As last winter was finally coming to a close, I lamented through my blogposts how tired I was of rainy, gloomy days and how I was longing for the sunshine to return. Well, just as sure as my longing for the sun to return, I have lately been longing for relief from the heat. Are we ever content? But this past weekend we were blessed with a day of rain on Sunday which this area desperately needed, preceded by a day where the mercury was merciful as well and on which we had planned to indulge our latest passion -- having a garage sale. Borrowing a saying from the nineties here: "NOT!" This was our third one in recent weeks and I utterly hate having garage sales. But I find them a necessary evil sometimes in that we have to -- absolutely must -- unload some of the "stuff" we have accumulated, finding a home for this stuff with other people who beam with delight at their newfound treasures. In this case it's my mom's stuff so the purpose of this sale was bittersweet from its conception. What is the conception of a garage sale you ask? The moment when, after planning your strategy, you put it all in the driveway to bare your junk for the world to see -- or at least the neighborhood. My strategy? Sell it all...every last item!
But as much as I loathe garage sales and love an occasional rainy day, they both have their pros and cons.
The downside to garage sales? At the end of the day I am filthy dirty, grumpy, and so tired that nothing will do except for me to shower and go to bed. I am literally good for nothing. The other thing about garage sales is that I can never get what I think my precious stuff is worth. And if it's my mom's stuff, then it's even more precious. But I end up selling it anyway because I understand the thrill of the hunt for a great deal and folks who frequent garage sales are looking for a deal and, much to my dismay, love to haggle. But it always amazes me how those single dollars and even change add up to be hundreds that go to a good cause (in this case, my dad). Another good thing about a garage sale is I usually end up getting in all my steps for the day. Granted, it's from going back and forth a million times carrying and re-arranging items to sell, not from the beauty of hiking around the lake, but I get my steps in nonetheless. One last thing I am able to take away from a garage sale is the very interesting, somewhat eccentric, people you meet and the conversations that come along with them. This time it was Farmer Larry who gave me a much-needed science lesson. Now, I didn't catch his real name but since he reminded me of someone I know named Larry, Farmer Larry it is. Farmer Larry arrived in his overalls looking every bit the part and knew just a little about everything having to do with farming, hunting, and anything outdoorsy. So who better to ask about the "unfamiliar" droppings I've seen lately around the neighborhood than Farmer Larry? He knew exactly what they were. The coughed-up remains from either a hoot owl or a hawk of the rodent they previously ingested. I'm sorry I asked. But Farmer Larry was a very interesting character and talking with him made the time go a little faster. I've found that most the folks who come out for garage sales are those who live in the area or cruise by going to work or to town running errands. Kind of neat to meet your neighbors and unload some of your junk on them at the same time. Nothing brings the community together like a good garage sale!
I can't think of many things that aren't pleasant about a rainy day, unless the rainy day turns into several rainy days or a month of them like the end of last winter. Or if you've planned a picnic. Or if it is the only day you have to do yard work. Or if you don't have a good book to read. A rainy day for the most part is a day to stay in (if you're able), relax (if you'e able), and nap (if you're able) to the music of drops splatting on the ground outside the window and overflowing the gutters because you need to clean them but you can't clean them because it's raining. And it's the perfect time to do this if, in fact, you had a garage sale the day before and are as tired as the old hound dog that used to nap on granny's porch.
Post-garage-sale perfection if I say so myself.
(Editor's Note: We are officially finished with garage sales for now. Anything that didn't sell after three tries went directly to Goodwill. Mission accomplished!)
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm turning into my mother. I think as all women get a bit older, they see their mother in themselves. If you are lucky enough to have known your mother, then you see it with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears perhaps. If your mother passed before you had a chance to know her, other people tell you so. Ahhh, you look just like your mother or The way you said that sounded just like your mom. Because I was one blessed lady to have my mother for 58 years, I myself can see her in me as I get older. Sometimes I'll say something and I'll think ooh, that was so my mama coming out of me!! My mom was a wonderful woman. She had some habits that I don't necessarily want to inherit as I'm sure my daughters would say about me (hey, nobody's perfect), but overall I can truthully say that being like my mother is a really good thing. So I guess it's not mysterious that, just like my sweet mama, I like to eat. This is certainly nothing rare because we all like to eat but, I mean, the women in my family really enjoy our food.
So, just like Mama, I've had a lifelong battle with trying to keep my weight down. I remember when I was very young (back when I was very slim and still enjoying a killer metabolism) that my mom lost a significant amount of weight drinking Sego and Tab diet drinks and exercising with Jack LeLannne on TV (blast from the past!). I couldn't really relate at the time, but in more recent decades I too have had times when I've had to hunker down and make weekly apointments with the scales to make sure it didn't tip past the dreaded weight. What is the dreaded weight you ask? Now, you don't think I'm actually gonna tell you what mine is, do you? Every woman -- unless you're one of those aggravating gals who keeps a super powerful metabolism for life -- has her own personal "dreaded weight" that she simply refuses to go past. If you are one of those who has no clue what I'm talking about, I don't like you very much right now! But I've had my "Jazzercise" days, my Jane Fonda-video days, my high-protein/low-carb diet days, counting calorie days, and many other attempts over the years at keeping my weight in check. In recent years I've simplified my philosophy for good health by trying to eat better and walk. Walk a lot. A whole lot. Luckily, my daughters are avid exercisers so they can pretty much eat what they want (in moderation). They'll have an occasional treat as opposed to me, who thinks I deserve pie or cake or cookies every single day. Sometimes I wish I didn't love food so very much but, hey, food is life, right?
The hubs and I have been making monthly treks to Emory in Atlanta for eye appointments recently. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind going because he needs a driver on the way home with his dilated eyes and whatnot, but the day trips to Emory are long, tiring, and boring. So to reward ourselves, we try to go by one of our favorite restaurants in Atlanta to have lunch when we're in the area. My children were raised on S&S, Morrison's and Piccadilly Cafeterias. When I wasn't feeling well or had had a rough day, the hubby would bring home dinner from one of these restaurants. I don't even know of any Morrison's Cafeterias that are still around and many of the Piccadillys have closed, but there is still (to my delight) an S&S Cafeteria in Dekalb County right off I-285. I have such wonderful memories of eating at these places when my kids were young and, much to my surprise, they do as well. Unlike when they were little, they enjoy eating there when they're in town and I hear absolutely no complaining, just umhs and ahs. Abbie used to say "That ol' Piccadilly again, mom?" My girls say they can't even have a guilt-free meal as adults now without the inclusion of veggies, so I guess I did something right teaching them to eat their vegetables! Great affection is stirred in me remembering this act of kindness from my husband on hard days when the kids were young and I was exhausted and, to this day, just the mention of one of these delightful cafeterias prompts heartwarming nostalgia of the days when we were a young family.
So it's really no surprise that when we walked into S&S this week, just the sound of dishes clinking and silverware clanging was enough to make my heart pound a little faster. We eat so much fast food these days, we don't hear that sound much anymore. This establishment is a bit dated and occupies part of an old shopping center that has been around since the beginning of time (well, the seventies), and some of the booths are a bit lumpy, but then there's the food -- oh, the food. The food also hasn't changed and is exactly the way I remember it and I sincerely hope they keep it that way. Cooked and seasoned southern-style, served cafeteria-style, and worth every penny you pay to indulge in this delightful eating experience. A couple of my favorites they serve? Summer squash casserole, their unique coleslaw (made with sweet pickles), baked chicken, carrot souffle, sweet tea, and their legendary german chocolate pie as shown in the picture above. All their pies are heavenly and a slice is a must if you plan to eat there. There's nothing my sweet mama loved better than a wonderful southern veggie meal with cornbread that ended with a piece of pie. And, like her, I love pie, cornbread, and every imaginable vegetable. Well, except rutabagas...what my mama saw in rutabagas is beyond me. Yuck-o. But it's funny how we develop our tastes and likes and dislikes mostly on what we're taught when we are young. I didn't like English peas so I very seldom served them to my kids. My mom was a wonderful southern cook and, as I did with my own children, she taught me early on the importance of eating your vegetables and making the family meal something special. I have vivid memories of my mom cooking dinner in the early evenings when I'd get home from school. I loved everything she cooked except for salmon (and, of course, rutabagas). But you know what? Today I even love salmon. And I would love to be able to indulge once again in my mother's southern salmon croquettes. I have also learned to love English peas, not from the can but frozen and cooked ever so lightly or added to salads. It's amazing how southern cooks can put together a delicious meal with very little in the cupboard to pull from. It is truly a gift.
If this blogpost has made you salivate for the flavors of home, whether it's your Italian family's favorite baked ziti or your Polish family's secret Kielbasa dish, then I've accomplished my goal! Even though I am not in any way, form, or fashion a food blogger or a foodie as the food bloggers call themselves, eating is one of life's greatest needs and pleasures. To enjoy what we eat, whether it's our own imaginative creation, our mom's signature dish passed down, or the S&S Cafeteria, food is indeed life. Okay, now I'm getting really hungry.
The flickering of the little guy’s video game reflected onto the window in front of me, threatening to lull me to sleep as I waited...and waited...AND WAITED. It took me exactly seven hours to get from Atlanta to Tampa...on a plane. Well, sort of. Ugh.
Seven hours earlier…
It’s a good thing I left before I had initially planned. Horrific traffic in the middle of the day on a Tuesday? Unh-unh. I was completely sandwiched in (and my little red car) by five zillion 18-wheelers so I decided to take 85 though town instead of 285 around town. I just knew those big ol’ bears would be lined up on the 285-East ramp and they make me nervous to say the least, so my plan was to avoid as many of them as possible. My decision proved a pretty good one, and I arrived at Hartsfield way too early for my flight. But no problem, I can think of a lot of things I hate worse than hanging around the airport for awhile. Being at the airport these days is like being at a nice mini mall…shops, restaurants, coffee cafes, and little spots to indulge in a couple of my favorite pastimes…reading and people-watching. Oh, the things you see at the airport! So I grabbed the latest issue of Better Homes & Gardens at the newstand, a Diet Coke, and hunkered down at my gate for the waiting process.
If I can, I always fly Delta Airlines. I trust Delta Airlines. Delta is the only carrier that flies nonstop from Atlanta to Tegucigalpa so my kids always fly Delta in and out of CA. Also, my son worked for Delta years ago until he saw the economy bottoming out and took his leave before he was forced to take a leave. Man, I sure do miss flying free! Show up at the airport, hop on a plane, and many times get upgraded to first class. Boy, those were the days. But lately I’ve ventured out to try other airlines and the “wanna get away” offer Southwest had to Tampa from Atlanta was too good to pass up. When I fly a new airline, I always compare it to my first love. Will the employees be courteous? Will they treat me well? Will they give me extra peanuts if I ask?! I am happy to announce that Southwest passed with flying colors and will be at the top of my list for short getaways in the future (you’re welcome, Southwest!).
As the Boeing 737 prepared for its final descent into Tampa International, the weather shifted. We went in and out of monstrous-looking clouds and sunshine accompanied by thunder and lightening. No worries, these guys know exactly what to do in the case of inclement weather. We were not cleared to land, so we entered a circling pattern somewhere between the clouds and earth below. Shortly thereafter, I noticed the plane came out of the circling configuration and began to once again “fly straight" (for lack of a better term). No need for alarm. I was alarmed, however, when the captain came on and announced we would be landing shortly in Orlando. Whuut? Did I miss something here? Apparently I most certainly did. Turns out we didn’t have enough fuel to continue circling so they decided to hop on over to the Land of Mickey to refuel, and then flew directly back to Tampa where the weather had changed for the better and we were able to safely land. In the meantime, I was enjoying a texting conversation with my sweet daughter-in-law that went something like this: "We’ve landed. In Orlando! What, are you kidding me? Okay, hang on, Nana, I’m on my way to Orlando. Wait, no, don't leave, we’re coming back!" Finally, by 10:00 that night, I was safely headed to my son’s house with Angela where the rest of the family was patiently waiting for Mama and Nana to arrive.
It has been my experience in life that you can always find a silver lining in the cloud or sunshine in the midst of the storm (figuratively-speaking and literally sometimes as well). But usually the figurative sunshine comes from being patient, remembering things could be a lot worse, and just by simply accepting what cannot be changed. A little longer in an airplane? Not a biggie. But as we went in and out of sunshine and angry clouds, I glanced out my little porthole of a window and what did I see? The most beautiful rainbow! The good Lord's promise to us. I'd really like to think it was just for me, because I never heard one other person say they saw it. But the image to the right proves it was really there and definitely not a figment of my imagination. Yes, a rainbow for little ol' moi. It reminded me that even in the most dire of circumstances, we can find beauty and good. It was worth the extra flying time to see this stunning phenomenon. I have always been amazed by the beauty and colors of a rainbow. Now, I certainly know that being re-routed to land in a place where you hadn't planned to go is not that big of a deal, but I take nothing for granted. Taking off and landing an extra time in a plane give you one more opportunity to not take off or land safely. Fewer take-offs and landings are good in my opinion -- yes, very good I believe. I always try to fly nonstop if possible. And that rainbow sealed for me the promise of safe arrival.
So my adventure to the land of sunshine did take a full seven hours, but not entirely on the plane. And as most husbands would simply have to comment because giving their opinion is what they do best and they just cannot help themselves, my hubby's response when he learned of my experience? You could've driven there faster! Can't say that I disagree. The little boy playing the video game? Except for the vivid colors dancing on the window, I never heard a peep out of him OR his two brothers, one of which was only eight months old. Have you ever been on a plane with a screaming child? Not a pretty sight. Or sound. We can always find the blessings if we but only look.
As for the fuel thing? Okay, Southwest, you could do a bit better on that one! Put in a little extra for me next time, if you would.
Much to my children's angst, I love to remind them of how they behaved when they were little so they never think they are the only parents to experience bad behavior and, with that, to remind them that they are paying for their raising (payin' for their raisin.') when they have challenging moments in parenthood. My mom used to say that to me and I totally did not understand what the heck she was talking about until my own children started bearing offspring. If my military-minded son gets upset when his kids get distracted, don't listen, or don't follow through, I just grin and remember him as a little boy and how he was an juvenile expert at getting distracted. When my eldest daughter is at the point of pulling her hair out as our youngest little angel displays her independence and self-will, I gently remind her that she was just like that (the strongest-willed child EVER), but she developed into a perfectly wonderful person and little P will as well. My youngest doesn't have children yet, so she has been spared the payin' for your raisin' anecdote so far. Sometimes when we are in the battle of child-rearing, we wonder how in the world our own parents survived those years to tell about them if we, in fact, did the same things. We grow weary, pour every last ounce of our energy into these little creatures, and we do it because we love them so very much. The absolute beauty of being a grandparent, however, is we can poke fun at our children while they are raising their own kids. We'll say things like, "Oh, you did that very same thing when you were little. You must be payin' for your raisin.'" Just remember not to say it when they are in the heat of the moment, because they just might give you "the Look." The Look is a look that if looks killed, you would definitely be a goner.
So what does "payin' for your raisin' even mean?
It means if you talked back to your parents when you were young, your kids will do the same, and you're payin' for your raisin..'
It means if you were especially rowdy when you were young, chances are you will have a rowdy child as well, and you're payin' for your raisin...'
It means if you have a picky eater at your house and it totally frustrates you, ask your mom if you were a picky eater. Most likely you were and you're just 'payin for your raisin...'
Can one of your kids talk the ears off a billy goat? I bet you did too when you were their age...and, you know, you're--uh--well, you're 'payin for your raisin.' (BTW, 5-year-olds are experts at talking the ears off a billy goat)
If you have children, it is most likely assured that somewhere along the way, you will realize Oh, my gosh, this kid acts just like I remember acting and is testing my patience. I'm payin' for my raisin'!! We all have things our kids do when we wonder where on earth did my child learn to act like that or where did they get that from? Even though most actions are learned actions, some things are inherently built into the genes. We accept this fact when it comes to looks, coloring, or mannerisms, but not so much with actions and personality traits. It is pretty doggone cute when a young child mimics their parent if it is something smart or desirable but, when it's one of our bad traits, we might wanna say to the onlookers "That's not my kid. Nope, not mine!!" Some things are done just by virtue of being a kid, but many times I think God allows them to act just like we did when we were young in order to remind us what a great price of love and patience was paid to bring us into credible adulthood. Nothing worth having is free and ditto for well-behaved children.
There are definitely other things you can throw up in your children's faces (don't tell my kids I said that). When Hollie got up old enough to realize that her birthday fell right after Christmas, she was quite critical of her dad and me for the audacity we had in birthing her right after Christmas. Now, I know there are people out there who try their best to plan conception at a certain time so that the child will be born at the right time of year, but we definitely WERE NOT one of those couples. We flew by the seat of our pants and did not intentionally get pregnant so that Hollie would be born at Christmas, nor did we research how to predict her birth at any time for that matter. It just happened the way it happened and her birth gave us something incredible to focus on in 1983 after the post-Christmas-holiday let-down. We went into labor on one of the snowiest blowiest nights of the season and, tucked away in the cozy belly of a huge county hospital, brought our little Hollie (Christmas-name adorned!) into the world just in time for a much needed tax break! In my opinion, I don't think we could've planned it better if we'd tried! But Hollie always felt as though her birthday got compromised because it came right after Christmas when everyone was worn out and not thinking about birthdays. And, for that reason, I have always tried to make her birthday extra special.
So it was no surprise to me that Little P was born exactly two days after Christmas and that Hollie will be challenged for the next 18 years to make her "after-Christmas-birthday" memorable. And it's very likely that one day Hollie will remember her own childhood remarks when little P asks her most indignantly "Why did you and Daddy have me right after Christmas? That's an awful time to have a birthday!" And Hollie, bless her heart, will most definitely know what I mean when I tell her that she's just payin' for her raisin.'
A very good example of poetic justice, wouldn't you agree?
Atlanta weather has been beautiful the last few days. Mother nature has given us a slight abatement in the mornings from the brutal heat that has been our daily companion the last few weeks. And, if you happen to have access to a park where there is shade, the early evening has been a great time to get outdoors as well. A good, long walk is the best way to start and end a day lately.
Most of my friends and family know that my exercise of choice is walking and hiking in the woods at my nearby state park. Confession: I am not one of those who love to exercise. All it takes to know this about me is to look at me! I don't have a six-pack, I don't have guns, I don't haven't anything that is contoured or chiseled on my body. I exercise because it is healthy for me and I don't do it nearly enough. But I do love to walk and that's exercising I can do. But one thing about walking is that I am a self-professed fair-weather walker. I have absolutely no trouble walking when the weather is perfect. I know this probably constitutes someone who would not be considered a serious walker, but I promise you I am serious when it comes to walking -- most of the time. But I simply cannot walk in weather that is above 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity. I will walk in freezing temperatures hands down before I will walk when the heat is extreme. In fact, winter is one of my fave times to walk, when the earth is cold, cracked, and desolate. Plus, I can put on layers to stay warm. But in the heat of summer, the only way to be cool enough is to be indoors in the A/C or buck naked in a cool shower! Never have understood those who take really hot showers in summer or drink really hot coffee all day long in the middle of summer either. I also do not like walking indoors because it is extremely boring. I am easily bored and lap after lap around a gym is a snoozer for me. Get me outdoors and I am happy.
I do have one issue that distracts me however when I'm walking and it sometimes keeps me from getting the fullness of the benefit of my walk. I am a photographer. Being a photographer means that I stop every several hundred steps to photograph something that catches my eye. In my neighborhood, it's the pond and wildlife that inhabits the pond, hence my 10-million images I post of the pond. At the park, it's the lake, the woods, the natural habitat, the cabins, the campers, the canoes -- there's a huge number of things I consider photo-worthy to capture at the park when you're alone with nature and your camera. Sometimes I even photograph the signs, ha! Hence the other 10-million images of nature-inspired pics I post from my hikes at the park. I tell my walking partners (usually the hubster) to walk on ahead and I'll catch up, which I do. But I'm sure it's annoying at times to be my walking partner since I stop so much to take pictures. Oh, well, I am a photographer, you know.
I have gone to great lengths to capture the perfect picture. I have stepped into rushing water (with my shoes on), walked deep into the woods for an engagement session, laid on my stomach, crouched in the tall grass, stood on rickety items for a better view, braved wind and freezing temperatures, and various other things just to ensure that the image I want I am able to get. If you are a photographer -- professional, amateur, or just have a heart for photography -- you understand exactly what I'm talking about. Sometimes you have one opportunity to get a shot and that opportunity is gone in a flash (no pun intended!), so you gotta do what you gotta do when you gotta do it. Another thing you photographers out there will agree on is that sometimes you will take a picture of the same thing over and over until you get an image you really, really love. I have taken pictures of the pond behind my house many, many times because it always looks different -- the morning light on it, the evening light on it, the moon over it, the late summer grasses around it, the dry winter grasses around it, the geese in it, the geese waddling around it...if it has one look, it has a hundred looks. I tell the parents whose children I photograph that we may take a hundred pictures only to end up with 30 that are really exceptional. I guess you could call me a photo snob because I have thrown out hundreds of images that in my opinion were not perfect. What makes it perfect in my opinion? The right angle, the right lighting, the right expression, the right anomaly -- a hundred different things! When it comes to the perfect picture, "perfect" is totally subjective and beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder -- or the photographer in this case.
So here's to many more interrupted walks and hikes to get the perfect picture of Lord-only-knows what. Walking maybe shouldn't be interrupted, but walking can definitely be put on hold when it comes to capturing the perfect image. And the truth of the matter is I probably enjoy the photography opportunities that walking outside in nature affords more than the walking itself.
Yes, I think I definitely do. Way more. Absolutely more. A zillion times more. After all, I am a photographer first and a walker second. Or third...or fourth...or -- well, you know what I mean.
Just as the hubs and I were headed out to take a long walk, a big thunderhead rolled in and blocked all our efforts to exercise last night. So what did I do instead? Baked pies! Technically, one was a spinach quiche for dinner and one was a cobbler made with the blueberries we had picked when the kids were in town and had frozen. By the time I went to bed last night, I had a belly full of delicious food, but a head full of guilt, seeings how I had already indulged in pecan pie at lunch yesterday.
Times of stress call for comfort food. Yeah, I know everyone says we shouldn't use food to comfort ourselves, but truth of the matter is we do. Why do we do this you ask? I believe it's because in times of stress we are looking for at least one thing which we have complete control over. Eating (the receiving of food into our bodies OR NOT) is one of the most basic human needs over which we have control. If you are sane and in your right mind, no one can force you to eat or keep you from eating if there is food around to be eaten and you can get your hands on it. Sometimes even when you are not in your right mind, you can exercise that control as well. Back when I was sitting with Grace, the receiving or rejecting of food was really the only thing she had control over right before she passed away. No matter what her caregivers did to try and get her to eat, if she didn't wanna eat, she didn't eat. Ditto with my mom before she passed away. We were all very upset that she refused to eat in the end, but the nurses over her care educated us on the fact that refusing to eat is one of the signs of being in the last days before death and it was her right to refuse food. The body begins to shut down its systems and has very little need of food in its last days. Wow, I had never heard that, but it did give me peace when my mom wouldn't eat.
So as the refusal to eat is our right, it is also our right and fundamental necessity to eat. We hear remarkable stories of people who get stranded in the wilderness and who eat things for sustenance that they would never eat in a normal situation. Eating is the most basic need for survival and people will do whatever it takes to eat. Some have had to steal for their food. Others have had to eat anything and everything to survive, including wild animals and wild vegetation. Truth be known, we would scoop up the roadkill off the highway if it was the only thing we had to eat and were starving. I myself would prefer hunting for berries in the woods before I'd eat roadkill. I am just a very thin hair away from becoming a vegetarian in the right circumstances. Unless it's Roadkill at Texas Roadhouse. I can do that Roadkill.
Then there are those of us who tend to totally overindulge with the freedoms of food when things get overly hectic or stressful. What's that old saying? When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough eat?!! I eat when I'm stressed. I eat when I'm sad. I eat when I'm happy. I eat when I want to socialize. There is never, ever an occasion eating is not appropriate in my book of rules. Chocolate is the ultimate picker-upper. Ice cream soothes us when we are upset. Salty chips and pretzels and popcorn pair so well with a good movie. We prepare delicious food when someone dies, when a baby is born, for weddings, for parties, for every occasion under the sun. And there are those of us who use food to do what we think it can truly do -- comfort us in our need to be comforted. I am the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to this. I know that in the long run, it only comforts me while I'm consuming it and maybe for a short time thereafter, but still it feels good to have a moment of self-indulgence when I am in complete control over something.
So, in light of the fact that I have had added stress in my life recently, last night was a pie night. If we had been able to take our walk, I'm sure I would've been relieved of some stress in a much more healthy way in the form of exercise and might have made a better, more thought-out decision for dinner last night. But I'll just blame it on the thunderstorm. Besides, there's something about a rolling thunderstorm that makes me want to cozy up, hunker down, and cook something delicious. I couldn't control the weather last night, but I was able to control what we had for dinner. It's funny indeed what will inspire us to cook sometimes. I guess the coziness of a thunderstorm or snowstorm that locks you in bondage to the house for a while is one of my greatest inspirations to cook.
And the outcome of my inspiration was warm, gooey, cheesy, sweet AND savory, and was the epitome of the ultimate comfort food.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. But I have confessed it to you and my dear friends.
Now I feel better.
Several years back, my mom embarked upon one of her great little projects. She thrived on having a project at any given time. Sometimes she complained about her projects, but I could see those projects filled her days with an extra purpose and she enjoyed them even though, like any project, they wore her down at times. I call it a "great little project" because that's exactly what it was. It was little in comparison to some projects in that it was small scale and contained within the confines of a small-ish room in the house, but it was great because to her it was a worthy endeavor in that it represented the sum total of her passion for family, past and present, and every accomplishment that her family members had ever completed. This picture is an image of one of the library walls.
"The library" contains, as the image shows, family photographs on every single surface. The pictures extend from ceiling to floor, and every single person in our family, immediate and extended, is represented in some form or fashion, either with just a picture for their status as a "member in the family," or an extended display if that person has accomplished what my mom considered to be an impressive achievement. My mom's brother who played pro football is recognized for his years in the NFL. She even has a small display of projects my sister and I completed as children and through our teenage years! I had no idea she had even kept that stuff, but it confirms the love and devotion she had to her kids and those tokens of our accomplishments even as small children were a testament to that love. The "walls of fame" extend into the adjacent hallway where the grandchildren have sections commemorating their graduation from college and their earned degrees, their weddings, mission work, and service. That her grandchildren had college degrees was a very impressive accomplishment to a woman who only completed school through the 8th grade, when she was forced to quit and begin taking care of herself on her own. She was so very proud of those college degrees, and attended every single commencement. There are pictures of family reunions, ancestors four generations back, photographs of my dad and his years in the navy, pictures of my siblings and me when we were little, growing up, then our children and their children...a museum of sorts to our family, from its beginning to the time when my mom passed away and everything in between. She even had some pictures of her father, trying to bring out his best side even though he was not a good man. She simply could not leave out her father. My mom truly tried to see good in everyone. The library has books for the children, books for the adults, mood lighting for a quiet moment, and a compact disc player if you feel inclined to music during your library experience. The library sits as a trophy, so to speak, my mom's reward for her long and self-less years she gave to her family. The library also sits unfinished according to my mom's own words, because it was an ongoing project until her death.
One day in the not too distant past, I was with mama in the library. I was very impressed with the work she had done, but I had one apprehension and I told her so. "Mama, one day when you are gone, if I outlive you, I am gonna have to come in this room and take this library apart piece by piece, memory by memory, and be heartbroken because you will not be here." Didn't seem to faze my mom. She continued right on with her little project and was very proud of "the library" indeed. Well, the day I have dreaded is upon me. As we have recently moved my dad into assisted living, I am preparing to host an estate sale, and have been at the house quite often lately sorting through items and pricing them to sell. Every time I go into the library, I refuse to stay more than just a few minutes because my heart feels as though it will explode. The time my mother spent in there trying to get it just right hurts me knowing it cannot remain. There are just a handful of things in the library that will go into the estate sale so, for the most part, the library will be roped off the day of the sale with a "do not enter" sign across the door. Do not go into our family's most intimate memory room. Do not cross the line if you are not family or close friend because you do not belong here. This room is about family alone and, even though no one else would want any of these memories that adorn the walls from top to bottom, they are OUR memories and this was my mother's little project of love. It is a beautiful space and ethereal so to speak because it is the work of my mom's gentle hands. It is my family's quiet and cozy spot, the space where you can feel my mom's presence the most.
In the next month or so, we will be readying the house to sell and it will be my responsibility to spend what I'm sure will be countless hours in the library to begin dismantling and breaking down all the pictures. I don't know exactly what I will do with some of those pictures, especially the ones of ancestors I haven't met and can't even tell you their names. But I will put them into boxes, labeled ever so carefully to disperse among the siblings and hide away for a while to re-visit again one day. And on some day in the future I will open my treasure box of memories and remember the library. And I'll remember my sweet mama, who loved us all beyond measure.
When I realized the treasure I was holding in my hand, I smiled like a schoolgirl who had just found an old note from her childhood sweetheart. But these were 64-year-old love letters from my dad written to my mom when he was in the navy during the Korean conflict. They are yellowed and the edges are frayed and they bear the signs of human error where my daddy scratched out a word he had written by mistake. But the penmanship is beautiful, not just because it's my daddy's and he had a very attractive handwriting, but because it represents the almost-lost art of letter-writing and it confirms in hardcopy the great love he had for my mother. It is a testimony in written form of the kind of love that every person can only hope to find...the love of a true soulmate.
It's hard for me to relate to these letters, living in this age of texting, the internet, and instant everything. Email has for the most part taken the place of snail mail, but to me there is still nothing better than getting a letter or a handwritten note in the mail...one that you can run your fingers across the paper and know that the writer of that letter or postcard took their time to, first, choose it just for you and then, second, take their time to use a pen and put down in ink the thoughts of their heart. Letter-writing is romantic. When you think of how many people handle a letter between the time it is mailed and the time you receive it, it's another reason to remember just how special a handwritten letter is. When my dad was in the navy, letter-writing was the only way he and my mom were able to communicate during the long months he was away. I can imagine my mom's excitement as she ran to the mailbox every day, hoping for some news from him. And I can see my dad on his ship as mail was dispensed, wondering if this would be the day he would hear from his child bride so many miles away. Oh, the agony of not knowing if your loved one is safe, but then receiving that letter to confirm that, yes, they are doing well...and missing you very much.
As my parents were reaching towards their 67th anniversary the spring my mom passed away, one might find it hard to imagine the young passion expressed in the love letters they wrote during their early years. Many times in their latter years of marriage they snipped and snapped at each other like so many older couples do. I'm not saying that this is true with all older couples, but my parents were like that. I think their aches and pains and their lack of patience somedays got the best of them. But don't let anyone else say anything about their other half, or you'd have to answer for it. I remember many times planning an outing to get my mother out of the house and give them some much needed time apart, only to arrive and find that she had invited my daddy to come along as well. No problem. I can imagine after being married that many years it's probably hard to do anything without the other. One day my mom was reminiscing about how much as a young bride she missed my daddy when he was at sea. I don't know why, but it caught me by surprise because in the latter years I saw how much one got on the other's nerves at times. But as she told the story of how the navy was planning to ship daddy out for a year on a tour around the world, they decided not to make him go since he was so close to his discharge date. She expressed her overwhelming joy at knowing he didn't have to leave her for a year, and her voice cracked with emotion as she remembered.
If my mom had an ailment or my daddy had one, the one was always there, fretting over the other until they felt better, making sure they took their medicine and went to the doctor. When they drove the car to run their errands or to eat out, my mom was my daddy's co-pilot, doing her part to make sure they arrived safely to their destination. Daddy always made sure mama was cared for, and mama always made sure daddy was well-dressed and color-coordinated. Their greatest accomplishment together, and they would tell you this in a heartbeat, was the children they brought into this world. Then, when their children had children and the grandchildren had children, their life together was made even more full by the family that grew out of their love. They had some hard times in their many years together, but their devotion to each other and their family is a legacy that will follow all of us down through every generation to come. The last week of my mom's life when she lay dying, I have never seen my daddy so broken. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it, and I will never forget when he kissed her lips for the last time and told her goodbye.
So this found treasure of their long-ago love letters to each other is something I will cherish in the years I have on this earth. And then I hope my children will keep them after that and pass them on to the grandchildren. I know that one day they will be too old to read anymore and, as many things do, they will probably become misplaced or lost with time and one day completely forgotten about. But the words they speak tell of a great and decade-spanning love that was born many years before I was even thought about and one that I know, without a doubt, will transcend the years of time because it lives on in us, their children they loved so much.
I took my seat next to Daddy and his new friend, Lorena. It was nothing like I expected. Visiting the Sunday morning worship service at my daddy's retirement home was on my list of things to do since he moved in a couple of weeks ago. But there have been so MANY things to do: getting his tiny apartment live-in ready with the favorite things that hopefully make him feel more at home... making sure he gets to meals and snack times (don't want him to miss a meal!) ...impromptu pool games in the social area (my hubby and my daddy -- I don't do pool)... taking care of financial issues and paperwork... planning a little party for his 89th birthday, and countless other tying-up-loose-end chores involved when you move a parent into assisted living after being on his own for 70+ years.
I for one have had some issue in recent years with organized religion. This I openly admit, and have absolutely no reservation in admitting so. I believe God expects us to question things -- not Him maybe so much, but things. When we question, we grow. In so many instances I believe worship has become a business more than a pleasurable and purposeful experience as in the early days with volunteers pulling together their resources for the sole purpose of worshiping God alone. In other words, not for the purpose of growing a mega church, a huge enterprise with an executive board, or anything that reflects either of the two. It's not that I think churches shouldn't grow and it's not that I think churches shouldn't have programs necessarily. It's that I think many churches have lost the original vision of the church, and that is to be the place in the community (or retirement home, for that matter) where people can gather, pray for one another, and be inspired to grow in their faith and then use that growth to help others do the same. I'm sorry, but it just doesn't take a huge budget, state-of-the-art equipment, or 50,000 square feet of space to accomplish that.
So this morning was finally the morning we worked it out to meet my dad and gather in the "worship room." Now, I'm not sure this is what the room is actually called, but on a recent walk around the facilities where we familiarized ourselves with the location of the library, the theatre, the dining hall, and many small and reflective sitting areas, I came to the conclusion that this lively blue room was probably where the parishioners gathered on Sunday morning. I believe it also serves as a party room. I made this determination by observing the 20x10-foot or so parquet dance floor inlay at the back of the room and the brightly-colored paper lanterns lining the center entryway. This is your multitasking room to the "nth degree." With a little imagination, it could even host a small wedding. In a retirement home you ask? From what I hear, romance is alive and well in that place! But what clued me in to the fact that it is, indeed, the Sunday morning worship spot? The piano and the stack of hymn books in the corner in EXTRA-LARGE PRINT.
This morning's worship experience was not without some components that brought a smile to my face and reminded me that you are never, ever too old to be used by God. It also brought to my heart and mind a freshness that is hard to understand, in light of the fact not one person (save me, my husband, and the ministers) was under the age of 80. It was a small group...I'd say less than 25 folks. And as the picture shows, it was a conglomeration of canes, walkers, pushers, and those being pushed. I noticed when we entered there was ample space for those in wheelchairs to pull right up and take their place. It took just a brief glance to see the sweet little lady offering her talents at the piano was a resident there and an even closer look revealed the oxygen tube fastened to her nostrils. After the music portion was completed, she took her place on the side and her oxygen tank hummed a peaceful rhythm throughout the remainder of the service. The message was short and encouraging. It focused on reminding this precious group of elderly people that God is not finished with them yet and will continue to have work for them to do until they exit this place for their eternal home. The preacher didn't exactly say it in those words, but you get the gist. It was a message of hope, some laughter as well, and also tender moments. I fought back tears as one of the ministers shared a bit of his story, telling how one of his grade-school teachers (who happens to be a resident there and was in the room) had loved him with an unconditional love and how he owed who he is today to her faith in him. Laughter errupted as he called one of the gentlemen out by name who had dozed off behind us. He slept right through his name being shouted out!
But I guess the one silver thread (or should I say golden thread maybe in light of the attendees?!) running through the entire service was this: In spite of less than perfect music being made by less than perfect voices and at times quite out of tune, in spite of the fact that the ministers probably did not hold doctorates in divinity, and there were no huge drives or programs announced encouraging people to take part, worship rose off the lips of those dear people. They were there for one pure motive: They wanted to worship their God. The ministers were there for one pure motive: They truly loved this group of elderly saints who had come to worship their God. Songs were sung, scripture read, prayers were prayed, and it was all done in the midst of a handful of people gathered in a multipurpose room with a piano. Simple, to the point, and from the heart. PROFOUND. And they were all dismissed in time to take their places in the dining hall for lunch at 11:30!
Needless to say, I enjoyed Sunday worship today and I'm sure I'll be back. But what I'd also really like to do now is attend a party in this very room, and see how many of these folks will roll out onto that dance floor and shake a leg -- or maybe just a foot or a hand, if that's all they're able to shake!
I don't doubt for one minute it could happen.
Posted by CC
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