Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.
Love... it surrounds every being and extends slowly to embrace all that shall be.
~ Khalil Gibran
Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.
Love... it surrounds every being and extends slowly to embrace all that shall be.
~ Khalil Gibran
There's a small pond tucked into the bottom of a hill down the road from our house. It can be counted on to hold water when the others have all dried up, deep enough that our Max puppy could really swim in it sometimes, not just wade. He loved it.
One morning on our walk a few weeks before he left us, Max started up the trail that leads to the pond. I was nervous, because the sides of the pond are so steep and deep, and his legs were so weak, I knew if he went in, he'd never make it out by himself.
But after just a few steps in the direction of the pond, he stopped and looked back at me, as if he was thinking the same thing.
"Let's just go back to our pond, Max," I told him. "You can swim there."
He must have agreed, because he immediately turned around and headed back down the road to our house.
I visited that little pond yesterday morning for the first time since Max's last swim. I thought about him and all of the mornings Belle and I stood on the trail above the pond and waited for him while he soaked and swam.
I wondered if the last time he swam there, he knew it might be his last. (I know I didn't. He kept surprising me.)
Whether he realized it or not, I bet he cherished every minute of it, and gave thanks in whatever way dogs do that it was there.
We rarely know when we're experiencing the "last" of something ... the last conversation or hug or kiss. The last walk with a beloved old puppy dog. Or the last Thanksgiving with a loved one.
All too often, we take it for granted there will be a "next time". We're human, after all, and life moves fast.
Last year we traveled to Houston to celebrate Thanksgiving a day late with my mom. I knew it would be the last time we celebrated in my childhood home, and that knowledge weighed on me every minute.
It was also the first Thanksgiving without Daddy. I was grateful for the chance to be there for Mama, but it was definitely a bittersweet celebration. In fact, I completely forgot about it until my sister reminded me yesterday.
I'd rather remember all the Thanksgivings there that came before it.
Today I'll be celebrating with my son, my daughter-in-law, and her extended family, just as we did last year. It might be a new tradition. It might not.
But it will be the "last" in some way, that's guaranteed, although I don't want to think about it like that. I just want to slow down and savor, to imprint the people I'm with and the moments of the day into my memory, and give thanks for them and all of the many blessings in my life...
...which includes you. I'm so grateful for you, and wish you a blessed Thanksgiving!
On Monday my middle son turned 26. He celebrated by taking the day off from work, sleeping in, and then relaxing on the back porch with Belle, reading and drinking his coffee.
He's definitely a child after my own heart.
The day started out a rainy one. But by the time Belle and I went for a walk, the sun was fighting for the day and we were blessed with a rainbow.
Of course, Daniel missed all of that.
He had originally planned to meet his brother for dinner... until both of them realized they would have to fight traffic to do so, with one coming from the north side and the other from the south.
That's no way to celebrate your birthday.
So, since the rain pushed past and it turned into a gorgeous day, he, TG, and I headed away from traffic into the hill country to Marble Falls, where we celebrated with an early dinner at Doublehorn Brewing Company, which I happened to catch on an episode of Daytripper.
Daniel appreciates beer. I love trying new places. TG likes to eat. It was a win-win, all around.
Later, I made the traditional birthday Cyclops Cookies. Yum.
(Tom's in Florida visiting his mom and a few brothers. He missed out.)
I admit that when these two kids moved back home after being mostly gone for a few years, it required quite an adjustment. We had gotten used to, and actually really, really enjoyed, our empty nest. Less laundry, less cooking, more quiet, more, um, freedom.
On top of that, when kids leave, they accumulate stuff. When they move back home, their stuff no longer fits in their old bedrooms. It kind of overflows into the rest of the house.
But the move home is temporary, so you don't want them to get rid of the stuff. Consequently, my house feels a bit like a warehouse.
The past two years have been a real challenge for me, though, and having these two kids home has been such a blessing, for me, besides a way for them to save money. Not only do they help out around the house, but they've provided emotional support as I've dealt with my dad's illness and death, my mom's issues, starting a new business, and most recently, dealing with an aging puppy.
When twenty-something kids come home, it's not the same as when they were teenagers. It's more like having roommates. They pay rent and they're expected to pull their weight.
Mine have specific jobs around the house. Plus, without being asked, they help with my mom's laundry, visit her, and help with the dogs. If I have any special requests, they are on it.
Most important of all these days, they make me laugh.
Your kids are always your kids, of course. You worry about them. You want to give them advice. But if you're lucky, like I've been, they're also now your friends.
When the stuff - or the noise - irritates me, I remember that before I know it, they'll be gone again, only coming home for a day or a few hours every now and then.
So I will ignore the extra boxes, tune out the noise, and cherish these days with them now, before they're just memories.
P.S. Thanks to all of you for your condolensces and prayers for my old puppy Max. I appreciate all of you who say you'll miss him, too.
I'm sitting here at my computer, relishing the sound of rain just outside my window, and even the occasional growl of thunder and flash of lightning.
Rain is a welcome guest when you've been in a drought as long as we have...when you begin to doubt if your pond was ever full, or if you just imagined it, along with the roar of the little waterfall below your house that seemed to echo the sound of waves on a shore. Music to the ears of this beach-loving girl.
I hope that music has returned to the Hollow by morning.
More than that, I hope this is just the first of a series of summer thunderstorms that will turn nearby rivers back into lakes, and dried-up canyons back into rivers.
And keep the wildflowers blooming...
Rain is also good for reflection, and that's a good thing right now because I was invited to participate in a little blog stroll by my best friend, Annie Lockhart, a soulful artist, writer, and photographer who has always been a source of inspiration to me ... a catalyst for my own creativity.
It's because of Annie that I discovered the therapeutic, free-writing joy of blogging, and rediscovered my love of photography. She's also a gifted artist. You can see her beautiful work over at Annie Lockhart, soulful painting, and find out about her soulful painting workshops.
Now, let me pour a glass of wine and reflect upon these questions...
1. What am I working on?
That's actually a tough question for me. I'd like to say I'm working on my middle grade novel or my picture book or the historical fiction based on my great-great grandfather's memoir.
But the truth is, they are all gathering virtual dust inside my computer while I focus on building my real estate business and taking care of my family. I've even neglected my blog and photography lately, except for images from my morning walks that rarely get published, a few photography jobs for friends, and my weekly sweet! post.
But if life wasn't see-sawing, it would get awful boring, wouldn't it?
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
None of my work - my blog, my writing, my photography, and even my real estate business - conforms to any type of niche. I have no specific genre. I'm an eclectic, through and through.
3. Why do I write/create what I do?
I have no idea. I joke that it's cheap therapy, but the truth is that the process is vital to me, like eating, sleeping, and breathing. It's something that begins as a seed inside of me, but grows and grows and grows until it has to be set free.
4. How does my writing/creating process work?
You'll probably say I'm crazy, but there's a constant voice inside my head, always narrating, experimenting with words, toying with ideas and thoughts. It can be pretty annoying.
My stories come from "what if's", combined with a run-away imagination. I free-write my original ideas as fast as possible, trying not to edit until I've dumped them all out onto the page. Writing can be exhausting and agonizing for me, trying to hear my characters' voices and stay true to their stories.
My photography simply comes from a desire to capture moments in time so I can remember them. I love to share the miracles of life I see around me with others, especially when seen up close and/or at different angles or light.
With writing or photography, I could spend hours editing and tweaking and trying this or that. I'm learning to tell myself, that's enough.
I've met so many talented, creative artists and writers through blogging. I'm happy to introduce you to three of them right now. I met all three while traveling the wonderful world of Blogland, and while I haven't met any of them face-to-face, I call them all friends, just the same, and feel my life is richer for knowing them.
(She turns anything into a work of art with her intricate doodles. Beautiful! I'm lucky to own one of her original doodled shirts.)
Carol Cassara is a writer, blogger and sometime college professor who lives out loud in Northern California with her crazy dog and very patient husband. She blogs daily at www.carolcassara.com
(I met Carol through a network of midlife writers. She's a gifted writer, but she earned my eternal loyalty when she sent a card to my mom, even though she's never met either one of us in person.)
And last, but certainly, not least, is Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, one of my favorite characters in Blogland. His writing can be irreverant, relevent, insulting, funny, and touching, all at the same time! Catch him at Suldog and the following....
Jim Sullivan is a freelance writer from Watertown, Massachusetts. His work has been published in Discover magazine, Funny Times, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, among others. His plan is to win a Pulitzer and a Nobel by 2017 and then spend the rest of his life being insufferably pompous about it.
His latest, in the Boston Herald - http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/opinion/op_ed/2014/05/sullivan_mom_knew_what_was_best
He has a piece in this month's Discover, also, but you'll have to buy it to read it. Likewise, the upcoming issue of Funny Times will feature his stuff, but it will cost you. And rightly so. It's funny stuff.
Go read them all now, but be sure to catch their posts next Monday when they get to answer all of these questions!
I have a confession: I often forget to write down my sweet!s right when I notice them.
...if I even notice them to begin with.
That's when composing this weekly post of mine becomes a real challenge, but even more important to accomplish.
It forces me to stop and reflect on the seven days just passed ... to dig out the overlooked sweet!s from under the rubble of too-busy-days and a bad memory, to polish them up and set them in a place of honor, befitting special gifts from above, where I can see them and remember.
I encourage you to try it, especially if you've had a week that seemed full of one disappointment after another. I guarantee there were sweet! moments in there, too, waiting to be noticed, to brighten your day, to make you smile or give you hope if you're running dry.
Here are the ones I managed to dig up from my cluttered mind, which I think often resembles those dead weeds up there...
Tuesday: exploring gorgeous homes; enjoying fresh-grilled hamburgers outside near a lake in springtime; your lease clients' application being accepted; your friends sending your mom "Happy St. Patrick's Day!" cards
Wednesday: discovering castles; numbing medications when you're having the second part of a root canal; the balance of your bill being a fraction of what you were expecting to pay
Thursday: a mostly-full moon accompanying you on your morning walk; showing houses to lease clients; driving through Austin on a perfect spring day; news that a friend is pregnant; bluebonnets on the roadsides; helping a friend celebrate her birthday with Chinese food and a movie; discovering Muppet movies
Friday: support, encouragement, and ideas from colleagues; showing houses to buyer clients; beginning the second season of "Game of Thrones" with your son
Saturday: sleeping in; lazy days at home; the redbuds rebounding from the ice storm; more "Game of Thrones"
Sunday: Garden of Eatin' inspiration; your mom feeling better after a night of nausea; someone else cooking dinner; more "Game of Thrones"
Monday: a whole week of sticking to your new morning time-blocked routine; visiting with friends you haven't seen in a long time; puppies and horses; friends who take the time to send your mom sweet cards
“I love finding gems. However I’m not talking about ludicrously expensive diamonds, or priceless sapphires. I mean the impetuous, primitive rushes of passion and love we experience so rarely that they become impossible to ignore.
That overwhelming sense of selflessness and beauty. Hope and desire. Happiness and strength.
These are the moments that define us as people. As individuals.
Should it be falling in love, playing a guitar for the first time, donating to charity, meeting new people, staying up till three in the morning listening to old Bob Marley Vinyls or beating the elite 4 on Pokemon.
Whatever it is, it’s moments like these that are worth more than any gem or diamond. Treasure or material goods.”
― George MacDonald
The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.
~John Burroughs, "The Snow-Walkers," 1866
Tuesday morning, just days after spring-like temperatures which tempted yellow flowers and redbuds alike to blossom,
I woke to a world sparkling in tiny icicles.
That's like life, isn't it? Things are progressing quite well and we take it for granted it will continue.
Then winter returns.
A friend said goodbye to her mother today, so mortality was on my mind more than ever on this first day of Lent.
For my peers, this past year has been one of saying goodbye, of watching loved ones laid to rest, including my own precious Daddy. I guess we've just reached that age.
Ah, if you knew what peace there is in an accepted sorrow!
~ Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon
Sorrow sits on my shoulder. You might not see it, but it settled there more than a year ago when we said goodbye to my father-in-law, and remained as we watched the steady decline of my parents.
I've come to accept its presence. After all, death is part of life, and feeling sorrow is just proof that we love.
But I've learned that sorrow and joy can live together. In fact, the presence of sorrow often heightens the feeling of joy, by reminding me that life on this earth is short. Time is precious, not to be wasted by half attempts at anything or on things that aren't important in the grand scheme of things.
We offer You our failures,
we offer You attempts;
The gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
An offering of ashes,
An offering to You.
Lent is a time to reflect, to consider what is important in the grand scheme, so you don't waste time on what isn't. To step back and see how well you're doing with the gifts you've been given ... to recognize the rough edges that need sanding ... to take a breath, and refocus ...
... to vow to love fully and completely.
And what could be more important in the grand scheme of things?
"Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."
-Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
1. This is my new favorite quote:
“The woman had laughed the hard times into wine.”
I'm not sure if it's possible to laugh hard times into wine, except theoretically, of course... but I love the imagery of it. Thanks to Jennifer at Ripplespeak for posting it. (And for all of her own beautiful words full of imagery and inspiration!)
2. I've had to spend a lot of time dealing with the Social Security Administration and other agencies lately, trying to get things straightened out for my mom. It can be pretty frustrating and confusing.
So when I was having trouble getting my mom's birth certificate last week at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, my son Daniel moved up to total Rock Star status with me when he provided the information and advice via text that I needed to help the Bureau employees figure out what to do in only one trip!
I forgave him any headaches he gave me when he was little.
3. Have you heard of Sundown Syndrome? I hadn't until my mom started showing signs of it. Sigh.
4. I just created a Nextdoor.com group for my neighborhood. It's kind of like Neighborhood Watch, only online.
"Nextdoor is the private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. It's the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it's free." (from the website)
I heard about it in a real estate class and thought it would be perfect for my little area where walking next-door is a bit of a hike and the potential for wildfires is very, very real.
(photo from the Duluth Animal Hospital Facebook Page)
5.And last but not least, just in case I'm NOT the last person in the world to meet this adorable couple, I'm introducing you to Roo and Penny, best buddies who were both adopted by Alicia Williams of the Duluth Animal Hospital. Daniel introduced them to me.
I have fallen totally head over heels, wanting to reach in and cuddle both of them, in love with them!
If you're like me and can't get enough of their cuteness, go HERE to learn more about their stories.
God bless Alicia for saving them.
Joining with Nancy's...
Looks like the sun found its way out of
That dark cloud that keeps following me around
At least for today
I've got a ray of hope
I've opened doors and I've burned some bridges
I'm still looking for my fairy tale ending
There’s a lot of time left before the credits roll
So quit trying to guess the ending, and enjoy the show
I'm still reaching for the stars but I'm dancing in the gutters
Time's the only thing that’s ever flown
And I still have faith in things unseen, but sometimes I wonder
What it is that keeps me hanging on
Another December gone.
~Jarrod Birmingham, from "December's Gone"
Just heard this song on the radio tonight. The lyrics reached out and wrapped around my heart.
I had to share.
1. Last year I took my kids to see The Hobbit right before Christmas. We loved it so much, we decided to make it a Christmas tradition by seeing Part 2, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", last night.
Our consensus? It sucked...and I don't use that word often or lightly. I was so disappointed. I'll wait to see Part 3 on Netflix. Or I'll just skip it and read the book again.
On the up side, I spent an evening with my kids and got my movie popcorn fix!
2. Someone plugged my name and number into a zillion auto insurance online quote searches. We've been inundated with phone calls today.
Who would hate me that much?
3. I love that Pope Frances tweets, photo bombs, and was a bar bouncer once upon a time. Besides all the other stuff there is to love about him, of course.
4. Five of my high school classmates passed away in 2013. One would be too many, but five? We're only 54, for goodness sake. We've pinky-sworn to be careful and take care of ourselves and do all within our power to keep the number zero in 2014.
5. Last week I wore two jackets, a hat, and gloves on my morning walks. Today I was in shorts and a tank top.
Crazy Texas weather.
Joining Nancy at A Rural Journal
Pumpkin bread is baking in my oven as I type. Several small loaves and one larger Texas-sized ceramic dish I bought years ago near Round Top. My friend Ann bought one just like it.
Would you believe I've never used it for baking until this year? I made a Texas-shaped gingerbread earlier this week, and now pumpkin bread.
Who knew, so many years ago when I bought it, that I was preparing for this Christmas season, when Texas-shaped bread would be such a cute gift for my real estate clients?
The spicy scent drifts to me from the kitchen, making me eager for a taste. Most of the loaves will be gifts, but I know we'll cut into one of them right out of the oven.
I've been in a flurry of preparation, lately, trying to prepare for Christmas and the new year. Kind of like spring fever jitters or pregnancy nesting.
I've been getting systems, a budget, and a 2014 plan in place for my business...sorting my stuff into "sell", "give", or "keep" stacks...taking steps to move my mom closer to us...planning another reunion with my old DuPont gang...and preparing for Christmas in all of the outward ways - the cards, the tree, the decorations, the gingerbread and pumpkin bread.
Advent is a time of spiritual preparation, though, so I've been working on that, too, with prayer and daily readings, but I keep stumbling over patience... with myself, with others, with results.
At a party Saturday night, a friend told me how she illustrated Advent for the children in her Sunday school class by baking gingerbread. She showed them how you take different specific ingredients, how you measure them and blend together just right, how you prepare pans and an oven for the baking, then you wait, while the house fills with that heavenly scent of ginger and warmth and spices, making your mouth water and your tummy growl in anticipation.
The smell isn't the end, just a sign that it is coming, one that makes you eager to see and taste the finished results. But you have to be patient.
And so I'm reminded to open up my spiritual senses, to be aware of the miracles and blessings and signs of God's presence that I encounter every day...signs of something greater to come...although too often I don't notice them in my busy-ness.
I'm reminded to prepare, to be awake and to be patient...because patience is rewarded.
"Patience with others is Love, Patience with self is Hope, Patience with God is Faith."
I'm up late, waiting for pumpkin pies to cool enough to go into the fridge until tomorrow. Fresh, clean, asparagus spears and cornbread dressing (my mother's recipe) are already in the fridge, waiting to be popped in the oven first thing in the morning.
It's not the first time I won't spend Thanksgiving in my childhood home, but I can count them on one hand.
But as much as I hated not being with my mother on this first Thanksgiving without my dad, it's also my son and daughter-in-law's first Thanksgiving as a married couple, and they're hosting in their new home. How could I miss that?
Among a zillion other things, I'm grateful for my sister, niece, and nephew who live near Mama, and will do whatever it takes to let her have one more Thanksgiving around that old kitchen table.
Wishing all of you a happy Thanksgiving, no matter where you live, because each and every day we can find at least one thing to be thankful for, can't we?
...a breath, a raindrop, the sound of a friend's voice or even a smile from a stranger when we're feeling lost and alone in this big world.
Remember, you're never alone.
God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.
1. Max can still run. Considering all the times over the past couple of years I thought the "early lameness" diagnosis was coming true, watching him disappear into the woods with Belle after a deer makes my heart soar!
2. After a year of posting an old piano on Craig's List, I finally sold it back in August. The woman asked if she could pick it up in a week or so because they were going on vacation.
I haven't heard a word since and she doesn't respond to my emails. So...can I sell it again? Anyone know the protocol on things like this?
3. Two years ago I started using minoxidil for my thinning hair. I blogged about it at the beginning, and then a year later with the results. I also published that post on Vibrant Nation, where it triggered conversations that are still going on today.
It makes me feel good knowing my post triggered that dialog, and possibly provided a solution, for other women who struggle with the same problem.
4. Yesterday it was in the 80's here. This morning we woke to drizzly 40's that steadily dropped all day.
Brrrr! How do you people up north live with this for months and months?
5. I spent a lot of time looking up this week...
This is a repost. I hope one day I can stop reposting it...
Halloween is behind us. According to the calendar, the next holiday here in the states is Veteran's Day, followed by Thanksgiving, but have you noticed there are already Christmas commercials on the TV and jingle bells are taking over the stores?
For the fourth year in a row, I'm joining blogger "Suldog" Jim Sullivan in his outspoken stance on giving Thanksgiving its due time before we're all wrapped up in red and green and tied with a fancy bow.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven...
I wrote this last year, and the year before, but it's still just as true: This whole campaign isn't just about Thanksgiving. It's about time and seasons and silence and space and simplifying.
It's about focusing on one thing at a time and giving it all you've got, everything it deserves. It's about truly experiencing a season, thinking about what it means and being in the moment, not rushing ahead.
If you feel you don't have enough time to prepare for Christmas if you wait until after Thanksgiving, perhaps you're making it too complicated. Trying to do too much. Focusing on the wrapping on the box instead of what's inside.
Time goes by too fast as it is and life has gotten more and more complicated.
I’ve learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything… at least not at the same time. Timing is everything.
Timing is everything. Let's take time to relish and focus. Let's slow down and simplify. Let's take things one at a time.
But, as one friend said, "The only way you will EVER change this is to hit them in the pocketbook." So please join your voice and your pocketbook with me to remind the retailers that...
Okay, what the heck. While you're at it, click on the little "Share This" button at the bottom of my post to share it on Google+ or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever you like to share.
Help spread the word so our voices get LOUD.
Thanksgiving is the holiday of peace, the celebration of work and the simple life... a true folk-festival that speaks the poetry of the turn of the seasons, the beauty of seedtime and harvest, the ripe product of the year - and the deep, deep connection of all these things with God.
~Ray Stannard Baker (David Grayson)
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. "
Today is the 10th Blog Blast for Peace Day, a worldwide plead for peace...a responsibility not put on governments alone, but on each one of us.
Dona Nobis Pacem...grant us peace.
We are the seeds of peace. May we all allow ourselves to grow, and by our example, spread the message. Peace walks hand-in-hand with love.
Here's an example of someone who has peace in his heart and knows he is called to share it...
Peace be with you...
...and may peace flow out of you to everyone around you, so that they may share it, too.
"Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me."
~Seymour Miller & Jill Jackson
When it rains, you grow.
~ On a local church sign
I woke to the sound of rain Sunday morning.
Such a sweet sound when you live near a lake that now resembles a creek after months...well, years...of too much sunshine and too little precipitation.
Tonight the frogs living near our pond are singing in celebration. Another sweet sound.
The rain has slowed for now, allowing the half moon to come out and smile on us tonight, but more rain is expected to continue off and on for the next several days.
I admit if we're going to have too much of something, I would rather have too much sunshine, but I realize that to be healthy, whether you're human or the Earth, you need some of each.
Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.
Here are some other sweet!s from my past week...
Monday: working out before letting your day get away from you; pink and blue variegated sunrise skies; brisk mornings and frisky puppies; discovering Asian Fusion; warm Turtle brownies, courtesy of your daughter
Tuesday: your husband making an old, dirty rug you love look brand new with a pressure washer; a sale from your etsy shop; free lunches; property tours; a friend calling to check on you
Wednesday: discussing marketing strategies with your son; photo shoots; getting to see a dear friend while she's in town, meeting her colleagues, and finally (sort of) riding a mechanical bull
Thursday: making new connections; chipping away in all to-do areas; a check in your mailbox; being able to talk to your mom at least once every day
Friday: new buds on your crape myrtles; learning something new and making new friends every day; making time to work on your children's story for the first time in a couple of months
Saturday: free training; your son's friend arriving just in time to help carry groceries into the house; joining your writing group at an ice cream parlor to celebrate meeting our writing goals; watching "Cactus Flower" while making cyclops cookies with your son
Sunday: waking to the sound of rain; being able to wish your son a happy 25th birthday in person; your son wanting to help a stray dog; being able to make someone happy with simple gifts like fried chicken tenders you only make once or twice a year on special occasions; making it to a writer's group meeting for the first time in ages; watching Galaxy Quest with your son
Monday: yellow and purple wildflowers decorating the roadsides; a second day of rain; the healthy birth of a brand-new niece; getting to know members of your church better through a Bible study; capturing the sight of a frog hopping in your car headlights
What sweet!s did you collect this week? I hope all of you have a balance of whatever you need to help you grow!
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?
~ Laura Mixon Story
I hate to wish time away, but this has been a long, tiring week, and I'm glad to be on the other side of it, with two more real estate classes behind me.
Four down, two to go. Then the BIG TEST.
My blogging group, Generation Fabulous, hosts a monthly Blog Hop. July's theme is “Transformative Travel.” I knew exactly what to write about...
On this date thirty-seven years ago I stood beneath the glorious ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I also toured St. Peter's Basilica that day, thinking - paraphrasing my travel diary - "It's really pretty, but I'm too tired to appreciate it."
Reading those words now, I wish I could reach through the barrier of years and shake me by my tanned teenage shoulders.
How I would love a second chance to tour Rome, the Vatican, and everything else I saw on that trip, especially now that I'm Catholic, instead of somewhere between Baptist and agnostic!
But I guess I'll cut myself some slack. I mean, I was just seventeen, on the 20th day of a whirlwind month-long very-shoestring tour of Europe sponsored by the Foreign Study League, a Reader's Digest subsidiary.
I found out about it through my high school sociology teacher, Ms. Cook, who had been on a FSL tour before and was going to go again as a chaperone that summer of '76, between my junior and senior years of high school.
A history nerd and anglophile, just the idea of traveling to Europe and seeing all of those castles, walking those cobbled streets...oh, it made my knees weak.
My parents were already stretched thin financially, but they both longed to travel, too, and the next best thing to traveling yourself is sending your kid off to experience the world, right?
They got a loan. I was in.
We had meetings for months before our departure date, learning what to pack and how to pack it, what to expect, what they expected of us, etc. In each country we had at least one college-credit-worthy class teaching about its culture and history before being turned loose for three or four days.
Not totally turned loose - there were some group tours - but we were given tons of free time to wander the cities on our own before meeting up again for dinner.
So here I was, a girl raised in the suburbs...who had never been in a city bigger than Houston (where you get everywhere by car, anyway)...who had only been on an airplane once before in her life...
...yes, here I was zipping around on London's Tube like I'd grown up there, climbing the Eiffel Tower to gaze out over Paris, sleeping on night trains, exploring castles, getting lost in Venice, hailing cabs, and swimming in the Adriatic Sea.
Amazing. Exhausting, but amazing.
We flew from Houston on a plane not much wider than a bus, landing in London's Gatwick airport on June 28.
"A heat wave has been in London. It was about 92 degrees today and no where has air-conditioning. I love London; winding streets & old houses. It's kind of dirty, but it looks right."
I can sense my excitement in the first pages of my travel diary, full of anticipation of adventures to come, dotted with details about the temperature, names of people we met, and even the types of beer I bought in the pub across from our dorms.
"I got a "Blacklable" beer and a"Breaker" malt liquor...Everyone is so friendly. We all stood outside & we met some local guys. Paul, Paul, and Vince. They were real sweet & we talked a long time. Found out a lot about London."
Purely educational conversation, I'm sure. <snicker>
Farther down that same page in my journal I mention a law student from the West Indies named Kameel who helped us with the phones, explained money to us, and loaned me two books to help us with London.
I can still picture us standing in that dorm hallway, talking to him. Kindness is long-remembered.
(I hope I gave the books back.)
Before I made this trip, I had barely stepped foot out of Texas. There had been a day in Matamoros, Mexico on a church choir trip, several trips to Colorado, one to St. Louis where I was immediately put on a plane and flown home because of my asthma, and a jag through New Mexico.
But I had read voraciously, and now I walked in the worlds described in so many of my favorite books.
I carried a little 110 camera and a dozen rolls of film. Back home, I doled them out two at a time to the photo lab.
It felt like Christmas morning each time I opened a new envelope of developed photos.
We were tired of smiling for the camera by the third day, but we persevered for posterity. Even so, I have very few images from Madrid and Toledo, which, of course, I regret now, because my memory of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure depends on the snapshots tucked away in my photo album and travel diary, captured with camera and pen.
When my daughter traveled to Madrid with her Spanish teacher a few years ago, I barely recognized the city in her photos.
(I'm happy to report that this man hasn't aged a bit since 1976, based on the photographs my daughter-in-law took of him in April. I'd recognize him anywhere!)
I was often homesick and heartsick, missing my family and my boyfriend, living for the next town where I hoped a batch of letters would await me.
I even made a few calls back home from telephone kiosks that we searched out as soon as we hit a new city, but with the time difference, no one was very excited to hear from me in the middle of the night.
We were limited to one suitcase, a purse, and our FSL backpacks...so I found the largest softsided suitcase I could find and carried a huge purse. We had to pack for the heat wave, for special occasions, and for the Austrian Alps, which even in the summertime can get pretty cool at night, and somehow leave room for souvenirs. I was on a tight budget, but loved picking out gifts for everyone.
I still have no idea how I fit all of those steins, flasks, jewelry boxes, scarves, and one Lladro duck figurine into my suitcase. These days I use three suitcases for an overnight trip!
Reading through my travel diary, I realize there are things I didn't write about that I somehow still remember, despite my flaky, fading memory...like how in Italy a can of (hot) coke cost the equivalent of a dollar, but a large bottle of wine was only fifty cents, and how three or four girls (not me!) went off on a big no-no joy ride through London with some local boys.
Probably those ones we met at the pub.
There's also an incident I didn't write about, but remember vividly. We were at Tiffany's Disco in Piccadilly Circus, drinking screwdrivers with our chaperone-sociology teacher, Ms. Cook.
A whole group of Japanese men came in, probably from a convention or something, and one of them asked me to dance. Of course I said yes - I've always loved to dance!
In my mind, I'm back on that dancefloor. I see the man in front of me, see him smile, then see him reach out and place his hand on my right breast.
My presence of mind still impresses me. "No," I told him. I calmly removed his hand, turned and left the dance floor, a million questions running through my mind. Did I look like a prostitute? Did Japanese men think all American girls are sluts? Is that normal dancing protocol in Japan?
I know now that he was probably just a jerk, something I'm sure you can find in all countries and cultures.
Unfortunately, I didn't go dancing again on that trip. In every city a large group went out to a disco, but I stayed in with my friends, usually playing spades.
I hate that. I hate that I let that creep keep me from dancing across Europe when I was seventeen.
I could have been the Dancing Queen.
I drew stars all over the entry for July 24, 1976. That's the day we flew from Madrid to Houston.
Mama, Daddy, Mam-ma, and my boyfriend were waiting for me. I write that I ran off that plane back into Texas and my regular life - I had ached to see all of them - but the truth is, I was changed, and I'm glad of it.
Thanks to Mama and Daddy, I knew there was more. I knew the world was big...and I knew I could handle it.
I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.
I started this post yesterday, then suddenly yesterday was today.
Do your days blur together like that? Mine have a lot lately. I think it's because I work weekends and workdays, plus there was the 4th of July holiday in the middle of a week, and now I'm squeezing real estate school into an already awkwardly over-packed week.
But then...it could just be me.
Whatever the reason, there's so much going on, it's tough to stay focused. My mind tends to sneak out a side door and go exploring instead of facing forward and paying attention.
For example, there's a splash of tall weeds near a curve in our road, where either mice or lizards or some other small scurrying creatures hide. Every morning for several days in a row, as soon as we got there Belle would make a flying leap into the grass, trying to catch whatever's in there by surprise.
I, in turn, want to catch a photo of Belle in the middle of her flying leap. But it never fails: I get distracted by something seconds before we get there, and...oops. I missed it again, dang it.
This morning I was determined to stay focused. It took a lot of effort, grabbing my errant attention by the ear every time I caught it trying to sneak out the side door to investigate some flowers or watch the clouds or some such nonsense. But I was firm, and when we got to the curve, my camera was ready and I had my eye on Belle.
Naturally, she didn't leap.
I'm working in our church office a few days this week, then heading straight to real estate class in the evening. The picture up above is framed and hanging on a wall of the office. Talk about an inspirational environment!
Except for a few flurries of activity, it's been quiet, just the hum of the computer and the whisper of wind outside my window. I've thought about pulling up some music on the computer, but I like the quiet.
It's great for studying. I'm learning about Finance this week; last night we were given a crash course in the recent mortgage-crisis-near-world-depression. My brain is on overload!
Have you ever floated a river in an inner tube, when the river was up and moving fast? That's what time feels like to me right now.
I'm sort of relaxed and enjoying the scenery, but keeping an eye out for those little whirlpools that twirl you around and around, stuck in one place. I also want to avoid the whitewater that knocks you off your tube and pulls you under.
I just want to keep moving forward, with my head above water. I don't want to miss a thing.
Do any of you still have your landlines?
I've been so tempted to cancel ours...but then I remember the agonizing two months we lived without it when we first moved into this house in the country, and how our cell phones only worked outside, up the hill a little bit.
How I would stand up there, sweating and swatting mosquitoes, when I needed to made a call. How I had to sneak calls to the telephone company when I was at work, pushed to tears of frustration trying to cut through the red tape.
The telephone poles lining our road may be unsightly, but I'll tell you they were beautiful to my eyes when they first went up. I swore I'd never take my land line for granted, ever again.
So even though my iPhone works just fine inside the house now, I'm just a little hesitant to let go of that landline.
Thank you, Pam and Shabby Apple!
That's Tom's Aunt Marg in front of Gilley's Nightclub, circa 1987. Yes, the original Gilley's in "Pasa-get-down-dena"...where "Urban Cowboy" was filmed. (I wonder if John Travolta ever sat on that bench?)
Aunt Marg was visiting from Wisconsin, and of course we had to take her there. She even rode the mechanical bull!
Tom and I met at Kenny Stabler's Diamondback Saloon, but we fell in love at Gilley's the very next night. He met me there to see the band Alabama.
We danced. We talked. He seemed safe enough, so I gave him my phone number, and he kissed me goodbye in that horrible, pot-holed parking lot, next to my car. Our first real kiss.
Gilley's burned down a few years later, but word has it from Mickey Gilley's own mouth that he's going to rebuild a Gilley's nightclub in Pasadena.
I loved Gilley's, horrible parking lot and all. It had a great dancefloor, and the club itself was large enough to lose someone you didn't want to dance with. After the movie, it became too commercialized, but it was still a fun place to go dancing.
So, true redneck Texan that I am, it warms my heart that it will rise again. As I told a friend, "If they build it, I will come."
Our diocese is celebrating "A Fortnight of Freedom" to draw attention to the whittling away of religious freedom in our country, to the changes our federal government is mandating that force religious institutions, including the Catholic church who historically has been a pioneer in charitable health and education services, to go against their beliefs when providing those services.
Religious liberty is being threatened, and it scares me. No matter what your beliefs about abortion or gay rights, it should scare you, too, that our government is slipping sideways into these areas and issuing mandates where they should keep their distance. Separation of church and state, remember? It works both ways.
And if we accept this without speaking up, if we consider it fair and reasonable, what's next? You know it won't stop there.
On a happier, more hopeful note, we went to a wedding today.
I guess it should make me feel old that kids I've watched grow up are suddenly old enough to get married...but it doesn't. Weddings overflow in love, joy, and hope, and how can those ever do anything but make you feel young and hopeful yourself?
Congratulations, George and Danielle! May you always remember the love, joy, and hope you felt today! Thank you for sharing it with us.
I hope you're having a wonderful weekend! I'm off to ponder the full moon...
Linking with A Rural Journal's Random 5 Friday
This card, full of words of love and encouragement and inspiration, waited for me in the mailbox earlier this week, a precious gift from my friend Rae.
How could I not share them with you, because the words are true for all of us, aren't they? Take a minute to read them and believe them. You are very special.
Thank you again, sweet Rae!
In a previous life, Jeannie was my kids' high school Spanish teacher. A few years ago she retired to follow her dream of becoming a missionary in Honduras through SAMSUSA.org.
I subscribe to her newsletters and in today's I found this note that made me really stop and think. I thought it was worth sharing with you, too...
Dear Mission Partners,
I’ve been thinking a lot about what we pray for. I hear so many people resolve their problems and say, Oh, if God would just.....let me pass the exam, give me the dream job I want.... everything would be good and I could handle it from there. We want Him to hand our desires to us and back off. We want the control back. We think we know what’s best for us. When he doesn’t answer our prayer we feel abandoned. God doesn’t care.
We often never consider that He has other plans for us, probably much better plans that we have concocted to solve our problems and make us happy. Usually he makes us wait for His plans and the waiting is very hard when we see our solution just within our grasp. The solution is so obvious! Why won’t He just give it to us?
His plans are so much more comprehensive than our solutions. We don’t see His huge map. Like Sara with Abraham, we tire of waiting and substitute our plans for His. But the true solution is His. What we have done in the meantime may only complicate things.
I’m pretty clear on what I want. I work toward it and pray I am in line with what He wants. But I am praying that His Will, not mine, be done. I am praying to be obedient. Because I know He’s in control. And I have found his plans to be much better than mine. For His Sake,
Jeannie does amazing work there with the poverty-stricken, transporting children to doctor's visits, among tons of other things. If you're interested in donating to support her mission, send me an email and I'll send you hers.
"If you're lost and alone...or you're sinking like a stone...carry on.
May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground. Carry on."
It rained all day today, and I didn't mind a bit because I had no where to go. That's one of the good things about not having a real job beyond writing and a fledgling photography company. (The bad thing about it is the lack of a paycheck, of course.)
Anyway, rain makes me pensive, so I flipped through a few of the journals where I noted details of our lives for about twenty-five years.
There were some tough times, I'll tell you, but one thing I noticed was how I always ended with a positive note...using words like 'faith' and 'prayer' and 'blessings'. I remember some of those times vividly, the ache and the worry and the fogginess of the road ahead of us.
I love seeing it from this perspective, how the paths opened up and the sun came out again. I was reminded again that God has a plan, that he's got our backs, which is a helpful reminder right now when the road ahead has gone all foggy again.
Tom says I live in La-La Land, where there's always a silver lining and everything is hunky-dory. He says it like it's a bad thing.
But if we've prayed for God's guidance and truly trust him, how can we not think everything is hunky-dory, even if we can't see it from where we're standing at the moment?
The proof of that hit home when I read through my notes written during my oldest son's heartwrenching high school years...and compare them to the joy and love I see on his face in the short video below of The. Most. Beautiful. Wedding. Ever. Amen. by amazing videographer Adam Grumbo. (I can't wait for the full video!)
My prayers of so long ago have been answered. My mother-tears were not in vain.
(It takes a minute to buffer, so take my advice - go grab a tissue while it loads...)
The sun still yawned under a light gray blanket this morning when the puppies and I headed out for our walk.
Josie, my grandpuppy, took the lead as usual; she's still excited about her visit to the country. Belle, my sweet companion, fell into step near me. She never strays too far from my side for long. Max lagged behind, probably worn out from trying to keep up with the youngsters all week.
Tomorrow evening my son, the newlywed, will be coming to take Josie home. I'll miss that little girl. We've had some great conversations and cuddle-time, but I look forward to seeing Tommy and hearing about their adventures in Italy.
This will be my Mother's Day visit from him, since I'll be in Houston visiting my mother on Sunday. I'll probably see the other two on Saturday. One might even travel with me to Houston, but it's still kind of iffy.
When the kids all lived at home, Mother's Day morning found me lying in bed, pretending to be asleep, listening to pans banging and Tom coaching them through fixing me a big bacon, eggs, and toast breakfast.
But once they started leaving the nest, it was rare to see them - especially all three at once - much less have a kid-cooked breakfast, because college finals usually fell around Mother's Day.
But I'm grateful I can spend that special day with my mom, trying to make up for way too many Mother's Days that I spent with my friends on a Galveston beach instead of with her. (Kids! Sigh.)
I also go see her because it would be wrong not to, when so many of you would give anything to be able to tell your moms Happy Mother's Day in person, just one more time.
Anyway, back to this morning's walk...
I spotted a butterfly clinging to a low juniper branch. It fluttered a bit but stayed put as I snapped one photo after another, drawing ever closer.
The fact that it didn't fly away worried and concerned me. For some reason, I got the impression it was stuck to the branch, trying to get loose. Wanting to help, I put my finger out to help free it. It climbed onto my finger, but then fluttered to the ground, wings out, lying still.
Oh great, I thought. Now what I have I done?
I shooed the dogs away from it and started to continue on my walk, but worry and guilt got the best of me. I returned to the butterfly, found a small twig, and put it near its little feet. It clung to the twig, so I lifted it back up to where I first found it. It returned to the juniper branch, so I dropped the twig, and, again, started walking away.
But...what if it really wanted to be on the ground? Maybe I helped it the first time and just messed things up the second time. What if...what if...what if...?
I said a prayer for the little thing, and kept walking, trusting God to fix whatever I might have screwed up.
Then I thought about my kids (because that's the way my brain works and it is almost Mother's Day, after all) and about all the times I tried to help them. So often I just seemed to mess things up instead of making them better.
What if...what if...what if...?
And that's when I told myself to just shut the heck up, because what's done is done. I can honestly say my kids are awesome people, and whether it was despite me or because of me, it doesn't matter.
I know I did the best I could along the way for those beautiful creatures God put in my life's path, just as I did the butterfly, always with lots of prayer. So I'll just keep trusting God to fix whatever I might have screwed up with my kids, too.
What more can we do, as mothers and fathers, and hikers in the woods?
So.... at the grocery store a little later, I indulged and bought some chocolate-covered strawberries.
Happy Mother's Day to me!
And Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers out there!
May you indulge yourself with forgiveness for any past (or future) parenting mistakes. You know in your hearts, as I do in mine, that you did the best you could, and most likely, you did a whole lot more right than wrong. Amen.
Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn't know you had, and dealing with fears you didn't know existed. ~Linda Wooten
I lingered on the back porch this morning with my coffee after the dogs finished their breakfast, listening to birds chirp their confusion over the unseasonal cool temperatures and the wind play rough with the trees.
The sun was shining, and I could see the surface of our little pond sparkling through the new spring leaves of surrounding trees. I sat in the middle of a dream-come-true started thirty years ago, and wondered how I was going to say goodbye.
We're going to have to sell out and go somewhere else. Barring some miracle, along the lines of me writing a million-dollar bestseller or one of us winning the lottery, it's the only way we're going to climb out of the debt-sinkhole we've slipped into.
Tom figures it will take him two years to get the place in shape to sell. We started on it almost twenty years ago, moved in almost ten years ago, but it's not finished yet. Once we moved in, we weren't in a rush...until now. But Tom wants to see it the way he envisioned it in the beginning, so he's not rushing through doing a halfass job.
In my heart I know God led us here, so if it's his will we stay, we will, even if we don't see how right now. Maybe we've done what we were supposed to do here and he has some other job for us elsewhere. If so, I'll just give thanks for the time we've had in this little piece of heaven. We've been blessed and nothing can take that away.
Meanwhile, I'm going to linger and cherish and soak as much of Long Hollow as possible into my soul. I don't think I've ever taken it for granted, but I especially won't now. I'll push thoughts of goodbye off to the edge, only close enough to remind me to appreciate this day, and the next, and the next, and then I'll cherish the memories.
...While I pray for a miracle.
It was a gray morning, the sun not yet able to break through the clouds above the Hollow or the dark thoughts clouding my brain. Worries and what-ifs mingled with sorrow for the people of Boston and scenes of the explosion in West were fresh in my mind.
My feet tread a familiar path through the woods, but I hardly paid attention. My camera dangled, forgotten, around my neck because I was too distracted by darkness to look for light.
Then, as I stepped into an area surrounded by tall trees, I heard it, the wind moving through their branches, singing a lullaby. A song straight from God to my heart.
That night, after a day of to-do's and running later than I'd hoped, I'd already forgotten that feeling of peace when I arrived at my meeting. Soft music and candlelight greeted me, thanks to the committee member in charge of our opening reflection.
"Be still and know that I am God," she read to us (Psalm 46:10) and once again I heard the trees' lullaby and God's voice: "Be still. Don't worry. I've got it."
For the next fifteen minutes or so, she guided us through a centering prayer, where we focused on interior silence, using a single sacred word to pull me back when those distracting thoughts try to pop back in and get me all rattled.
"Be still." The words have continued to echo in my heart, so simple, so full of love and comfort and security.
It's on the darkest night that you see the most stars, isn't it? When the moon and sun are both resting, the darkness provides a black backdrop to stars you would never even notice with a full moon on the stage, or when the sun rules the sky.
I think that's the way it is with sweet!s. When times get tough, that's when the sweet moments of our lives shine against the darkness. Once again we pay attention and give thanks for the simple things we all too often take for granted.
This past week, the shadows cast by terrorism and tragedy made me look closer for those bright spots I knew were there.
Monday: a day off to play catch-up; a morning walk with happy dogs; turtles; cardinals at the birdfeeder; prairie verbena spreading everywhere; witnessing (via television) ordinary people becoming heroes
Tuesday: time for a long morning walk; a just-right day at work...not too busy, not too slow; spotting a Painted Bunting on your bird feeder
Wednesday: the sound of trees singing to each other; puppy kisses when you're feeling blue; praying with others for a small community hit with tragedy
Thursday: spending time with your baby girl, even if it's at the DMV and doctor's office; Five Guys cheeseburgers; arriving right on time everywhere on a tightly-packed day
Friday: trainees who catch on fast on a busy day at work; UPS and FedEX deliveries; your photos turned into beautiful greeting cards and prints; spotting a hawk out your kitchen window
Saturday: time for a long walk with your puppies and son before work; weddings, even on the sidelines; a belated birthday phone message from a friend; philosophical discussions with your son late at night
Sunday: sleeping in, late Mass with your son, and breakfast with friends; a walk with your son and puppies; the sun's kiss on your legs and arms; making a clean dent on a dirty house; your son making a delivery for you, saving you a trip into town
Monday: a forecast for absolutely perfect weather on your son's wedding day
A crazy, busy week awaits me, with one of the happiest days of my life ahead - the wedding of my oldest son. Talk about a bright light! But I'm determined to keep my eyes open and appreciate the simple blessings each day provides. I hope you do, too. Please share yours with me!
1. "I'm off my game. I discovered a little mouse in my glove compartment this morning and didn't even think of taking its picture." That was my Facebook status on Wednesday.
Remember when I told you I discovered mouse turds all over my car Easter morning? Well, it became a morning ritual for me to clean up the mouse turds with duct tape every day after that, until Wednesday, when I pulled the hand sanitizer out of my glove box...and then noticed the tiny little mouse sitting in there.
I'll tell you our whole Mouse Saga later (I've been holding out on you) but suffice it to say, for now, that (after screaming and screaming and screaming) I moved the (terrified) little mouse to the woods by the tail and haven't had any mouse turds in my car since then. Whew.
I did regret not taking its picture.
2. I upgraded my iphone to a 4. It's charging right now. I can't wait to play with the camera. I heard the 4S was better, but I figured, for $1 versus $50, I could make do with the 4.
3. I have eaten two Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs every day since Easter. I love those things. I barely even feel guilty about it.
4. After several days of crazy, stormy weather, including hail and tornado warnings, and more rain than we've gotten in the past 6 months, the sun finally came out today... and I felt like something heavy was lifted off of my chest.
I wish my mood wasn't so dependent on sunshine. I'd never make it in the northeast.
5. Tomorrow is my 54th birthday!
Prairie Verbena scattered through a field like Easter eggs...much nicer than mouse turds scattered all over my car!
Do not call me Toots.
My name is Barbara. If you forget it and need my attention, you can call me "ma'am", or say "excuse me" or "pardon me".
But Toots? Per Wikipedia, Toots is a slang term for "babe" or "sweetie" or "honey," or, more-negatively, "tart" or "prostitute."
Who, or what, do you think I am - or perhaps I should ask, who do you think you are - that you can be so disrespectful to a stranger?
I am a part-time waiter right now, because I need the extra money to help pay for my kids' college tuitions so I can afford my own...to support my writing and photography passions...to get me up and away from the computer I'm glued to the rest of the time, to be active and talk to people, which I love.
But waiting tables in a winery restaurant isn't my dream job, and I'm looking for something else, but what if it was? What if this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life? Serving people, helping them relax and enjoy themselves...there are worse jobs out there, far less enjoyable and rewarding. And if I make it look easy...well, believe me, it takes a set of skills that a lot of people do not have.
Oh, and if you arrive before the restaurant opens, please be patient. It will be a few minutes before your order can be taken because there are just some things that I need to take care of first...
The three women arrived early, before the restaurant opened for business. They were already seated at a table with water and menus, courtesy of our office manager who works a normal 9 to 5 job, when I walked in and jumped right to work, bringing up the computer so I could enter orders, pulling the reds out of the chiller so they will be room temperature, tucking an order pad and pen into my apron. They were younger than me. Early to mid-thirties, I guessed.
I was behind the counter preparing the register when one waved a menu at me and said "We're ready, Toots."
Toots? my ears repeated, asking themselves if they heard what they thought they heard.
"Okay, just a second," I somehow managed to say with a smile and not one ounce of saccharin sweetness.
I made sure to state my name, loud and clear, when I took their order. I treated them with respect, and they left large donations to the World of Children Fund, the nonprofit group we support in lieu of tips. And they didn't call me Toots again.
But speaking of children...
I'm all for taking your children out to eat with you. I know how confining life with small ones can be. Besides, what better way to teach them how to behave in a restaurant?
But if your children are still too young to learn, get a babysitter. Stay home. Or at the very least, accept your waiter's offer of a high chair so your little one doesn't wander around bothering other guests and touching breakable glassware and expensive vases...
This young couple had two precious little girls, one about 7 months old, the other about 2 years old. Despite several offers, they refused a high chair for the 2-year-old, instead allowing her to stand in the chairs or wander about the restaurant, unconcerned about the other patrons or the fragile wine glasses or silverware she was touching...until I uttered a warning out of fear she would hurt herself, which scared the little girl into staying close to her parents.
Still, they were a cute couple and I didn't have many other customers. There were no broken glasses, no falls from the chair, no complaints. And after they left with lots of tips from me about places to visit in Austin, and I was sweeping up all of the cracker and bread crumbs littering the floor under and around their table, I remembered another floor covered in crackers...
One evening when our oldest was in the high chair and saltine cracker stage, Tom and I had a serious craving for seafood, so we took a drive out to our favorite restaurant. By the time we left, a three foot radius around our son's high chair was covered in cracker crumbs.
I was mortified, but wasn't sure what to do, other than leave a large tip and not return until our kids were old enough to know that saltines were not edible playthings.
Which I guess means they'll get theirs some day, too, both the young couple and the woman who called me Toots. Just another circle of Life.
And that makes me smile, because I'm human, after all.
(Hey, wait a minute! I never called a waiter Toots. Just proof that Life is also unfair and has a warped sense of humor, I suppose.)
I stepped into the classroom of second graders and made my way to the teacher's desk. "Are you someone's grandmother?" one little munchkin asked.
"No, I'm the substitute teacher," I said with forced smile, trying to recover from such a fierce Reality Check that early in the morning, and making myself promise not to hold a grudge against that little...um, cutie pie.
I turn 54 in less than two weeks...indeed, quite old enough to be someone's grandmother. If you're 55 or older, you're probably calling me a baby. But if you're 40 or younger, I'm sure 54 sounds as old to you as it looked to that second-grader. I remember when it sounded old to me, too.
But I don't feel old. In so many ways I feel the same as I did at 5 and 10 and 18, and in those moments when I said "I do" and held each of my babies for the very first time.
When I was facing 50, time took on new meaning. The hour glass was more empty than full, and not only had I wasted a lot of it, but I could see what was left slipping away, seemingly faster and faster.
It made me think about aging. What it meant to me. How I wanted it to look on me.
I decided I wanted to be able to enjoy whatever time I had left. I knew the road ahead was full of physical potholes, so I focused on getting healthy, from the inside out. I felt guilty for taking my body for granted for so many years and vowed to treat it right from then on.
I became my own best friend, accepting the good and bad, my weaknesses and strengths, likes and dislikes. I developed high expectations for myself, but also cut myself some slack. I focused on finding balance, although it's still a struggle. Work. Play. Time alone. Time with friends and family. Giving. Taking.
I refused to give into the stereotypes, the standard expectations of what it means to be an older woman, of what's considered "proper". I decided to shake things up in my life, to stretch and appreciate all aspects of myself, to discover and expand the talents God gave me.
In the process I discovered a sense of freedom and excitement and joy that I'd never known.
So as I head into another year, I'll just continue being me, who wears jeans, loves to dance, and wants to keep learning till the day she dies.
Because aging with grace just means living with grace, whether you're celebrating your first birthday or your 100th.
I wish I'd started sooner.
GenerationFabulous's latest blog hop on what aging gracefully means to us. Go HERE to see the other contributions.
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1. My crape myrtles are budding! I'm really surprised because we haven't had much rain and the poor things haven't bloomed in two or three years now. I wasn't even sure they were still alive. I've got my fingers crossed they've somehow established themselves enough to give me some summer color later on.
2. I had a chance to go dancing with friends tonight. Instead, here I am editing photos and working on a blog post. Not that I don't love blogging, but...well, I love, love, love dancing!
So why am I blogging instead of dancing, you ask? Tom didn't want to go, and it was a bit of a drive...and I have to work tomorrow...so I was debating whether or not I should go. Trying to be a grown-up.
In the meantime, I went shopping for shoes to wear at my son's wedding. I should have gone prepared to meet my friends when I finished up, just in case, because shopping took longer than I expected (of course!) and by the time I got home, it was really too late to eat dinner, change clothes, and go back out.
Sigh and dang it.
Which just goes to show what I always tell my kids...if you don't make a decision, the decision is usually made for you.
3. On Monday I had brunch with the sister and mother of a friend I've known since 2nd grade, Todd. They were traveling through a neighboring town and asked if I wanted to meet them. Of course!!
That's me on the left. Beside me is Mrs. Scruggs - would you believe she's 81? She says 80 is the new 40. I love it! Across from us are Darlene and ... ah, I can't remember her husband's name!
(I'm sure my memory is directly affected by my lack of dancing lately!)
4. Jon Bon Jovi is coming to Austin in concert next month. For some reason, I wasn't that interested in him when I was younger and Bon Jovi first made it big. But now, I would love, love, love to see him, more than Eric Clapton or others who have been here recently. Love his music and his hair. Isn't that weird? Of course, I don't have money for tickets to see anyone. But if I did, now you know who I'd spend it to see!
5. In case you've been living in a closet with no access to a television, I'm please to inform you we have a new Pope! As a Catholic, I'm very hopeful about it. From all accounts, Pope Francis is a very humble, simple, but intelligent and courageous man.
I believe those are the qualities of a great leader of any institution, but especially for a church.
I hope you have a fantastic weekend. If you get the chance to do something you love, don't be wishy-washy and waste time trying to be practical like me - just go do it, for Pete's sake!
Linking up with
Births. Deaths. Certainly those.
Celebrations for birthdays, for weddings, for the end of a drought and good crops.
Tables in the yard, laden with food. Tantalizing smells wafting from the kitchen, promising more.
Heartache. Loved ones who went to war and never returned. Arguments and screen doors slamming.
Neighbors helping put out a fire, build a rock fence, raise a windmill, plant a harvest, chase down a runaway cow.
Friends delivering a baby. Providing food and a silent shoulder in times of mourning.
Bicycles and toy wagons littering the yard. A beloved mutt curled up on the porch near the door or sprawled in a patch of sunlit dirt in the yard.
Young couples, just married, and older ones, helping each other up the steps.
The squeak of a porch swing on a summer evening. The smell of a bonfire on an autumn night.
Days when voices and laughter echoed from the windows, open to capture a cool breeze in a stifling Texas summer.
And days like these when silence is palpable...when only memories and shadows walk the worn wooden floors.
I pass this old farmhouse on my way to work and it always starts my mind wondering about its history. Finally, one day, I stopped with my camera...and that's when it spoke to me.
1. Our property is dotted with small iron crosses, marking the resting places of so many precious furry or feathered or scaly loved ones we've been blessed to know. I miss them all. The one above is Charly's and Frankie's.
2. I will never get rich monetarily through my blog, but the friendships I've formed because of it are priceless. I've met so many supportive, encouraging, talented friends, and two of them have recently published books. I didn't hesitate to buy them because they are both wonderful, evocative writers, and I feel confident touting them here even though I haven't had time to read either one.
Follow the links to their blogs and you'll find information about the books. (I received no monetary compensation for these shout-outs - only friendship and support for my own writing.)
3. The next time you go out to eat and the place is packed and you start to get irritated because you feel your waiter is ignoring you, please take a deep breath, realize you are not the only customer in the place and that he/she can only do so much at one time, and please, please, please remember your manners. Thank you.
(Oh. And if the website suggests reservations, either make a reservation or don't get upset if you can't be seated. Especially if you're bringing 7 of your friends.)
4. Back at the beginning of January, I decided I would start getting up at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m. so I would have time to work out and/or write before heading to work, if someone happened to call me out. (That's the life of a substitute teacher - you have to be flexible!)
Well, I finally did it. Once. This week. Yay, me!
5. For the past week or so, I've spent hours tormenting myself, listening to one You Tube video after another of potential songs for the mother/son dance at the upcoming wedding.
I just sat here at my computer and cried and cried. It was beautiful agony, I tell you, reliving those mom memories. But here's one that made me laugh, even though I wouldn't do this myself..
(Actually, that theme from the Ninja Turtles brings back so many memories, I almost started crying in this one, too!)
Nancy at A Rural Journal inspired me to start my Five Things on Friday, although I mutilated her better-alliterated version, 5 Facts Friday, so I encourage you to read hers and add your own if you're so inclined! And I remembered Mrs. 4444 has a regular Friday Fragments hop, so I'll be linking up there, too. It's a great way to tie up all those loose ends from the week!
Hope you have a great weekend!
Love talked about can be easily turned aside, but love demonstrated is irresistible.~
W. Stanley Mooneyham
American minister and speaker, 20th century
I was bemoaning the fact that, despite hundreds of miles run, lunges lunged and squats thrusted, and losing enough weight that I could buy my bras in "training" sizes, I still have my grandmother's saddle-bag thighs.
"But you don't have any cellulite anymore," Tom told me.
The next day I looked for myself. Sigh. Just as dimpled as ever. I knew Tom hadn't been lying or merely trying to make me feel better; he just can't see worth crap anymore.
But he also just doesn't care. He doesn't care that my hair is thinning. Heck, he wouldn't care if I went bald. He has never been able to tell when I'm wearing makeup or not (I've tested him)...so I'm sure my deepening wrinkles go unnoticed. He pays attention to me, he sees me...but it's the me on the inside...the me that he met and fell in love with despite himself almost 31 years ago. He looks past the "me" on the outside just as I look past the 55-year-old "him" on the outside and see the "him" who asked me for a dance at Diamondback so many years ago.
With my son's wedding on the horizon, I've been thinking about married love and what makes it last - or not. Here are a few more...
...Love is the sound of drums coming from my house...fulfilling a wish I had tossed aside, believing it couldn't come true because there wasn't a spot for them in our new house. Tom surprised me with a set (thank you, Craig's List) on our anniversary a few years ago. It proved to me he pays attention. At least sometimes.
(Love is throwing him not one, but two surprise birthday parties...plus a huge family reunion/50th birthday party that lasted two weeks and involved having people sleeping on every square inch of the house, including on a mattress in the downstairs shower stall. Poor Kirby)
...Love is coming in the house from a long weekend, relieved to discover your coffee grounds from four days before have (thank the Lord!) been dumped and all the pieces are clean and dry, ready to go...despite the fact that your spouse doesn't drink coffee. (If he hadn't cleaned it for me...ooh, gross!)
(Love is picking up empty Dr. Pepper cans from all over the house...and outside...and biting my tongue. Pretty much.)
...Love is finding the coupon section of the Sunday newspaper separated for me, without asking.
(Love is gathering up the Sunday newspaper, at times from different rooms in the house, and putting it in the wicker basket where it goes.)
...Love is not minding that I plant myself in front of the computer every evening after dinner to write...and biting his tongue when he sees I'm on Facebook instead.
(Love is not minding that some nights he just crawls in bed and flips channels, instead of working on whatever project is in progress at the time, because he's physically and mentally worn out. He leaves the house at 5:30 am, for goodness sake!)
...Love is not being jealous about phone calls from old boyfriends, or emails from old boyfriends, or birthday lunches with old boyfriends.
(Love is not being jealous about his women friends and co-workers...even when he pinches Lisa's rear-end.)
...Love is always dancing the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Schottische even though his hips and ankles still hurt from that accident in 1998.
(Love is sitting by his side in the hospital for a week, afraid to leave him...holding the urinal in place for an hour because he thinks he can go on his own...feeding him ice chips, sleeping on a fold-out chair, grateful for the sound of his snoring because it means he's alive.)
...Love is piecing together sections of workshop floor matting for me to lie on when I do sit-ups, so my tailbone doesn't get bruised anymore.
(Love is subscribing to Men's World e-newsletters and forwarding the good ones to him to keep him healthy.)
...Love is not nagging each other because the bathroom he/she is in charge of cleaning is a borderline health problem.
...Love is hanging on to and supporting each other through the illness and death of a parent, financial worries, and the never-ending ups and downs of having children.
...Love is saying to hell with everything that needs to be done around here to play ping-pong...or go for long walks along the creek...or travel virtually to Ireland or Istanbul or Italy with Rick Steves...
...Love is still joking around, still having fun, still laughing at each other and at ourselves after almost 32 years...and hoping we have at least another 32 together.
The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.
~Pope St. Gregory the Great
What do you think "Love is..."?
Share with me!
(If your comment doesn't show up right away, don't worry. Typepad's new anti-spam system is dumping them all into my spam folder. But I'll find them. Thank you!)
This is re-post from 2010 that I spiffied up in honor of Valentine's Day and the 1st Annual Valentine's Day Boost-My-Blog Party hosted by a Rural Journal and Two Bears Farm. Follow the links to check out other participants.
Do you iron?
I don't. I mean, I can, but I haven't in a long, long time.
My husband will vouch for that. He stopped buying shirts with wrinkle-inclined collars and button panels when it became clear he'd have to iron them himself.
"I buried a lot of my ironing in the back yard." ~ Phyllis Diller
But yesterday I had no choice. We go through a lot of white napkins at the winery bistro where I work and they come out of the dryer a mess of wrinkles.
I knew I couldn't just bury them, so there I stood beside the board, elbow up high, working that hot iron back and forth across a white cloth napkin. I pressed and pushed and pressed and pushed, but no luck. The wrinkles would not go away.
Then a faint memory stirred. Ah, yes. Steam. I found the magic button, and poof! the wrinkles vanished with just a fraction of my previous effort.
I fell into a rhythm, back and forth, back and forth, thumb on steam button. One napkin after another wrinkle-free, folded, and ready for tables. My mind wandered. I had forgotten about that part of ironing, too, how it's so conducive to thinking about any- and everything.
And this is what my thoughts brought back to me from their journey abroad...
The napkins are like us, starting out all neat and tidy and folded just right. Then we head out into the world. We can't help but be affected, usually ending up used and dirty. We make changes, clean ourselves up, only to realize that, if we take a hard look at ourselves, our hearts are still all wrinkled. We can work and work and work, but our own effort just isn't enough. We need help.
We need steam, and I believe it comes in the form of the Holy Spirit. We just have to ask for help and it swoops in and smooths things out. The trick is we have to acknowledge the wrinkles and want to get rid of them.
Today is the first day of Lent and that's what it's all about, taking a good honest look at your heart, your soul, your life, seeing the wrinkles, recognizing we need help with the toughest ones, and depending on the Holy Spirit to help us.
Yes, that's how my brain works sometimes. Do you see now why my kids hate my analogies? I'm way out of practice now. You should have heard the ones I came up with when they were teenagers.
But for those of you who read all the way through this, I have something to lighten things up: "How to Survive Lent 2013 or What We Gave Up". I may be Catholic, but I still have a sense of humor.
So...are you giving anything up for Lent? If not, here's my back-up question...do you iron?
"My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint."
~ Erma Bombeck
We don't iron these colored ones. I hope you can't tell. I don't want to have to start, even if ironing is conducive to random analogical thinking.
(P.S. Update on the comment problem: I apologize if you've tried to leave a comment, but didn't see it. Typepad has a new, obviously over-agressive, spam blocker system, and all comments are being dumped into my spam folder. I even discovered some of my recent replies in there! I've notified Typepad and hope it's resolved soon. In the meantime, thank you for commenting. They're there - you just don't see them! And since I'm not getting email notifications, you're not receiving my replies.)
Love is patient, love is kind...
When I heard those words from First Corinthians at Mass Sunday, my mind drifted back to my wedding. Like so many other couples, we chose this as one of the readings in our ceremony, believing we would always be patient and kind with each other.
Well, we haven't. Not always.
It is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs...
Over the past thirty years I'm sure we've both committed each one of these sins. Marriage is tough. Pride is hard to swallow. Exhaustion and stress and differences of opinion on everything from kids and money to how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste just chip, chip, chip away at those bonds of love tying you together.
We've survived plenty of bumps. There have been times I didn't think we'd make it to the next week, much less the next anniversary, times I thought that bond had cracked right in two. But somehow each of us kept hanging on, and that bond would feel stronger than ever. For awhile.
I'm not taking a single day together for granted. Life is tricky.
It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
I believe this is true, if you're determined and stubborn and want it to be true bad enough to fight for it, to swallow your pride, to keep an open mind that perhaps your way isn't the only way.
To believe in your love for each other. To believe in God's love for each of you, and to ask for his love when your love isn't enough, which can happen all too often. To hang on to each other, no matter what.
When I stepped into my parents' home Sunday evening, the sound of running water drew me down the hallway to the bathroom. Water was pouring out of the shower head, thanks to a broken valve.
I discovered, from Daddy, it had been that way for more than 24 hours. Yikes, the water bill!
So first thing Monday morning, I called the plumber. Within thirty minutes, the dispatcher called to let us know someone was on their way...
...which upset Daddy, because Mama wasn't awake yet. He didn't want her to be disturbed. He worried more about her getting enough rest than that upcoming water bill.
Or...perhaps he worried she'd be mad and grumpy and he didn't want to deal with it.
After more than sixty years, their marriage is a dance of irritation and protectiveness, of tender looks and looks that could kill. Time is flying by faster than ever for them and instead of being able to savor their time together, they're too busy with trips to the emergency room and doctor's appointments and their kids trying to tell them what to do.
They're worried about each other. Self-sacrificing. If there was ever a time their love wasn't unconditional, it's long gone.
But I can't forget those four years in the middle when they were divorced. No contact whatsoever. I still don't know the details leading up to the split, and I don't want to.
Lord knows there were enough of them. They had faced tons of obstacles, from problems with kids and money to in-law issues. You name it...it happened to them. So I'm guessing there was a lack of patience and kindness, and a surplus of pride, anger, and record-keeping. How could there not be?
And yet...somewhere inside of them hope survived. Love persevered. Love didn't fail.
I bet they wish they could go back in time and get those four years back. I bet they wish they could have just listened to each other and not wasted so much time apart.
In just a few short months my oldest will be getting married. I guess that's why my mind is reflecting on all of this. I wish I could tell them that it will be easy, but I think they already know that it won't.
I do believe that the wisdom in these verses will see them through the inevitable bumps; I just hope they do a better job remembering them than we have.
Watching my parents, I know it's worth it. So, no matter what, I'll keep believing in us.
Think about your life.
If you found a way to go back in time to some point in it, would you try to change anything? Would you take advantage of the chance for a do-over? Perhaps swallow some angry words you've always wished you could take back?
Or would you leave things just as they are?
I've been thinking about that as I read Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster for the BlogHer Book Club.
For years I said I had no regrets, that I wouldn't change a thing if I had the chance because of my wonderful husband and kids. I've had my share of downs, but overall, I love my life. I'm blessed and I know it.
But the truth is I do have some regrets, and if I had the chance, I'd high-tail it back to the fall of 1977, breakup with my then-boyfriend and attend all of my college classes, instead of driving to Galveston and moping on the seawall about how bad things were in my life right then. (Why do some of us do that, make bad situations worse by creating new problems for ourselves?)
Without the distraction of a cheating boyfriend chipping away at my self-esteem, and by keeping up with my classes, I think dropping out a year later would never have crossed my mind.
I would still have met Tom, because I believe it was part of God's plan for us to be together. (I don't think it was His original plan for me to drop out - I think He just cleaned up what I messed up. He's good at that. Lots of practice, unfortunately.)
With a Chemical Engineering degree in hand, I could still have gone to work at the DuPont chemical plant, where I made so many great friends.
But since I'm not a character in a novel like Lissy Ryder, the main character of Here I go Again who does get a chance for a do-over, I'll just give thanks that God is able to make the best of our bad decisions if we let Him.
Lissy is a former high school mean girl, all grown up and dealing with the fruits of her lifelong sharp tongue and selfish ways. She is forced to move back in to her childhood home when her husband files for divorce and she loses her Public Relations job.
Her twenty-year high school reunion approaches and, when she sees that many of her former classmates are huge successes, she gets the idea of starting her own PR company and soliciting business at the reunion.
Unfortunately, but understandably, all of her classmates despise her. Even her sweet, long-suffering best friend Nicole finally dumps her on one of those former classmates when Lissy gets drunk at the reunion.
But thanks to that classmate, Lissy is able to relive a few weeks of her high school senior year, where she makes better decisions and manages to be a kinder, gentler version of her previous seventeen-year-old self.
Waking up in the new present, she's pleased to find that everything has gone her way this time. She's rich, the owner of a highly successful PR company, and still happily married.
Of course, the butterfly effect being what it is, everything isn't as great as it seems at first...but I won't divulge anymore in case you decide to read it yourself, which I think you should just because it's so funny.
I did have a few issues with it:
But overall I enjoyed it. It kept me turning the pages to see what was going to happen next. I felt it was thought provoking, triggering a lot of what-ifs.
And, as I said, it was just funny! Lissy is telling the story and her running commentary is bold and hilarious. I laughed enough that I forgave Lancaster for assuming I must be a mean snob since I was voted Homecoming Queen.
If you get a chance to read it, I think you'll enjoy it. If nothing else, you'll give thanks your high school years are behind you.
What about you? Is there anything you would change if you could travel back in time?
P.S. This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own. Join the discussions on the book here.
A thick blanket of fog settled on the Hollow every morning earlier this week. Heading out on my walks, I could only see a few steps ahead before the fog obscured the path.
Isn't that the perfect metaphor for life, that our paths are hidden, clouded by so many unknowns? And yet we know there's still a path, even if we can't see for sure where it is leading us. All that is clear is this moment and perhaps a few seconds beyond, before the future becomes veiled. There's nothing to do but put one foot ahead of the other, keep moving forward, with faith that we'll make good decisions and end up where we're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about choices lately, triggered by my dad being rushed to the hospital again night before last following another mini-stroke. I can't run down there this time to see him or help my mom; I can't afford to take off work.
Tinged with guilt, my mind wants to drift to "what-if"s...
...What if I hadn't dropped out of college? What if I had continued taking college classes when we first moved instead of putting it off until the house was built ten years later, when we were facing tuition x 3 for the kids? What if I had snagged something full-time years ago instead of juggling all those part-time jobs while the kids were in school?
Would we be so stressed about money now? Would I be retired, able to pursue writing and photography at my leisure as a second career, and run down to help my parents whenever they needed me?
Perhaps. But perhaps not. I mean, really, flirting with remorse over what-ifs is such a waste of time, isn't it? The path was just as foggy then as it is today. And at least I thought I was making good decisions. I had a plan...the path just didn't go in the direction I thought it would.
And what about my parents? What if they had moved near us as we hoped? What if Daddy would take his medicine and eat the way he's supposed to to control his blood sugar? Other people's decisions often affect us as much as our own.
And now I'm peering into the fog, with more decisions to make. Tom suggested I go back to school full-time. He figures two years should do it. But, as the one who pays the bills, I know how tight we're already stretched. I mean, we're jumping-up-and-down-to-get-our-jeans-on tight.
Maybe you can get a scholarship for being old, a little voice whispers, and I feel a flame of hope flare in my heart that I thought was completely snuffed...the one that dreams of getting a degree.
But then what? Would I teach? Would I be able to get a job, even with a degree, at my age? Would I have time for my writing and photography, or have to put those on a shelf for awhile?
Decisions, decisions. Will this fog ever lift?
To decide is to walk facing forward with nary a crick in your neck from looking back at the crossroads.
~Betsy Cañas Garmon
P.S. Thanks to Vanessa for reminding me of this prayer by Thomas Merton...
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.
This morning raindrops plopped on my head, making me think of that old B.J. Thomas song. I couldn't remember all the lyrics, just the "cryin's not for me... nothin's worryin' me" part.
Perfect timing, because as of yesterday afternoon, my dad's back in the hospital with a suspected stroke.But even though I shed a few tears and battled those little worry demons, I didn't hop in my car and head to Houston this time, instead trusting my siblings who live there to take care of my parents.(Hallelujah!, Daddy's stable and not showing any signs of paralysis.)
Alas, all day the heavy gray sky sat on the hills surrounding me, obscuring them from my vision, and I thought, how appropriate for the cusp of a new year that seems foggy with changes I can sense but not visualize enough to predict their direction or the effects they will leave behind.
One I know without a doubt will be wonderful - my oldest will be getting married in the spring. I can't wait for that, for the tears and laughter and dancing of that night...for the light of love in their eyes and for officially embracing a new daughter.
And, call me crazy, but I'm still optimistic that, even in this economy, there's someone out there who wants to hire a 53-year-old female with an eclectic work record and no degree for a fascinating job with good pay and benefits...and even with a full-time job I'll be able to finish my children's book and get back to my great-grandfather's story by the end of the year...and continue building my photography business. And sleep.
But I know some of the changes waiting in the mist of this new year will be tough. Tough enough that I don't want to imagine them at all, even as I try to prepare myself for them.
That gray cloud has settled inside of me today, I'm afraid. Tom and I usually have a party to welcome the new year, but this year we procrastinated more than usual and just never got around to planning it. I could dress up and go to a friend's party, but with Daddy in the hospital, I think I'm just going to stay home. It feels like a night to whisper goodbye and hello.
For the past few days I've been trying to think of my word for the year, hoping the right one would find me. And, thanks to the mist and fog obscuring the hills, it did:
Faith to keep moving forward, even when my path is obscured. Faith that I'll have the wisdom I need. Faith I'll find a way to be a light for others...that I'll be flexible in the pushes and pulls to come in this next year...that I will know when to fly and when to perch and rest for awhile.
Faith that there will be enough money, enough love, enough time. Enough respect and trust. Enough whatever...which shouldn't be hard, because we've always had at least just enough in the past.
Wishing all of you tons of blessings, love, light, and faith in 2013!
Thinking of those babies in Connecticut tonight, and their teachers. The families left in mourning.
Thinking of the young man and how desperately sad he must have been...how full of despair and darkness...to do what he did.
Vowing to try harder to be a light in this world, instead of contributing to the darkness.
There will come a day when I will want to dance, but my feet will stumble.
So I will dance today.
There will come a day when I'll want to help, but my hands will fumble.
So I will help today.
There will come a day when I will want to say "I love you", but my voice will falter.
So I will say "I love you" today.
I bought a Powerball Lottery ticket today. It had been so long, I wasn't even sure how to do it, but the nice kid behind the counter was very helpful.
I'm not sure why I decided to throw my numbers into that hat. I know what the odds of winning are (ridiculous!) but in all honesty, I have a better chance of winning the lottery than writing a million-dollar bestseller or having a screenplay turned into a real movie.
And since that whole "real job" thing isn't panning out the way I hoped, what the heck?
So I bought my ticket and have spent the afternoon thinking positive and compiling a list of what I'll do with the money. First, I'll pay off all of our loans and relish being debt-free. (Whew! That feels good!)
Then, if there's anything left...
Ha! Just joking. We're in deep, but not $360,200,000 deep, which is the estimated cash value we'd, I mean, we will receive. I opted for cash payout rather than spreading it out over 30 years. Geez, I probably won't be alive in 30 years!
Anyway, back to the rest of my list:
What I won't do:
The thing is, except for getting out from under that debt-weight and a new couch and a good car for Tom, I don't need anything. My life is pretty dang awesome the way it is. Heck, if we could just get out from under our debt, I wouldn't mind keeping the old couch!
If you win tonight (if you bought a ticket) what will you do?
I spent too many years day-dreaming near the tree's trunk, playing it safe, following guidelines I formed for myself (from who knows where) on how I should act, what I should do, who I should be.
Then Fifty drew near, in all her daring glory, taunting me, teasing me, luring me out onto the limb because, after all, that's where the fruit is, and to reach it you have to take risks.
Not the foolhardy, life threatening kinds, but ones involving your heart, your pride. You have to risk embarrassment and failure. You have to not care.
I stepped gingerly at first, but soon forgot my fear because of the amazing view, the possibilities that opened wide around me. I didn't worry about a safety net, but determined to fly higher, rather than fall.
Out on the limb I feel the breeze, reminding me to breathe. Out on the limb I learn to balance between my dreams and my responsibilities.
Out on the limb I remember to dance.
This is my contribution to Kelly Letky's Celebration of Life link-up, in honor of her 50th birthday. Read more on her post at Mrs. Mediocrity.
Happy birthday, Kelly!
I dusted and vacuumed yesterday.
I'm not sure how long it had been since it was last done, but let me put it this way: I keep photos of the kids on a table near the front door and change them out for each season or holiday (sometimes the extent of my decorating) - and my poor kids were still stuck in summertime, playing on the beach. They totally missed Halloween and playing in piles of leaves and dressing up as Pilgrims.
(Translation: I haven't dusted since before Halloween! I wasn't joking when I said I needed my Dad to come up and clean my house!)
My house is by no stretch of the imagination "clean", but at least the main rooms appear presentable and my Christmas decorations have moved from the downstairs storage room to the middle of the livingroom, thanks to 2/3 of my kids. That's major progress, believe me.
However, a few years ago the decorations spent more time in those boxes in the middle of the room than they did spread out where we could see them. I'm determined that doesn't happen again this year, but at the same time, I'm determined not to stress about it.
Or about gifts, either. I don't want to go totally giftless, like last year, because I believe giving is a beautiful way to show your love, but I'm not going to let that aspect of Christmas stress me out, either, or feel compelled to go even broker in my giving.
Instead, I want to focus on family and friends and my faith during this season of Advent. I want to slow down and savor and think and simplify.
There will be parties and gatherings with friends. I'll need to work, both at my paying jobs and on my book to beat the December 19th deadline. I'll have trips back and forth to Houston to help my parents with doctor's appointments and whatever else they need.
But over and above it all, I want to stay centered and focused. I want to breathe and love and give thanks. I want to look inward and prepare my soul.
I'm wishing that in the days ahead you are able to slow down and breathe and find meaning in the trappings of the season, whatever they may be for you.
"Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not the expensive gifts that call for time and money. We can communicate this joy simply: with a smile, a kind gesture, a little help, forgiveness. And the joy we give will certainly come back to us.…Let us pray that this presence of the liberating joy of God shines forth in our lives."
~ Pope Benedict XVI
My Uncle Bobby passed away this week. Daddy's younger brother.
Like Daddy and the other men in his family, Uncle Bobby had suffered from heart and vascular problems for years, but it was a slow battle with cancer that took him away. He was a sweet man. In my heart I will always see him smiling, ready to laugh about something.
That's him in the photo below, wearing my sister's wig, flanked by his son, Jeff, and yours truly, the Tomboy in ripped jeans.
I'm grateful that I got to speak to Uncle Bobby a few times recently and assure him of my love and prayers. He called often to check on Daddy after his surgery. I'm glad they got to speak to each other, too.
Jeff stopped by my parents' house on my mom's birthday with a satchel full of old photo albums he'd found at his parents' house that had belonged to our aunt and grandmother. We opened them and stepped back into the years when we were oblivious to time.
When you're young, you can't imagine standing where your parents stand. You never dream that someday you'll be one of those pillars holding up the family, trying to help make decisions about things you had been happily oblivious to just months before.
Now time is tick, tick, ticking in my head. I feel the weight of it on my shoulders. I see, more than I ever did when I first became a mother, that circle of life, and I know that one day my kids will be taking my place as the pillars.
But I remind myself that, if my kids are as blessed with oblivion as I have been, that time is still years away, and that I need to live each of these days, these years, to the fullest, just as my parents still do, to the best of their abilities.
I can't let the tick-ticking or the weight on my shoulders keep me from noticing blessings like cool old red trucks on display along the highway...
I pass Timeless Texas Classics on my way to and from Houston. Usually I travel too early or too late, and it's locked up. The old cars are tucked safely to bed up near the building.
But this past Wednesday the gate was open and these beauties were lined up close to the road. They smiled and waved at me, but I drove on by, in a hurry and too caught up in all I needed to do once I got home.
Then I realized the gift of the moment and made a U-turn. I spent several minutes walking up and down, snapping their photos, relishing that bit of suspended time.
Old cars and trucks make me smile - especially old trucks painted cherry red like the beauty above. And when you're a pillar - no, especially when you're a pillar - you need to do things that make you smile.
It really made me smile to hang out with a bunch of twenty-somethings that same night in honor of my soon-to-be daughter-in-law's 25th birthday.
It was a little over six years ago when Tommy went to a friend's cousin's high school graduation party and fell in love. It's hard to believe Kirby was just eighteen when we first met her (and fell in love with her, too.)
I love that all of my kids are living in Austin now, close enough to wish them happy birthdays in person.
Despite the challenges of the past few months, I'm still loving this season of my life.
I haven't been dancing as much as I'd like, but I can still dance. I can still walk down my dirt road and climb hills with my sweetie and puppies. I can hop in the car and meet friends for dinner... when we have time.
Time is the biggest challenge.
I haven't had time to finish my photography website or post new samples to sites where I can sell my photos or a dozen other things I need to do for my business, but this afternoon I get to photograph a beautiful family for the second year in a row. Last year the weather didn't cooperate and we had to take a few shots inside, so this year I'm going prepared with lights I borrowed from a friend, and I've been brushing up on how-to's of indoor portraits. Just in case.
I can still learn.
I'm also preparing for my writer's group meeting tomorrow evening. Thursday I was gloriously stranded at home alone for hours because Tom's car is out of commission and he needed mine to get to work so I spent them working on my children's book. Despite all that time, I barely eked out one short chapter, but I also overhauled my outline and fine tuned previous chapters, things I couldn't have done without several undistracted hours.
The next few chapters should come easier, and that's good, because I'm holding on to my goal of finishing my book by December 19, so I can submit it for critique before February's conference.
I hope whatever season of life you're in right now, you live it to its fullest. Let's make a pact not to waste a single moment of this sacred time we've been given... and especially the time we have with our loved ones.
Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.
~ W. Somerset Maugham
Today is the first ever Mindful Writing Day, and I almost missed it.
Small Stones is a term used by Fiona Robyn, from Writing Our Way Home, to describe a moment when you stop, focus and really pay attention to one thing and write it down, using words that evoke the senses.
I began gathering my stones in Methodist Hospital last week, while waiting there with my mother during my dad's surgery. I'm not sure if I did it right, but in any case, these are a few stones I gathered to share. Others gathered today...more private...I've tucked away in my heart.
Low voices. Muffled laughter. Squeaks and rattles and hums of carts and curtains and beds. Seconds tick in slow motion. Nearness and life press into heart and memory.
Momma's breath, rising, falling in sleep. Curtain-filtered light softens the lines on her face so close to my own, erases the years to a time when she was the night watchman who guarded my slumber.
Hospital time, measured in tap-tap-taps of IV drips, a succession of television shows, and nurse visits.
Purses and bags of hospital-waiting necessities dangle from above. Snacks, medicine, writing material, books. Daddy's street clothes rest in Mama's lap, wrapped in a clear bag. Excuse me, excuse me, and everyone smiles, opens doors, makes room for the pretty lady in the wheelchair and her klutzy driver.
Check out the other stones on Writing Our Way Home and on the Mindful Writing Day Facebook page. And join me in the Rivers of Stone Challenge this January - write one stone every day.
"Pay more attention and fall in love with the world." ~ Fiona Robyn
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers, why not gather your own bouquet?
For the first time in almost a week, I went for a walk with my puppies this morning. I had a chance to work at the elementary school, but I turned it down, and I've only felt the slightest twinge of guilt about it.
The problem with juggling mutliple part-time jobs is never having any paid time off. Ergo, you feel guilty for taking a day off.
But I needed a day to breathe. To stop and consider and catch-up and regroup and indulge and tackle big chunks of projects. I needed a day at home, after days away, and days ahead already spoken for.
I discovered that flowers are blossoming everywhere, like it's a second spring. Purple and yellow explode along the roadside and spread into the woods. I think this happens every autumn, but for some reason it always catches me by surprise - but such a wondrous surprise! They kept my camera busy.
Belle and Max were overjoyed that I was walking with them. What a great way to start the day, having someone be overjoyed to spend time with you.
Then, for the first time in weeks - maybe months - I played my drums after our walk. I vowed again, as usual, to play a little bit every day from now on.
But even as I said it, I knew it was an empty vow. When you're trying to work as much as possible to help pay bills, plus trying to get a business started and write a book and take care of your family and every weekend you're not working there is something exciting going on out of town like high school reunions... well, playing the drums gets pushed way down on the list. But it was still fun today.
Next, I ran on the treadmill. As with the morning walks, it had been almost a week since I'd worked out, so I went easy on myself. I ran three miles, but let myself jog at a slower pace.
(It's funny. Lately I've dreaded my workouts, chafing at the time it takes, thinking of a million other things I need to do instead, like a kid making excuses to get out of doing her homework. But this morning, after not being able to work out for so long, I savored the opportunity. Weird, huh?)
I spent the afternoon focused on my budding photography business, specifically, working toward a website. I purchased the domain and tomorrow, budget drained, I'm going to teach myself CSS and whatever else I need to know to build and design it.
A lot of work, perhaps, but I'm just adding flowers to my bouquet. They come in all different shapes and sizes and colors.
I hope you continue to add to yours.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who nagged me to send those photos to Marilyn. I'm happy to report I did it! And if you're interested, I posted the photos on "For Marilyn, at long last" on my photography blog.
As she has for more than ten years, my sister joined me and my girlfriends at the beach this past weekend.
From my earliest memory, Brenda has been my closest friend, and, along with my mother, my role model and inspiration. Despite the eight years between us and my bratty personality, when I was little she often let me tag along with her. She drove me and my friends places, and as I got older, was there whenever I needed support or just someone to laugh or cry with.
When we were younger, we spent lots of time together (she was the best big sister ever!) but eventually husbands, kids, and my move to another town made it difficult to have more than brief visits. So I really looked forward to these annual trips to the coast and long hours to relax together.
However, this year I was torn. Brenda's Parkinson's disease hasn't been an issue, but a hip injury isn't healing as well as we hoped and, as much as I wanted to see her, I worried the trip would aggravate the injury, that she would overdo it between sitting in a vehicle for hours and walking too much, even with her cane or walker. She had taken several trips the past year and always seemed to have a setback and be in pain afterwards.
On her part, she worried she would be a burden on everyone, that her mobility issues would prevent her from doing any cooking or cleaning.
That's when my friends proved they've embraced her as their sister, too...
"Does anyone think this woman would be a burden? Should I just go get her & force her into my vehicle? Is there a rule that she HAS to shop or cook? Wouldn't we all take care of each other? Brenda.....PLEEEZ come with me!"
"Absolutely no rule that says she has to do a thing, Brenda we need you there. there are plently of us to take care of the grocery stop, the preparing of food. You just come relax."
And Mary Kay pointed out that she needed someone to stay and watch movies with her while the rest of us went dancing.
So once again, Brenda joined us in Port A, and I'll be eternally grateful to those wonderful friends who helped soothe her fears and mine so I could have another great weekend with my big sister.
Although she's always looked forward to taking that drive alone, this year Brenda hitched a ride with Patti, my sweet Deer Park Diva friend who joined us this year. And everyone stepped up to help her with whatever she needed, whether it was a drink, a steady hand, or just company.
Brenda has always been independent, always been the one to step up and help others, never worried about what anyone thought about her. She's stubborn and doesn't take crap off of anyone, but no matter what hurdle or trial she faced, her Pollyanna spirit shone through and helped her find a bright side.
So I know it was tough for her to admit her limitations, but even tougher to ask for help. To accept that help. But as usual, she faced that fear. By voicing it, she zapped it of its strength and found a way around it. And I'm glad.
What would I do if I were not afraid?
~ Martha E. Manglesdorf
I thought of Brenda when I read that quote yesterday, then I asked...What am I afraid of? What am I letting fear keep me from doing?
In the past, the fear of failure kept me from trying new things. While I'm no longer afraid of rejection slips, they still make me wince.
Too often I've let the fear of other people's opinions guide my steps instead of being true to myself and having faith in my own opinions. I've been afraid of speaking in public or standing in front of large crowds. (It kept me from taking part in my senior class play.) Now it doesn't bother me. Much.
Fear for my kids - for their health, happiness, work... heck, their very souls - hovers in the recesses of my heart, but I'm much better about turning that fear over to God and trusting Him to take care of it and show me how to help. I've found handing fears over to God is a great way to get rid of them.
A little harder to let go of is my fear of sinking deeper into debt. It's that fear - and the fear of Tom keeling over from the stress of it - that keeps me from diving headfirst into my writing and photography, buying equipment and books and attending all the conferences and courses that are "recommended".
But I've torn free from it enough to keep moving forward with those dreams, finding my way along the old, slower (free!) highways instead of the faster tollways.
So... what would you do if you weren't afraid?
I stepped out for my walk before the sun stretched into the Hollow this morning and right away considered running back in for a sweater...or at least a shirt with sleeves.
A 'cold' front blew through our part of Texas yesterday, knocking the high temperatures down from the triple digits all the way to the 90's, and dragging our morning lows into the 60's with it.
In some parts of the country where highs rarely reach the 90's, I'm sure that sounds like a summer heat wave. But here, it's just a welcome sign that autumn is knocking on the door.
It's all about perspective.
The same is true about age.
"Old age is fifteen years older than I am." ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
Last night I helped my friend Conni celebrate her 50th birthday. She doesn't technically turn 50 for about a week, but her husband and daughter surprised her with a party. Another friend, Nancy, and her husband Paul came in town to go to the party.
It just so happened to be Nancy's actual birthday - she turned 48.
Babies, I found myself thinking. Just babies.
Babies Nancy and Conni on the left, holding up their elders on the right, me and Cheryl.
And then I gave thanks for my older friends and siblings, to whom I will forever be a youngster, as well as my high school classmates, who will eternally remain 18 in my eyes, and who (I hope) will always see me the same way... even though we are trudging forward into our middish fifties now.
"True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country." ~Kurt Vonnegut
And now for more sweet!s of the past week...
Monday: grandpuppies; your sons and their friends moving heavy furniture for you when your husband's back decides to go on strike; pulling together with other friends to support one in need; seeing one of your posts featured on Pioneer Woman's sidebar so that you get lots of hits on your blog
Tuesday: lighting candles and praying in a quiet church; running into good friends in the grocery store; grilling a steak without setting anything on fire (long story)
Wednesday: the stillness of morning, just after dawn; chatting with longtime parishioners you rarely get to see; time to catch up on your blog-reading
Thursday: a twinkle in an old puppy's eye when playing with his puppy; scratching dusty things off your to-do list; phone calls with your mother-in-law, daughter, daddy, sister, sister-in-law, and mother, all in one day
Friday: a dog's wiggly joy at going for a walk; witnessing those in need helped by members of your local St. Vincent de Paul Society
Saturday: clouds kissed pink by the rising sun; discounts; high temperatures finally dropping from the triple digits to the nineties; celebrating the birthdays of two dear friends; surprise parties; evenings on the back deck, catching up with old friends
Sunday: a chill in the morning air; a lone butterfly posing for you long enough to snap several close-up photos with your iPhone, even though your dogs are skirmishing nearby; attending Mass with your confirmation sponsor, who happens to be a dear friend; time for a breakfast taco before heading to work after church; remembering your father-in-law on what would have been his 83rd birthday (Happy birthday, Pop! )
What were some of the sweet!est moments of your past week?
How do you deal with disappointment,
and what lessons do you have to share from those experiences?
That's BlogHer's Life Well Lived Getting Happy question of the week and it's had me sorting through my past, trying to remember disappointing moments in my life. It was tougher than I thought it would be - I think the way I deal with disappointment is to accept the feeling, try to learn from it, forgive or forget as necessary, and move on.
But I finally dug up a few disappointments: crumbled friendships that I thought were rock solid, some broken promises, missed opportunities, rejection letters...
I remember like it was yesterday finding that letter in my mailbox...the one telling me the Texas magazine wanted to publish and pay me for the very first personal essay I had ever submitted anywhere in my entire life. I was flying so high from their acceptance and the validation of my writing that I'm sure my feet never touched the ground on my way back to the house.
The low that followed when I sat down to write again was fueled by the fear of rejection. It was so scary sending that next essay out into the world, sure that people were going to read it, shake their heads, and whisper that my first success must have been a fluke.
But I made myself write it and send it out anyway. I also read all I could about famous writers who had received numerous rejection letters. It helped prepare me for my own inevitable rejection letter.
In a way, it was a relief to get that first rejection out of the way. I was disappointed, of course, but I lived. And I also learned, because the editor, Ken Hammond, let me know his reasons and encouraged me to try again.
Before the Houston Chronicle quit publishing the Texas magazine, it rejected several of my essays, but accepted and published two more. And one they rejected received an honorable mention in a Writer's Digest contest.
The thing is, disappointment is just part of life. If you want to experience the highs... if you want to appreciate the highs... well, you have to expect the lows.
You probably get bonus points for appreciating them, too.
How do you deal with disappointment,
and what lessons do you have to share from those experiences?
I've been sitting here listening to Alabama's Greatest Hits, getting all sappy, thinking back to another Friday the 13th almost 30 years ago when I said "I do"...
... and thinking even further back to that night at Gilley's just a year earlier when Alabama sang "Feels so right..." and Tom and I were the only ones on the dance floor...
We weren't really the only ones dancing, of course, but it felt that way, and it already felt so right being there in his arms, just twenty-four hours after seeing his face for the very first time.
It felt so right that if you had told me back then there would be days in the next 31 years when we didn't know if we'd make it, days when we didn't even like each other, I would have laughed at you.
Who knew marriage could sometimes feel like running a three-legged race in the dark over a dangerous obstacle course?
You would think that time together would help you grow stronger, to work more like a team, that the obstacles would get smaller and easier to maneuver with every passing year.
But just recently so many of our friends have gone their separate ways after decades together that I'm wondering if midlife is perhaps the biggest obstacle of them all? An avalanche of issues left lying unresolved or ignored, like child-rearing philosophies and financial stresses and unfulfilled dreams and buried jealousies and hurt feelings and wounded pride, piling up higher and higher until all it takes is a look or one sarcastic word to send it all crashing.
How does anyone survive something like that without superhuman powers?
The thing is, many do. I'm grateful we have so far. Very, very grateful.
My arsenol of secret weapons includes remembering how right it felt in those first few days... that "Oh, it's you!" realization when I first looked into his eyes... and believing with a certainty that erased all traces of agnosticism in my mind and heart that God brought us together.
However, that certainty doesn't lull me into taking it for granted our marriage will survive the obstacles still waiting for us there in the dark of the future without a fierce determination to get through them together, and plenty of secret weapons.
In fact, I think that may be another secret weapon - don't take your marriage, or your love, for granted. Ever. Period.
But the secret weapon I use the most? Prayer.
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
~ From Kahlil Gibran on Love and Marriage
*thank you for taking this photo of us, Rae! It's still one of my favorites!
I swayed on the porch swing, listening to Dave Matthews harmonize with crickets, cicadas, and two puppies breathing.
I leaned back, contemplating the contrast of shadowed leaves against a dusky blue sky, noting the one early star peaking out from the eaves on my outward swing.
No wind. No leaves rustling on the branches. No thunder or lightning or barking dogs.
My day's list wasn't yet completed, but I knew those moments on the porch, just being there, being still, breathing with the puppies, were as important as any to-do left on tomorrow's doorstep.
“Sometimes I feel like if you just watch things, just sit still and let the world exist in front of you-sometimes I swear that just for a second time freezes and the world pauses in its tilt. Just for a second. And if you somehow found a way to live in that second, then you would live forever.”
~ Lauren Oliver, Delirium
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
~ Declaration of Independence
An armadillo shell lies on my back deck. I gave up tossing it into the woods. The dogs just kept bringing it back.
But all the stinky part is gone, and it makes Max and Belle happy, snacking on it like a huge pork rind, so I just leave it.
Happiness is more elusive for us humans, though, isn't it? Even the Declaration of Independence refers to "the pursuit" of happiness as an inalienable right, not happiness itself.
I blame BlogHer for making me so philosophical about happiness today. Their Life Well Lived "Getting Happy" question of the week is What are your favorite resources for increasing and sustaining happiness?
But how do you get happy to begin with?
"Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
I love that quote. Our happiness can't depend on things or people or circumstances, but on our attitudes about them. It has to come from the inside.
That's easier said than done, of course. That's why there are so many therapists.
"No one is guaranteed happiness. Life just gives us time and space. It's up to us to fill it with joy and meaning."
~from a poster of pithy inspirational quotes that hangs in my bathroom and I love very much
Over time I've discovered three things that fill my life with joy and meaning, and therefore serve as the bedrock for my happiness and the answer to BlogHer's question:
Giving. Loving. Appreciating.
No matter what happens to us in life, no matter how little control we have over people or events or circumstances, we can always love (well, you might have to ask God to help)... we always have something to give, even if it's just our time or our prayers... and we can always find at least one little thing to appreciate, to give thanks for, even if it's just the chance to start over with a new day.
"Even if happiness forgets you for a little bit, never completely forget about it."
~ Jaques Prevert
Want to read more of my thoughts on happiness? I wrote about it almost four years ago HERE. It's a pretty good post, even if I do say so myself.
He was dirty and carried a cardboard sign ever closer to my car that said something like "Homeless Need a Job Hungry God Bless."
I focused on the "hungry" and rolled down my window. My son was with me, so I felt safe.
"Would you like some almonds?" I asked, holding out a snack-sized ziplock bag full of them. I always have almonds with me to ward off hunger pains in a healthy way when I'm out running errands or on a trip. I hate being hungry.
"That would be great," he answered, taking them from me. "Thank you."
The light changed. I moved forward slowly, but he walked faster toward the intersection where his backpack rested. I saw him drop his sign, but then we were past, continuing our journey.
I couldn't see what happened next in his. I like to think he dropped to the grass and ate some almonds, that he really was grateful for them and not just begging for drug or alcohol money.
I also like to think another car came by with a legitimate job offer for him and that he took it and turned his life around and then helped another corner person get moving in the right direction.
It doesn't hurt to think big.
Saturday: seeing a photography friend you met while at work again; talking about writing with other writers; finally hearing Duck Soup; dancing; summer nights on a hill above a lake
Sunday: watching babies and little kids in church; helping a dear friend celebrate her birthday; a call from your son; watching a movie with your sweetie
Monday: a call from a friend, even though it was mostly full of sad news; a walk at dusk
Tuesday: a glimpse of the Great Blue Heron and your duck family; watching your old puppy swim
Wednesday: being addressed as 'Young Lady' at the grocery store; a clean house; your husband alerting you to a painted bunting; forgetting all of your to-do's to just watch the birds at your feeder
Thursday: watching a baby duck grow day by day; relaxed hours playing catch-up with a dear friend; joining a bunch of crazy middle-aged women for a midnight movie
Friday: getting to sleep in after a late night out; iced coffee on a hot summer day; $400 in free jewelry; pink clouds; sangria on a summer night
Saturday: a road trip with your son (double sweet!... going to see your parents!); an in-person hug from your sister; eating at a Mexican food restaurant you've been going to for almost 50 years
Sunday: the sound of rain; your daddy's bacon, eggs and biscuits for breakfast; someone stopping to see if you need help when you stop on the side of the road to take photos of old trucks; having almonds in your car to give to someone in need
I'm not sure how they end up out of work and hungry, possibly homeless, these corner people who stand near intersections holding signs and taking almonds or spare change from open windows.
Did they drop out of school, like me? Are they habitual liars, to others and themselves, to the point that their families had to distance themselves? Do they even have families, a mother or father whose heart aches with worry and helplessness? Did one mistake lead to another and another until the weight of that burden crushed the possibility of any other chances or hope for better, and their only relief is from drugs or alcohol? Has misplaced pride bound them in its chains?
It's easy to jump to conclusions. To judge.
But I think it's a better use of time to smile and share your almonds, to say a prayer for the corner people and then one of thanks for all of your own blessings, like a job and home and family, and to vow never to take them for granted.
Because for all of us, life can change in an instant.
Just another good reason to keep track of the sweet! moments in each day... and to carry extra almonds in your car.
For more information about my photography, go to Barbara Shallue Photography