Sunday, June 27, 2010

Southern Girl

I am a Southern girl. I state this not so much as a point of pride, something that sets me apart or as an excuse, although I suppose it could be all three at different points in time. It is just reality. And while there are people I've met down here that seem to have the faint tinge of "Deliverance"...most of the people I know are just good old normal folks.

We name our children after their mother or grandmother...or we at least use someone's maiden name. It is not uncommon to see men with roman numerals such as III, IV, or V after their names. We have no problem with double names...for boys or girls. We'll shorten them to something unrecognizable anyway.

We monogram everything. Silver, napkins, purses, and towels. Lately, I've noticed monograms on the back window of cars. In "curlz" font, of course. Granted, those cars sporting monograms have to share back window space with the sticker from the SEC university of choice and the one from our child's school and/or most dominant recreational activity. You can learn a lot about people down here by just looking at the back of their car. "Car" is a loose term meaning more likely than not...truck, van, or SUV.

We are fairly rabid about football, youth baseball, and NASCAR. People take vacations at the beach or lake, and often...these are multigenerational. We take our chidren to Disney World, our spouses on a cruise, and ourselves to Europe, the Holy Land, or Hawaii.

Our eating habits are somewhat questionable in terms of fat grams and sodium intake, and every social activity is going to somehow revolve around food. We'll load up enough food to feed a small third world country just to tailgate, and we'll pay a ridiculous amount of money to be able to pitch a tent on the Quad.

We'll offer you a "Coke" but that is just a catch-all phrase for what other folks call "soda", "carbonated beverages" or "pop." The word "Pop" to us means "Grandfather" as do "PeePaw", "PawPaw" or "Poppy."

Our summers are either hot, ridiculously hot, or excrutiating...but we will bake on bleachers, sand, or a dock just the same. Tanning beds do a booming business here. Humidity is a given. It explains the big hair.

We celebrate everything from engagements to birthdays to weddings with gusto. We go to balls and parade our debutantes. We go to graduations with huge receptions and funerals are well attended. Most of us consider the latter to be a beginning for that person...rather than an ending...although we will mourn appropriately. That mourning process involves taking food to the family.

Our tea is sweet enough to stand a spoon in and we'll fry anything. Paula Deen is really indicative of the women here...big hair and all.

We watch our language, and we watch out for our neighbors. We try to do the right thing, and we try to make things right. We'll grow our own food, fish from our ponds, and make our own entertainment. Often, that entertainment involves a four wheeler, a hunting lodge, or a grill.

The song "Sweet Home Alabama" will make us shout out and we'll more often than not "turn it up" when it comes within earshot out of respect for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

We overlook a lot...but not the forgotten thank you note, white shoes after Labor Day, or someone acting trashy.

Our pronouns are mangled, we speak slowly, and we consider the words "y'all" and "ain't" perfectly acceptable contractions.

We preserve jellies, bounty from the garden, and traditions exceedingly well.

We do not consider it intrusive to call out somebody else's kid for something if it is done in love, and we all want to know every detail of someone's prom, wedding, and vacation. We live precariously through each other, and we pretty much know everybody else's business.

Our trucks are big as are our hearts.

We overlook far more than we expect, but we don't overlook it if we are not addressed correctly. The terms "yes ma'am" and "no sir" are taught to our little ones before they can pronounce all of their consonants properly.

For the most part we are family oriented, hard workers, and fun. We tolerate those among us who are not and roll our eyes when we find that these seem to be the only people any media outlet can find when interviewing a local resident after a natural disaster.

We are givers more than we are takers, and lovers more than we are fighters. But talk about our Mamas or show bad manners toward a lady, and you'll find that we might talk slowly, but we get riled up mighty fast.

Camo is worn in the winter, and flip flops are worn in the summer. We won't judge a woman by the way she dresses unless her boobs are hanging out or her clothes are way too tight, or if her toenails are unpainted.

But most of all, we are taught to appreciate the lifestyle that we have been blessed with, and even if we are transplanted elsewhere...we still have our love of home and our "ways."

Yes, I am a Southern girl. I don't always love everything about living here, but I can't see myself living anywhere else. I've lived the better part of my life in Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. I call people "sweetie" and try to remember my manners. There is a pitcher of sweet tea in my refrigerator, and ten jars of newly canned strawberry fig preserves sitting on my counter. The sun is rising over the pond in my backyard, and it is already 85 degrees outside. It is 6:31 a.m. In an hour, I'll be leaving for church, and I'll have sliced tomatoes that were purchased at the Farmer's Market yesterday with lunch.

I'll hang out a little with my dogs Dixie and Rebel, and will keep preparing my house for the company I'm expecting next week. My sister who lives in daughter home from college...and two little sweeties - ages 3 and 4 - who expect Aunt KK to give them sweet tea on demand. Life is good.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Time To Clean

In Ecclesiastes, there is a passage that the Byrds sang...and most of us know about "a time to live and a time to die..." and so on. I mean, John Grisham titled his book "A Time To Kill" from this same passage. It covers most activities that we humans engage one.

I don't see "A Time To Clean" in there anywhere.

This past week, I have been all about sorting and helping people move out the clutter in their lives. Hey, I've even done a closet purge of my own. We tend to enjoy the thrill of the hunt...purchasing. Disposal of what we've dragged home when it is no longer useful rarely gets done. Unless, of course, you have a serious aversion to clutter and are one of those annoying people who has a house with a place for everything.

I am SO not a member of your tribe.

While I tend to be selective about what I will keep, I also can be the epitome of procrastination. I'll weed through important documents and throw away the chaff, but I tend to get lost somewhere in getting them from the table to the final destination.

Lately, I have been encouraging people to get the "stuff" out of their lives. The truth is...most people will actually do it if they have someone sitting there with them. Someone who they are accountable to. Or just someone to listen to them whine.

Because getting rid of stuff involves some serious whining.

It usually centers around fear of releasing their "stuff" for fear that they'll never get it reorganized again, that they'll need it again someday, or that there is just too much of it and they don't know where to start.

I've seen perfectly sane adults come unglued by the suggestion that we throw out a television that no longer works, bank statements from twenty years ago, a non-functional (and ugly) clock that a husband kept for some unknown reason, a print of "Dogs Playing Poker" that was partially ripped out of the frame, and a box of cross-stitch magazines from the 1980s that hadn't been opened since it was boxed. In every case but the first one, I eventually won out. My grandmother - who passed away in 2004 - was not one who folded to pressure easily...and she died with every television she ever owned in her possession. Never mind that they didn't work. Someone might want them for she held on to them.

Sometimes people go the opposite direction and throw away everything without regard of who might be interested in it. My father-in-law told me that a relative decided to throw out some military records and a purple heart before it was rescued by one of the siblings. I know of people who chant "less is more, less is more" while unloading their entire closets, and then they go out and replace what they just got rid of in record time. In fact, I have a relative whose sole aim is to pare down so much that all we have to do when he passes on is to toss one bag containing all of his worldly possessions in the trash on our way back from the funeral home.

That might be a little more extreme than even I am comfortable with to tell the truth. But it does keep people from getting all worked up over the disposition of assets when somebody's house has to be cleaned out. There are families that no longer speak because somebody took more than their fair share of stuff from the house of a deceased relative. It happens.

I know the nightmare that some people live when their home is so cluttered that is no longer a home. They live in fear of inviting guests over because in every other area of their lives they seem perfectly sane.
But hoarding stuff just doesn't scream "I am in control of my life" any more than carrying around a lot of excess weight does. Neither are healthy.

Most of us would benefit by simplifying our lives. And simplifying our lives starts with taming our "stuff." Excess weight has been best described to me as "body clutter". That's what it is. Perhaps as I have started dealing with that excess...helping other people deal with their stuff clutter just seems to be a natural extension.

Because as long as we are investing a lot of time in stuff maintenance, finding what we need in the stuff, or mental energy in worrying about the mess that is our stuff, we are wasting the time we have needlessly. Maybe if we thought about the time we will have to invest in an item on the front end...we wouldn't be dealing with its disposition on the back end. How many treadmills, exercise bikes, and weight sets were purchased with the good intention of living healthier? But is it healthy to trip over these items in our packed houses? I think not. Seriously...join a gym...or turn on Fit TV and go at it.

I could write a rulebook about what to do in every room and it might actually help some people. But the easiest rule of thumb is this: Is it really worth it, or not?

If you haven't worn something in three years, t is two sizes bigger or smaller than you are currently, if it needs dry cleaning or repair and you don't want to pay for it, if it is covered in lint/cat hair, if it never fit quite right, if you feel like a caricature of yourself while wearing it, if you have one in every color but only wear two of the colors, if you look like a hoochie mama or your great grandmother in it and you aren't either of those things, if it is only able to be worn two days a year because it never gets cold enough, or is stained, ripped, hopelessly out of style or otherwise totally needs to go. I don't care how much it cost or who gave it to you.

The required period for holding onto gifts is 24 hours after you receive it. After that, if you have no use for it...part with it. It's supposed to be the thought that counts anyway.

If you borrowed it from someone...return it.

If it is easy and cheap to replace...get rid of it. This includes plastic cups that are probably taking over your cabinets, Cool Whip containers you are using for leftovers, souvenir coffee cups purchased on a trip a friend took in 1994, and a magnet from a local business - that has long since been out of business - that is featured prominently on your refrigerator.

If you no longer do whatever craft it is because nobody does it anymore or you can no longer see well enough to do it...get rid of your stash of supplies.

Limit yourself to one keepsake box per child. Not one box per year.

If you replace an item, get rid of the old one instead of putting the new one on top of it and carrying on. My grandmother did this with TVs. She used the old one as a TV stand for her new one. Wish I were kidding.

If you haven't used it in five years and can't imagine ever needing it again, wait a week...and then throw it out. This is the only category that presents something that I find baffling. Usually, immediately after finding something that we didn't know we were holding onto...we will find a use for that item or someone will say out of the blue that they are looking for one. If you haven't been enlightened with a use for it in a week...throw it out. But be prepared for this to happen. A friend of mine just unloaded a trash bag full of dry cleaning hangers. After the big orange trash truck gobbled them up, she found someone who needed them. Lucky for that recipient, she had only cleaned out half of the clothes. So, although she lost out on the first garbage bag...she was "blessed" with the second one. My friend dropped them off last week. Win-win, I say.

Oh, there are more...but these are the most common decisions that most of us have to make. Taming our "stuff" means that we will regain the time that we have thrown away in maintaining items that we really don't want or need. Time is precious, you know. So, perhaps there really is a time to clean...and that time is now.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Tonight I am sitting here writing instead of doing what I am supposed to be I have about 55 hours of potential cleaning time ahead of me (if I don't sleep...unlikely because I'm taking sinus medication and I currently feel like I might float off any minute).

For the past two weeks, I have been cleaning the things that we normally overlook unless we are big time OCD...baseboards, the inside of the microwave, the doors of the kitchen cabinets and behind the washer and dryer. From what I have cleaned already it is quite obvious that I need a little more OCD in my life.

"A little" is quite the understatement.

What I really need is a team from HGTV to come in and shame me into channeling my "inner Martha." She's in there somewhere. She hasn't seen the light of day in awhile...but every so often I'll get a burst of creativity. That creativity normally involves calling my friend Nedra to do something for me that I am woefully unequipped to do for myself. I just write a check and she makes it happen.

A couple of the projects I have to do this weekend include cleaning off the dining room table that has a computer, printer, packaging tape and envelopes, a tape measure, a Christmas ornament from 1983, an empty Zoe's Kitchen container that originally had chicken salad in it, an eBay package awaiting mailing, my purse, a camo shirt Brian has seriously outgrown, a mail receipt for something I sold through Amazon, "Chemistry: The Easy Way" (as if that is even possible...or believable), a receipt for Big Dave's haircut that transformed him back into something human from a wildebeast and a napkin holder with no napkins.

On the bar there is a Christmas candle, an empty water bottle, Brian's keys, a sad looking Christmas cactus, a phone that I bought for $14.99 that is almost impossible to hear from, a really nice candle that nobody will let me burn and a brown Sharpie. What SHOULD be there is the phone and nothing else. Yeah...right.

My dining room buffet is covered in stuff that is currently listed on eBay, two candle holders I got free at Ulta during Christmas and a uniform layer of dust. Nice.

The kitchen is clean except for the fifty homeless ears of corn that are currently on the counter and the unmatched dishtowels. Above the cabinets there are two old oil lanterns, a tray, a mirrored window and a nut chopper. Cute and decorated, it "ain't."

But tomorrow, my friend is coming over here to rectify that situation...or to at least guilt me into dealing with it on my own. I don't have a lot of clutter...but I do have a complete lack of decorating know-how. I tend to find something I like and emulate it. But sometimes, that can go horribly awry if left to my own devices. I'm not the most pathetic example of "decorating don'ts" you'll ever meet, but I'm certainly not a shining example of the "happy homemaker" either.

Although I really love my home, and it is definitely comfortable, I do long for the ability to make people envy my decorating know-how. Frankly, I consider it positive if someone visits and they don't laugh hysterically.

Well, I've been exhibiting avoidance behavior long I'm getting up and getting to it. I've done three loads of laundry and put them away so far...and the kitchen is clean...relatively speaking. Tomorrow is a big day for me...a day when I get my very own "Merry Maid" in the form of my friend, Bonnie. I doubt she'll be very "merry" when she arrives here at 7 a.m., and she definitely won't be when she leaves.

Wish me luck in getting it all done. Once the dust settles - literally - I should be able to breathe more ways than one. Here's hoping!

Wild Hair

It has been my experience that everyone experiences the occasional wild hair. I use that term to describe behavior that one engages in that is just baffling to others and occasionally to oneself. I don't know the origin of this particular turn of phrase, and I'm not really sure that I want to...but I do know that this phenomenon actually does exist.

It explains why my friend who is uber-organized, a grandmother of six, and the last person you'd expect to be desirous of a tattoo...has one on her foot. She swears that she was not all jacked up on caffeine or wine at the time. Granted, it can be covered by a sandal...but it is there just the same. Not henna...a real one. I attribute this to a wild hair that she decided to pluck on a trip to the beach a few years ago.

I suspect that the wild hair is also responsible for that family that has a gazillion children...all with names beginning with the letter "J". It probably started out as a conviction that God would bless them with whatever He felt was the right number of children, and then the wild hair kicked in. I don't know if they are trying to make Guinness' World Book of Records, that they've just lost their minds somewhere along the way or what...but I can't figure that one out.

My life is complicated enough with the two children that I have.

I suppose this explains why people jump out of airplanes, buy timeshares in Los Cobos, have more than two dogs, decide to ride the mechanical bull naked on Spring Break, get their tongue pierced, or let their 16 year old daughter sail around the world by herself.

The wild hair must be responsible, yes?

Yeah, that mechanical bull thing really did happen according to those who received the e-mail where you could actually order items - including coasters - of the participants photographed in this little "Girls Gone Wild-ish" event. There's a wild hair...and then there's just wild, period.

Well, I for one am cursing the fact that the wild hair caught up with me this week. Instead of being satisfied that the house was in order, I found it necessary to rearrange everything. It is still in disarray. I've been to Bed, Bath and Beyond numerous times as well as Kohl's, TJ Maxx, Ross for Less, and Target. I have one more trip to my local "Mattress World" and then I have to go return everything that didn't suit. Yeah, that's my favorite (not).

Added to this was a chunk of time invested in serious cleaning out of other peoples' stuff...some of which followed me home. Okay, "some" is an understatement. I'm very grateful, but I am also going to be sorting, washing, delivering to Goodwill, and organizing for several hours this weekend.

To top this coworker was diagnosed with pneumonia on Tuesday...leaving me to have more to do than I can say grace over at work. Apparently everyone wants to get their loans renewed before the week of the 4th of July (either week...since it falls on a weekend). That will be swell for everybody but me as that is also the week I am taking off as well. So next week will be peachy. Just peachy.

My eBay auctions ended - requiring me to mail out the items I sold, another project due in the middle of next month came in the mail for me to move along, and as an added bonus...I've suddenly turned into the poster child for seasonal allergies.

Yay me.

I also need to get some things done for Jill's debutante ball next month and my sister's arrival next weekend, the dogs are due for their annual shots, the garden needs weeding, I need some serious highlighting, and Jill will be back from Tuscaloosa - more or less - next weekend as well. She'd probably rather be in Memphis, at the lake, at the beach, in Tuscaloosa, or anywhere BUT here, but whatever.

So, this weekend is the time that I am dedicating to getting everything caught up. I've made a lot of progress...but I am still in that phase of pulling it all together where it is either going to come together nicely, or professionals will have to be called in.

Hopefully a strait jacket won't be required...just Merry Maids...and some Claritin.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Service Attitude

I filled out a couple of those surveys on the bottom of a receipt that you get from time to time in the world of retail. They promise you the opportunity to win gift cards or cash by answering a few simple questions. Not that I've known anybody who has actually won one of these...but I suppose that someone has to...somewhere. So I dialed for dollars.

Twenty minutes later, a gazillion questions later, and with one razor thin shred of patience remaining, the survey was completed. I no longer cared if I won or not. I just wanted the questions to stop...but I wouldn't hang up because of my strong need for closure.

Closure is highly overrated, by the way.

Chick-fil-A had one in my bag yesterday, and so I really actually wanted to have the opportunity to say something nice about the model of efficiency known as my local Chick-fil-A drive thru. I can even see the person taking my order on a sweet little screen. They asked the standard questions as to whether I felt like queen of the world at their restaurant blah blah blah. I gave them high marks on everything...because they deserve it. It was my pleasure (yeah, I ripped that off from them).

I've never been to a fast food establishment that tried harder to offer above average service. Their counter personnel may sometimes be clueless...but they are polite, by gosh. And there are enough of them to actually get my order out to me before within an amazingly quick period of time. I also like that their managers are out there working as well...instead of sitting in the back counting money or standing in everyone's way barking out orders.

I also like it that they tell me that they have received immense pleasure for serving me. I used to think that this response was a bit over the top, but now that I've gotten used to it...I associate "pleasure" with something good and wholesome instead of something we don't mention in polite company.

I'm sure that it is quite obvious that I am a Chick-fil-A addict. I have a diet lemonade at least five times a week...and I get it with light ice. I have to open my door to order at the speaker and to pick it up from the smiling person at the window who hands it to me. I suppose that my car is now in the "early redneck" category. The paint still matches, and it isn't loud...but that's all that separates it from a "true redneck-mobile."

The window control kept getting stuck, so Big Dave decided that he'd take care of that little problem by making it impossible to roll down the driver's side window. I'm sure I'm known in the Chick-fil-A employee circles as "that crazy lady who opens her door instead of rolls down her window and will wait fifteen minutes for a diet lemonade in sweltering heat because she has no life."

It is probably just shortened to "that crazy lady." Remember...I've done fast food a gazillion lifetimes ago...I know how these things work. I remember the lady who ordered a Big Mac, a large order of fries, a cherry pie and a Tab every time she came through. A TAB? Why not just drink paint thinner? Or go all out with a chocolate shake and let the calories fall where they may.

On the downside, Chick-fil-A has spoiled me for all other entities. I go through McDonald's and it is a crapshoot. I may get treated well...or not. There may be grinds in the bottom of my decaf coffee...or they may actually remember to put cream in the bag. I may wait forty forevers, or I may zip right through. It is that inconsistency that makes stopping at McDonald's the adventure that it often is.

But I love McDonald's. I can't really eat anything there, but I can dream. Plus, I own some stock in my 401-K. It has gone up dramatically over the past five years. Plus, I'm told that the Mickey D's sweet tea is hard to beat.

Service has suffered over the past few years as the profit motive took over and the consultants encouraged the stores to sell instead of serve. I is possible to do both. Asking if I want to upgrade to a combo (I always answer "no" because I can't be in the same zip code as French fries...much less have them in my car) is fine. However, Bed, Bath and Beyond is apparently hawking some product at the front counter that costs $14.99 and is supposed to kill odors. They are wearing me out asking me if I want one.

Not for $14.99, I don't. Not even with a 20% off coupon. No. Just no.

I love the fact that the pendulum between service and sales is swinging back the other way. We should have better service as stores and businesses realize that it is the cheapest thing that they can do to buy a customer's loyalty. I hope that the trend continues.

I've personally had my fill of smart mouthed, rude salesclerks who treat me like I am their equal. That may be true in day to day life...but when I am standing there with money in hand...I am elevated to the status of one who is being served. I am buying so that the entity stays open...and the salesclerk keeps his or her job. Out of respect for that relationship, I want somebody treating me like I actually matter.

I want them all to treat me like Chick-fil-A does. With an attitude of service...emphasis on "service." For too long we've had to deal with the "attitude" to get any service. I'm personally glad that the tables have turned.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In Search of

Some people in this world are born with an inner moral compass, a strong sense of self, and an ability to do just about anything and have people overlook the not-so-fabulous. And then other people - bless their (our) hearts - just seem to stumble through life trying to figure everything out including where the boundaries are. I don't know about everyone else, but I know that I get find my rear end smarted by an invisible electric fence that I find it necessary to back into every now and again. After it lights me up, I then think I must fuss about the unfairness of it all when truth be told...I should have absolutely, positively known better.

Except that sometimes I truly don't. Times have changed.

Back in the day, life was easier to navigate. There were only a few rules to follow. Mind your parents. Don't sass your teachers. Go to church. Stay out of Miss Lillie's flowers. Be nice to people. Say "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am". Count your blessings.

Our kitchens were harvest gold, avocado green, poo poo brown and burnt orange. Not everyone went to college...but most everyone went to least on Easter and at Christmas. We got gifts for our birthdays and during the holidays...not every time we entered K-Mart. We trick-or-treated and watched cartoons on Saturday mornings, and played outside. We were in search of a trampoline, a pool, and homemade ice cream.

Now one has to worry about self esteem, the competitive environment, being sued, pit bulls, technology, political hacks, becoming obsolete, skyrocketing tuition bills, the annual mammogram, allergies, unemployment, illegal aliens, home invasions, AIDS, being politically incorrect, and obesity.

And that's just the short list.

I don't particularly like being a grownup sometimes. I'd love to have someone cook, clean, provide, prepare, care, worry and fret over me like I did when all I wanted was for someone to just leave me alone. Right now I'd enjoy being absolutely, positively bored. Sadly, one can only be bored when one has done all of the chores, run all of the errands, and completed the entire to-do list. In other words...I am not scheduled to be bored until I am well into my 90's. If then.

Life, of course, got more difficult as the nuances poured in. Belief systems were different than the one I was taught, educational aspirations varied as did the ability to achieve, and I found that some people had a penchant for getting caught doing whatever...and other people did not...but should have. Finances mattered to some extent. As did kin, age, performance, politics, and just plain dumb luck.

Sometimes I look back and think of things I would have done differently had I not been so stupid. If I had figured things out earlier. If I hadn't been so headstrong.

A day or so ago, I had a deja vu moment in a conversation involving a young woman (not my daughter) who was trying to figure out a relationship. She is young, and bright, and beautiful. He is young, and smart, and handsome. All appeared to be going well...and then wasn't. She wanted to talk...and he wanted to avoid that interaction. She feels like her heart is broken...he feels like things are moving too fast. She is in search of a relationship...he is in search of a good time. Somehow, the timing is just "off" or it may just be that they are not meant to be. That does happen. My advice was for her to just let it be. To allow him the space to figure out what it is that he truly wants. If she is the right girl...he'll be back. If she is is better that she know now. I don't mean to sound like the poster from the 1970s..."If you love something...set it free...if it comes back to is yours...if it doesn' never was..." but it isn't bad philosophy come to think of it.

They should be in search of something other than dating for seven tumultuous years before finally moving on. Marriage is hard enough if the pair is right for each is torture if they are not.

All of us are in search of something. We are in search of better days, achievement, knowledge, love, or just a day off. We pursue life with a vengeance, and we win some and we lose some. But as it is often is what happens when we are busy making other plans.

I know it seems like fifteen minutes ago I was reminding my daughter to wear her retainer...and she is now a junior in college. I am one year away from an empty nest. This hardly seems possible.

Tonight I am in search of some rest. Not necessarily more sleep...although that would be nice. Just rest. And some relief that we've moved past harvest gold and avocado green in kitchen decor. It really was truly heinous.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers' Day

Today is Fathers' Day. I am sitting here early on Sunday morning trying to collect my thoughts about exactly what this day means. For many, it is is a day for family to gather to celebrate and honor the men in our lives. For others, it is a day of rememberance of a man whose impact is written in the history of their lives.

I always feel conflicted on Fathers' Day. It reminds me that my life was more complicated than I wanted it to be. And although I am very blessed that I have an abundance of people in my life, I have had to live with having to choose...with doubting my importance...and with being unable to prove to anyone the depth and sincerity of my feelings. Recently, I've stopped doing that. I've decided that I'm going to choose to love the circumstances of my life, and to let go of the painful past. I'm just going to love people for who they are and what they are to me. I've considered everyone else's feelings for long enough. It is time to just live and breathe.

I remember being a little girl and having my grandfather alive. He was usually perched in his favorite blue recliner in the family room of my grandmother's house. He drove an old blue car that smelled faintly of cigars and he didn't talk very much. I remember going out with him one morning on his "rounds" he greeted friends and went through his morning routine. I don't exactly remember what we did, but I have a distinct impression that I was wanted there. Sadly, it is the only memory that I have of him spending one on one time with me although there were probably other times. I know that he was reliable, smart, and a good Christian man. Everyone who knew him had a very high opinion of him. I'm really proud of that.

Sadly, he died when I was eight. We had spent the better part of my early years living in New York, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. I remember my mother getting the telephone call that he had passed very unexpectedly...just a few short weeks before my great-grandmother died. I wasn't allowed to go to the funeral, but I remember all of the people in my grandmother's house...which became my house just a few weeks later when my parents divorced and we moved.

My father was 23 years old when I was born. He has always been a hard worker and a dream chaser. I think I tend to be like that as well. He was the 11th of 13 children...and family reunions were not only large and fun, but are some of my favorite childhood memories. He has been bearded through most of my rememberance, and tended to collect speeding tickets at an alarmingly higher rate than the general population. He is philosophical, talented, and self-educated, and has distinct opinions about the world in general. Those who disagree are allowed to...but it doesn't please him. We disagree vehemently on politics, religion, and "I Love Lucy"...but if we avoid those subjects, all is well.

He is uncommunicative until he reads the morning newspaper, has his cereal, and finishes the crossword puzzle. He loves the beach, the theater, and Austin, Texas. When I was a little girl, I remember him asking me questions such as, "What is more important?...Money or the moon?" Future finance major that I was...I answered "money"...and he responded that money would not always be there...but the moon always would. I suppose that's true.

In my dad's absence, Mr. Billy Daniel from across the street took care in helping to oversee those things that we could not do in our house of women. He put together bicycles and toys at Christmas, encouraged us with his wonderful sense of humor, and even saved my groom and candlelighter on my wedding day by providing them with black shoes from his men's store. The tux rental company in Montgomery had given David white shoes in error. He had not noticed this until Sunday morning - our wedding day - and Belk didn't open until 1:00 that afternoon. The wedding was at 2:00. My candlelighter had also left his shoes in Atlanta. It was a near-disaster, but he saved the day for us.

He and Miss Charlene also gave me a normal view of what marriage should look like at a time when I needed desperately to see one. I will always be grateful for that. Always.

When I was fourteen, my mother married Ralph. He had been a bachelor for years...including some time in a monastery in Conyers. He really wasn't sure what he's gotten himself into with two girls - ages 8 and 14 in addition to a wife. But after a brief rocky phase, he bought in. I've always been grateful that he spite of the fact that he jokes about returning to the monastery to get some peace from time to time. I suppose that it helped that they moved when I was 17 and I went to college a year later...but he has unfailingly been one of my biggest cheerleaders for as long as I can remember. I have not always been an easy person to love...but in his eyes I can do anything I set my mind to do. When I have really had something that I needed to work through...I've called him to get his advice. I treasure his opinion. Having the confidence that I was valuable and that I was loved has made the difference to me in many ways that I can only fully appreciate now that I am grown.

I met David - the father of my two children - when I was nineteen years old and trying to figure out my life. He altered the course in every important way, and gave me two wonderful children who are beautiful and precious to me beyond measure. He has been a solid father...a low-key, laid-back, always-in-the-bleachers kind of dad, and I appreciate his calmness, wisdom, and stability more than he knows. Our children are remarkably well adjusted because they have the confidence of knowing that he is there...and that we'll work through whatever difficulty it is. He is the person that they want when they are sick, sad, or need an attitude adjustment. He is more often than not the voice of reason.

With David, I married into a wonderful family that includes my father-in-law. He teased and joked with me, and encouraged me to keep trying to put a decent meal on the table...even when I wasn't much of a cook. He has been a warming presence in my life, and I know that I was adopted as a daughter in his heart all of those years ago. When I was sick with toxemia and pregnant with Jill...and about to be put in the hospital...I called him. David was out of town on business and my parents weren't nearby. He found out what hospital I was going to (I'd failed to leave that message on the answering machine), and came immediately to sit with me. He also has the distinction of being the only person who didn't get on my nerves even one time while I was pregnant. I do not do "hormonal" well at all.

He built wonderful things for my home that I treasure, and he makes me smile when he is around. He had some health problems a few years back, and he doesn't see as well as he'd like right now. But he has been solid and good and giving. Those traits were passed directly to his sons and grandsons.

One day - after he is grown up a bit more and married - I hope my son will be a father. I want to see him carrying on the tradition of the other wonderful fathers who have so enriched my life. My oldest nephew on David's side is going to be a father this November. I remember the day that he was born - on the 4th of July in 1983. I have no doubt that his son will be as special to the life of the family as he was...or that he will be anything but an excellent father. Technically, this is his first Fathers' Day. Next year, his seven-month old son will be in his arms.

Fathers' Day is special for many gives us a chance to pause and reflect on the blessings we have from the presence of the fathers in our lives. The fathers that may not be of blood relation...but through a kinship of the heart. We take time to reflect, smile, or grieve. Because the men in our lives - for better or worse - left imprints on our life that cannot be erased. And for that...I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day Off

Today is a Saturday in mid-June, and it is my day off. I don't have any commitments, plans, hovering obligations, or even a past due library book to contend with today. Unless my children have failed to inform me, I don't even have any old speeding tickets of theirs that I have to try to figure out how to pay online. I'm not cleaning out anybody's attic, or helping anybody do anything. I'm having a "me" day...and I like it.

It is beautiful outside...but that's because I am inside. I know that it is stifling hot with a side order of oppressive humidity out there right now. I'm just going to pretend like it's not. I'm going to assume that the day is stretching before me like one of those summer afternoons of my childhood when I used to have the audacity...and the privilege...of being bored. Bored people are only bored because they either cannot busy themselves with their normal routine or they pay people to do things that they don't want to do. Boredom is wasted on the pretty much everything else.

I can't afford to pay people to do things that I don't want to do, so I normally cram as many of the unpleasant chores into my workweek so that I have freedom on my weekends. I don't have a child requiring my presence at the ballfield every weekend like a couple of my friends do, and I only have one of my two children at home right now anyway. He is a prime candidate for "XBox Addicts Anonymous" when he isn't asleep or he doesn't require a lot of my time. The other one is currently in Memphis, Tennessee visiting. She has become "Her Highness - Queen of the Roadtrip" - this summer. More power to her. I used to do the same thing back in the day before I had obligations, a job, and kids.

Today I have big plans to go to the farmers' market, give away some old clothes at whatever charity will take them, and bathe my dogs. I've read ten books in the past three weeks, and I'm really quite fine in that area for awhile. There's no movie that I especially want to see, and no television program that is tempting me. Big shock there. The pool is like a big bathtub - and therefore not as inviting as I want it to be, and my scrapbooking is pretty much caught up. I also cleaned out a closet in record time last night...which was not only shocking - considering its original state - but really gratifying.

So, other than my bedroom - the portal to the "Island of Misfit Items" - I have a neat house. Next weekend, I've already signed a friend up to help me do deep cleaning - baseboards, windows, cabinets, shelf paper, etc. because nobody wants to do these unless there is somebody there talking to you the entire time. Or at least that's my view.

But back to is a rare gift to be given a day with nothing other than your own agenda. In life, too much of our time is often swallowed up by the beast of "must-should-need to" instead of belonging to us. We stretch ourselves so thin sometimes that we feel invisible, unappreciated, and desperate. We do for others to such a point that they just take for granted that we'll drop whatever we are doing and be there for them.

Not today, friends. Not today.

Well, other than some really good tomatoes...I'm not desperate for anything right now. I'm having a happy interlude in the midst of what is about to be a sea of busyness starting in two weeks. Some of that busyness makes me I'll get to visit with family, high school buddies, and will watch my beautiful daughter be presented at a debutante ball. A week later...she will be back in Tuscaloosa for her junior year...and my son will be in his senior year of high school.

Time flies. I just wish the tuition bills would fly away and land on someone else's desk.

Well, it is about time for me to begin actually enjoying my day instead of sitting here dreaming and idolizing it. I want to savor every moment of it - unless of course I have to deal with unpleasantness such as the girl at the Publix deli with the braids, idiot drivers, or coming home and finding that my son has trashed my kitchen. All of these are within the realm of possibility.

Enjoy your day as well. I don't know what you have on tap, but I hope it is something that makes you happy. If not, I hope that you find something today that at least makes you smile. Beautiful crepe myrtles...the sound of the waves...the sweet smell of a little one nestled on your lap...your canine "child" who wants some lap time...a free rental at Blockbuster...a pair of pants that you thought didn't fit but actually dishcloths...a really excellent tomato sandwich...good music on your favorite station...or the sun on your face. It's all good...

Maybe it is a long nap...a card in the mail...winning something on eBay...a ride in the convertible...or no waiting in line at Wal-Mart. It could be a perfect glass of sweet tea after the lawn is mowed...your child hitting driving in the winning run...or time with the men in your life this Father's Day Weekend.

Whatever it is...enjoy.

Friday, June 18, 2010


For the past month or so, I've noticed a pervasive cloud of misery that has wafted into the lives of some of my friends. It has different nuances...sadness, bad news, relationship trouble, children on the wide path instead of the narrow one, financial issues, health questions, and job worries...all with a side order of fear.

A lot of these friends are Christians. They are either managing through the pain with a brave face and confidence that life will improve or have simply withdrawn into the cloak of silence. They assume that the economy will turn around, that they can brace themselves better for more bad news by keeping others at bay, and that the doctors can figure out the solution to whatever medical mystery is plaguing them...even though they can't understand what is taking so long.

Well, I don't know all the answers, and I don't want to pretend that I do. But I do know this much...there's Someone who does.

I've noticed in my life that when I've really been down, the pain didn't stop until I made a conscious decision to turn it over to God. Sometimes I'd still go back to check if the wound was still open...and if I do that, it just rips off the scab. Not good. I don't know what it is about our nature that makes us want to wallow in pain and misery instead of getting whatever message it is that God is trying to teach us through the experience. Lessons we don't particularly want to learn or thought we had graduated from "with honors" years before.

Sometimes the pain is caused by the fulfillment of the law of reaping and sowing. We spoil our children, and then wonder why they can't make it on their own in this world. We follow our greed, ambition, or lust, and then wonder why...and doubt our intelligence...when everything hits the fan and our motives are exposed. We treat our bodies like they are invincible and then recoil in horror when we realize that there were warnings all along the way that we chose not to heed.

Other times, though, it is because we are blindsided. We are the unwilling victims of someone else's run-in with sin or selfishness. We are left with the baggage of unfulfilled dreams, regret, and anger at our own ignorance. We may have the sympathy of the masses, but that doesn't really translate into anything comforting. Our unforgiveness drains us of confidence and initiative. All we see is the void of the life we thought we had and we feel naked and exposed.

But worst of all seems to be the unexplained. Winning the lottery of cancer instead of the Powerball. Watching a handsome child with potential and remarkable gifts fade into something that is no longer recognizable. Seeing people that we thought were the paragons of virtue head off into the sunset on the express to Hell.


All I know is this. If He brought you to it, He will bring you through it. "Through" is the operative word here. Through implies that we are not making a pitstop on our trip through Death Valley. It is buckle-in-for-the-ride time. Not Kodak-moment time. In fact, the people who want to show me the "pictures" because they refuse to move on are the most frustrating. I'm not talking about the normal grieving time. I'm talking about years later when they point to an event and make it the touchstone of everything that has gone wrong in their lives since then. Will it shape them? Yes. Will it always be a tender and mangled part of their existence? Definitely. But there comes a point where one has to choose to stop and stake a tent...or keep marching forward.

So, if you are living in the land of Misery today, may I suggest that you get out your Bible and start looking for someone who made it through and lived to tell about it. I think a lot of people are confused about the Bible as a book of rules...when it is actually a book about relationships. People messing up. People figuring it out. People like us.

Oh, they may have had names we can't spell...much less pronounce. But isn't that true today as well? Just start reading nametags if you doubt me. They may have been wandering about a desert and living in a tent, but aren't we doing the same in our air conditioned, decorated, too-much-stuff filled homes? Aren't we wandering through the 170 cable channels of reality TV to engage our minds while our hearts remain quiet and scarred and we are content to leave it that way? Are we not "doing lunch," vacationing, and using "stuff" to keep us distracted enough to not deal with the business of dealing with the fear that lurks just below the surface? Are we not surfing from relationship to relationship or from crisis to crisis to provide our lives with a counterfeit version of life? Because life is messy. Real messy.

And we need to stop denying that.

We must to be appreciative for what we have...and quit focusing on what is missing. We need to drop our prejudices, rules that separate us from other people, and our assumption that some people are better or worse than others...and stop acting like we are too big to fail. We must realize that none of us is immune to misery...and that despite popular doesn't really deserve company. We are to find a way to reach out to people who need us using the gifts that we have as we are directed. We are to try to help people back to firm footing and quit making it possible for them to escape dealing with whatever the problem is. Help them through it.

I pray that each person who wakes up with that dull feeling of misery would be free of it today. I wish for them to be strengthened by whatever the experience they find themselves in...rather than crushed. I hope that they will realize that there is not a person alive that doesn't deal with something horrific at some point in time...and that once we make it across to the other side...we need to help those who believe in their heart of hearts that nobody could possibly understand their pain.

Most of all, we need to trust that God is in control. We may not like His methods, but we need to keep our eyes on Him. Don't waver...don't numb yourself...and don't ever think that you are alone. Ever. Trust when it seems impossible, love in spite of the insanity of it, obey when it might just cost you everything. Because anything you lose...counts as gain to the One that really matters.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

To-Do List

Today I made a to-do list to relieve the pressure in my brain from trying to remember everything. I am a reluctant list maker...and I do keep a calendar...but I am also fairly notorious for dealing with everything else in a semi-MacGyverlike fashion. You know...failing to stress about anything because it is assumed that it will all come together as it should in the end. Every now and again something blows up and I feel bad...but most of the time, there is something oddly comforting in having less options to muddle through and just "making do" instead of having a contingency plan and three backups. I'm not exactly a "backup" kind of girl.

At all.

The only exception to the last minute rule is when there is a true emergency. I don't handle the unexpected well if the situation requires a functional adult. If someone is sick, choking, or otherwise freaking out...I am about as much help as Prissy in "Gone With the Wind." case you have failed to watch this cinematic masterpiece...means I'm about as helpful as a third armpit.

But most of the time I get tickled at my friends who are incessant planners. Not only do they have the big Roman numerals filled in (neatly, of course)in the outlines of their lives...they have three reams of paper dedicated to the details. The details comprise an airtight, foolproof, amazing plan. In fact, that much detail makes me downright nervous. Part of the fun of life - to me, anyway - is filling in the outline as the story unfolds. Plus, any "airtight, foolproof, amazing plan" that I've ever devised has made God roar with laughter.

I mean...when you have a group of need to make some decisions so that folks aren't going hungry or worse than that...whining. But I've always found it a lot more fun to just let people have the latitude to figure it out like the adults that they are. Worst case scenario? Dominos delivers. Well, not out here in the sticks, but you get the drift.

I love how MacGyver could escape from disaster by channeling his inner nerd to make something out of nothing. I do that frequently myself. I'm a big recycler...and I have no problem with leftovers. I love to find a unique use for something...or being able to find something creative to throw together at the last minute. Southern Living? Well, no. But then a way...literally, that is...why yes! Most women I know from the South can throw together an appetizer for unexpected guests or deal with more heads at the table than were originally expected. After is the surprises of life that can make life interesting.

Don't believe me? Ask any 42 year old pregnant woman whose other children are already out of elementary school. "Interesting" is an understatement.

So, as you head out into life tomorrow, see if you can quit stressing over the details and just learn to fly by the seat of your pants a little bit. Not when people are counting on you to be precise...but in those little interludes when it honestly doesn't matter if you do a homecooked meal...or hit the drive-thru. When the houseguest doesn't care if the washcloth matches the long as he doesn't have to plunk down $100 for a hotel room. Or when nobody gives a rat's behind if you use the china...or the Chinet. Just creative...and enjoy.

Unless, of course, you were me last Thanksgiving. Chilling out was definitely in order.

Tomorrow, I have that list of things to do that is a mile long. I've been apparently saving these up in some dark crevice of my mind to drag out and try to get done in one 24 hour period. And that is SO like me. Never mind that I have to go to work, and that some of these can actually wait. I'm burning through that list so that I can clear my head. Because for whatever reason...I am on a tear to get things done, cleaned out, sorted, and checked off the proverbial box. If I can find the list, that is.

After all...I need a clear head so I can think a little faster. My tendency toward the broad brush means that I sometimes have to scramble to get the details knocked out. Having clutter...physical or just detrimental to that objective.

So, tomorrow is broadly outlined to include registering Brian for Selective Service, returning a literature book that the school has kindly (not) billed me $91 for because they assumed that he had lost it, registering him to vote, renewing his passport so he can go on the French trip next year, figuring out something with one of the car tags that is messed up, calling the vet to get shots for the dogs, and about a gazillion other little things that need to crawl out of my head and translate to checked boxes.

Or not. We shall see...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


One of the many things that I like about Big Dave as a person includes the fact that he can juggle. I've always been fascinated by this activity, and have tried it unsuccessfully along with a whole string of things in my life...but I can't do it. At least not yet. My son has learned how, and maybe it will buy him coolness points one day with some girl who is as fascinated by this as I am. I hope so.

While I can't juggle in the traditional sense...I am a master juggler in the figurative sense. I've been juggling work, friends, part time jobs, family, interests, my house, and my well being for so long that I don't really know what it feels like to not have something demanding my attention. I suppose that this is pretty much the reality of everybody I know, and I can't even really say when it all began. I've always wanted to jump right in to a project if I am so led, and I spent years...make that decades...going and doing and rocking and rolling.

A few years ago, I burned out. I realized that I could only deal with work and home...home and work. Everything else was either something I did because I really wanted to...or for the express purpose of maintaining relationships. I gave up volunteering for anything or trying to do things that I'm not particular good at but felt like I "should" be doing unless I really felt like I was called to do it. It was tough sometimes...because I like to be involved, but my life has improved dramatically as a result.

I think that jugglers are able to do it because they find a rhythm that feels natural and with time and practice...they begin to build confidence. Part of the reason a lot of people seem so busy to me is that they won't say "no" because they are afraid that they'll miss something. I can respect that. But I can also now say that I've completely outgrown that tendency after suffering a recent relapse or two. Doing what you are uniquely gifted to do will help you figure out your own cadence so that you can confidently pick and choose how you will invest your time. Might as well be's too short to do things you don't truly want to do.

Unless, of course, your mother, spouse, or child asks you to. Then we're back to that whole "maintaining relationships" thing. Can't really get around that one sometimes.

It may be as simple as helping friends when they call, organizing a community event, getting into politics (wait! THAT isn't simple), keeping a house that is the epitome of hospitality, caring for the friends of your children, doing something extremely well that you can teach others about, or being someone that other people can count on in a myriad of other ways. Whatever it is...when you add this to your mix...the juggling is actually fun, challenging, and empowering. This is good.

Doing those things that are not your calling will result in stress, resentment, regret, and disappointment in yourself for either not giving it your all...or falling short of your own expectations. This is NOT good.

Oh, I'll be juggling for the rest of my life, I'm sure. My nature is to get obsessive about something...learn all about it...follow it to a conclusion...and then move on. I've come to recognize a potential obsession...and I either steer clear of it, or I just consider it a cosmic gift of entertainment and/or enjoyment. In recent years, I've been obsessed with African violets, weightlifting, The Lord of the Rings movies (briefly), biographies of the Founding Fathers, scrapbooking (still at it), Foo Fighters, calligraphy, making casseroles, and now books by Charlaine Harris. I can somehow always seem to manage keeping that obsession ball flying freely in the air. To me, that "obsession" ball keeps life interesting.

Maybe one day I'll decide that I want to learn to juggle in earnest, and I'll stay at it until I master it. Not likely. I have learned that there will always be elusive wishes that will never be granted. I can't make homemade biscuits, I don't memorize Bible verses easily, and I honestly cannot paint. But every so often, I'll try just to make sure that my impression about my inability to do this or that is still valid. Much like Big Dave does every summer when he tries fried okra and says, "Yep, I still hate it."

Today, I juggled work, bills, housecleaning, errands, dinner, and demands of family and friends. I hope that all of the balls remained in the air, but I suppose I'll find out in time if one didn't stay aloft. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to pick it all up, watch them fly and keep them airborne. Hopefully...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Food For Thought...Hamburger Helper

Tonight I am sitting here writing this while ground beef cooks on the stove that will eventually be Hamburger Helper. Gourmet? No. But when your 18 year old son is hungry at 9:54 p.m. you do what you can. I'm sure that even Alice from The Brady Bunch closed the kitchen at some point in time. Funny thing...I don't really remember that family eating...even though she was always in the kitchen.

He ate at 7:30 when he came in, had a snack at 9:00, and he is back for more. Earlier, when he asked me to warm up some chicken wings for him I asked him what I thought was a very profound question..."Do I look like your maid?"

He looked me directly in the eyes and said, "No, you look like my mother." Well, alrighty then.

A long time ago...far longer ago than I like to think about...I actually had something remotely resembling an interesting life. That was back when I thought I was Miss Independent because I was taking care of some of my business and earning a little bit of money working. The truth was...I had a meal ticket or someone else was cooking dinner (and/or handing it to me through the drive-thru window), my biggest concern was my own laundry, and otherwise, I was pretty much free to do whatever it was that I wanted to do.

It never occurred to me that the reason I had the freedom to be so all about me at that point in time was because other people were investing pieces of their lives in me. And now? Well, we all know what they say about payback.

I am proud of the many hats I wear and I normally gladly shoulder the burdens associated with each. Some weeks I find it fun to keep my house neat and other weeks I want to give up the grocery budget and call Merry Maids.

But most of the time I love the fact that I have a son who wants me to cook for him. He's been a blessing to me for 18 years...even though there are some days when he leads me to believe that I've flunked Motherhood 101. If there were seminars in "Feeding the Bottomless Pit"..."XBox Addicts"...and "Cleaning the Heinous Bathroom"...I really should have paid closer attention.

Every one of us is able to be who we are because of the grace of God and because somebody...somewhere along the line...invested in us. It may have been family, teachers, neighbors, or church friends...but that collection of people made you who you are today.

For better or worse.

I hope that in ten minutes my son will enjoy his oh-so-nutritious Hamburger Helper. He can pretty much eat what he wants because he is not only male...he has a metabolism that I can only dream about. Actually, if I had any metabolism at all...I'd be golden.

Tomorrow morning, I will pick the bowl he eats out of tonight out of his room...even though I've told him a gazillion times that it is supposed to be put in the dishwasher when he finishes. As if. Sometimes he surprises me by getting it as far as the bar by the sink. If past history is indicative of future behavior, I'll probably come home tomorrow afternoon to find the empty bowl from the leftovers in the sink...or in his room.

Maybe one day...twenty years from son will have the realization that his Mom loved him very much because I said "no" when I needed to but said "yes" to things like making him Hamburger Helper at a ridiculous hour. I hope so, anyway.

But I'm going to just stop and enjoy the fact that he is still under my roof and still wants his Mom to fix him something to eat. Granted, it is likely that he is just the epitome of laziness. Or maybe he knows that he has one more year to be the baby of the family before we expect him to man up and make his grades in college.

Oh well, gotta go...I have a hungry boy to feed. I am blessed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Yesterday, I helped a very good friend get to a project that she has long put out the "upstairs." The "upstairs" is a total of two bedrooms, a bath, and a room in her attic. Although I've offered to help her for years, and there have been a couple of times that she's gotten somewhat close to getting it organized without my intervention, the past few years have not been kind. I think she somehow knew that I loved her enough to tell her that things had to go...and until now...she wasn't ready to hear that yet.

That changed yesterday.

This friend is married, cares for a menagerie of animals including one that is incredibly sweet...but is offset by the truly nasty canine habit of being a crotch sniffer. The second dog...a surly terrier mix...ironically named "Buddy" has traditionally only respected me when I was holding a broom handle or there was a lot of fence between us. The third dog is part pit bull...and I'm perfectly fine viewing him through the fence and giving him plenty of space. She also owns several cats...and an incredibly annoying bird named Sylvester. I tell you this to state that in addition to caring for all of the above, she also has a daughter who is 20, a full time job, three part time jobs, and her mother lives in town.

Needless to say...her plate is full. Real full.

So is the "upstairs."

We dug in for about seven hours yesterday after just picking somewhere to start and moving forward. It was difficult for her because she really had excellent intentions of completing projects and saving money by buying ahead. The problem is...she doesn't really have time to do anything else at this point in her life. She has been treading water for years, and finally decided that she was ready for someone to throw her a floatation device. It came in the form of a super-sized box of black 55 gallon trash bags and a ruthless buddy who has no problem with the word "no."

As in...NO, you may not keep that incredibly gaudy broom thing you hang on the wall with the smiling scarecrow on it. NO, there is no need to save those VHS tapes when you don't even own anything that will play them. NO, you don't need to keep that half started dress/sweatshirt/tee shirt you were working on when your daughter was eleven. NO, the issues of "Cross-Stitchers Gone Wild" or whatever those magazines are from 1983-88 are not staying. No, no, no.

And to her credit, she didn't pout, whine, or even put up much of a fuss. She didn't try to drive a popcycle stick through my heart or anything...although I'm sure that she considered it when I boxed up all of her daughter's stuffed animals and some truly scary looking porcelain dolls.

We went through craft projects that would impress Martha Stewart in variety and scope. My friend has been an avid crafter for as long as I've known her...and that spans twenty years and counting. But as I looked at enough counted cross-stitch books to make me truly awed - and then put them in a box to be given away (and in the big black trash bags for others)...we came to the same conclusion. There aren't many people who cross-stitch anymore...and we don't have the time or the eyesight to launch a revival. Same with the smocking, plastic canvas, iron-on transfers and the like. She elected to keep her knitting and scrapbooking stuff...and has held on to her sewing machine and pleater (for smocking). Everything else went into the trash.

We then went through her daughter's art projects, elementary school papers, Christmas gift bag collection, clothes, and miscellaneous other items. Each of these had some significance to her, but she learned pretty quickly that if she wasn't willing to argue with me about had to go.

It got me to thinking, though, as I plowed through boxes of her "stuff"...much of it recognizable to me from either seeing it in her home or seeing her child wearing it. And that is...we have to eventually decide whether we want to live free or not. We can keep every scrap of paper our child touched or we can pick some really special examples to enjoy. We can hang on to an item that has gone out of style and no longer fits us anymore just because it reminds us of some happy memory when we last wore it. We can continue to hold on to things...waiting for a magical time when we will have unlimited time to do all of the craft projects, read all of the books, organize all of the pictures, or inventory all of the items...or we can choose to let them go.

I was a supporting actress in the drama that was associated with cleaning out my grandmother's house in 2006. My grandmother - who remembered the Great Depression well - did not like to turn loose of items in case she might need them again someday. That control turned into a nightmare for my mother and aunt as they went through decades of "stuff" including every television set that the family had ever owned, toys from the 1940s, books from the 1960s, and some truly heinous decor aquired in the 1980s. I don't think that this is terribly uncommon in have packrats and you have those who are thought to not care about such things at all. The packrats think that the shedders will just give things to Goodwill as soon as their back is turned. Not true. We shedders are just super-selective about what we will take.

I am a shedder in a family full of packrats. I hold on to the essence of something...and I love family furniture, pictures, and rememberances. But I can throw away the non-essential pretty readily. I cook with a green enamel pan and an iron skillet that my great grandparents owned, and an ice cream scoop and flatware that was my grandmother's. I have a few things that my mother has passed down as well...thankfully. I'm getting close to being ready to start passing down to my children in a few years. Trust me...I will.

I suppose that is because I learned a long time ago that God won't fill your hands with more when you have a closed fist around all that you already have. I suppose He thinks that if we are holding on to "stuff" that hard...that we don't really have a need for Him. I never wanted to give Him that impression. So, if I don't have a use for it or an emotional is not going to be in my possession.

Oh, we are not finished with my friend's project, and I have committed to helping her with Phase II in a week or so. I'm going to give her a little time to work on her own since her full-time job is as a teacher...and she is out for the summer. As I see it, there are at least four phases to Project Stuff Enema. I know that sounds tacky...but frankly, I can think of no more apt description.

Phase I filled fifteen 55 gallon garbage bags, a large box with stuffed animals, a bag of books she is sending to her mother, two bags of Beanie Babies, and two bags of cross-stitch paraphenalia that is going to a friend who is going to be "blessed" to such a degree that she'll never have to buy supplies again. EVER.

I believe that in this life, we should try to travel lighter than we do. I don't mean that we should shed items that are still useful...I mean, that would be wasteful. But do we really need two colanders? Must we hang on to something that has clearly seen better days even though we have already purchased its replacement? Can't we have a moratorium on how long we are required to hang on to a gift? I think we can enjoy something...and then move it on. Styles change, technology improves, and our space situation is different at various times in our lives. We should manage our "stuff" accordingly.

Maybe we would be more grateful for the things that are in our lives if we actually had control of the volume that we allow into our homes. If we told people at Christmas that we appreciate the thought...but we'd like to have time and fellowship with them instead of gifts. If we offered our time and our energy instead of another knick-knack for them to have to put in a yard sale five years from now. If we could just savor and remember that excellent feeling we get from meeting someone's need out of our abundance.

My friend is on a roll now. She deserves a quiet uncluttered place to enjoy and the stress associated with the mess that is always in the back of her mind put to rest. She needed someone to go charging into that sea of stuff with her...and to remind her that throwing something away is not is freeing. She will have a wonderful yard sale in a few weeks...and hopefully will get enough money to replace the bedding in one of the bedrooms. Yeah, we threw that out too.

So for those of you who have storage rooms...clean them out. Pass down your treasured items to family members. Commit to donating your duplicate items to those who are starting out in a new apartment or in a new marriage. Remember that you can't take it with you you may as well leave very little for your descendants to grumble about once you're gone. They will love you all the more for it.

I suppose my in-laws set the best example I've seen in awhile. About five or so years ago (maybe more...I lose track of time), they sat down with their four children and told them that they were selling the house and dispersing the contents. If we wanted something...we needed to ask. A few items were assigned to different children for various reasons...but everything else was pretty much a "first come...first served" type situation. So, they have already downsized. They have passed along items to us...when they were able to explain the significance. They can enjoy seeing their items used in our homes. They can know that they are not going to burden us with the stress and drama that traditionally goes along with dividing up items after the fact. I am grateful to them for this.

David's sister, Wendy, did the same thing with some family jewelry that she inherited as the only girl of the four. She gave each of her three nieces a beautiful ring that had belonged to her grandmother...the girls' great-grandmother. Jill treasures hers.

That being said...I'm going to go tackle my closet now. There are some stragglers living in there...and they appear to be breeding. I look forward to the sense of satisfaction after a good closet purge...and I know I'll be inspired to keep it going in other areas of the house. I also look forward to seeing the joy in my friend's face in a few weeks when we free her from the bondage that is the "upstairs" in full.

I look forward to seeing her smile.

Monday, June 7, 2010


For the past two weeks, I have been reading instead of writing. I've gotten into a series of books written by Charlaine Harris centered around a character named Sookie Stackhouse. I'm in book five of ten if I've counted correctly, although each of the books could stand on its own. It is kind of like watching Days of Our Lives. I mean, you can go for three years, and then on a weak moment at lunch...hop right in. In a day or are pretty much up to speed. I love books like that...where there is a series...but you can also choose to just read one. I'm too chronically chronological to not start at book one and move forward. And then I won't rest until I've completed the series.

I love the idea of putting my thoughts into written form and describing events and creating characters that might entertain someone hanging out on the beach or waiting for time to pass in an airport. I often wonder when the lightning will strike and I'll have a vision of what it is I'm supposed to be writing about. Specifically, that is. I really love just writing about anything and everything.

And therein lies the problem.

You know...wanting to know what to write about is like the literary version of watching a pot boil. You almost have to be in the middle of something completely unrelated...and then you'll have a bounty spilling out all over your stovetop...or laptop. Or that's my theory at least.

Oh, I could write about the adventures of my life...such as they were. I would say ARE, but I'm 47 and that stage is pretty much over in my life. Oh, there's always the occasional meltdown on a customer service line, happiness when I can use a 20% off coupon somewhere, and the promise of graduations and weddings. I also have kids that bring friends home, good friends who always have something to celebrate and places still waiting out there that I continue to delude myself that I'll eventually get to visit.

I am currently five years, a wedding and a rehearsal dinner from getting some control over my checkbook. Yay me.

Maybe each of us has something within us that drives us to keep dreaming. I honestly don't know. I just know that I am happiest on those days when I can put something down in writing and find that it makes someone smile...or think. Other times, I am just glad that there is a record that I survived something. Lord knows that life has its ups and downs...and I've learned that you have to learn the lessons before you get out of the classroom. I've tried to use what I write to help someone else avoid the mistakes I have...or to be encouraged when everyone around them is spoon feeding them a heavy dose of reality.

For the past few weeks, I've saved seven drafts of blogposts that have yet to see the light of day. Maybe someday they will. I just know that going through the motions day in and day out makes me stronger. Maybe not better...but certainly more consistent. The comments that I receive are important so that I know what works and what doesn't.

I may never reach my goal of writing a book that is printed and shared. Maybe I am meant to be limited to the blogosphere and my circle of friends who know my heart. But I'd like to think that God has a plan for me...just like he does for all of you reading this.

Hey, I can be a cheerleader for your dreams as well!

So, as I've said many times...thank you for sticking with me as I figure this out. For the encouragement...know I'm grateful. Really grateful. I am also fairly close to narrowing down what I want to do thanks to the input I've received over the past fourteen months.

And while I am not Charlaine Harris...I am glad that she kept at it...because I really am enjoying her books. I suppose that all of us need to know that what we want to do can be achieved. All of us are given dreams, gifts, and opportunities. As long as we keep it in perspective that our output should be returned as an offering...I'd like to believe that we can fully understand our purpose by following our dreams. It is - in my opinion - just up to God how those gifts we have will be employed. Or not.

Thanks for and always.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I've been noticing photos of various graduations on Facebook these past few weeks. Dressed in the cap and gown...teenagers are smiling...and the family standing beside them are either incredulous that time has flown by so quickly, or just immensely grateful that they walked. The time is marked by gifts, words of congratulations and occasionally a few tears. In about a month or so, the graduate will be threatened that he or she will not leave that house until every thank you note is written and the packing is done. That a curfew of "whenever" is a bit premature. And that the town she grew up in is not the most boring place on earth, and that there are a lot less intelligent people on this earth than his parents.

What she doesn't know is that one day she will long for life as she knows it right now. What he seems to not understand is that with additional freedom comes additional responsibility.

A few weeks back, our family watched another of the next generation take his vows to a beautiful young lady who changed her last name to the one I also took nearly twenty five years ago. We watched the same, words of congratulations and happy tears. They were gracious and precious as they opened gifts chosen to celebrate this metamorphosis from two to one. He got his ridiculously overpriced...but highly desired showerhead. She received items that will make their house a home.

What they don't know right now is how fast it will life accelerates beyond comprehension. How days melt into children come...stay such a short time...and then leave the nest. How the most important thing is making each other a priority because the pull to remain one - from the two you promised to be - never fully goes away.

Passages...we all have been through them. We've gotten from Point A to Point B...and just kept moving. When time used to all but stand still as we wished it away to be we could no longer count our age on our we'd be a teenager. We'd wish to be sixteen so that we could put five dollars worth of gas in the car and try to find someone interesting to talk to. We wanted to be eighteen so we could graduate and find somewhere far more interesting to live than the town we grew up in...or to at least have that option. We wanted to be 21, homeowners, parents, and well thought of in our careers. We yearned for seniority, peace, and enough money to chase our dreams.

And then we get there, pass in a blur, and start applying the brakes. Stomping the brakes, actually.

There are a lot of passages that are not been so happy. Funerals. People that have moved away. The change of life. Mammograms. Colonoscopies.

What I've come to realize is that life comes at us pretty hard. It has its moments of celebration...its passages that make us stop and pay attention. Much like being down for an illness or after surgery...we are forced to evaluate what we can and cannot do. Where we've been and where we are going.

I'd like to celebrate everything...but sometimes lack the enthusiasm and most assuredly...the money. I'd like to celebrate that I have a home that I love, a man that I love, beautiful children, and parents that are living. I have relatives all over the country...and in France, a job, and have seen most of the dreams I had for myself come true. I have good friends, enough to eat, and my good choices have outweighed my bad. Well, that might actually be a draw...but it seems okay just the same.

Passages remind us that this sphere on which we are walking is a temporary one. We watch the children that we carried as infants grab a diploma or walk an aisle. We try not to recoil when we are told that we don't understand...and we work desperately to figure it out. We try to deal with the changes in our bodies and not alienate everyone in the process. Restaurants we love close...due to lack of interest. The economy hands us a new career against our will. Our homes require maintenance and updating because carpet is just not meant to last thirty years...and appliances have a nasty habit of breaking at the most highly inopportune moment.

I suppose that we all long for the days when life was simpler, and wish somehow that we could return to those days that we wished away when we were young and stupid. To sit in your grandmother's kitchen again...or to hold your babies and read "Goodnight, Moon" and smell their sweetness. To recapture the excitement of the dating years or to just recapture any excitement into your life whatsoever. But we pass through...and we keep marching forward.

Just don't forget to look around at the ordinary days between the passages of life. Smell the flowers. Take the day to think. Hug the ones you love. Make time for things you enjoy. And hang on for the ride.