There are several things from my childhood that really stand out in my mind about my daddy. One thing I remember and for which I will always be grateful is the fact that I felt so very cared for. Now, you don''t have to tell me that this one thing in and of itself is something rare and precious. Even though my daddy didn't make a lot of money, our family always had a good roof over our head and plenty to eat. There was never a day that I didn't have lunch money or there wasn't a snack after school to hold me till supper was on the table. Even the little pleasures of life were there...we took family vacations and we were able to do things at school that cost money that I'm sure were not in the family budget. I know this from having my own children and grandchildren who were and are very involved in school activities. But my dad always tried his very best to let us do the things we wanted -- drill team, cheerleading, baseball, football, Girl Scouts, band -- the list goes on and on. I specifically remember when I would go to my dad with a request, his usual response would be "We'll scrape up the money somehow!" And he didn't say this to make me feel bad, quite the opposite; he wanted me to be able to do anything my heart desired. After all, I was his little girl. But now I realize how hard it probably was for him to come up with the funds to allow me to do some of those things. There was probably much borrowing from Peter to pay Paul going on, if you know what I mean.
But one thing that stands out in my mind is my daddy's love for a good breakfast. Now, he truly believes that breakfast is the meal of champions, and there's been much research today to suggest this is true. But back then, way before nutritionists determined that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, my daddy knew it. So he rose earlier than necessary many mornings to cook breakfast not only for himself but for us kids as well. And he didn't hold back. He prepared bacon or sausage, eggs, grits, toast...sometimes he even cooked rice for breakfast. Rice? Are you kidding me? I thought that was the strangest thing ever back then, but not so much today. My daddy is a rice lover and my husband is a rice lover and I have found most men do indeed love rice. Rice apparently can be eaten any time, at any meal and alongside anything, even noodles. Just ask our Asian friends. Just as tortillas are a staple in Hispanic culture, so is rice with the Asians. But that's a whole different subject for a different day! But what most cooks agree upon is this: if you're gonna prepare a meal, you want people to eat it and be just as excited about it as you are. That's part of the joy in cooking is seeing people enjoy what you prepare. I definitely was not excited about my daddy's breakfasts. I was usually in a hurry most mornings and I was not hungry before school so I didn't want to eat. Breakfast was also my least favorite meal of the day and to this day I can take or leave breakfast food items most days. Unless it's something bready and sweet. Cinnamon rolls could figuratively and literally be the death of me. Just like my mom did it, my first real meal of the day tends to be lunch. My daddy never understood this, so some mornings I choked down the meal to make him happy. After all, he was my daddy and I felt bad if I didn't eat his breakfast so lovingly prepared, rice and all. Still to this day, my dad enjoys a big breakfast. Most mornings he eats cereal now, and no longer is able to cook. But even in the not-so-distant past, he's been known to pull out all the stops and cook a huge breakfast fit for a king.
So recently I thought it would be an enjoyable thing to pick Daddy up and treat him to a good breakfast. Now, I wasn't completely self-less in my thinking because I chose the place we would go, and that would be IHOP. Their pancake creations have a tendency to lure me sometimes, so I would say that their advertising attempts are quite successful -- at least with me anyway. I had a huge pancake-craving going on. But upon arriving at the restaurant, my sweet little daddy realized he had left his wallet at home. He was apparently upset with himself for doing this because, after all, a man doesn't take his daughter to breakfast without money. It absolutely did not matter that I was the one who had INVITED HIM out for breakfast and I was the one who CHOSE where we would go so I had come fully prepared to pay. I tried to reassure him of that fact and pleaded with him not to worry, to just enjoy his breakfast. But this little mishap had clearly frustrated him and he was unhappy with himself throughout the entire meal. I could tell he was not in the best of moods as he ate. He complained that his eggs were not prepared the way he had asked, but he didn't want to request more. He was obviously upset, because it's not like my daddy to complain. I, on the other hand, was in pancake heaven and totally and completely enjoyed my lemon blueberry pancake fix and my four strips of bacon (AND eggs AND hashbrowns). Wow, too much food.
Upon our arrival back home, the first thing my daddy did was fetch his wallet. And after much debating back and forth about who was going to pay for breakfast (even though I already had), I lost the battle. Upon carefully inspecting the restaurant ticket, he reached into his wallet and pulled out cash and handed it to me. And, even though I am reluctant to take money from my daddy now because he is on a fixed income, I took the money and thanked him. It's times like this I am reminded my dad has the gift of making a dollar stretch just as far as it can possibly go. He was raised during the depression so he learned that lesson the hard way. He's also part of a dying generation where the man always pays and always holds the door open for the lady. But more than anything, I know it gives him great joy to this day to still have a part in taking care of me, even if it's a meal at IHOP.
After all, I still am and forever will be his little girl.
I take great pleasure in the things of nature these days. One thing I will truly miss when we move on to our next house is the pond that resides out my back door. It was there many years before we came to this neighborhood and it will be there many years after we leave I'm sure. This pond has been a great source of enjoyment while we've lived here. First of all, it's beautiful. There's nothing quite like a body of water to produce calm and tranquility. Depending on the morning or evening light, the reflections are stunning. With a small breeze, the water ripples and with stillness it's smooth as glass. Secondly, it provides a great walking track, not only in front of it but around it if you dare to venture to the other side. And, thirdly, we've enjoyed the pond because of the great "nature watching" it provides. My husband and our little Preston spend endless photo-worthy moments in front of the pond when she is here, feeding the Canada geese who make their home here at least part of the year, and they also enjoy feeding the rather large catfishes that inhabit the pond as well. I love catfish, but only after they have been caught by another, cleaned by another, and cooked by another (also, please do filet!). I do not enjoy looking at something alive or half-dead or all-dead before it becomes my dinner. I guess if I ever had to raise my own meat, I would become a vegetarian. I have no problem pulling a root out of the ground and eating it. But anything with eyes, no thank you. But the catfishes in our pond are an angler's dream -- if you like to fish for catfish. We've also recently enjoyed a blue heron in the evening when the sun is low in the sky. What a beautiful bird. But he will take flight if he even feels you looking his way. Then there are the geese. We have a community of about 10-12 geese right now who waddle in and out of the water, leaving behind their organic matter as they go. There is endless open land in our community for them to do this thing of necessity, but they really enjoy my driveway for some reason. They are loud and boisterous on occasion and they truly believe they own the alley between the pond and our driveway. Many times I have patiently waited for them as they cross. I guess it's the least I can do. After all, they are innocent creatures. Or are they? Hmm...
But just as I take pleasure in these gifts of nature, I am saddened when I feel one of God's creatures is being mistreated, neglected, or just by some freak occurence, lacks something they need to live. Don't even let the TV commercial come on the screen about the dogs and cats begging viewers to support them with their monthly gift. They show sad little puppy faces and adorable little kitty eyes, and older animals on their last leg with their ribs showing. I simply cannot take that commercial and will change the channel every time it comes on. It's a good cause, but my heart just can't take it! We've had stray dogs come around looking for a meal and more recently, stray horses (remember that post?). So the geese. Did I mention we have geese? I stopped recently to allow our geese family to cross the road, and I patiently watched as one by one they entered the road, crossed the small patch of grass (really, weeds) and plunked into the pond. There was a straggler at the end of the group and he (or she) hesitated as he let the others cross ahead of him, and then he waited for a minute. Me, being the kind-hearted nature watcher that I am, waited as well, giving him time. When he began to hobble across the road, I realized he was injured. Poor thing. Finally, he pushed off and took flight across the road at about two feet above the ground. He landed close to the water's edge and dropped in behind the others.
A couple of days later, I backed out of my drive to run an errand. The family had been having their "time" if you know what I mean in my driveway, and I noticed the crippled goose a bit farther back, once again separated from the crowd. My car startled them and they headed for the pond. The lame one held back. Is he being bullied because he is handicapped or are the other geese just tired of waiting for him? I don't know but once again I thought to myself poor thing, must have a boo-boo on his whittle webbed foot. I ran my errand and, upon returning to the drive approximately 30 minutes later, he was still on the side and hadn't made it into the pond with the rest. As I inspected the little guy and looked a bit closer, I saw the problem. He was missing a foot! What? I looked closer and it was true, one of his feet was actually missing. I pondered this, as to how it might've happened. Did he get it trapped in something and it cut off his foot? Did a snake bite him and it rotted off? Did a car lop it off when he got too close? Could he have been born that way? I will never know, but my heart was touched as he once again pushed off with the one foot, taking a short flight and joining the others in the pond.
This quirk of nature got me to thinking about how resilient not only people are, but animals as well. The will to survive is a strong force of nature and one that we have seen time and time again, fueling people to overcome seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Perhaps this goose lost his foot in another place far away, a prior home, or maybe it was here, I don't know. But, even though it does tend to slow him down a bit, he plugs ahead, following the other geese and trying to keep up, using his wings to compensate for the lack of a foot. If I was a bird, I think one less foot would definitely be better than one less wing. After all, it takes two wings to fly, and a bird who cannot fly is doomed. But it sill makes me sad to see that he is incomplete. I hope he has mastered the art of landing with one foot. I wish him well. I hope life will not be too terribly hard on him, and that the other geese will give him a break. Press on, little goose, press on.
Come to think of it, we have another lame duck in our neighborhood. Well, it's actually a dog with three legs. Poor thing, somehow he lost an ambulatory limb as well. But one of our neighbors has kindly taken him in and now our community is a haven for two animals missing feet.
I guess we're just nature-lovin' folk in this community. Not such a bad claim to fame I reckon.
As most know, my husband and I flip houses, and this is one component of our endeavors as entrepreneurs. We have other businesses (he in IT & media and I in photography & web work), but buying houses and re-selling them is a huge part of our business. We look for properties that we can buy low, fix up, and sell. It has proven to be a worthwhile venture for us and what makes it even better is that we enjoy dong it together! Just like Tarek and Christina El Moussa (from HGTV's Flip or Flop), we take a "calculated risk" every time we buy a house that it will sell quickly and turn a profit for us. And, just like Christina and Tarek, I am the designer and hubs is the contractor, and that's just the way I like it! There are few things more exciting than catching a vision for a new property and then directing the men on how to get it done!
Seriously though, it is a joint effort on most everything. He puts in his two-cent's worth on the design elements, and I do some hands-on work as well. Not because I love it but out of necessity, I have become a fairly decent painter. Some properties need very little work, just mostly cosmetic upgrades like painting and flooring, and some need more. I think I have a pretty good eye in spotting properties that have potential and he at knowing what it will take financially to fix it up and if the investment is worth what the turnaround will bring. But as I'm sure you've all heard the saying it has to have good bones, that is truly what we look for -- a great floor plan, no structural problems, universal appeal, square footage, and location -- all those things go into making a prospective house worthy of our efforts. The house before our most recent that we bought for re-sale had great bones and potential, but it was disgustingly dirty! It was just like my daddy has been known to say "It looks like Mr. Filthy McNasty lived there!" And just like I've been known to say, "It's not for the faint of heart" (which also applies in this case to fixing up houses), it takes guts to walk into a completely destroyed house. I've learned NOT to wear flip flops! We have seen houses where the past owners through their anger have pulled electrical wiring through holes they've made in the sheetrock in every room of the house, where rats and other critters have set up camp, and where dogs have used the floors, walls and corners of every room to mark their territory down to the subflooring! We've seen dead birds in bathtubs, adult play toys on display (ultra strong pro cleaners in that tub!), and feces smeared on walls. You have to be able to look past the filth, holes, broken windows, stinking carpet, and putrid colors and upgrades gone-wrong to see the possibilities. This particular house that I just mentioned had a refrigerator left in it with six-month old (at least) rotting food inside. Underneath the fridge was a thick layer of God-only-knows-what that I had to literally scrape off with a knife. It reminded me of a thick scab that forms on a very deep skin scrape. Eeeewww! Makes me want to gag just thinking about it! But this very same house turned out to be one of my favorite flips. By the time we finished, it was a soft, calming gray from floor to ceiling highlighting the amazing natural light in the house, it was clean as a whistle, and had the most beautiful bamboo flooring I've ever seen! It sold in four weeks.
We have bought bank-owned foreclosures, houses on the spot after laying eyes on them for the first time 20 minutes earlier, and at auctions on the courthouse steps. That last one my hubby does without me because I don't have the nerve for bidding on houses, especially if we get outbid and come home empty-handed (it's happened). So I leave the negotiating to him, as I tap into my creative side and begin to imagine the new buy's inner beauty and how to bring it out. But every time we buy a new property, finish our upgrades and put it on the market, I have a tremendous dread come over me for the work I know is ahead. Because up till this point, we have actually lived in the houses we flip (hopefully to change soon), which means I have the daunting task of packing up and moving every time we sell and buy again. But then the creative juices start flowing and I begin to daydream. What little gem are we gonna find out there? What latest trends and colors will I be implementing in this new project? My creative juices produce much-needed adrenaline and I'm ready to go. Besides, I've conquered the art of packing a house and moving (as shown on my how-to tips dropdown on my Personal Home & Decor page) and, one day at a time, I get it done! Time to move on to another challenge! My friends ask me all the time how I do it, moving that often. They make sure they pencil in my new address and never, ever write it in ink! I can't say that I blame them, because I have lived in nine different places in the last ten years. So, "How DO you do it?" they say. I really don't have an answer for them except to say that, even though every move involves a certain amount of dread and always lots of hard work, it's the end project that motivates me. I have to look down the road, and that's the fuel that energizes me.
So very, very soon, our present property will be on the market, ready to go. And, let me tell you, I believe it's a beauty. This jewel has become a favorite of mine, but then all our flips do. We've lived in this one almost two years and it will be hard to say goodbye. But all it will take is a new vision on the horizon and I'll be able to shake the dust of its little yard off my feet. Where are you, cute little house just waiting to be found, you little diamond in the rough? We're coming to getcha!
On to new adventures...
The hubs and I have a slight fantasy about camping. Now, we have never really been camping... once we camped out with our kids at Vogel State Park in north Georgia, but I'm not sure that counted because we rented a cabin. But we did make a roaring campfire over which we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows for s'mores. It's a great memory and one we consider a "camping" memory, but I'm not quite sure it technically qualifies.
We have had friends and family who've camped over the years and who still camp, but we have never gotten on the bandwagon. In my many years of observing campers, however, I believe they fall into three categories: The "wilderness camper" is the one who carries everything he or she will need for the trip in a pack on their back, including all their food and even the sleeping bag and pup tent they will sleep in that night in the woods, alone with nature and the grizzlies. Hmm, not for me. I'm afraid of bears. And large kitties. The "regular camper" is one who has acquired a plethora of camping gear, everything from Lodge cast-iron cookware to lanterns and lighting and owns a good-sized pop-up camper which is what they purchased when they were ready to step up from a six-man tent. They camp regularly on most holiday weekends and have a little sign outside their campsite with their names on it. Pop-up campers are not too bad. I find them pretty accommodating for everything you might need and especially for the space they afford when all is "popped up." This particular camper is saving and dreaming about the RV in their future, complete with flatscreen TV, a/c, a well-equipped kitchen, a toilet, a shower, and enough space to sleep 8. This is mostly who we see when we hike the trails at our local state park, and these are the campers we aspire to be. Then you have the "luxury camper." These are the ones who have spent every bit as much or more on that super-deluxe RV as they spent on their first house. Those babies are expensive. We have actually visited RV lots recently checking out everything from tiny ones (unh-uh, not for me) to some with nine-foot ceilings, full-sized kitchens and large baths -- comparatively speaking, that is. And though I'm not sure you could even consider folks who have these luxury accommodations serious campers, I know I could definitely do some "camping" like that. In fact, camping in one of those would be a dream come true. But is it really camping when your camper is as big as your house and has all the same amenities? I tend to think not. Isn't camping meant to experience the wilderness at least a tiny bit? I think so.
So, as we hike along the trails and take in the sights and sounds of the resident campers, we fantasize about living the life one day. What if... we sold everything, bought a camper, and just made the state and national parks our backyard for awhile... we could take our "house" wherever we wanted to travel. Every single night, weather permitting of course, we would cook on the grill outside our door and my hubby could smell that famous charcoal or wood burning smell that captivates him when we walk. Just the smell of a grill going or a fire burning in an outdoor pit and our mouths start to water for a mile-high burger. In fact, the campground is one of our favorite places to walk at the park and many times it's our starting point just for its wonderful smells! It seems the life of a camper would be simpler, having to worry only about your immediate surroundings (the camper and your campsite), and daily life would be all about nature and soaking up every bit of it we could. I remember exactly one camping trip my family took when I was growing up. After we drove what seemed like all day somewhere in the mountains of north Georgia, we finally arrived at Camp Lost Horizon. And, believe me, there is a reason it was named that. It was deep in the sticks away from all the conveniences we were accustomed to. As a child, I truly thought it was lost somewhere beyond finding, even though we found it. Thank God for good directions. This was our first camping trip as a family, and my mother had planned long and hard to make this vacation everything she imagined it would be and to give her children the camping experience. Somewhere into the second or third day, my mother was eaten up with chigger bites and she thought she'd heard bears outside during the night, so she insisted we pack up and find the nearest motel in which to finish our vacation. The next morning after a good night's sleep in clean, comfy beds at the motel, I remember my dad preparing a full breakfast outside the motel room on a grill -- bacon, eggs and the works! It was just like camping, only better! We never took another camping vacation after that. After all, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
As we are entering into the time of life where we feel it would be nice to slow down a bit, get back to nature and the "simpler" things of life, we have considered the camping lifestyle and how it might be a great alternative for us. After all, we love the outdoors more than we ever have, we enjoy hiking in the woods, and we love the idea of paring back, making it simpler and living with less. But could it be a reality or is it merely fantasy? Could we really cohabitate in a 200 or less square foot space every single day? Where would we go in the dead of winter if one of us couldn't sleep? What would we do if one needed solace from the other's endless chatter? It's something to really think about before taking the plunge into the unknown waters of RV living.
So for now, we'll just continue to fantasize about the camping life. We'll continue to make our burgers on our charcoal grill outside the screened porch and our campfires in our portable pit in the backyard by the pond. I mean, it really doesn't get much better than that anyway, does it?
Sometimes during challenging stages of life, I begin to feel totally overwhelmed. If you have a new baby, a sick child, financial struggles, job issues, or perhaps a sick or aging parent (like me), it tends to try and zap you of the small amount of energy you're trying to hold onto for fun things! Life has a way of kicking us all in the butt sometimes. But all it takes to see what you're facing is not insurmountable is to hear of someone else's problems that are more serious or, worse yet, completely devastating, As much as it seems wrong to feel better when you hear of someone else's misfortunes, I'm just trying to be totally honest here. It does seem to put what you're facing into perspective.
Some would think me fragile perhaps. But, really, it's not that I'm fragile, it's just that I suffer from a lifelong battle with depression. When I was a small child, I would have crying sessions at night for no apparent reason, and my parents were totally at a loss as to what to do for me. They took me to the doctor; they took me to the preacher; they loved and reassured me. But "back in those days," depression was not discussed nearly as much as it is today. There were no good medications, and it carried with it a stigma that still to this day tries to ride the coattails of a depression diagnosis, refusing to let go and allow a diagnosis of depression to have as much authenticity and validity as, say, a cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis of depression can be equally as devastating as a cancer diagnosis. With depression, there is nothing tangible that you can see or point to that gives it integrity. It's hard to see a chemical imbalance in the brain like a glowing tumor on an x-ray or sonogram. Sometimes people, like me, have no apparent reason to be depressed but the symptoms are there, and a family history of depression gives you all the credibility you need to seek help. My mother had depression, my grandmother had depression, probably my great-grandmother as well, if truth be known. Unfortunately, one of my children has also struggled with depression. Depression is real and affects millions of people in our country, but there is also now great help available.
So I am not fragile. As a matter of fact, I have been told by certain people that I am one of the strongest women they know! But when the circumstances of life change, it's depression's prime opportunity to rear its ugly head and try and take you captive, pushing you into a few days or even weeks of what I call "being in a slump." You begin to feel lethargic, overwhelmed, and paralyzed from moving forward. It can surface with sadness, anxiety, anger, confusion, and indeciveness. Unfortunately, depression has many masks that it wears. But learning those faces of depression and how they are triggered has been the first step for me on the road to feeling better. Thankfully, about 20 or so years ago, I was able to find the right regimen of care needed to stabilize my symptoms and push me to enjoy pretty much every year depression-free. I, like anyone else, have my days. I have also learned the hard way in more recent years that diet and exercise play a huge part in keeping the depression demon at bay. But this too I know: When I see life's issues beginning to pull me down, I have learned to take a step back, to evaluate what is triggering the symptoms I am having, and to be gentler with myself. I have learned to do what is needed to feel better and stronger and to let nothing else take priority over the immediate battle in the war against depression. Many days walking is the only thing that gives me a release from depression's ugly grip. And if I walk regularly, it plays a crucial part in keeping it under control. I've been known to say to others "I'm gonna walk till I feel better or I kill over from exhaustion!"
So, in case you think this blogpost is a downer, think again! If my struggles can encourage you or push you to seek help to be stronger or to ultimately improve your life, then that's what makes this post an "upper." If you can relate to being knocked down sometimes by life's circumstances, I hope that knowing others struggle as well will empower you. But it's hard to take a step back when you're full throttle ahead. Slow down; inspect the reality you're dealing with; analyze the triggers; reflect on your blessings and count them one-by-one... See your doctor, and find out that you are not alone and there is help waiting for you. It also is a tremendous help to find someone you trust who can brain-storm with you and remind you of the safety measures needed to rise above the negative chatter going on in your head to live life and to thrive. I am not a health professional. Just keeping it real from the heart.
And it just plain helps to talk about it. Thank you for listening...
Exactly seven years ago this spring before Hollie moved to Honduras and Abbie to Houston, and Abbie was still in college at Valdosta State, I met up with Hollie in Atlanta and we headed due south to Jacksonville, Florida. We stopped in Valdosta to pick up Abbie and we set out for our first ever and only college spring break extraordinaire that me and my girls have taken to the beach. As you probably know, spring break is scheduled a little too early sometimes -- that is, before the spring sun has had enough time to warm the temps into perfect beach weather which, in my opinion, lies somewhere between 72 and 80 degrees with the winds from the east at about 10 mph. As you can see in this picture, it hadn't quite reached perfection when we arrived. But it wasn't gonna stop us from our day on the beach! We made it to our hotel right at the water's edge, packed our cooler, and headed out to the beach to relax -- hoodies, towels, and all! The towels never even got wet, but they made most excellent blankets!
Jacksonville Beach has come a long way since the days of my youth. As a matter of fact, I remember it as a kinda nasty little place, one that was never chosen for the beach shenanigans of my spring breaks when I was a teenager (Daytona or Panama City, now, THAT'S a different story!). Forgive me if you are from Jacksonville or have family in Jacksonville or just LOVE Jacksonville...I'm just telling you the way I remember it. But since VSU is a mere two hours from Jacksonville, I have had the opportunity to visit there a couple of times in the last decade and, let me tell you, it's a great beach to visit! There have been so many improvements. I mean, that was a long time ago, my teenage years! The beach is beautiful, the attractions and food scene top-notch and it's a great place for a getaway that's only about six hours from Atlanta. Not too far for a long weekend. Now I have redeemed myself and given Jacksonville Beach, Florida a stunning review!
Our trip started just like any other trip to the beach, getting settled in to our hotel and seeing just how fast we could get our beach paraphernalia together and head to the sand. Never mind that the wind on the opposite side (non-beach side) of the hotel was pretty brisk and threatening to bite through our very ambitious attire of shorts and flip-flops. Being the college students that we were (in my dreams, haha) and trying to save money, we stocked cereal and milk in our room's tiny fridge along with plastic bowls and utensils for our makeshift breakfast in the room. Both of my girls and I love cereal and believe cereal is the food of the gods. Hollie actually eats it any time, day or night. She is the cereal queen. We planned for lunch and dinner to be a little more flexible if I remember and there was a Joe's Crab Shack within walking distance right on the beach. Perfect! My kind of trip -- amenities within walking distance, good food, sunshine, and warm beaches. Except that the beaches WERE NOT warm. The first day or two we covered up not because we were trying to protect our skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun but because we were downright cold! Ugh. But the temperatures did finally warm and we got our fill of the sun and shore. As the picture shows, my girls caught up on their rest in the meantime, bundled up on the beach and napping from I'm sure the many hours Abbie had put in studying the week before (that's what I like to think anyway) and the hours Hollie had logged on her job as an RN. Besides, cold or not, the sunshine always makes a perfect companion with which to nap. It has a way of lulling you to sleep with its warmth regardless of the temperature or the brisk winds. So thankful for the warm sun no matter how cold the air gets in the winter.
I couldn't really tell you everything we did on that trip, possibly because our family had traveled many times to the beach for vacation as the kids were growing up and many of those trips run together in my mind. But it doesn't take a lot to keep us entertained at the beach. A good book to read, some great food and snacks, a comfy chair and umbrella, even just a blanket on the sand with our toes dug in. But our entertainment is the beach itself. The thing is though, this trip was totally different in that it was the first and only one I have ever taken with my girls as adults, just us together. Three women on the beach, enjoying the sun and letting the waves be our choice of attraction for the day, the wind blowing through our hair. We did make time for a photo shoot one day, however. Can't go to the beach without a photo shoot. Come on, girls, let mama make one more pic! A trip to the coast is something I wish I could do every single summer with my daughters. But, alas, life is crazy busy and it's not happened again since. We did take a beach trip right before Hollie moved to Honduras but my hubby and her hubby were with us, so that doesn't count. Hollie has promised me a trip to Italy one day before I am too old to enjoy it, and I'm holding her to that one. Amalfi Coast, here we come!
If my memory serves me correctly, we did go on a couple of walks to dine at Joe's Crab Shack. I specifically remember strolling back to our hotel one day with the sun warm on our faces, and a frozen daiquiri in my hand. A mixed drink in the company of my girls? That's when you know they've grown up!
Good times. Really good times...
One of my favorite photos of the shoot with my girls, Jacksonville Beach, 2008 Spring Break. Don't tell them you saw it, though -- they hate every picture of them in the past. They be so cray-cray
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure (and I sincerely mean that) of accompanying my father to church. Recently I posted about changes in my life and many of them have to do with my dad right now. He has been advised by the doctor that, due to a condition he has, he should no longer be driving. Even before the doc pulled the rug on driving, I knew it was time. He will be 89 next month. Wow. So our family has a new commitment to get him everywhere he needs to go. As of late, he has two places that he has been regularly driving each week: the grocery store and church. So yesterday morning I rose early, prepared myself to attend church with him (instead of mine), and drove the 30 miles to pick him up. He was ready when I got there.
A little background. The church my dad still attends, he has been a member for 50 years. It is the church where I grew up. The church has been an entity for 160 years, and you might imagine that it has been through quite a few changes in just the 50 years since my daddy has been there. There have been slews of people come; slews of people leave. There have been many pastors over the years. And for the few people who have been members as long as my sweet father, there have been a slew of changes in them and many of them have died out. My dad is a simple man. He has the mentality if something ain't broke, don't fix it. He believes if something works, why buy a new one? He believes in devotion, longevity, and commitment. He is the most committed man I know. So many, many years ago when he joined this church, he knew he would be there a while, and since that time nothing has happened that has been able to run him off. He is not alarmed by an exodus of people, neither is he alarmed with an influx of people who are totally different from him. He stands by his church, his pastor, and the great people who make up his congregation.
I have visited with my dad a couple of times this last year since my mother passed away. Since I grew up in this church, I can totally see the metamorphosis that has taken place...a community in change, bringing in new people of all cultures, and people (like my daddy) who will be there right on, no matter who attends. The congregation has taken on a whole new identity these days with a very diverse group of people, which I always believe makes things way more interesting. This establishment sits on prime property in a suburb not far outside Atlanta. The community, like the church, has gone through many changes. But the church still stands, and has a new commitment to remain standing there so close to a major interstate that the roar of traffic can be heard in the subdivisions neighboring the church on the highway. The traffic can also be heard quite loud and clear from the graveyard where my mother is buried across the street. I hope she doesn't mind, because my mom never liked a lot of noise. I'm sure 40 years ago when my parents purchased the plots in that cemetery, they never dreamed the traffic on that particular interstate would ever be what it is today. But such it is with time and change.
It has always been a mystery to me that sometimes when a community changes and the area around the church is no longer filled with the people who once lived there but has taken on a whole new identity with people of many different cultures who have moved in, why it's necessary that the church moves. We have seen this happen many, many times over the years. A church serves a community for a long time, and when the community changes, the original congregation is out of there. They announce that the church will be moving to higher ground. And it always seems that the moving of a congregation contributes to decline in the neighborhhood and, once again, the community is hit with change from which it may never rebound. So I commend this church for its choice to remain steadfast when so many others fly the coop. It has suffered through many devastating setbacks, but it has remained a beacon in that community and, for that, I offer kudos to this church because, after all, isn't that what a church should be all about, the community that it serves along with the good, the bad, and the ugly that come along with it?
All that being said, I'll continue with my story. As we arrived in Daddy's class yesterday morning, he introduced me to all his classmates. I felt the pride as he beamed, "This is my daughter visiting with me this morning !" I too felt pride as these sweet elderly people introduced themselves and relayed to me how much they love my father. But my dad is a wonderful man, so that came as no surprise. It also came as no surprise that much of the time taken up at the beginning of class was devoted to praying for those who were sick, the families of those who had passed away, and the many concerns facing a group of older adults. The sign on the door as you come in says "Adults, aged 75 and over." As you might have already guessed, this class is the last class. It's the final stopping place on the way out. No matter how old you get, you will never again be promoted to the next age group. There is no "next age group." So I was the spring chicken yesterday morning. I almost felt as though I brought new energy to the room just by my presence, and I mean that literally. When a lot of their friends have passed away, and many are now homebound and too ill to attend, a young spritely 59-year-old is all it takes to bring in some new energy! Those sweet, sweet people. I guess maybe they felt about me like I feel when my kids come to visit with the energy that only 20 and 30-somethings have. I can totally relate.
But just as I am many times surprised by things in life, I was the one who was so blessed by these folks. They were a lively group (after all, they WERE there, dressed, and on time), and it was obvious they were a devoted group of followers -- not only to God, but to their church and class. Once little woman was tiny in statue, but very large in personality. She boldly announced as she came into the room that she was having a very bad hair day, and had decided at the last minute to donn her hot pink gardening hat, and she looked adorable in it! Then, as the class went on, it was apparent why the teacher asked this same woman to read. As she lifted her book and raised her head a bit (probably adjusting her bifocals), she read with the enthusiasm (AND the volume AND expression) of a thespian doling out words of great tragedy in some rendition of Shakespeare's Macbeth. It totally caught me off guard to say the least! Others of my dad's classmates were quieter, more subdued, but all equally welcoming, which leads me to wonder.....have I found a new place with these oldtimers, with these new friends who have lived life far longer than me and gained the wisdom that a girl can only hope for in her latter years? I don't know, but it's likely that I will see them again in the very near future.
After all, next Sunday is Father's Day and my father will want to go to church. Okay, daddy bear, I'll be there at 8:45 sharp.
(Postscript: Daddy also took me out for lunch after church. I could totally get used to that !)
Today marks the very first time I have ever helped at a local food bank. Actually, it's a local church supplied by the food bank. We arrived early to open huge bags and boxes of freshly delivered produce to give out to people in our very own community who do not have enough to eat.
I am admitting that it was my first time. Part of me would much rather you think I have been doing this all my life, that serving the hungry is something I have always been inspired to do and have always done, and that I have logged countless hours doing it. I have not. And although I have almost always volunteered in my community through my local church in some capacity, I have never volunteered doing anything related to food distribution. Lately I've had a clearer understanding of the hunger issues that prevail not only in developing countries across the world but in my very own back door. My daughter in Honduras works with children every single day who may not have a decent meal if not for the one provided by the school where she and her husband work.. But I have come to realize there are people living within a mile of my house who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Hunger is prevalent everywhere. From the least of the children to the aging adults who are at the mercy of those to whom they look for care. There is always someone out there who needs our help.
As we arrived just after 8:00 a.m., the truck had delivered the food, and it appeared to be a bit chaotic on the loading dock. But very shortly the system kicked into play, and things were running like a well-oiled machine. I ended up at the potato table and that was not planned, but I think it ironic however because I love potatoes! It never ceases to amaze me how much can be done with potatoes, and how something so life-sustaining comes straight from the earth! Ditto for carrots, beets, onions. and so many other foods. But back to the food distribution... Once all the boxes of food were organized by type, the volunteers started filling empty boxes with one of each item for the folks who had begun lining up very early and had been waiting to receive food. As the boxes started to line the edge of the loading dock, I began to look around. There were volunteers as young as eight and some looked like they were closing in on eighty. The little girl next to me was working circles around me and refused to go to the playground (as was suggested) when people starting picking up their food. She said she wanted to work. There was a mid-to-elderly aged man who was carrying filled boxes of food who I thought truly was on his last leg. His legs looked weak, he was moving slowly and he was obviously very tired, but he continued to press on. Those boxes weighed at least 30 lbs. each because some had multiple cans, two bags of apples, and two 5-lb. bags of potatoes! Wow, I was humbled by the folks who gave up their Thursday morning to work like a dog.
As I close in on my 60th birthday, I am mostly happy about the way my life has turned out. I have so many things to be thankful for, and I try every day to live a life of gratitude. But there are definitely some regrets that I have. If you know anyone on earth who has absolutely no regrets in their latter years, please let me know because I would like to meet them. But truth be known, they are probably lying through their teeth! Seriously, though, I wish I had taught my children at a younger age to volunteer, to give back, to make a difference in the lives of others. I just happen to be blessed with kids who make it their mission in life to give back, and for that I am so very thankful. I have learned so much from them! I wish I had had a clearer sense when I was a younger mom of how important it is to give to those who are less fortunate, to give without expectations, to give when there is no glory, to give in secrecy and out of your very own need if necessary. I wished I had realized that a life of giving is the best way to have a life of satisfaction. For one to look at me, one would definitely say I am nearer the end of my life than the beginning. But in many ways, I feel my life is just beginning. I am starting to reach beyond the boundaries of my comfort zones, to be willing to sacrifice when I am uncomfortable or afraid, to let go of some of the fear that controlled me when I was younger. I am learning to live with less. We can take nothing with us when we leave this earth, but we can leave behind all kinds of things -- most importantly, the hope we have instilled in others through our actions, our convictions, and the way we choose to live.
And it's never too late to begin...
I am a self-proclaimed treasure hunter. No, I don't hunt for "real" treasure like silver or gold at the bottom of the sea, although I have been known in the past to collect silver-plated serving pieces. I am what you would call a tiny treasure hunter...I look for found objects that delight me! I've found nothing that is worth anything in monetary value, but I've found numerous things that are worth lots of smiles and trigger my wonderment as to where they came from and how they got where I find them. I have collected shells and driftwood on the beach, beautiful leaves during autumn, miniature roses that I have dried, feathers, rocks, smooth pebbles...
Today as I was taking my morning stroll, I ran across this little beauty tossed to the side of the road near a large tree in my yard. I must admit I enjoy my walks as much for the treasure hunting as I do for the exercise. I don't know how this little nest got there, but for one who loves pretty much anything to do with birds and aviary, I was thrilled to say the least (big stuffed birds or stuffed birds of any kind -- not so much). I've posted pictures of birds and bird nests in the past, because I enjoy them and have even posted other people's pictures of bird nests that I see and like. I have bird cages worked into the decor in my house and claimed my mom's birdhouse that sat on a table in her living room for my own. But this little gem...it is authentic and, because of that, I am delighted! It sets off a million thoughts running through my mind... What little bird built it? How long did it take her to weave such intricacy? How many eggs did it hold and did they all hatch? Where are the birds now? Is it a past home of a bird I've seen in my yard?
I don't know how this little nest found its way to the side of the road. A big gust of wind most likely, either the wind blowing through the trees or the manufactured wind my hubby's monster blower makes when he uses it in the yard. But either way, there it was waiting for me -- for me alone this morning, just to make me smile. It just happened to be exactly where it was at the exact time I was walking by and I know it was there for my enjoyment. I found the same delight on the beach a couple of months ago. I've had little luck in finding driftwood on the particular beach we usually frequent, but this time I ran across a tiny beauty -- long and slender -- small in size, but smooth as a stone and just right for the shell basket on my table. I was filled with wonder at where that little piece of driftwood originated and how far it had traveled. I pondered the mysteries of the vast ocean, and how it had been tossed and turned into a sleek finish. You might say I'm a bit obsessed with treasures from the beach as well. They also find a way into the decor of my home. What can I say? I am inspired by nature. I have even been known to save and dry flowers. Now, this was a common practice back in the eighties when potpourri was all the rage, but today we have essential oils and candles that do a much better job at infusing our homes with fragrance. If I am ever gifted with the tiny little spray roses that florists use in corsages (sometimes I buy them for myself because I love them so much!), I simply cannot part with these little gems. They are just as beautiful dried as they are when they are alive. Most of my found treasures just sit there and do nothing other than kindle my interest and inspire me each and every time I pass them in my house. I use this method as well when I am shopping for decorative items for my home. The perfect curiosity for the perfect spot can be all it takes to deem a day of shopping successful. It takes patience waiting for the perfect treasure, but it's totally worth it. The just-right accessory for the perfect place, whether it's your house or your body, makes all the difference.
I know I could Google the kind of bird that most likely built this nest and find out pretty much any fact I desire to know on birds, bird nests, shells, driftwood and so many other found objects. In fact, I have gotten in the habit lately of saying, "Why wonder about it, just Google it ! " I am constantly amazed by the technology we possess in the 21st century, but sometimes I think we allow it to take the place of the art of wondering. Sometimes just wondering is enough. Some things are better left un-studied, un-figured out, just enjoyed for the pure pleasure they bring. And when it comes to finding tiny treasures along life's path, maybe they are best left for the tiny act of marveling alone. Have you done any marveling lately?
In less than two weeks, we will officially usher in summer. Even though I don't particularly love the hot humid weather summer brings in my area, there are a few things I especially look forward to when summer is finally here.
As I was coming in the house today, I heard the low, distant rumbling of a far-off thunderstorm. I love late-afternoon thunderstorms during the summer! I have memories from my childhood summers of going to spend time with my sister at our grandmother's house in Macon, Georgia. Our cousin would meet up with us there and we would have one of the most memorable weeks of our summer break. I remember the hot, humid days of south Georgia and how after playing outside for awhile or taking a walking trip downtown to shop (only in the sixties could you do that), we'd come in to the cool of my grandmother's den. She had a really old house with no central air, but one room with a window unit was all we needed! We'd camp out in the den and cool off while we played games and my grandmother worked crossword puzzles. I also remember going to another cousin's house near Buford, Georgia occasionally. This was actually her grandma's house, her being a 'distant' cousin, but some of those memories are also vivid. Macon and Buford, Georgia seemed like faraway places for a young girl from Atlanta. At both of these homes, I remember coming in from late afternoon play to a book or a game with the music of thunder playing in the background. Good memories. I might note here, however: I DO NOT LIKE electrical storms and there is a difference! When the lightening gets so intense that I want to hide under the bed (I actually did that as a child), that's a little too much thunder for my liking. But the rolling conversation of thunder in the heavens is a sound that makes summer special by giving us a reprieve from the heat and signaling that an afternoon shower is pending.
Another summertime favorite is the joy of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, peaches, and all the other fruits and veggies available during this season. I know most people can get these any time of the year now, but sometimes during the winter they are a poor substitute for the summer offerings. You've not lived till you've bit into a south Georgia peach or tasted a Vidalia onion or a tomato still warm from the vine in the summer. To me, there is nothing better than a pasta salad with -- oh, heck, just leave the pasta out and make it all veggies! I love to mix up a salad using whatever I have on hand...cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, corn, broccoli, peas, arugula, spinach...anything goes! Dress it with a little salt, garlic, and lime juice or toss it with your favorite Italian dressing, and you've got dinner. I usually call myself a winter cook because I enjoy making one-pot dinners on cold days -- you know, stews, soups, casseroles -- but summer is even easier than winter's one-pot meals. Salads are perfect summer suppers and cooking on the grill (another summertime fave) is even better because hubby does the cooking! I have a friend (won't mention names here) who does not like tomatoes or cucumbers. I tell her all the time she is definitely NOT from the south (even though she says she hails from Macon, Georgia supposedly), but then she'll eat onions with the best of us, so I let her slide. If you don't know what a Vidalia onion is, look it up! It's the best thing the south has to offer which is saying a lot because home-grown veggies are what the south is known for. One of our local farmers will have his corn crop ready for harvest in a couple of weeks. Another childhood memory of mine...my mom and grandmother putting up fresh corn and okra and canning peas.
Yumm-o. Once again, good memories.
The final thing on my mind today, but definitely not my final summertime joy, is ice cream. Now, I know that ice cream is something that is again found year round and it is appropriate for dessert any time of year as well, even during the cold of winter, but summertime ice cream is different. If you are lucky enough to have a home ice cream churn and your grandma's favorite custard recipe, you know what I'm talking about. There is nothing better than a bowl of fresh, home-churned ice cream. There is really nothing else like it. The ice cream manufacturers have tried and have come close, but it's still not the same. Another trip down memory lane: I can remember clear as day my family making home-churned ice cream in the summer. It seemed like it took forever for mama to mix up the recipe, pour it into the churn, pack it with salt and dry ice and then wait till it was ready, while someone cranked the handle. Oh, the waiting! But it was worth every minute we waited when a spoonful of that heaven touched your lips and tongue! Folks don't make homemade ice cream as much anymore, I guess because there are so many delectable ready-to-eat brands out there -- Moose Tracks, anyone? But if you're looking for something to do this summer with your kids or grandkids, make ice cream. It's an experience they'll always remember. The other thing about summertime ice-cream eating: There is no guilt. Absolutely all the guilt has been magically removed because, well, summers are made for eating ice cream!
Have you noticed that all of these summertime joys stem from memories I made in childhood? Interesting. I for one think we long for nostalgia...for the good old days...for a simpler time. Fifty years from now, someone will think 2015 was the good old days, imagine that. I could go on and on about running through the sprinkler, catching lightening bugs, going barefooted until my feet were black, and going to drive-in movies... Sometimes it doesn't hurt, and even helps, to look back and recall the wonderful memories that help make us who we are. As long as we don't stay in the past... OR use those memories for an excuse to eat ice cream every single solitary day of the summer...
Let summer begin!
Posted by CC
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