Saturday, December 19, 2015

In Search of Christmas

Many a message has been spread about seeking the true meaning of Christmas which most know has nothing to do with Black Friday, piles of packages under a tree, or the overeating that comes with holiday gatherings.  Each year, I come up with a plan to finish my shopping early so I can lead my family towards the real reason for the season.  As the days pass and Christmas quickly approaches, my shopping is still not complete and the many Christmas events I’ve attended still leave me searching for that one clear moment where I can look my children in their eyes and say, "Yes!  This is Christmas." But, it doesn’t come.  It’s never that clear to me.  And sometimes, it comes with a heaviness of failing to make things perfect.  Perhaps I’m waiting for a bright star overhead to lead me to a place that I can’t find on Google maps.  Christmas day will soon pass and as I collapse on my couch in a living room full of torn wrapping paper and empty boxes, I’ll fault myself for never showing my kids that clear moment that I believe is Christmas.

Maybe Christmas is more than just a single event, place, or time.  As I woke this morning knowing that my family was all home under one roof, my heart filled with joy.  As I saw the empty cups and plates on the kitchen counter, I knew that the night before had been filled with fellowship, laughter and a few tasty treats. The stack of wrapping paper in the corner with its bright foils reminds me that I still have packages to wrap and may never actually get to the end of my Christmas list.  A sleeping cat rests underneath our Christmas tree that proudly displays ornaments that tell the story of our lives, some ornaments dating back over 100 years.  The gentleness of mornings like this is part of the bigger picture that makes up Christmas.  While I’ve been looking for that one defining moment, it is actually all around me. 

When we go to church Sunday as a family and sneak candy to each other during the sermon, it’s because Christmas brought us all there and those moments are far better than anything wrapped under my tree.  The laughter that echoes down the hallway late at night when my children’s friends gather here, that is Christmas.  Hearts returning home in celebration of the birth of Christ, that is what makes the season joyous. From foil wrapping paper to Christmas choirs, movies with friends, and laughter around the dinner table, that is my Christmas.  Removing the cat from the Christmas tree, trying to build some gift that came with no instructions and making yet another trip to the grocery store for more food, these are the things that all come together to make Christmas grand.

Christmas, today, is not a single moment of pure joy that rises above everything else.  It is a series of blessings that come quietly at times and loudly at others.  That single perfect moment occurred many years ago when a young woman caught the attention of the world with the birth of her child.   That gift came quietly in the night and is the reason for the many moments of joy we find now as we gather with family during the holiday season.  Christmas cannot be wrapped up, contained or plotted on a map, as it is a blessing that has carried forward for over 2000 years.   It is a season of love that comes with perfection already built in. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Oh Paleo

Oh Paleo, You have robbed me of my good friends sugar, wheat and dairy. They’ve been with me since my first birthday cake and traveled with me through college, late night pregnancy binges and those times when my very best friend was a piece of chocolate pie. You pushed them away and they fought to stay, calling to me with their sprinkle toppings, chocolate kisses and double, stuffed pizza.  When my bones began to ache and I woke each morning from a slumber that was similar to being run over by a truck, I suspected that I might be running with the wrong crowd.  

Sugar offered me comfort and told me everything would be okay.  I believed her and never saw her for the evil temptress that she is.  Wheat whispered to me with flaky, golden crispness and always brought along her friend margarine who blinded me with buttery goodness.

Dairy was my favorite and the midnight hour was our meeting time when a cold glass of milk was often followed up with two or three Oreos that brought me quiet joy.  

Paleo, however, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Come here.  Give me thirty days and I'll change your life."  I turned my back on bad food choices and learned to welcome lean meats, vegetables and fresh fruit.  The shiny red cans of Coca Cola disappeared from my refrigerator and were replaced with water.  After the headaches stopped and the sugar disappeared from my system, I began to feel younger and even a bit thinner. It was a slow process losing only a pound or two a week.  Before long, my clothes were too big and my daughter said, "Mom, buy some smaller clothes."

The first purchase of new jeans came and went within two weeks as they, too, became too loose.  My daughter said, "Mom.... Buy some skinny pants."  I blindly followed her instruction and it only took about thirty minutes wearing floozy pants that I retreated to the comfort of my Chico's mom jeans.  They were soft and roomy and the perfect choice, so I thought.  My child disagreed.

Today as I dressed, I saw what my daughter sees and realized my clothes are now much too big.  It is a fabulous problem to have and I thank you Paleo for leading me to better choices and better health.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

As Simple As Peaches

My 51st birthday was upon us and all I really wanted was to travel north to see my son.  I needed a day with both children.  Unable to find a hotel room anywhere in Nashville, I thought I might try airbnb, a service that allows you to rent a room in a stranger's house.  My daughter cringed at the thought, but the reservation was made.

We arrived at my son's doorstep late Friday afternoon.  It seemed he and his sister had developed a birthday itinerary that was full of food, fun and laughter.  I eyed the stops we would make and the one that stood out above the rest was 9:30 a.m. - The Peach Truck. (Okay... and the nap)  As a former resident of Georgia, the sweet taste of Georgia peaches still calls to me. My mouth watered as I thought of the stand of peaches waiting for me on my birthday.  The itinerary included gourmet snow cones, shopping, too much food and a midnight movie.  There was a long day ahead of us and we would need sleep before we began.  

Afraid that our overnight lodging may be with an axe murderer, I had my son go with us to the house, for protection.  Three screams are better than two, so it couldn't hurt.  We arrived at a lovely home that seemed quite safe and secure.  The owners were out of town, but there were other guests who would be staying in another room. Something about it felt so wrong, but then the comforts of home beckoned us in and we shut the front door behind us.  We were the only ones in the large unfamiliar home with many locked doors and we settled into our room armed with cell phones and large curling brushes.  It was some time after my son left that we heard the front door open.  Frozen in our bed, unknowing who was mere steps away, we listened to our housemates disappear into the silent house.  I could only assume they were as curious about us as we were of them.  Eventually sleep took hold and we woke to a new day... my birthday.  

Of all the activities of this day, my favorite was the Farmer's Market where my children and I washed fresh fruit in a garden hose and ate it near the Peach Truck.  The sun was already hot and the taste of plums and peaches quenched our thirst.  Our fingers were sticky from the fruit juice running down our hands, but the taste was that of summer and it reminded me of days gone by.  Better than birthday cake, simple peaches delivered happiness on my special day.  

The day continued forward with many great stops and food fit for a queen.  At 11:07 p.m., I had to call it quits on the birthday itinerary of fun.  Perhaps I was too old for a midnight movie, or perhaps I had already achieved just the right amount of fun.  My children understood and we returned to our home away from home where we would once again sleep with strangers in the house.  When we arrived, the other guests were already home.  A chance meeting in the kitchen dispelled all of our fears as we learned that the two school teachers upstairs were just as worried about us as we were of them.  We laughed, made new friends and all returned to our rooms where we still locked our doors behind us because, really, what good is a curling brush when a stranger comes calling in the middle of the night.  

The birthday weekend was grand and we love our Nashville home. Our host family was wonderful and we hope to visit again.  As we traveled back to our own home, we took with us a small paper sack of peaches so that we could share a taste of summer with friends and family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Three Spoon Balloon

    I spent the entire weekend packing up old toys, video games, board games and trading cards that my children haven't touched in years. As I sorted and sifted through hundreds of these items, I realized that we have spent a lot of money entertaining our children.  However, of all the games and toys in the house, the most memorable one, which was the greatest fun, was a game we invented, called Three Spoon Balloon.  It came with no cost, no rules and no shortage of laughter.

    My children and I armed ourselves with long handled, wooden spoons and batted a simple balloon around the living room.  Everyone was well aware that the balloon could never hit the floor.  We have jumped across chairs and tables with arms outstretched in order to catch a slowly falling balloon before it hit the ground.  We have each taken an elbow to the face and skinned our knees on the carpet as we crashed into one another in a group effort to keep the balloon "alive" and in flight.

   Perhaps, not the safest of games, it did come with gentler moments when each of us lightly tapped the balloon into a new course as it softly climbed and fell around the room.  As the peaceful rhythm of the wafting balloon became hypnotic, someone would always break free from the trance and take their wooden spoon and whack the balloon into oblivion.   It was game on at that point, and players became very territorial in their corners of the living room.  I preferred the far corner by the fireplace in an attempt to prevent children from flying into the brick.  Of course, while it was called "Three Spoon Balloon," no player was ever turned away. Others have joined in the fun with plastic swords and assorted kitchen utensils. Everyone worked hard to make sure the balloon didn't hit the ground in their area of the living room.  With spoons in the air, the balloon was protected at all costs.  We have had five or more players at times and while everyone had fun jumping and diving over one another, the best games were always with three spoons and the undivided attention of my two children.

  My daughter's spoon was covered in bling with dozens of stickers of penguins, smiley faces, lady bugs and more. My son's spoon is a few inches longer than the others, giving him some kind of unspoken edge over his sister and me.  My spoon is a simple no frills wooden spoon worn down on the edges from stirring Kool-Aid and spaghetti sauce, at different times, of course.

  Three Spoon Balloon delivered more fun than thousands of dollars worth of toys and games. Tonight, my house is full of teenage girls who are happily swimming in the pool.  Can you only imagine the looks on their faces, later tonight, when I hand each of them a wooden spoon? Only one will know what's coming next and I know she will smile when she takes hold of her decorated spoon.  It's game on, once again.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Start What You Finish

  It goes without saying that good parents teach their children to finish what they start.  My own children have discovered how difficult this can be, just days after receiving their soccer jerseys and realizing that soccer wasn't what they wanted to do.  They have completed a season on a team, giving their all, even when they did not enjoy that which they had signed up for.  It's a life lesson that will carry them far.

  My son was only six years old when he landed a solo in the school play.  He had practiced and practiced and had his three minute song memorized and perfected.  As luck would have it, a seasonal cold left him hoarse the day before the play. He reserved his voice, communicating only with finger points and head nods, in an attempt to heal his vocal chords in time for the big event.  There was a morning practice and an afternoon performance.  He made it through the morning with only a few crackles in his voice.  When afternoon came, and the auditorium was filled with proud parents, my shining star stood at the top of the stage and began belting out his solo.  The first few words were beautiful and delivered in perfect pitch.  And then it came, the harsh crackling of a voice being torn from the performer and suddenly, no sounds came out.  Had I been in his position, I'm not certain I wouldn't have left the stage and hoped that the director would move to the next scene.  It was first grade after all.  No parents would have judged him.  Instead, that tiny child with the once big voice, continued to sing without sound and never missed a word.  A stunned audience watched as a child moved forward, finishing what he had started, delivering a silent performance worthy of a standing ovation.   I could not have been more proud of him.

  My daughter, an outstanding gymnast, who spent the most part of her early years upside down in half twists as she catapulted herself from room to room, has also lived this philosophy of finishing what you start.  After years of gymnastics and after school practice, five days a week for long hours, her twelve year old bones began to creak and pop.  On a grey November day, she shared with me that she was tired.  This wasn't the kind of tired that a nap can cure. Her body was tired.  She finished the season and finished what she had started with the completion of the Spring program on a Sunday afternoon in May.  It was, indeed, a grand finish.

  I've taught my children to do these things, and yet, I find myself in a quandary, unable to start what I have finished.  Let me explain.... I've written a 25,000 word book that has been finished for over two years.  The ending is great, but the beginning keeps changing.  It has changed shape and form while the characters come and go.  Edits are made and just when I think the beginning is good, I change it all again.  I've finished what I started, but I can't seem to get the start right.  And then.... I gave up.  I shelved it.... left it in a digital folder.  Had my children quit what they started, I would have placed them back in the proverbial saddle, put on that jersey, or cheered them on from the stands.  Perhaps I need a good dose of my own medicine.

   My long lost book characters call to me from their digital silence and I find myself ignoring their call.  I should remember that I heard my child when no words came out.  Sometimes you need to listen even when you believe there is nothing worth listening too.  I suppose I should follow my guidance to my children and listen to what is calling me and truly finish that which I keep starting over and over again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Frog Giggling

    Warm spring nights in the South wake us from our winter slumber and give us back our desire to be outside with Mother Nature.  My husband is much more of an outdoorsman than I, as my adventures are fairly limited to camping, boating and fishing.  That was not always the case, however.  I was invited, once, to participate in a frog gigging trip.  The thought of spearing a frog did not appeal to me, but, I was young and imagined that the outing might be fun.  I must remind you that I was only invited once, for very good reasons.

    My future husband, his nephew and I headed off into the flooded fields and ponds that teemed with spring frogs, snakes and alligators, none of which I actually wanted to be near. When we had motored out to the middle of a large body of water, the two men stepped outside of the boat and began walking around the dark, shallow lake with gigs in hand.  This was most unexpected and I was left in the boat with only a lantern and a prayer.  Uncertain what lurked in these waters, I feared at any moment I would see both of these men eaten by a large alligator. I watched as they flung snakes out of their way with the tips of their gigs and I wondered how crazy one must be to do this.  And then it hit me, I was alone in the boat and never asked the very important question, "Are snakes drawn to light?"  I doused the lantern and sat there enveloped in darkness.  I could hear the many unfamiliar sounds of the night and feared that the snakes might crawl in the boat with me and immediately turned the lantern back on. Still afraid I might be a beacon calling out to all the night critters, the light went out again.  For the next few hours I can only guess that it appeared as if someone was sending Morse code signals for help as a light flashed on and off from the middle of the darkness as I hid from view and repeatedly checked for incoming snakes.

    Eventually, the men returned with their catch and announced that it was time for me to go frog giggling.  This new sport, not quite the same as frog gigging, involved snatching a frog out of the darkness with your bare hands.  They motored us close to the bank and told me to watch for glowing eyes. Once I spied a pair, I was instructed to reach out and quickly grab them.  I blindly followed this instruction and safely nabbed an unsuspecting toad.  An afterthought occurred to me that I should have asked another important question, "Do snakes have glowing eyes?"

   With a boat full of frogs, it was soon time to leave.  Being the only one wide awake from an adrenaline rush, I drove us home as the two hunters slept. Still uncertain how this can happen, I, apparently, never noticed when the boat slipped from the trailer and slid onto the highway leaving the boat, motor and frogs miles from home.  As we cut through the night, traveling down back roads, I sang softly with the radio unaware of what was missing.  As I drove the vehicle over the railroad tracks in town, I looked back to make sure the boat was okay.  You can only imagine my surprise to discover that the boat was gone.  In a panic, I woke the men and asked the brilliant question, "Where's the boat?!?"  I whipped the truck around, crossing back over the tracks in a frenzied rush, sending the front of the vehicle down hard into the pavement, knocking the bumper and winch off the truck, bringing us to a sudden stop.  Much like a wounded animal, the vehicle moved slowly off the road, dragging the broken parts with it, shooting sparks into the night.  We were now boatless and broken.  I retired myself to the back seat and the men took over, placing the front of the truck into the back of the truck and returning us to the highway to find the boat.

    About twenty miles out of town, we pulled up to a very happy motorist who was loading an abandoned boat in the back of his truck.  The frogs croaked from the sack that still sat on the side of the highway.  We retrieved out boat and our frogs, but the motor was long gone.

    Warm spring nights still remind me of that time in the middle of the pond where I sat with my light and my faith listening to the symphony of frog songs, crickets, and night noises.  I think everyone should try this at least once, because sometimes once is all you get.   But most importantly, sometimes once is all you need.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Too Many Cats


    While driving to work the other day, a black cat ran out of the woods and darted across the road in front of my car.  They say that it is bad luck to have a black cat cross your path and this thought played in the back of my mind as I tried to figure out what this cat was carrying in its mouth as it ran, in a fevered pace, away from my car, into the woods, leaving its trail of bad luck for me to cross. And then it hit me.... it was carrying another black cat!   This was certainly the height of bad luck to have two black cats cross one's path, one in the mouth of another and I immediately spilled my coffee all over the passenger seat. The running cat did have a white spot on his back, so I convinced myself that this had to counter the double bad luck of this feline duo in the middle of the road.  In fact, I decided that this must be a sign of good things to come because what are the odds of having two cats run in front of a speeding car and nobody leaving the scene with coffee burns or road rash.  

    Later that day, I returned to my neighborhood where I spied a poodle who had been wandering our streets for days.  His ears and tail had been dyed blue and he was about as hard to miss as the two traveling cats of my morning.  I had to wonder why these oddities continued to cross my path, but more so, I wondered why anyone would dye an animal blue or any other color.

    As I pulled up to my house, my own feline pets greeted me with their little pollen covered feet and immediately walked across the hood of my once clean car.  I started to rethink this good luck/bad luck thing and wondered if I had assessed this all wrong.  A covey of cats sat on the fence and we eyed each other with uncertainty as I tried to recall if I actually knew each of their names.  It was a collection of critters brought home by my child who is unable to resist the call of an animal in need, no matter the color.  At some point, I simply stopped learning their names and they are known only for their personalities.  As "Good Cat" walked across my car, I wondered how bad the others were if she owned this title.

    I have known for years that my daughter possesses some kind of intangible force that draws animals of every kind to her.  A scene still plays in my head of her walking down the road in front of our house with an injured squirrel in her hands, a pet deer walking behind her, a white dog gently walking behind the deer, and a black cat bringing up the rear.  It was much like living with Snow White. The beautiful creatures of nature surrounded her.  My animal magnet seems to be a bit askew as I find myself surrounded by unnaturally colored dogs, yellow footed pets, and black cats resembling Russian nesting dolls.

When I grow old and my children are forced to take care of me, I hope they will pull out a copy of The Napping House and read it to me.  While only a child's book, it will remind me of the many animals who have passed our way, black, white, and dipped in blue.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Top Water Swimming

    From the time my children were only a few months old, they were taken to the pool where they were gently placed under the water and somehow, with some miraculous protection from above, they opened their eyes wide and began to naturally move through the water.  Perhaps it was genetic memory.  Perhaps it was dumb luck, but those babies could swim and had no fear of going under the water.  As I stood at the edge of the pool, nervously praying for their safety, my husband would cradle these tiny swimmers in his palms and gently blow a puff of air into their face.  Instinctively, they would inhale and that is when their underwater adventure began. I had seen it before and I knew exactly how it would occur, but the thought of placing a baby under water is more than a young mom can bear. Those underwater babies became powerful swimmers and our hearts swelled with pride as we had taught our children well.  

    As toddlers, they could jump in and swim back and forth across the pool.  Other families looked on in awe, as these tiny children had no fear of the water.  The problem, that we did not notice, was that they were skilled underwater swimmers and knew nothing about the top of the water.  Somewhere along the line, we forget to teach them about the breaststroke or the butterfly, because it was obvious they could cross an Olympic size pool with no problem and we were comfortable with the skills they had.

    The first realization that I may have forgotten a key part of the swimming program was when I entered my son in a summer swimming contest.  At the age of six, he eyed the lanes wondering what the black lines were for.  I was unaware that his view of the pool had always been from under the surface.  The children lined up with one goal of crossing to the other side.  I knew my dolphin child would excel at this race across the pool and I had already cleared a spot on the shelf for his trophy.  When the whistle blew, the children dove in and traveled in perfect breaststrokes down their lanes of pool traffic.  My son swam straight, about ten feet, disappeared under the water and took a hard left across the lanes.  He came up only to realize he was headed in the wrong direction.  He took a breath, reached across the water with arms wide open and sank back down under the now empty lanes of swimming children.  I knew we would never make it to the other side without some lessons on top water swimming.

    Ten years later, my daughter enrolled in lifeguard certification training.   She’s tiny, but she’s solid muscle and I knew floating might be an issue, as she has not an ounce of fat to help her float.   At the age of 50, I’m perfectly suited for bobbing in the pool with drink in hand and never having to actually move my feet.  I wished her luck and left her at the pool.  I had, once again, forgotten that my children were underwater swimmers.   When she texted me and told me she had to swim ten laps, I could only imagine a dog paddling girl flailing her arms in every direction, swimming directly into those who were making their way back and forth across the top of the pool in straight lines.   It didn’t take her long to realize that the kids wearing the suits, which read “Swim Team” had skills, she did not possess.  These kids moved in unison as they flew across the pool, hitting the wall with their feet in perfect underwater somersaults that catapulted them halfway across the pool for their next lap.  My dolphin child employed her underwater swimming skills to knock out the ten laps with ease and only broke the water a handful of times for a breath of air.    

    So, this summer, when I challenge my children to swim laps across the pool, they will have no idea that I’m secretly trying to squeeze in a chapter on swim lessons that I apparently forgot.    The breaststroke and the butterfly are definitely in our future.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Max The Devil Dog

    My daughter has an animal magnet that wounded and stray animals can sense from miles away.  On her way home from school, she happened upon an injured dog that walked on three legs.  Before I could clearly say, "No!" she arrived home with a small beagle wrapped in a blanket, in the back seat of her car. The two bonded immediately and plans were made for pink collars and lazy days of summer with Max, the newly named pet riding around town in the passenger seat of my child’s car.  

    Reluctantly, I agreed to foster the dog until a home could be found.  I listened in wonder as my daughter explained to her father what a grand hunting dog Max was.  We had owned him for less than 20 minutes and suddenly his entire life history was being fabricated to give birth to the idea that we actually needed a hunting dog.  My husband smiled at the thought.  My daughter smiled.   The dog  marked his territory with dreams of fun to be had. 

    It was about the time we introduced Max to the fenced-in yard that he turned from doe-eyed injured puppy to psycho devil dog. It was apparent that Max had been traumatized from some sort of confinement and has some issues that would not lend well to his fostering.  I agreed to let him rest at our back door until we could build some trust.  When my daughter walked in the house and I was left outside with Max, his anxiety level catapulted and he began tearing at my door to try to find his new friend.  Much like a Tasmanian devil, he whirled about, howled, jumped on the door,  jumped on me and fell into such a fit that my daughter was frightened away.  In less than 30 minutes, the bond was severed.  Now, I was left to tend with this out of control dog and the crying child on the other side of the door.

    Having prior dinner plans at a friend's home, I had no time for any of this as we had to leave to avoid being late for dinner. Unwilling to go into the pen, Max was left at my back door to fend for himself.  I prayed he wouldn’t eat my house before I returned.  As we raced away, I could see Max running on three legs chasing my car as I yelled to my passengers, “Don’t Look Back, Don’t Look Back.”   I justified my quick escape with the knowledge that the dog knew where to return to if it wanted shelter and it if ran off, than he was on his own.

    As we traveled home that night, my daughter and I both secretly hoped that Max had returned to the neighborhood from which he came.  Desperate to know if he had gone away, she drove past the neighborhood where she found him. There, at the base of a stop sign, in the rain, sat Max, waiting for someone or something.  I know she saw him and she knows that I saw him.  We both gasped and kept our sights forward.  “Drive,” I whispered and both of us, sadly, heeded my previous instructions, “Don’t Look Back, Don’t Look Back. “   

    Max found his way back to where he had begun his short journey with our family.  He is free from whatever bonds once terrified him and perhaps he will find a matching doe-eyed girl to welcome him home where there are no pens or fences and Max can continue to be free.  The fact that we tried is the best that I can offer my child.  Some things are simply not meant to be, even when you pick them up and toss them in your car, certain that your helping hand is the answer.  There are times when that is just not enough.  But.... the fact that you tried makes all the difference. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hope In The Woods

    My daughter, Allison Hope, is now driving on her own and has a limited range that she may travel.   Looking much like a tiny soccer mom in my white SUV, she drives to school, church, the gym and occasionally to local restaurants to dine with friends.  She does an excellent job keeping me posted on her exact location at all times.  She is keenly aware that modern technology permits me to see the location of her phone as she travels down the road, but  I try not to be that insane of a mom and allow her the chance to keep me informed without big brother watching.  I think that teaches a much more important lesson on responsibility.  If she fails to call, I can always zoom in and find her munching on nachos at the third booth in Taco Bell.

    Recently, she had gone out to eat with friends at a local eatery.  They finished early and she called to ask if she could drive to her friend's home that was about a mile away.  I agreed and off she went.   The problem with this decision was that she did not know her friend wasn't home and her phone was about to die.  Had she traveled to anyone else's home, those facts would not have mattered.  Unfortunately, she drove to a house with a gated entry that allows one in, but doesn't let you out.  The exit sensor had been broken for weeks and egress was dependent on someone in the house opening the gate to let you out.

    Upon arrival, Allie realized that she was the only one at this house, tucked deep in a very dark wood.  As she neared the gate to come home, she realized the seriousness of the situation at hand.  She was trapped in the woods, alone, with a dead cell phone.  She drove back to the house to look in the vehicles to see if there was a gate remote.  None could be found.  She knew the alarm code to enter the house, but knew there was no land line in this home.  She had no way to call for help.  After being trapped for over an hour, panic began to set in and she mapped out a plan to cross a field and make her way to the highway, placing her in a much more dangerous situation than she was in, currently.  Luckily, the thought of coyotes in the woods caused her to abandon that plan and she began toying with the idea of climbing the gate.  The woods were much too dark and thoughts of strangers lurking behind the trees kept her planted in her car.  Her mind raced back to the open field behind the house, but the  coyotes and strange shadows in the woods were much too real and, thankfully, kept her away from the highway.

    An hour and a half into this situation, she prayed and told God that she could not sit there, alone in the woods, until midnight.  With tears in her eyes,  she looked down and saw the glowing apple light up on her cell phone as it mysteriously powered on.  She had no charger. The phone had been dead for over an hour and she had not touched it.  There was no backup battery and there is no other explanation than the fact that a child called out to God for help and He did. She immediately called me and I answered to find a frightened child crying for me to come and get her.  My heart sank as I imagined the worst.  As I raced for my car keys, I calmed her down and learned that she was safe.  There was enough battery on her phone for me to keep her on the line until I could arrive and enter the code to allow the gate to open and free her from the other side.

    She jumped out of her car, hugged me tight, and cried tears of relief.  Lesson learned....  never, never travel without a charger, a back-up battery or a simple back-up plan.  One should never have to run through the woods for help.  Red Riding Hood knew this well and my daughter was wise enough to stay clear of the dangers that lurked at the edge of her path. She waited for help and placed her trust in the Lord who delivered her safely back into my arms. Thank you God.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stirring About


    In 1899, one hundred years before my daughter was born, another turn of the century child came to be.  Florence Joyce, a daughter of the 19th century, entered this world with an independent spirit that would serve her well in a life that would span almost an entire century.

    I came to know "Aunt Florence" when she was an old woman and I was just a child.  The road to her home was dirt and gravel and wound through the woods of Vicksburg under a canopy of trees that seemed like tunnels.  In a child's eyes, it was a great adventure to travel to the great white plantation that was Aunt Florence's home.  In the heat of the summer, we would all sleep on the giant sleigh bed in the downstairs bedroom for it was the coolest place in the house.  We kept the windows open, hoping for a breeze to come our way and break the still of the night.  The heat was sweltering and there was no such thing as air conditioning unless you stood in front of the freezer door.  The  adults would sit on the screened porch while the kids stirred inside, jumping on the bed, hoping not to get caught.

    My aunt was a firm believer that stirring was the key to life.  One should be up early going about the tasks of the day, never sitting idle.  Florence Joyce Mallet was the kind of woman who could work all day on the farm before coming home and changing into a proper dress, hat and gloves required of those attending the Vicksburg Garden Club.  She lost her husband at a young age to pneumonia and later lost her only son who flew into the unknown somewhere over Italy in WWII.  She had no choice but to be fiercely independent.  She lived alone in the large plantation home where she kept the front porch light on for thirty seven years in hopes that her son might return one day.  As a child, I did not understand this.  Didn't she know he was gone?  As a mother, I fully appreciate that she kept hope alive and never gave up on her child. I can still see the rose colored lamp that lit the entryway in the darkest of nights.

    During one such night, torrential rains were swallowing up the land around Vicksburg and my widowed aunt stayed up all night, in the downpour, moving earth equipment around to save her levee, which in turn, would save her plantation. She was one of the few who did not lose her farm or her cattle because she was not afraid to face a storm, even alone.

   Florence Mallet, a tiny woman in a big house, kept a gun under her pillow and a freshly baked whipping cream cake on the kitchen counter.  Her home was filled with antiques and colored glasses that caught the afternoon light and washed the staircase and hall in dots of brilliant colors.  The great home had a cellar which was just the right thing in the imagination of a child to conjure up ghosts of Confederate Soldiers who once had stayed there.  Years before, her husband's family had hidden their silver from the Union Soldiers and generations of children have since played in the woods convinced they would find buried treasure there.  No silver or ghostly apparitions were ever found but the thought of such kept children entertained for years.

    When Florence reached her 80's, she left the plantation to be near her sister in another state.  An opportunity for a summer job called to me and before I knew what I had agreed to, I was 600 miles away from home and the newly appointed caregiver for my aunt.  At the age of sixteen, my one goal was to earn $300 to purchase a stereo that had a magnificent light display on the panel.  My aunt's goal was to continue to live independently with a little help from her niece.  Together we helped one another and two girls from opposite ends of the century lived together for a short period of time. She bought a white Nova and I learned to strap a wheelchair to the back and sail down Cherry Street while she learned of the great bands of the seventies and eighties who would one day be singing on my future stereo.  When she fell and broke her arm, I learned that my job was to sit patiently in the waiting room because sometimes just being there is the best thing you can offer someone.

    At the close of the summer, I returned home with cash in hand and she moved on to live with her sister. I earned more than stereo money that summer.  I gained the knowledge that just because a body is frail, it does not mean that the mind is.  That 80 year old woman was sharp as a tack and did not sugar coat life just to make things easy.   She faced every trial head on with sound decisions and courage.

    Aunt Florence is long gone now and I received a packet of all of the letters written between her and her son during the war.  He wrote of the missions and the cold and assured her all was well.  She sent her love and a scarf to keep him warm.  The packet of letters contains such love between a mother and son.  I like to think of her now sailing down the red dirt road of Vicksburg in her sporty little Nova darting in and out of view through the trees as she gets closer and closer to Heaven where her son waits with his helmet and scarf, simply stirring about until her arrival.  With windows down in a summer heat, she'll have "Journey" playing "Open Arms" on her radio as she disappears into the clouds with the boy she waited a lifetime on.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rocky Raccoon

  You know you have too many cats when you fail to realize that the large, furry creature at your back door isn’t actually one of your cats.  Stepping into the darkness on a cold, winter night, my daughter was dressed in a robe and boots as she planned to retrieve her backpack from her car.  Her hopes were to dart quickly through the cold and be back inside within seconds.  When she opened the door and stepped outside, you can imagine her surprise when she realized she was standing next to a full grown raccoon who did not answer to “Here, kitty, kitty.” She jumped back inside the house as we both stared through the glass door, eye to eye with a wild thing who simply didn’t seem that wild.  As it has always been, all things injured find their way to our doorstep and at nine o’clock at night, I was not ready to play doctor in the cold to an injured raccoon, patiently waiting on the door mat that clearly said “Welcome.“

  A quick assessment from the safe side of the door led us to believe that the animal had broken a back leg.  A covey of cats was watching with great interest from the safety of the top of my car.  My daughter gave instructions for me to quickly lift the animal and protect him from the predators of the night.  As cuddly as he looked and as kind as his smile was, I knew down deep that I did not want a series of rabies shots, should he sink his teeth into my arm.   I danced around the car, keeping my feet far away from the raccoon as I carefully relocated cats from my sunroof to my laundry room.   With a large broom handle that was probably more frightening than it actually was, we pushed food into the corner for the raccoon to eat and prayed that he might return to his family in the woods.  There was little we could do for him without jeopardizing our own safety.   We removed the beasts of the night to lighten his load and offered a meal to get him on his way. 

  In the morning, our raccoon was nowhere to be found.  I continued to dance around my car as I wasn’t 100% certain he wouldn’t reach out from the undercarriage of the car for one last bite before he left.  I do hope that little guy makes it home and that Mother Nature will gently cradle a wild, injured thing that only she was ever meant to hold.    

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...