as I continuously seek out the perfect comfort zone. I can think of nothing worse than beginning exercise in 104 degree heat.  I am the last person you would ever want for Hot Yoga.  

  This was about the same time my son pointed out that he needed some running shoes that didn't make him look like he was running away from something.  His description immediately stirred my curiosity.  As a young man who fancies dress shoes, he explained that you cannot run in such shoes because it gives the appearance that you are running away and not simply running for fun.  It was suddenly very important that he have the right kind of shoes so he didn't look like he was running from a burning building every day.   Running shoes were purchased that very afternoon.

  As I thought about how my daughter needs no shoes for her exercising and the fact that my son no longer looks like he was dressing for a meeting when a fire broke out, I looked at my own shoes and secretly knew that they were just the right kind to run away from Hot Yoga and fiery buildings.  I'm happy to wait outside in the cool of the car as my daughter tackles her downward dog in the desert-like heat.  When she is finished, we can move to the track where I can walk laps with a chilled beverage in hand.  When the temperature rises above 100 degrees, I can move to my stationary bike carefully positioned under the air conditioner vent in my home.  

  I'm unsure why people feel the need to make difficult things all the more difficult.  In the same category as Hot Yoga, should come the following challenging activities:

Waterless Laundry
Utensil Free Cooking
Reading Without Light
Driving Blind
Hands-Free Water Skiing
Frozen Gardening
One-Legged Kickball

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thrice Baked Potatoes

  My son came home from college for the weekend and like any good mom, I was determined to cook his favorite meal and host a sit down dinner.  Realizing that we are a generation of drive-thru diners and often eat meals while standing, sit down meals are not as common as they should be.  My mother helped to lighten my load by providing twice baked potatoes that she had prepared in advance.  All I had to do was heat them in the oven and serve them with dinner.  Thinking ahead, she made extra that I could freeze for another meal.

  Not wanting to miss a minute of quality time with my child, I let time slip by and suddenly dinner time was upon us.  I had to throw things into high gear to get everything ready.  As I dredged chicken through flour, cut up veggies, and boiled pasta, I tried to stay engaged in the nearby conversation.  Time was ticking and I stepped up the pace.  Unfortunately, I've realized lately that when I multi-task, something peculiar happens to my small motor skills and I begin underestimating my strength and speed, both important factors when working in a small space. It doesn't help that my depth perception isn't what it should be, either.   I overreach for things and knock items over, hoping nobody notices

  As I was slowly destroying my kitchen, my mother pointed out that the potatoes would never be done in time.  I cranked the oven up to 400 degrees and kept cutting and chopping.  Still worried about the potatoes being ready in time, she suggested that I stick my finger in one to see if it was hot.  Not only should I have steered clear of such a suggestion for obvious reasons,  I should have remembered that I never told her I turned the temperature up.  As I retrieved my finger from the now screaming hot potato, I instinctively stuck it directly in my mouth without thinking.  It didn't take long to realize that the 400 degree potatoes were not only ready, but were, in fact, now searing the inside of my mouth.  Moving in quick jerky motions, I grabbed the pan out of the oven and slung it towards the counter, sending all of the hot potatoes crashing to the floor.

  My mother never said a thing as she took the remaining potatoes out of the freezer and we tried one more time to cook twice baked potatoes.  I was able to finish the meal without further injury or loss and the entire family sat down for Chicken Marsala, Thrice Baked Potatoes and a large bottle of much needed wine for the cook.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Brewster In The Hen House

     Brewster, the beautiful rooster, lives in a hen house in our back yard.  He is the tallest and most magnificent of all the birds there.  There are six red and six white fowl residing together and sadly, the pecking order was determined and poor Brewster, my red, red rooster stands in the corner avoiding the bullies in the yard.

     The white hens are fat and fancy and have no time for poor Brewster.  They are self absorbed and like to be petted and adored. Brewster stands to the side, avoiding being pecked.  He has just begun to crow and it's much like a boy going through puberty as his Cockadoodledoo is raspy and broken.  It's more like an "Er-er eh." I'm hoping he will puff that chest out, get a good breath of air and put those hens in their place.

     While they are rude to Brewster, they are exceptional egg layers and we get a dozen fresh eggs every morning, six brown and six white. Strangely, I've found much enjoyment visiting the hen house to collect eggs.  It's like an Easter egg hunt every day.  You never really know how many eggs will be in which nest.  The girls beam when you enter, proud of their day's work.   Brewster stands in the corner with the five red ladies and tries to avoid eye contact.

     With a dozen eggs a day, we've been giving them away to everyone we know.  There is something magical about a carton of multi-cultural eggs split down the middle with six white and six brown eggs. They make great gifts because if we don't give them away, I'll quickly have dozens of eggs in my fridge.

     At 4:30 this morning, I sat on the patio hoping to hear the rooster crow.  As I sipped my coffee, I made rooster sounds in an attempt to mentor the poor guy.  No crowing was heard. When the last of the coffee was gone and the sun had still not come up over the horizon, I headed back in to bed.  Just as the door was almost closed, there was a faint "Er, eh" sound from the wood line.  My boy was up and the day was ready to begin.

     Because it was still dark outside, though, I returned to bed for a few more hours of sleep.  The ladies were busy laying, I was sleeping, and Brewster was crowing.  The farm is well.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Man In The Attic

  The attic in my house is much larger in my children's minds than it is in reality.  It is a place of mystery that has led to wild thoughts and scary stories about who or what might reside there. They say people fear what they do not know and at the top of a set of pull down stairs with creaky hinges and a pronounced instability, lies the great unknown that keeps my children and their friends awake at night, listening for sounds of anything that shouldn't be there.

  A place of unfinished floors, filled with boxes of treasures that were once important, the attic sprawls out in every direction with tiny walkways of plywood leading into the dark spidery corners. The children were never allowed into the attic when they were young, for fear that one wrong step would send them through a thin layer of insulation and straight down to the floor below.  

  Giant stuffed snakes, won at the State Fair, and over sized Teddy Bears who were simply too big to manage, rest at the entrance of the attic and oversee the coming and going into this world of Christmas decorations, discarded luggage and dozens of boxes marked "Do Not Throw Away." While simply a graveyard for things once loved and unfinished craft projects, it is a world of old memories and favorite things.  It is this exact mix of old and familiar, dark and light, known and unknown that crafted the idea in my children's heads that a man lives in our attic.  It didn't help when I shared with them the story about my childhood friend who did have a man living in her attic.  Unknown to her family, a friend of a friend had set up residence in their attic and would come down at night to eat and drink as her family slept.  My own children cringe at the thought of this.

  I cannot explain why boxes frequently move in my attic or why we once found an empty coke and bag of chips up there, but I am certain nobody lives there.  Perhaps the cable installer left his snacks when running line. Maybe it is squirrels who make the faint sounds above our heads at night.  I would believe the toys were coming alive and rearranging the contents of the attic before I believed that a man was living up there.  

  This mystery resident in the space above our heads has grown famous as the tale of his existence has spread from one child to another.  It was not long ago that a man at church asked me about the man living in my attic and I just had to smile.  

  The more I think about it, I grow jealous of the man living rent free surrounded by the good things of my life.  If there is a man in my attic I have a "To Do " list for him that is long overdue.  He needs to bring himself down from there while I'm at work and start on the laundry, pick up the house and do a little yard work.  It would be great if he could start dinner before I get home and then return to rest among the six foot plush snakes and bears that live overhead.  There is a roof leak that I'm certain he should have noticed by now and he could lend a hand with the repairs.

  While my children fear the man in the attic, I welcome the extra help that could come along with such. There is no time in my household for crazy psychopathic attic dwellers and anyone who sets up residence there will certainly be given their fair share of the workload. Next time I pull down those creaky stairs and look upon the big red snake head that stares down from overhead, I hope to find a plumber or electrician hanging out up there, too.  Now that would be real treasure to find!

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

  Essay for  Real Simple Life Lessons Contest 2014

  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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Treasure Hunting

While it's no secret that I've always wanted to be a pirate, it's no wonder that treasure hunting comes naturally to me.  Unfortunately, I've discovered that I'm not very good at it.  We've been through several metal detectors and they all broke long before I ever got the chance to dig for buried treasure.  My $400 investment turned up a bottle cap and a snake that was sleeping under a pile of leaves.  When my youngest child reached down to pick up the silvery object, screams ensued and the detector was thrown to the ground.  That was the beginning and the end of looking for hidden treasure in the back yard.

With the introduction of the digital age, I turned to Internet auction sites to mine for goods. There's no fear of reaching down and grabbing a snake, although I have discovered that snakes do exist online, offering their counterfeit wares and freshly printed certificates of authenticity.  My parents' words ring in my head, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is."  I use this as a guide as I sit on the couch surfing for treasure.

It took only $10 to realize that close-up photos don't actually reflect the true size of an item.  In pirate fashion, I bought three silver bars that looked to be quite large.  When my package of silver arrived, my concern was raised by the size of the tiny envelope.  I had to shake the package to get the contents and discovered three tiny pieces of precious metal almost too small to see.  My silver dreams went up in smoke and I hid my new found treasure at the back of the "End of Days" Cabinet.  I'm sure that one day they will be confused as dust and will be swept away along with some dried up seeds and a guide to canning.

I turned my sights to jewelry, as what female pirate doesn't love gold and jewels.  There are obviously many other treasure hunters out there as anything with any value is terribly expensive and caught up in bidding wars. Tiny words like "design" or "replica" are tucked in the fine print separating the junk jewelry from the real treasures.  I enjoy looking at the vintage pieces with messages of love inscribed on them and wonder what happened to the people who once treasured the item in their possession.   There are hundreds of platinum wedding rings and engagement rings from the 1800s and it's sad to me that they weren't passed on to children who wanted them.

I had to wonder what treasure I would pass on to my children and I realized that I have no message of love inscribed in my jewelry and my silver drawer is basically empty.   And then I realized, they will have my stories of their childhood.  They can't be bought or sold on an Internet auction and no sleeping snake will hide them from reach.  They are here for the taking and I hope that one day my future pirate children will be mining for good things and find their treasure here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Finish What You Start

  I've never really been a collector as I find there is enough clutter to be found with lone socks, paperwork piles and laundry that waits to be folded.  The last thing I need is a collection of small bears or steins that will never hold a beverage.  I do have a failed attempt at a collection of "Grow Up" porcelain dolls I purchased for my daughter so that she would receive one each birthday.  Currently, according to these tiny dolls, she stopped aging at her twelfth year and, apparently, was nine, twice.  Not really knowing what to do with an extra nine year old doll, I can't seem to toss it out.

  Last year, while remodeling my daughter's room for the umpteenth time, everything was moved from her room to mine.  Three days later, everything was moved back to her room except for the apparently unwanted and unfinished collection of "Grow Up" dolls.  They remained, staring at me, to remind me that not only did I fail to finish what I started, but I was obviously overzealous about the collection around the ninth year.  I moved them to a shelf in my bathroom where they now sit with a small collection of seashells and other treasures from the seashore.  An unwanted collection of birthdays took refuge in the corner of my bathroom.

  I, too, have been known to take refuge here and have found that when the world is overwhelming, there is no better place than the depths of a hot tub of bubbles.  One day while relaxing there, I looked up to see the nine year old twins staring down at me from behind a Starfish.  I sunk back under the bubbles to avoid thinking about my failed good intentions.  

  I realized that I've never done well with dolls.  I wanted my child to love dolls, but she loved purses and shoes and belts. She had no use for dolls.  I thought back to the shrinking doll of my own youth, a tall 1970's doll with long hair that magically shrunk while left unattended in a toybox for a year.  While no one believed me, for obvious reasons, I know to this day that the doll was once very tall and then was suddenly very small  - a tiny body left with the original head and mysterious tattoo leaching up from the plastic bi-products my doll was made of. Much like the twins, I can't seem to throw her out either. She continues to shrink in the back of a drawer somewhere, holding the mystery of her transfiguration and my childhood belief in her former self.

  Collecting should come naturally to me as my grandmother was a collector of fine things. Oddly, amongst her groupings of treasures, she had a rather large collection of small spoons from the various tourist spots she visited as she traveled the fifty states.  The last thing I ever wanted was a bunch of spoons hanging on my wall, but as luck would have it, I inherited the collection.  Much to my surprise, I discovered the spoons were silver and they were placed in my "End of Days" cabinet, along with dried beans, ammunition, and junk silver that may one day be needed to barter for food.  Such a cabinet does exist and it is no surprise, when you are married to a man who spends his days watching conspiracy theory shows and Sasquatch hunting on the Discovery Channel.  Little does he know, a real unexplained phenomenon exists at the back of drawer in his own house.   My spoon collection could prove its use in days to come, as it had no place on my walls.

  While I have no desire to collect dolls, steins, spoons or other items of interest to so many, I will continue to place items in the "Prepper" cabinet in the interest of emergency preparedness. This mystery cabinet holds the only collection I plan to maintain.  While I doubt I ever have to trade the Pike's Peak spoon for a sack of flour or bag of beans, I like knowing I can.  I should toss the dolls in the cabinet, too.  You never know when you might need the magical powers of a shrinking doll or a good reminder to finish what you started.  Should my children's children one day find that they, too, lack a collector's spirit, there will be a host of items ready at their disposal to aid them in any time of need.  From a bag of silver to porcelain beauties, the items will wait for a time they are truly treasured once again. And then they can say, "Wow - She was a great collector!"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Color Me Happy

  Standing between racks of clothes in the Juniors section of a clothing store, my child pulled out a fabulous sweater and announced with great excitement that this was her third favorite ugly color.  I was immediately struck with curiosity about how this color rating scale worked as I don't even know my own third favorite color, let alone favorite ugly color. I had to ask why one would have such a list of obviously unwanted hues.  Allie explained that yellow is ugly, but it was still a good color and it deserved to be at the top of her list, even if it was the ugly list. While I thought I had a good understanding of basic, secondary and even tertiary color wheels, my mind began to spin.

  My child explained that pink is the all time best color, but sometimes you need an ugly color as everything can't be pink.  Seizing any opportunity to have yet another bedroom make-over, she cautioned me that should I ask what color her bedroom should be, she would have to say pink, even though she thought it might look good in an ugly color like yellow.  I looked down at my red shirt and began to worry that I might be wearing a second favorite ugly color.  

  The mechanics of this rating scale were interesting to me and I wondered if it might have practical application across life.  I thought about the many third favorites I never really knew I had.  For example, my third favorite meal I would never eat would have to be pork chops as I find them disgusting, but they would fall behind anything full of bones or a raw fish.   Of course, if the raw fish was a bony fish like trout, then the scale falls apart because the trout would be equally disgusting as pork chops and be full of bones, so all I've really gained from this list is that one should never serve me raw pork chops, especially those with bone in! 

  While still in the ugly sweater section, I discovered that the rating scale truly falls apart when rating banks.  My favorite bank I've never used is the Fifth Third Bank, which actually exists and is not an Internet scam as I suspected when they emailed me out of the blue, ironically, my recently discovered third favorite color.  Because of this rating scale, it is the first bank on my list, thus making the first bank the Fifth Third.   At that point, all other banks simply fall off the list because who can keep up with the order. 

  By the time I had processed all of these thoughts, my child had picked out two more shirts in black and brown.  I had to wonder why these weren't her favorite colors, ugly or not, as she had not selected anything in yellow or pink.  The sweater did have a bit of orange in it and while I should have seen it coming, I learned that orange is the first favorite ugly color. Who knew!    

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Are You Kidding Me!?!?

My friends have emailed and asked for new posts and while I can't even blame it on writer's block, I've simply not found a free moment to write.  Today, as my "To Do" list grew ridiculously large and I realized there was no way to accomplish everything that needed to be done, I turned to my old friend.... food.  I wandered down the hall for a clandestine meeting with the vending machine.   I knew this was shaky ground and that nothing good could come of this, but as I eyed the dangling product promising happiness and short lived satisfaction,  I connected with E5, the extra large honeybun.

I dropped in four quarters and nothing happened.  At second glance, I realized I needed an extra quarter.  I fed more money to the machine and after a few seconds, the prized pastry fell to the drawer below.  I fished out my treat only to discover that it was already open and had expired two weeks earlier.  Now, after a week of disappointment in myself and others, I was in need of something good.  A simply vending product was all I wanted.  I paid the fee.  I waited patiently and yet, once again, the end result was a broken promise and empty pockets.  

Perhaps this was the moment that I slipped quietly into madness because a few moments later I could be found standing on a chair binding the stale pastry to the vending machine with packing tape, securing the wrong for all to see.  The large sign I attached that read "You owe me $1.25, Room 100" made it clear to all that not only did I fail to enjoy my vending snack, but I was also in need of a vacation or perhaps a therapist. 

So, tonight I will relax so that tomorrow I may clear my mind and write.  I will try to avoid looking for answers in vending machines and will return to finding the joy in the small and ordinary things that make a life complete.


Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...