Grief and a Milkshake

We pull up to the stop light on the corner of Gunbarrel and Shallowford Road. Walgreen’s is on the left corner. Steak and Shake positioned on the right. The van is quiet except for the hum of the engine and the radio tuned to something chill. The day was warmer than it had been last week and was bright and sunny after what seemed like endless days of rain. My husband and I were running some errands and for some reason, our normal banter and inside jokes were silent today. Nothing was wrong - we were lost in our own thoughts and enjoying each other’s quiet company. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband’s head nod toward the right. “You remember that time, your dad and I went to go get milkshakes for everyone as a treat after working in the yard all day?” I nodded without looking at him. Danny chuckled, “Your Dad was so funny. He let out that long whistle and shook his head when they gave us the total.” Danny laughed harder this time, then mimicked my Dad’s voice, “$14 dollars?!  (Imitates long whistle) For milkshakes?” I turned to look at the Steak & Shake sign and watched the next car pull up to the window.

I felt the van pull forward and we moved through the intersection.  My eyes followed the sign until we were over the hill.  I turned to look at Danny’s profile.  There were wrinkles around his eyes.  His jaw moved in rhythm from the chewing gum.   He was still smiling at the memory of my Dad.

“I miss my Dad,”  I said softly.  I’m surprised he even heard me.

“I know you do,” he said simply.  “I miss your Dad too.”

Any other ordinary day we would’ve spent the next 20 minutes remembering funny stories about him.  We would have laughed so hard until we were shaking our head, pinching the bridge of our nose and wiping away the tears from the corners of our eyes.  But I didn’t want to do that today.  It still amazes me how my husband can so easily read the difference.  

I wanted to be melancholy.  Quiet on purpose.  I wanted to feel reverent about his memory.  I wanted to think of him without cramming laughter and jokes into the conversation of him.  I didn’t want to laugh.  I wanted to remember him in peace.  In the stillness, I wanted to sit with my thoughts of him. Not cry.  Not laugh.  Just be.  He’s been gone since September 2012.

While I was thinking of my dad, my mind wandered to my childhood friend who only recently lost her dad. Her pain is fresh, unreal and raw.  I imagine that right now she is unable to process the loss of him.  She is feeling the sudden void – the space where her father would be – empty and cavernous.  Her dad is gone – that missing piece of her life that no amount of sympathy cards, covered dishes or flowers will ever fill.

I remember being where she is and not being able to believe that I am where I am right now.  Living through the days and months I was able to grieve, and then laugh again.  I survived dark nights and missing phone calls and seeing his smile just one more time.   I missed feeling his hugs, sharing a container of Chinese food and thinking of the day he complained that Steak & Shake milkshakes were $14.00. 

That one day I could leave an intersection on a random Sunday afternoon, over five years after losing him and still feel the sharp pain in my chest and the prickle in my dry throat.  My body feels the sensation of grief, but my eyes fail to respond.  No tears – only the physical memory of emptiness.  It takes time.  It’s a process.  Some days are great and the memories fill you up and make you feel warm and sunshiny as if the person you love is still right here.  But there are other days when the numbness sets in again.  But I have to believe, every moment will lead to the next one and I will laugh again and smile at his memory.

Sometimes, Even The Best Relationships Give Back an Empty Casserole Dish

I want to forgive you, but I can’t right now. 

I love you.  But I haven’t reached the next level in my self-improvement.  That stronger, higher vibration I need in order to find peace with what happened between us.  I can’t forgive you until I can forgive myself.  I try and fail but I promise I will try again.  I won’t give up but I hope you will be there when I reach my forgiveness destination.

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You remain a part of me.  You have a room in my heart but the room has a shut door.  Just as my mother closed the door to my teenage bedroom because she didn’t want to look at the mess, I haven’t been willing to go into your room and clean up the brokenness. My Heart-Housekeeping quit because there was an incident between us.  The room, the safe space we built; now has damaged furniture, broken light fixtures and torn wallpaper.  It’s trashed.  I don’t know when I will open your door but I promise you are safe in my happy memories until I can face the painful ones.

I want to forgive you, but I can’t right now.

I’m not ready.  You didn’t commit a crime and you’re not a horrible human being.  It would be so much easier if you were, then I could write you off and be done with our relationship.  But you are good person - even if you’re not to me. I don’t think you and I are a good match for each other.  My selfish, self-preservation separated me from you.  It was for my own protection.  It’s too hard to admit my weaknesses.  The stumble and fall of my sacrifices unnoticed by you.  I wanted you to notice me.  It’s embarrassing to admit that I believed in your goodness, when I wanted so much for you to remind me of the goodness in myself.  My feelings don’t feel safe around you.  My heart can’t handle your rejection and what’s worse is that you probably aren’t aware that you’ve discarded me. Honestly, my reality is facing that you no longer need my support.

                       Maya Angelou wrote - *People will never forget how you made them feel.*

I hope I made you feel good.  I hope that I encouraged you to believe in yourself and that belief flourished and made you feel confident.  I hope I made you feel loved - because you were.  Even now you are loved, but it hurts me more to admit it. 

I feel like you cheated me - and yourself - out of the other side of our relationship.  You took the giving, but didn’t grant my chance for receiving.  Maybe you disagree and feel like you gave a lot but it seemed your kindness was given in careful ways.  You were guarded and limited with your offering. Why?  Who would hold it against you? At the time, your needs seemed more important than mine and I believed it was noble to do without the return. As a parent provides for a child - the child is not expected to give back.  But what happens when the child matures and the parent ages?  Don’t most children grow into adults who give back?

My heart wants to write freely, but my logic concludes there’s a sliver of chance that you will see yourself in this work.  You’ll see through my writing effort as an attempt to explain why you hurt me.  And here’s a bit of raw honesty - it would hurt more if you weren’t aware that you did.  If you hadn’t even considered the distance between us.  If we reconcile, please tell me that you knew all along but you didn’t know how to find your way back.  The road to recovery was treacherous and full of barricades and detours.  Admit that you had no way of finding your way back to our messy room behind the forgotten closed door.

Maybe the labor of writing will help someone else who reads it.  They will find themselves on one side or the other.  It’s easy for the giver.  If you’re the giver, you feel good about yourself.  You think that you’ve done the right thing by offering support.  Believing in the dreams of another human being without concerns of your own.

The hard part is admitting you’re on the other side.  It takes strength to admit you’re the receiver. It takes courage to admit that you’ve taken from someone until they ran out and had nothing else to offer. It takes courage to recognize that you cheated yourself out of the giving.

I grew up in North Carolina but I was nearly 40 years old before I had a friend teach me about a giving and receiving tradition.   I thought it was a southern thing but over time I’ve learned that it’s universal in the world of human decency.

I cooked dinner for my friend and her family.  She had minor, out-patient surgery but would remain on bed rest for several days.  I offered to prepare a simple meal - one dish - for her family as she recuperated.   It wasn’t fancy, I can’t even remember what it was, but it was one dinner that my friend didn’t have to plan, order or prepare.  Several weeks later, she stopped by my house so she could return my casserole dish.  Underneath the clear glass lid, sitting on the clean, white ceramic was a box of store bought cookies. My eyes went from the casserole dish to her face several times before she understood my confusion. 

“Never return a dish to a friend, without something in it.”  She beamed her gorgeous, light up the day smile and said, “I didn’t have time to bake, but wanted to give something back for caring for my family.”

Well then.  Never in all the years of my southern life had I ever heard this expression but it makes so much sense AND not only with bakeware.  You can’t always take without giving something back because you cheat yourself out of the other side of the blessing.  When you take and don’t give back in the same language (or way) the person gave it, then you are denying yourself (and them) the beautiful circle of giving and receiving.  Giving has no balance if it’s only going in one direction.

 

In the beginning you returned my dishes empty, then not at all.

I want to forgive you, but I can’t right now.

 

The saying goes that a lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of a sheep. Maybe to you I am a sheep, but you forget that I once was the mouse.  The mouse who removed the thorn from your paw when life was cruel and circumstances beat you down.  I was there when few others were.  I am a coward for not telling you how I feel.  But believe me, my passivity holds no aggression.  I pulled away from you long ago because your brightness illuminated my insecurities.  You left me, but I also stepped back.  I distanced myself from the pain of being left behind.  If I walk away, then it doesn’t feel so much like being left.  I’ve been where you are and from experience I know it is easier to leave than to be left behind.  But I take some of the blame in our separation because I made the decision to stop chasing you.  You didn’t notice when I was behind you from the beginning and you probably aren’t aware that I’m not there now.

I love you.  I do.  So much.  But I have farther to go to forgive myself for the time I spent on you and learning that the time I spent was not wasted.  It reveals who you and I are AND who we were together.  And until I forgive myself, I can’t forgive you.

This story was not a cure all.  I don’t feel any differently than I did before I wrote it.  But what I have is a conversation with my spirit allowing me to explore what’s bothering me.  The wound opening fresh feels cathartic.  It reveals a safe space to experience the pain again so I can feel it, then let it go.  Maybe even crack open the door and start looking at the broken pieces.  If I open the room, will you and I find each other again?  Will we be able to clean it together?

When we give a part of ourselves, sometimes it take awhile to get it back.  Or maybe we don’t at all.

 

 







 

Hanging On

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It’s quiet.  Sunday morning.  Early.  Damp, gray clouds settled in overnight smothering the sun’s scheduled appearance.  Our part of the world remains dark even at 7:15.  My husband and I drink our coffee nearly silent.  We hold our mugs the same way.  Lacing our fingers around the cup, enjoying the heat on our hands, keeping it close to our face and breathing in the steam and aroma.  We only need a towel to cover our heads as if we’re nursing a head cold with java.  For me, that first sip feels like a warm bath for my soul.  A moment to savor and forget about the pressure of being a parent.  The headache of being an adult.

We quietly discuss the day.  Despite our heavy eyelids and between our yawns, we whisper ideas and plans to get us out of our messy problems.  We’re not looking at each other.  Both of us turning inward, trying to understand why so much has happened in the first month of the new year.  On other days, we’ve encouraged one another by suggesting that we’re getting the tough stuff over with at the top of the year.  Our bumps in the road are the gears getting cranked up for better months ahead.  Not this morning.  He shakes his head.  He’s scratched an idea without even mentioning what it was.  He sees past his reflection in the window against a dark sky.   I stare into the cup, searching for signs in the creamer as if there were tea leaves.

We’ve faced some challenges.  A few of them rather ordinary and the ones that most everyone faces.  We take a swing at our problems and as the analogy goes, sometimes the bat meets the ball and we deflect the issue before it begins.  Home run.  We miss some too but we keep playing.  Someday hoping to sprint around the bases, seeing the crowd out of their seats cheering for us.  The overcomers.  But then I remember, the crowd has their own problems. Their legs like pistons, hammering across their competitive field.  Their eyes have years of practice watching the ball.  Everyone playing their own game.  Running their own race.  Maybe I should cheer for them instead.

Our teenagers will not see the sun burning off the dismal fog on this gray morning.  Their heads deep in covers and exhaustion, accepting the rest they need.  We adults do not rest as we should.  We sit across from one another wondering, without asking, how to get it all done.  How to make it happen.  How to see past the gray, dreary now and break free from the clouds into brilliant sunlight like airplanes do.

I decide that while he’s pouring my second cup, I can put in a load of towels.  I walk into the laundry room, flip on the light and realize that the spring bar that holds the hangers has disappeared behind the washer and dryer and taken our entire collection of hangers with it.  At first, I’m not sure what happened.  Then I’m stunned that no one heard what was certainly a loud crash.  When did it fall?  I did three loads yesterday and everything was normal.  Now as I lean over the lid, I stare at a tangle of wires, plastic and dust and lint between the wall and white appliances.

I hear my husband pass through the kitchen and approach me.  As I turn to face him, he offers my replenished coffee mug.  The man I’ve been married to for almost 18 years is unaware that I’ve just discovered chaos in the laundry room.  I frown at him and the coffee he’s holding.

 “What?”

 “Did you hear anything last night?  A loud, crashing sound?  Yesterday afternoon maybe?”

 “You know I’ll sleep through anything.  But your ears are the same as bats.  What didn’t we hear?”

Reorganized with less hangers.

Reorganized with less hangers.

I turn to the side and allow him to pass.  I sarcastically exaggerate the extension of my arm welcoming him to the small laundry room.  My frown more defined as I bow. He steps closer and discovers the missing bar and hangers.  He hands me the coffee cup and leans over the washer.

 “When did this fall?”

See, this is what happens.  We adults keep piling on so much stuff (different types of hangers) and then act surprised when it all comes down around us.  We, like that spring bar are not designed to carry that much load. Some load, yes.  The amount we ordinary humans try to carry.  No.  We pile on the hangers, problems of the day, month, year because it’s easy.  In an attempt to be organized, we put the extra hangers where the extra hangers go.  We sort the problems into family, life and business and hang each one on a different bar.  But how many hangers do we need? 

When do we stop adding hangers to our life because we already have too many?

We hang onto hangers because it’s easy.  It’s a hang up.

A few would argue that you don’t ask for more hangers.  You just end up with them.  True.  But we have to know when to give them away.  Set them down.  Release them.  Send them love and walk away.  

*I’m not really talking about hangers.*

The Universe.  My precious God is telling me something and I want to share it with you.

Sometimes things have to fall apart in our life so we can rebuild, reorganize and *PRIORITIZE* what’s going back.  A relationship?  A responsibility? Maybe forgiveness?

We continue to face the same problems until we learn the lesson and move on.  Our higher power cannot be bluffed.  If we haven’t *really* learned it.  Then it’ll give us an opportunity to teach us again.  But here’s the great thing - I believe our angels give clues, warnings and “heads-up” whispers when we least expect it.

The other day, I was putting away clothes in the closet.  I realized there were too many empty hangers because of all their wires were jutting out between the clothes.  I started yanking them out.  One by one I tossed them.  Metal hitting a combination of metal and plastic, creating a tangled pile of mess on the floor of our bedroom closet.  I straightened clothes and tugged empty hangers until there were only hangers with clothes on them.  I felt a moment of satisfaction that the closet had been rid of useless, empty hangers.

I reorganized my mess.  But it’s still a mess.

Eleanor Tip:  Most dry cleaners recycle used hangers. 

Eleanor Tip:  Most dry cleaners recycle used hangers. 

The message that I received (even now while I’m typing) is so clear that I’m not sure how I missed it when it happened.  Sort of like the loud, crashing sound our family missed when the spring bar succumbed to the weight of too many hangers.

First - the image of the pile of hangers in the closet floor.  A tangled mess of too much.  Just like the ones between the wall and the washer this morning.  Still too much.  AND - when I straightened the clothes in the closet, I noticed that the shelving was pulling out from the drywall.  Barely noticeable, but thinking of it now, a clear warning.

I’m asking myself harder questions.  Am I holding onto the wrong things afraid to let go of what I know in exchange for what may be?  I’m still in the gray, dreary part of the morning.  Worrying and planning and packing more and more stuff instead of taking the flight past the clouds into the brilliant sunlight.

Just like life. 

When your hangers fall.

“What happened?” they will ask. 

It was all just too much.

Comfortable in the In-Between

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It’s cold.  Everything outside my kitchen window appears dead or frost bitten.  My entire backyard is the color of bird seed.  Which reminds me, we need to restock the feeders.  The squirrels must be hungry.   (Huge eye roll from my last post.) We’ve had the slightest skift of snow.  The yard has a delicate, twinkling white powder dusted on the tips of withered leaves and dormant grass.  Maybe my yard looks more like Frosted Flakes than bird seed.

Waiting for the sink water to warm, I’m bundled in mismatched wool socks, sweat pants and a sweater.  My winter, around-the-house clothing makes me look like I’m 84.  I keep a tissue tucked into my sleeve so I’ve basically become one of the Golden Girls.   I don’t have a cold but I sneeze all day.  It must be winter allergies and all the time spent indoors.  I’m closed up with the dust and frankly, I feel a little dusty myself.  Perhaps new air filters or more frequent use of Pledge would help.

I can’t seem to warm up.  After removing dinner, I’ve been known to crack open the oven door and stand in front of it, rubbing my hands together as it cools.  My husband can remember his grandmother doing that sort of thing.One small step with a walker and I’m Sophia carrying around a pocket book. 

During this bitter cold day it’s inconceivable that my 14 year old daughter drifts into the kitchen, dressed as if she’s spent the afternoon off the Florida coast.  She glides her finger around the inside edge of a bowl I’m stirring then licks it off with a smack.  I watch her lean against the counter.  Her cheeks look warm, her hair is in a pony tail and nothing covers her long legs but gym shorts.  I meet her eyes, bright and sparkling like the iridescent snow.  “Put some clothes on.  You’re making me cold looking at you.”  My mother said that sort of thing, so at least now I’ve moved back one generation from Golden.

In January, all the days blend into the next one.  In my opinion, January has no sense of accomplishment other than taking swings at our resolutions and collecting financial data for Income Taxes.  January is not the most exciting month.   It’s when big companies send a few of their employees to trade shows in sunny destinations.  Their morale will get a boost and they’ll come back with an uneven tan, wearing ball caps and flowered shirts and pump up the rest of the team.   Maybe all of our resolutions have collapsed by mid-January.  Maybe we have zero motivation to gather tax paperwork or go to the gym so we end up scrolling Facebook and Googling random facts to appear productive.  Like whether or not you can burn calories by trying to stay warm.  Don’t bother.  I did it for you.  Not until you shiver.  Shivering burns calories. 

There’s no specific event in January.  Something to do where we can feel a sense of accomplishment.   Since last October, there was something *to do* every month.  A plan had to be in place to cram every, single event into your schedule.  But in January, we end up easing into the year, rolling off the couch from our Tryptophan and Glucose induced coma.  We lose the “Fired Up” punch of the first days of the year and start to think it’s too cold to go to the gym. I mean, there’s snow on the edge of the grass for Pete’s sake.  And apple pie for breakfast is okay because it’s basically a fruit filled pop tart.  Same diff.

January is a bluesy month.  One icy, wintry day after another. The freshness of the new year melts and refreezes into a couple of weeks of blah.  No more chestnuts on an open fire.  No more champagne and countdowns.  January feels like it’s going to start off strong but by the midway mark we’re just cold and cooped up.  And sneezing.  It’s the month of either/or.  EITHER it snows a blizzard and I have an excuse to stay in pajamas all day.  OR it warms up and I can venture outside and go for a walk without looking like Frankenstein doing the box step. One of those two events needs to happen or I’m going feel blah. 

Oh, Eleanor you poor thing. 

A circumstance needs to change so we won’t feel down.  What are we millennials? (I’m kidding.) If you were raised anytime before 1983 you know that sitting around thrumming your fingers on the table and staring out the window was okay for about 15 minutes but then you better do something to make yourself productive or your parents would help guide you to that end.  Waiting for someone else (or an event) to make a situation better for you was preposterous.  Are we the last of the generations that still expects something from ourselves?  We have to be productive!  Need wood? Go chop it.  Need money? Go work for it.  Need happiness? Give it away since that’s the fastest route to completely BLISS out. 

But you’re not feeling it, are you? 

Your body and mind are having none of that positive energy, go-getter nonsense.  If you’re not feeling love for yourself, how can we expect you to scrape together enough sunshine for someone else? You want your ambition back, but it’s buried under 14 layers of mismatched clothing and a bowl of chili.  All of your drive, love and desire escaped you.  But, my friend, my reader, I promise...It’s a season.  A wave and you have to be brave enough to ride it out. 

It’s possible that right now, in the middle of January you just don’t feel it. You’re cold.  You’re hibernating and you’re doing the minimum because your nose is red and you’re out of tissues.  It’s okay.  Forgive yourself.  Be kinder to your unproductive self.  Beating yourself up will not improve your morale.  Be a better friend to the the person in the mirror.  If you’re fogging up the glass, you still need to be here and you have a purpose to fulfill. You’ll come around.  You’ll push through.  Your insides will warm again and you’ll discover your fire, sparking all that wonderful, crazy incentive.  Be gentle with yourself.  We’re on a journey.  We can do this.

January is an in-between month and it’s okay for you to feel in-between too.

What If The Story Isn’t About Squirrels?

It was the most ordinary Thursday morning.  Chilly.  Early December maybe.  It rained overnight and the road was slick with iridescent swirls of oil and water.  There were leaves matted to the street and a few branches were scattered on the ground.  I drove over all of them on my way out of the subdivision, unnoticed until I’m replaying it in my mind and describing it to you now.  At the time I had other things on my mind which distracted me from noticing the details of my drive.  But like a security camera that records the mundane, sometimes there’s more to see when reviewed.

The sun stretches its first warm arms through the clouds and glows pink orange on the horizon.  It’s still dark, but there’s promise that it’s going to be a gorgeous late Fall day.  My headlights shine on the curve in the road and reflect off the fog.  There was a mist of slow moving ghosts.  A chill runs through me and I tap the arrow button on the heater.  When my eyes returned to the road, I see a squirrel in the middle of it.   There was something in the center of the road holding his attention.  I slowed.  Was it a pile of leaves?  A fallen branch?  The squirrel hopped back and forth in front of whatever it was.  Darting from side to side, it seemed unsure of what to do next.  My car downshifted to a crawl as I met the obstruction in the road.  A broken tree limb must have fallen during the overnight storm and lying next to it was a dead squirrel.  The other squirrel hopped away from my car’s approach but waited by the side of the road.  Sitting on it’s haunches, the squirrel’s head bobbed.  It’s front paws busy and frantic.  Its tail twitched and snapped.

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There was nothing for me to do.  The squirrel on the curb was obviously in distress over the loss of the other one.  The squirrel’s partner was not injured.  It was dead so there was no need for me to jump into rescue mode and make a trip to the Emergency vet.  Would I do it for a squirrel anyway?  I mean, it’s a squirrel.  Would I try to save it if I could?  I don’t know.  I might have.  I sat back in my seat after I realized that I had been hunched over my steering wheel, gawking at leaves and dead wildlife.  I strategically moved my car around the limb and the squirrel.  I’m not even sure why I did that.  Was I paying respect to a dead squirrel in the road?  Was I driving away slowly to let the living squirrel know I was sorry for his loss?   What made me so solemn?  What made me even care?

When I glanced in the rearview mirror, the squirrel ran back to the center of the road and hopped around its friend lying near the fallen branch.  I’m not sure why seeing this broke my heart.  I was saddened that a creature had lost it’s teammate and friend.  The squirrel appeared baffled, completely lost without his mate.  He circled the branch and his friend.  Around and around.  Almost as if he were waiting for his squirrel friend to shake off the stun of the fall, then pop up and join him on the other side of the road.

My LORD!  What am I doing?  Why am I thinking about this?  Why am I writing about it now? They’re only squirrels after all.  Rodents.  Nuisances.  Why do I care about two rats with bushy tails?  There are about a million of them in our world. We’re overpopulated.  With this one dead, we’d have one less squirrel to worry about, right?  But I don’t feel this way.  I’m depressed that one of the squirrels died and the other hasn’t come to grips with the goodbye.

There’s so much irony and hypocrisy in this story I’m sharing with you.  I believe it’s the main reason I feel compelled to write about it.  There are squirrels we are trying to get rid of in our attic and I do not care about their lives.  Isn’t that statement just awful?  We have one in particular that scratches and digs and works diligently on his nest right about the time I’m falling asleep.  It’s probably the same one that I see sitting on my gutter when I come home from work.  He’s near the vent in the attic, chewing on a hickory nut, leaving discarded shells on my driveway.  He peers down at me like, “Oh, you’re home.  How was your day?”

My husband and I have discussed putting our Jack Russell, Cinna, in the attic long enough to chase the squirrels out of there.  Possibly to kill, but more likely to scare so that they won’t come back.  But our dog, although she is quite the hunter in our backyard, has the intelligence of a pile of our recently removed, stained carpet.  We decided against putting her in our attic for fear she would miss a step in her squirrel pursuits and fall through the ceiling.

We’ve also entertained the idea of my husband grabbing his old rifle and shooting the squirrel.  That thought was fleeting for me since the gun hasn’t been fired in years, nor has it been recently cleaned.  Also I don’t want to hire roofers to patch a blown out hole and even then, probably still have a squirrel in my attic.

We’ve thought of setting out poison, but I’ve heard that hawks and owls who capture prey and feast on the poisoned animal suffer a miserable death too.  We’ve considered  hiring a professional critter remover, but for some reason we don’t do it. And that reason is probably cost.  Have you ever priced a critter removing service?  Cha-Ching.  It’s probably cheaper to host a baby shower AND throw a going away party for the new squirrel parents and their litter.

So if I’m willing to rid my attic of squirrels and spend my time figuring out how to permanently remove them, then why do I care about the one in the road?

I thought about this question all day.  I came up with an answer, but I’m open to more ideas if you have them.  Here’s my take on it.  The squirrels in the attic (not toys, thank you Aerosmith) are an annoyance to me.  They live within my space.  They’re not welcome in my home or in the nearby trees.  The squirrel that sits on the roof of my house and seems to wait for me to come home, along with all of his little squirrel relatives are nothing but squatters.  What would my actual invited human guests think if I told them we had a “minor” squirrel problem?  I run through the exchange in my head.

“We’re trying to do the right thing with them.”  Our guests nod slowly, trying not to reveal disgust.  “We’re going through the process you know?  It’s a system.”  We click our tongue and shake our head in solidarity. “Tsk Tsk.”*

Squirrels are not in the same bracket as our friends who visit.  They are completely different from my other, upright, two-legged next door neighbors. The ones who mow their grass, wave at me across the fence and grill on Saturdays.  The squirrels who nest in my attic and live in my trees scatter when I throw open the back porch door.  Our dog bounds off the deck barking and announcing her chase before she even sees them.  The squirrels who live closest to me, the ones who made an apartment in my rafters - are the ones who disturb my peace and tranquillity.  They must go.

But the squirrel mourning its partner in the middle of the road tugs on my sympathetic heart.  *That* squirrel has a life, a heart beat and a delightful personality.  He has his own community (away from me and down the road) where he lives, eats and spends the day caching nuts and trinkets. That squirrel (over there) has emotions and distress.  That squirrel (separate from me) experiences loss.  Since my life is apart from the squirrel and his life, it doesn’t affect mine.  The squirrel’s life, skittish and jumpy that I drove around on my way out of the subdivision, somehow has more value than the ones on my back porch. I can acknowledge it’s life’s worthiness from a distance.  My perspective wears lenses of compassion and sympathy.

ALL DAMN DAY, I thought about this squirrel, running back and forth across the road trying to believe that his partner was just stunned and would hop up and join him on the other side of the road.  Literally, ALL. DAY.  This squirrel was on my brain.  Can you guess where my thoughts travelled next?  Have you connected any parallels in my story?  Here...Let me help.....WHAT IF I change the squirrel imagery and make it human?  What if the squirrel becomes a person?  Let’s make him, umm, I don’t know...

Any race different from you? Hispanic?  Black? Indian? Any lifestyle different from you?     

Gay? Poor? Homeless? 

Let’s make him human, but one with a different lifestyle.  I know what I’m asking you is a stretch.  It is on the weird side, but if we can alter our reality and believe for a moment in District 12, Alexandria, and a galaxy far, far away- you can hang with me on this squirrel analogy.

Does your heart break when you see a person *not like you* experience tragedy and loss?

If a man who *is not your same race* has been shot in the street, are you saddened to read the news?  If these humans, *different from us* live and work and play at a safe distance - *somewhere else* they’re okay, right?  If they’re in someone else’s community, their lives have no affect on us.  We can *safely* sympathize with their loss from far, far away. 

It challenges our position when these different humans move in close to us and blend into our communities.  When they move into our space and push on our imaginary safe bubble that’s when we lose our sh*#.  Our inner sanctum...our life as we know it is jeopardized and everything around us is questioned.

If, for discussion’s sake, I make the squirrel a human, what changes?  

If the human lives away from you, does anything change?

If in the story, I bring the human close to you and your way of life - how do you react?  (Not living in your attic, ‘cuz, that’s just creepy.) Just imagine them in your part of the world.  Your new next door neighbor or the hired employee assigned to your department.  If the human has a different way of life than you, what is your sympathy scale when they are close?  When they are far away?

That’s the parallel.  That’s the thing that crawled into my mind and took up residence...ALL DAY LONG.  I’ve thought about how heartbroken I was watching one squirrel’s grieving process but also in the same day trying to remove a family of them from my home.

That’s where compassion meets inconvenience.

Why is it easier to have sympathy for life when it doesn’t inconvenience you?  I think it’s because you don’t have to do anything.  It’s only a thought.  You *thought* about having sympathy for this person.  You *thought* about them for a few minutes, then felt better about yourself because you paused your life long enough to give them your time.  You don’t actually *do* anything about it.  THINKING is not DOING because you’re not PLANNING anything.  You move on with your day after the appropriate number times you expressed “poor thing” and “that’s just awful.” No skin off our a$$.  No real time or emotional investment. Just fleeting thoughts without action.

UNLESS the tragedy affects us and it’s nearby.  Then BAM - all of a sudden we’re researching solutions, volunteering, and rallying the community.  Depending on our position, we ask for donations or encourage our neighbors to install security systems or clean their guns.  We’re shutting people out while we’re letting some in.  We’re contacting our Senators.  We’re discussing it with our coworkers, but only the ones who agree with us.  We’re teaching our children about differences instead of similarities.  We do ANYTHING we can to avoid THE PEOPLE - THE DANGER - THE SQUIRRELS who are different from us.  Why can’t they just live somewhere else?  They can have their community and we can have ours.

I believe the reason is that humans and squirrels (figuratively and literally) ARE the community. Our willingness to embrace differences or protecting ourselves from those differences does not change community, only our participation in it.  Community exists whether or not you want to be a part of it.  Being *a part of* or *apart from* is your decision but community will still be there if you change your mind.  Community doesn’t want to change your family’s values, but it does acknowledge that not all family’s values are the same.

 And I got all of this from a dead squirrel in the road and a family of them in my attic.

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Thanks for reading!  

Please enjoy this 3 minute video of a mother squirrel trying to get her baby in our attic...

(Part of it is heartbreaking because the baby is too big to carry, and he’s unable to jump with his mom.)

Packing for the New Year

The green Publix grocery basket held four bars of Ivory soap wrapped together in cellophane and a blue and white box of Mueller’s pasta noodles.   I waited my turn at the self checkout scanner.  I was emotionless.  Not even an hint of expression on my face.  I could’ve been a robot purchasing items for my humans because I certainly didn’t feel like I had a pulse.  Usually, I’m rather chatty in checkout lines.  I smile at the cashiers and ask them about their day.  I wave at acquaintances across the aisles.  Or better yet, much to the embarrassment of my children, if the person ahead of me appears friendly enough, I’ll peer into her buggy and joke that the contents had the makings of an invitation to dinner.  *Hardy - Har - Har*

Not today, Jesus.  I don’t have it in me today.  It was the week between Christmas and the New Year and I was empty.  I had not one ounce left.  Not one last drop of humor.  Not one more squeeze of entertainment.  I was in survival mode with soap and pasta.

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Whether we want to face this day or not, we must step over the threshold of a brand new year.   We survived.  We took the last few clumsy steps, albeit exhausted and dragged ourselves across last year’s finish line. Some were lucky enough to say they thrived this past year, and if that included you, please settle down all your thriving and prospering for a moment.  Have a seat.  Give grace a chance to cover the rest of us, as we’re still wrapping bandages on last year’s wounds.

We can make the decision to have resolutions, or not make any at all but we cannot avoid the sensation that there IS a chance to start over.  New Year’s Day is the newest of the new.  The freshest of the fresh.  Sure, EVERY day and EACH moment has the chance to begin again but New Year’s Day almost forces your hand.  You can’t help but think (even if just for a moment) what you’re leaving behind and what lies in the days and weeks ahead.  New Year’s Day is the tunnel.  Either you’re leaving the light of an amazing year and entering the unknown dome of blackness or you’re leaving the inky past behind and your eyes are adjusting to the brilliance of something new. It’s the point in the tunnel that you’re coming through or going in that marks your life at the transition of the New Year.

But I like to think it’s what you CARRY with you over the threshold of the New Year that makes the difference.  It’s not really deciding if you are going because let’s face it, if you have a heart beat then guess what - you’re going...but the decision lies in what you’re bringing with you.  If you imagine packing your bags for the transition, what are you pulling onto your shoulder?

Let’s return to my grocery basket.

Pasta is comfort food.  It’s easy.  It meets a need.  It’s what I know.  There’s so much history in pasta, I don’t have to think about how to prepare it.  Just about anyone can toss some noodles in a pot of boiling water and make enough to feed three sets of neighbors.  You don’t have to be Italian to appreciate the warmth of a good plate of pasta.  Noodles twirl on your fork and splash sauce on your face.  They have the ability to make you and your family feel safe as you gather around the table for a meal.  You can love your life for just a few minutes while your body loads on heavy carbs.

Soap is fresh and clean and new.  It lathers up to wash away whatever you need. Bubbles spill out of our hands and have the capacity to carry away tears or fears.  Suds give us a chance to feel like we can try again and have a fresh start.  A clean slate.  Soap, weirdly enough, reminds me of my friend, Neal.  I don’t think he’d mind that I told you his name.  Every so often, Neal will post a line about soap on Facebook and it makes me smile every time he does it.   He’ll write - “It’s a new bar of soap day.”  I’ve never asked him why he posts about soap, but I suppose the unknowing makes it fun for the rest of us.  It’s a clean start for Neal’s family.  Even if it’s not for us, the bar of soap reminds us that we can find a bit of freshness and start again too. A new bar of soap can be opened on an average day in the middle of September. No need to wait for a new year to start again.

So let’s return to today.  We are standing on New Year’s Day.  The threshold between old and new.

What are you carrying with you from last year (and all the years before) into the the new year?

Are you bringing pasta....comfortable, safe, easy and routine?

And a few bars of soap...fresh, clean, new beginnings no matter which day of the year?

You’re not too far gone right now.  It’s New Year’s Day.  You can still see last year.  The door between the two years is still open.  Are you leaving behind all the disappointments or packing them up and shoving boxes and crates filled with them across the New Year date line?  Are you bringing regrets and sorrows with you even if they weigh you down because at least it’s what you know?  You have the opportunity to shove some of those boxes back across the imaginary time line and slip on your backpack filled with carefully chosen pieces of your history. If the last 12 months were great and you’re ready to leap across the threshold and spin into a pirouette, please allow the rest of us a moment to unpack our mess so we can decide what we’re bringing with us.  We’ll travel lighter and maybe go farther this time.

If you have a shred of spirituality, there’s some comfort in knowing that you right now in this time and space, are exactly where you are supposed to be.  Your life - even if it doesn’t make sense - or you believe it lacks purpose - you must know that we are connected to the greater good. If your heart beats, then there’s still something you have to offer and a life you’re supposed to live.

My bag is heavy, but manageable.  I’m loaded down like *every* mom who carries all the grocery bags from the car to the kitchen in one trip.  But at least I’m packing soap and pasta. You thought I was going to give up pasta, didn’t you?  Like it’s a bad thing?  Pasta is safe and warm and easy.  And sometimes your life needs that.  You have to allow the space to return to something that you know and give yourself a soft place to land.  And a big bowl of pasta is just that safe place.  Figuratively and otherwise.  Pasta is an easy weeknight dinner that can heal the heart break of tough days and disappointing outcomes.  What your life and the new year doesn’t need is shame or regrets and heavy boxes of junk you’ve stored up and historically pulled across every, single year.

Set them down. Let them go.

This year, pack lighter.

Go for that thing that has been inside of you, begging every year to come out.  Let the rest of us know who you are, who you know deep inside you can be.  Start fresh with a new bar of soap and then you can tell us about your dreams over a plate of fettuccine.

 

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My Christmas gift to you. Permission to be sad.

Most of the time, I am a happy person.  Downright bubbly in fact.  I often give away bright smiles and overly expressive facial movements.  My eyes are wide like a ridiculous painted clown.  My mouth wide open like a barn door. I’m a person who delights in most things, most of the time and I am, overall - a happy person.

Except when I’m not.

I never seem to pay attention to the warning signs. The internal flashing light that I’m slipping away from my normal state of contentment into the murkier realm of unhappiness.  Happy is so easy, bright and simple. Nothing much bothers happy.  Happy in itself is untroubled.    But, like most people,  I never heed the warning signs.

WARNING signs that sound like the prickly edges of shorter words and snappier decisions and create a deeper set of frowns.  I pay no attention when my back gets tighter, my shoulders are wrenched up three notches and the most ordinary noise or action causes me irritation.  I ignore the extra sip of wine at dinner may be numbing a bigger issue.  I don’t have to feel the bad parts if I’m believing myself into the happy parts.

I keep barreling through life.  I go through the motions, working through the lists, getting crap done because I don’t want to *FEEL* what I’m actually FEELING.  I’d much rather bury it underneath piles of self-important work.  This life stuff needs doing.  I don’t have time for the stuff that needs feeling.  I’ll make time for the happy which seems to beget more happy. 

But I’m not making time for the sad or uncomfortable because I don’t want more of it.  The thinking goes that if I ignore it, IT will go away.  Typically, happy people treat the word “depression” like an infectious, insidious disease.

Avoid it.  It’s contagious.

I come from a long line of under-the-rug sweepers.  I’m not casting blame, I’m acknowledging my heritage a few generations removed.  We are rug-sweeper people.  We are a proud group who refuse to analyze or discuss uncomfortable feelings unless backed into a fire, then we release unto you our fireworks - hot and testy.  Better to sweep all that negative emotional sh*! and all those painful feelings under the rug with the dust.   But since MY personality is so emotive, I don’t really clean that way.

What I do, instead, is decide that I don’t have time to sit and think about why I’m feeling sad, so I shove everything I don’t want to deal with in the refrigerator.  That way when I start dinner, the troubled feeling gets slammed into a pot on the stove.  Or if I’m in the car, I pile up all that sad crap in the trunk and show other drivers my aggression.  My family knows when I’m upset if I start cleaning like the Queen is coming for a visit.  I can clean the hell out of not dealing with feelings.

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The realization about how sad I was seeped in a few nights ago, as my husband drove us home.  We had been Christmas shopping and for reasons unknown, I felt deflated and low.  I couldn’t put my finger on it but I also couldn’t bear to analyze my feelings.  It was easier to stare out the window past my reflection into the landscape and scenery zipping past us.  My reflection wanted to talk.  I ignored her.

The night’s darkness had settled in and street lamps cast a dull, amber glow.  I wondered if counting them would block the rising of my unhappiness.  Our car slipped past homes of all sizes.  Driveways with garages.  Others with gravel and an awning.  All of them appearing peaceful and snug.  In their own way, comfortable and safe.  The chill of December tucking everyone in for the evening.  Warmth lit from within.  The windows reveal nothing.  Is the family inside spread out on recliners and sofas watching television together?  Are they baking?  Are they wrapping gifts?  Or is there a disturbance inside their walls?  A harsh word?  Is there a pot banging on the stove. Is there a door slamming shut as an angry final answer?  I don’t know.  I can’t guess which home is happy and which one is not.

The heat from the car vent blew on a tear sliding off my cheek.  My face feels the cold stream it made and my hand reflexively wipes it away.  I focus harder on the white line on the road.  A fast moving serpent chasing the tires.  My hand movement catches my husband’s eye.  He turns to me and asks if there’s too much heat?  I shake my head, so little I wonder if he can see it move in the dark.  I don’t answer audibly but we’ve been married so long I don’t have to respond with words.  He cuts the air back.  My eyes dart from side to side, trying to focus on the still frames on the other side of the window turning into a filmstrip as we drive past.

I’m sad. ‘I’m tired’ is my first answer when I decide to ask myself why I’m sad.  Overwhelmed by all that’s left to do and realizing life is pushing me further away from what I want to do.  I don’t regret the work because it helps provide for the family.  I don’t regret the chores, like  laundry or dinner because it’s the small acts of service that make our house a home.  But I do regret the nonsense.  All the busyness that catches in people’s schedules and turn options into deadlines.  We create lists out of society pressures.  The ones that make us stand in line at the post office to buy holiday stamps or at the liquor store for reasons we invent.  We listen to songs crooning about dreams of white Christmas and packages tied up with string but we’re not still enough to daydream and our packages are wrapped in designer paper.  Then we count how many packages there are and ask ourselves if we did enough - or too much.  Why the shame in not enough?  Why the shame in too much?  Why is there shame at all?  Why do we have all of this self doubt, vicious criticism about ourselves?

I have a friend, someone I love and respect tell me that I need to be gentle with myself.  Forgive myself for not being happy all the time.  She gave me permission to let go of the facade.  So that’s what I want to give you this Christmas. I give you permission to be sad, melancholy or a little down.  You can be bluesy, withdrawn, and sit alone.  You can slip out a few tears or several dozen and spend more time in the closet getting ready for holiday festivities. I give you permission to be okay that you’re not okay.  To be sad when everyone else is happy.  To be down and not know why.  I give you permission to feel the feels, even when they’re sad.  You have permission to take your time and examine the real reason your soul has settled into that milky, gray space, tucked safely away from anger and no where near the color merry.

It’s okay to be sad even when we know we have so much to be thankful for.  It’s okay to be sad even if we have food in our belly, a roof over our head and presents around the tree.  It’s okay to have these things and still be sad. I give you permission to feel every bit of your sadness.  To sit in the loneliness of it.  To cover yourself in the emptiness of it.  If you spend time with heartache and ask it why it’s there, then it has the opportunity to tell you, then you both can move on.  Ignoring sadness, just like every other emotion, eventually seeps through and stains the other parts of your life.  A spill of gravy on the antique white Christmas tablecloth.  A splash of red wine on the carpet you just had installed.

Sit with sadness.  Hang out with her for awhile.  Don’t shove her in a closet or point to the rug for her to crawl under.  Tell her it’s okay for her to be there.  Allow her the space to help you acknowledge your feelings.   Then it’ll be easier to thank the discomfort for it’s service and then let it all go.  I give you permission to be down and give sadness a chance to visit.  Soak in all of the blue.  Feel all of the gray.  Let the lonely, cold sink inside of your mind spirit and body.  Succumb to her presence and receive the message she is giving you.  Once you’ve received it, accept it, then release it so sadness can let go more easily.  After she’s gone, you can make up the bed for happiness to stay awhile.

I give you permission to be sad, because I can’t wait for you to be happy again.

 

Merry Christmas.  Happy Holidays.

And warm, cozy blessings lit from within.

Twelve Year Old Rain

The rain performed its last few notes against the covered patio awning. 

The hollow aluminum echoing like a drum.  A late afternoon symphony, ending with a splattering of random and inconsistent rain drops.  The music of the rain would have been perfect had it not been for a loud, repetitive thunking sound coming from the gutter.

Thunk - Thunk - Thunk - Thunk

I sat alone underneath our aluminum porch, staring at the wet backyard and listening to the final drops of rain.  I don’t mean to imply that I was sad to be there by myself.  I grew up as an only child even though I had two sisters.  As odd as it was for kids my age, I rather liked being alone.  I daydreamed and allowed my wandering mind to imagine what my life will become.  Our back porch during a rain was the perfect conduit for that experience.  The cool, dampness of the early evening air mixed with the last of the day’s summer heat made my skin feel alive and prickly.  My body worked with my mind, soaking in all the possibilities.

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The rush of the rain water spilled from the gutter into the concrete drain.  The waves seemed to work tirelessly to remove a leaf wedged into a crevice.  I think about how my mind does that sometimes.  Working on an obstacle or problem with determination but missing the opportunity to flow around it.  I shift in my wobbly chair and tuck one leg underneath me and dangle the other off the side of the chair.  My legs made the shape of a number four.

The storm turned the sky from light, milky gray into dark slate.  Still too cloudy for a sunset and no chance for a rainbow. After every storm, I would look for them.  I remembered thinking, even as young as I was, that the rainbows were there but sometimes we couldn’t see them.

I leaned forward just enough to see the sky, but not enough to tilt over my chair.  I craned my neck so that my left ear met my shoulder.  A lazy pillow.  I found that slice of sky, I’d seen a hundred times before.  The free and open piece not blocked by trees or power lines.  I focused on that one stretch of navy sky until everything around me faded away.  I’m not sure how long I was there, but my leg tucked underneath was falling asleep.  I put both legs down and scooted across the smooth concrete patio.  The lightweight, aluminum chair easily moved with me.  My dad had recently replaced the hard, vinyl pieces wrapped in a criss-cross pattern across the back and the seat. As I scooted forward, my thighs stuck to the fabric. I knew without checking that my legs would look like the lattice dough on top of an apple pie.

I moved myself as close to the edge of the patio as I could without leaving its shelter.  I skimmed my bare toes across the wet lawn and even now I can remember what a thrilling feeling it was to do that.  The coolness of the soaked grass on my feet rushed to the rest of my body.  Invigorating yet, soft like duck feathers. The air around me began to fill up.  The crickets started groaning and chirping, birds were flying in and out of the trees.  Car doors banged and neighbors shouted greetings across fences.  The world around me seemed to be buzzing again.

I already missed the quiet noise of the rain.  Maybe it wasn’t the rain that was quiet, but me.  In the gap, I could be anything at all and nothing at the same time.  I wasn’t 12 any longer.  I could be any age or timeless.  I could be 62 or 45 or 21 or Sweet 16.  The whole world seemed so big from my view underneath that aluminum porch.  My possibilities were endless.  More than all the raindrops.   I was drenched in the quiet stillness.  The unknowing of all of the “what ifs” the “maybes” and the “I can’t wait to see.”

My older self was going to be amazing and I couldn’t wait to get there and see what’s she’s done - what we’ve done!  I grinned at myself.  Big and toothy, taking up my entire face and crowding my eyes into a squint. My thoughts of endless potential sends waves of goosebumps up and down my arms. I shudder.  I had no limitations.  I believed in myself.  In that moment, I felt that something else could move in me, on my behalf and I could just observe.  In that stillness, I was comfortable waiting for my part. The comfort of knowing that it wasn’t “if” but “when.” I could be a part of this moment fully and yet not do anything at all.  I wanted that rain again - that feeling of peace.

In my adult years, I’ve felt peace, but none like that day.  That trusting, beautiful child-like abandon.  When I remembered my 12 year old self and that rainy afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel like I let that little girl down.  The mother in me spoke to my inner child, “We didn’t do everything you imagined we would, did we?  I know.  But, I promise we did some things you never dreamed of either.”

Then, in a moment of pure serendipity, we saw one another. As if time travel and seconds stood still at the same time.  Time and Travel hold hands, moving at light speed and yet grounded in a few minutes of stillness.  Spinning so fast that our image appeared frozen.  The adult in me saw the child in me.  All of my life experiences rushed to my chest and filled up like a balloon.  I wanted to share everything with my younger self.  Show her all the steps on the journey made so far.  Love lost and won again.  To tell her our heart heals.  To let her know that the parts that were broken uncover our love’s resilience.   I explain the careers I chose.  I tell her my reasons that a few were for creativity, but most for practicality.  I safely provided for the children who call me Mom. I am conservative and guarded with our dreams as to not jeopardize the dreams of the two hearts walking outside of my body.  Our body.  Motherhood and the beautiful sacrifice that comes with it, is worth more than all the recognition in the world.

I looked at my 12 year old self, in a way, mothering her.  Me.  Mothering myself.  We were underneath that aluminum covered porch and without saying anything, I reveal to her that she was going to be okay.  All of the bruises and hurts, all of the triumphs and joys, all of the parts of life she knew already and all of the parts that were still yet to be.  Every bit of it was going to happen for a reason, and she will rally through it.  She’ll find courage when she needs it.  She’ll offer it to others when they can’t find theirs.  I explained that she was going to love her life....even the bad parts...because all of it swirled and mixed together to make her the woman she was meant to be.

 I told her, destiny takes detours but she’ll always arrive on time.

My younger self was going to become me and we are happy.  I promise.

Pinky swear.

She looked at me.  Pulling her head off her shoulder and straightening in the patio chair.  Her expressive face, one I’d seen in my daughter, was quizzical and contemplating.  I hadn’t spoken a word but she seemed to take in everything that I had implied.  That little girl.  Me.  With a dusting of freckles across her nose and two front teeth, gapped and mismatched for the rest of her mouth, whispered, “We’re not done yet, are we?” 

I could hear her.  I could hear my 12 year old voice.  She said a little louder....“There’s still so much more to do...We have time, right?  What about the stage, the lights and our trip around the world?  When do we show people what we can do? When do we tell people how beautiful life can be?  We have to remind them to believe in the magic of the ordinary before they forget forever.  And what about all of the dogs and horses that need rescuing? What about the place we want to live that has the wide open spaces?  What will people remember about us?  What will we give back to them and make a *good* difference?”

My heart stopped.  My breath sucked into a gasp.

The child in me stood up to the adult in me. With the power of wild inspiration and unshakable dreams, she challenged the experienced, safe authority shown to her.

“When are we going to do what we are supposed to do?  Do you know what we’re supposed to do?  Have *you* forgotten?”

And then she was gone. Or maybe I was.  Because she was sitting on that back porch in North Carolina and I was standing in my Tennessee kitchen.  All of my senses suddenly aware of the bubbling pot on the stove, the whir of the dryer, the repetitive thud of our dog’s paw hitting the floor while she scratches.

I smile.  I think of my 12 year old self leaning her head in such a way that her ear rested on her shoulder.  I remember searching the sky for that one slice of navy blue after a summer rain.  I stand in front of the stove, close my eyes and lean my head to touch my ear to my shoulder. I smile harder.  Tight. Then, decades of emotions rush to my chest, burn in my throat, and bubble up to my eyes releasing hot tears.

I haven’t forgotten, child.  I just took a detour.

I See You with My Heart

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At a red light, I saw a man dragging a shopping cart while a woman, following him, was pushing another cart. Balanced between them was an enormous piece of rusted metal.  At first, I thought it was a ladder, but it was dense, appeared heavy, like a section of broken train track. The thick metal had weeds hanging off it as if recently unearthed from a forgotten field or dilapidated warehouse.

The man yelled. "C'mon!! Hurry up!!"

The woman used what energy she had, but it wasn't enough. They were stalled just before the intersection. The heat from the pavement waved. He strained from pulling the massive weight on the rickety carts but managed to steer them into the center of the road. He pressed his thighs against the cart to stop the momentum of the scrap metal getting away from them. They paused until traffic cleared so they could resume the push and pull across the next two lanes.

As they waited, the woman looked around. Her head was down but her eyes scanned. She seemed sheepish, uncertain whether she should make eye contact with any of drivers or passengers in the nearby cars.

I don't know why, but I found myself willing her to look at me. I kept thinking. Just look at me. Find my eyes, lady. Over here. This way.

I didn't wave my arms or roll down my window. I just asked her to look at me. Honest to God, I have no idea why.

But then she did.

In her blue eyes, I saw sadness and embarrassment. She seemed like she was waiting for me to judge her. For me to sneer or give a dismissive, look-the-other-way head roll. No matter what I offered, she was going to accept it.

I witnessed defeat but courage.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I saw.

So I smiled at her and nodded. Almost like... you can do this.

That's it.

Then the light turned green. The man barked a command to push. The cars behind me let off their brakes urging me to move forward.

But before I pulled away, she smiled back.

Birds on a Snake Trap

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Traps - of any kind - don't always catch what you intended.

You might've been following the story I told on Facebook about the unwanted visitor in our garage. The snake jerk that scared me and drove an unexpected thorn into my relationship with Addison. You may recall his thoughtful, yet useless, catch and release nonsense and my more practical shovel and slice approach. Mama Bear protecting her teenage cubs from anaconda for the win. Fist in the air.

Since the snake-apocalypse, Danny and I have hired exterminators and professional wildlife experts to properly inspect our home and garage. To the best of their expertise and knowledge, they verified holes are closed and perimeter seals are flush. And just like an Estée Lauder gift with purchase, we received these peel-able glue traps to put in the corners of the garage. Like an oversized maxi-pad waiting for what sure would be an 8 foot snake, thousands of crickets and the occasional but nonetheless disgusting classic American Roach, it sat waiting for its victims. We never received a certificate of guarantee from Donnie's Wildlife Removal that we would never see the slithering guests again but the handsome checks we wrote should suffice in court.

Yes. Court.

Because if I see another snake in my garage, I'm torching the place, hunting and doing full taxidermy on Donnie of Donnie's Wildlife Removal, moving to an island, and bringing judgement against Danny because he allowed the vermin to infiltrate my cozy nest and our happy home. I'll need a document that proves just cause.

So back to my original point. Traps (of any kind) do not always catch what you intended. Heading out to run a few errands before picking the kids up from school, I slammed the kitchen door which leads down the steps into the garage. The abrupt noise stirred something in the far corner near where Danny parks his car. Two small eyes were transfixed on me before I even noticed they were there. But the creature's panicked movement caught my attention. Flopping and twisting on that white cardboard glue strip was a trapped bird. I set my keys and purse down and walked slowly towards him. Those tiny black eyes stared at me. His head twisted and craned to study my approach. It's body was plastered to the glue. It's right wing was twisted in an unnatural position and one of his legs appeared to be folded backward. There were bare spots all over his fragile body, the missing feathers matted to the sickly colored glue. Then I saw blood.

I ran back into the house, flung open the cabinet above the stove and grabbed the cooking oil. I sprint back to the garage and had the cap off before I landed on the bottom step. Carefully I drizzled the smallest amount onto his wings pinned to the paper. His head spun around that it almost seemed like it was disconnected. His beak pecked at my hand as I loosened the remaining feathers and massaged the oil enough to free one wing.

I soon realized my mistake by doing this in the garage because once the bird was completely free he would be caught inside. The one frantic wing tried to lift himself away but his efforts were heartbreaking. He was tearing his body to fight for freedom.

I carried the glue card and the sweet, struggling life outside on the sidewalk near the bushes and trees. The bright sunlight stunned me and I slowed my steps until my eyes adjusted. I gently set the bird and card down and focused on working the oil onto the rest of his sticky, weak body.

A movement to my right, just on the periphery of the garage took my concentration away from this helpless bird. I studied the opposite corner of the garage and could not believe what I was seeing. A second bird, the same as the one in front of me, trapped and mangled in another glue strip. Two traps on different sides of the garage captured two birds on the same day.

I could feel all of my animal loving emotions bubbling to the top of my chest and my eyes beginning to sting anticipating the tears that were coming. I shook my head, steadied my determination and frantically got to work rescuing these birds.

Their little bones were brittle, fragile and hollow like dried pine straw. I gently rubbed the oil into the paper and glue and eventually their feathers would release and then stick to my fingertips and the now greasy paper trap. Each bird surrendered to my help but I could feel their jackhammer heartbeat.

I freed the first one and it tried to lift and fly but flipped onto the concrete and limped into the Liriope. The damaged bird fluttered to the low branches of a prickly bush then fell again to the ground and then disappeared deep into the hedge.

The second bird didn't have as much blood, and must not have been trapped as long as it's mate. My hands were slick with vegetable oil and feathers as I reached to work on her. It dawned on me that these birds must have thought that the traps would be a wonderful source of food since bugs like crickets and centipedes were stuck. To a bird, the glue traps made for a yummy bird buffet.

The glue traps weren't meant to catch birds but sometimes traps become what you did not intend for them to be. Call me a sap, but I've cried all afternoon for birds that may or may not have survived. I blame myself for this unfortunate event. It's my fault we put those stupid traps down for bugs and snakes...not birds. Not gentle, sweet birds.

My rescue efforts might have been useless but I'm comforted by the thought that I at least gave them a chance. I secured their freedom albeit wounded and gave them the dignity to die among the branches and not plastered to a board on a cold garage floor.

If you have a soft place nestled in your heart for animals, reconsider glue traps. It could be that you'll catch something you never intended.

 

What makes Mom's Potatoes, Badass

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As I'm dicing these russets to make homemade mashed potatoes I started thinking about how fortunate I am to have the time and resources to make homemade mashed potatoes at all. I'm dicing and rinsing and thinking about the salty butter, the creamy sour cream and the sprinkles of parsley. My thoughts drift away reminding me I'm gonna' have to dig underneath the cabinet near the toaster to find the beaters. I'm thinking of all of this and then I think about my mom.

My mother had me when she was 40 years old. Not a big deal now, but in December 1971, it was quite the scandal. She lost friends over it. Even though she was married and had two daughters 8 and 11 when I was born, it was just unheard of to start a family again at her age. Anyway, by the time I was five my sisters were thinking about boys and driving. When I was 10, they were in college or had jobs. You get the point, when my mom's friends were beginning retirement and had their kids off and out the door, my mom was still raising a little girl.

So here's what I want to tell you. She and dad would get invitations to parties or dinner with friends. Occasionally, they'd get a sitter but depending on the couple, they'd say, "bring little Eleanor along." One night, they did and I remembered it while I rinsed these potatoes.

When my mom was chatting in the den, I crawled up on a kitchen bar stool in her friend's kitchen. She moved from stove to oven and back again stirring and checking on the meal. It smelled so good and warm and homey. I sat up and paid attention when she started beating the potatoes with the mixer.

"What are you making?"

She looked at me puzzled but patient. "Mashed potatoes. Do you like mashed potatoes?"

"Oh yum! Yes! I love mashed potatoes! I've just never seen them made that way."

One of her eyebrows raised up and a weird smile inched up on the side of her mouth.

She stopped moving her hand mixer.

"How does your mom make mashed potatoes?"

"Umm, I'm not sure but they come from a blue box."

As embarrassing as that probably was for my mom, she never let me know it. You know why? Because she was and still is a badass.

She was raising three girls when her friends were done, she was still helping with homework when her friends were having dinner parties, she was working full time but still had a meal on the table at 5:45. Yes, she might have cut corners with instant potatoes but she was tough as nails and soft as a church hymn.

Thanks for having me mom.

You're still the best cook I know.

Cardinal hitting window

Some days I feel like this cardinal is my spirit animal.

We’re repeating the same task yet expecting different results. 

We boldly approach challenges…head on.

To the world we present confidence in doing what we do, in the same way we’ve always done. How brave would it be, if we overcame the fear of a new path? What if the problems were the same but we produced different results? Maybe the objection wouldn’t matter anymore. We’d begin an alternate journey instead! What an exciting change of scenery - the beauty and wonder of the unknown.

But we won’t travel a new path. Not right now, because this is what we know.

There's a block in front of me and it's my own fault. But there’s comfort in the familiar path even when it hurts.

I could fly around it. But I'm captivated by the clear image. I watch reflections of myself as I repeat the task. I pretend that dreams turn into reality. I can see the destination. A flutter of my wings - outstretched - approaching where I want to land. But I'm foolish and fly headstrong into the passage that could break my neck and end it all.  

“C'mon little, red bird.” I tell him, (and myself) in a whisper.

There are other challenges for you in this world! Go away from here and find something new. Feel the sun on your wings. Drink spring rain from a clear puddle. There's so much more than what’s in front of you. There’s a whole world that offers more than you can see in that reflection. 

Others see your potential. Those who love you and imagine all of your opportunities.

Yet you only see this one way. Flailing yourself into the only path you see for yourself. 

Why do you repeat failure in your experience, but forget the miracle that you can fly?

Please fly up. 

I beg you to go around. 

Silly red bird, the obstacles in front of you are you.

Dare to find your freedom in the unknown.

The background reflection is the entire world. Waiting.

When A Song Haunts Your Memory

My first taste of beer was from a kiss I never wanted.  As the moment happened, I thought maybe my screaming insides were telling me that I wanted it.  That this unknown feeling inside of me wasn't fear - it was desire.  I imagined that I was supposed to like it - love it even - eyes closed, chin up, mouth slightly opened - wispy and blurry like dreams.  I didn't enjoy it.  I was afraid.  The taste was too foreign, too bitter.  The whole experience was too soon.  But you can't ever change your first kiss or your first taste of alcohol and my encounter with both was at the same time.

It changed me. This thing.  What happened. I didn't know it at the time but it defined what I would remember.  What I would feel.  It became the photographic negative.  The reverse memory of everything I would ever associate with intimacy.  It was the summer my parents traveled to Europe and left me with my grandparents on my mother's side.  It was 1986 and I was nearly 14.

The Moody Blues song, "Wildest Dreams" is the song I associate with the beer kiss. Maybe I heard the song just before that moment or right after, but that song and my memory of it are intertwined.  I've tried to forget that day but honestly the song brings me right back to the pecan tree, gravel driveway and the oven-hot summer day. The remains of that moment stay with me.  I'm forty five and at times, out of the blue, I'm scared and 14.  I never understood until I was much older why that song in one moment made me feel good and in another made me feel all wrong.

Before that kiss, my signature childhood "Laura Ingalls Wilder" braids were gone and unraveled into frizzy, wavy should-length hair.  It was thick, course and almost completely unmanageable since no one bothered to introduce me to conditioner or a flat iron.  As long as White Rain made hair spray, I'd be fine.  Or so I thought.  But I wasn't fine.  I tried to figure out who I was and maybe that meant letting go of the Jordache horse logo t-shirt and signature jeans.  Maybe I needed to find my way into more feminine styles, like Madonna lace hair ties and neon rubber bracelets.  If I had those, I'd be a girl who would be noticed. Not passed over or ignored.  I considered boxing up all of my plastic horse figurines when I got back home.  I loved horses but they were probably babyish.

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What I remember next was loud music - but it wasn't rock and certainly not my aunt's favorite radio station which played Culture Club and Prince.  It wasn't the worn out 78s my grandparents played like The Stadler Brothers or The Oak Ridge Boys.  This noise was screaming techno - like the sound computers make when they're glitching and connecting.  An "eeeee - eeeee - eeeee" sound.  They were like the sharp noises portrayed in movies about outer space.  My ears hurt but I was trapped in the backseat of a car that I should've never been in and now I couldn't get away from it.  The movement of the car - jerky and erratic - distracted my mind from the pulsing music that stung my brain.  I knew the road we were on and I knew we weren't far from Granny's so I willed myself not to throw up before the guy driving his piece of crap green junk car turned into her driveway.  I looked down to make sure my shoe laces were tied tight.  My thighs were sweating and sticking to the vinyl seats.  I wanted to run as soon as I could.  Making the middle school track team made perfect sense to me now.  The car swung to the left then made a hard right.  I slid across the backseat and banged my head against the side window.  I reached my hand to my head to see if it was bleeding and felt relief when it wasn't.  The solace of reaching Granny's house made my chest swell with hope and dried my throat as I held back tears.  I would be safe soon.  I would be safe soon. I would be safe soon.

As soon as the car slowed, I opened the door and watched the gravel move below me. It was blurry - like watching the moon's surface move from far away. A bird's view soaring over gray and white.  I was nauseous.  My step out of the car was unsteady and I fell to the ground in a crumbled ball.  The car came to a stop a few feet away.  My cousin and that guy were laughing at me.  As an adult, I don't care when I think of their sniggering but I remember my fourteen year old self feeling inferior.  I was being tossed aside because I was used and worthless.   I scrambled to a standing position then I ran.  I ran to the cornfield behind my grandparent's house.  Deep into the safety of it.

Before that day, I was afraid of the towering stalks, the bugs, the worms, the snakes, even the sweet corn smell seemed as if it were rotting in the sun.  It sickened me.  But today I ran through it, sticky leaves smacked against me, dirt clods gave obstacles for my thin ankles to maneuver.  I stumbled, losing myself in the rows.  My sneakers were covered in red dust and the dried out stalks and husks thrashed my bare legs. I couldn't run on the uneven ground any longer.  I collapsed when I ran out of breath but I was satisfied my feet had carried me this far.  No one was chasing me.  I sat up and curled my filthy shoes underneath me.  Dust and dirt were all over the bottom of my shorts.  My knee had a bloody streak mixed with red clay.  I felt gross but safe.  Those boys didn't care where I was or who I was....and at that moment....I remember thinking that I didn't much care for myself either.  But I was safe now.  I was safe now.  I was safe now.  The ringing in my ears made me feel sick but I put my head between my knees and focused on the sound the leaves made when they moved above me.  Like fans and brooms.  Swishing.  Blowing and sweeping it all away.  Nature's music renewing my mind and whisking away dusty thoughts.

 

Seeds to Share:

Psalm 71:20-21 - Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.  You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.

Long Distance. The Dream and a Weekend.

When my husband and I were dating over 20 years ago, we lived in two cities a couple of hours apart.  Our long distance relationship lasted a little less than two years before circumstances and geography migrated into the same place.  During those years apart, Fridays were cherished and anticipated.  It was more than just looking forward to the weekend, it was the day we could be together and reconnect.  Sundays goodbyes were tough and sometimes I could get him to stay until Monday morning even though it meant leaving before sunrise.

When I began jotting my memories of those years, I asked my husband if he had fond memories of that blip in our history.  Lucky for me, he did.  "There was something special about seeing you only on the weekends.  There wasn't much time so I cherished every moment."

Isn't that just the sweetest?

So much SWOON.

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Not long ago John Mayer released my new favorite song called LOVE ON THE WEEKEND and I promise you it captures our long distance love affair like John himself interviewed the two of us before making it.  It's so unfortunate that Mayer is not one of my "Famous Feathers" stories. (If you haven't checked out that tab on my blog, you should.  It's a fun look behind the scenes hanging out with a few celebrities.) John Mayer is touring and coming to a venue near me in August of this year.  I am putting positive mojo into the universe calling in the vibes that I can see him perform.  And since God loves me, maybe it'll work out that I can meet him too... ya' know...for research.

Mayer's LOVE ON THE WEEKEND is so dreamy and smooth and for me, sparks magic of the heart.  It musically paints images of wide cloudless skies, open sunroofs and holding hands over the stick shift.  Twenty years ago, Fridays ushered in all the new love feels, the butterflies and heart skipping anticipation.  This song reminds me of what it felt like to be young(er), crazy in love and have a guy willingly drive two hours just to see me.  Funny how when I think of all his trips up and down I-75, it reminds me to search for one of Mayer's classics WHY GEORGIA WHY.  I should buy that one too while I'm on my the music app listening to LOVE ON THE WEEKEND (on repeat.)

Our long distance relationship story made me think about the roads we travel and the distances we're willing to go for love or passion.  It seems easier to take those roads when you know exactly what you want.  Like that beautiful scene in Good Will Hunting, when Matt Damon's character mirrors back the same words Robin Williams character told him, "I gotta' see about a girl."  Plans and circumstances may change but when you have a girl on your heart and mind, there's not a road you won't take to be with her.  Urban Dictionary says that "see about a girl" could be anything that's important to you.

But what about the roads that are less swoon, more grief?  Less passion but more obligation.  I bet many of us would probably admit we have that ONE road we travel (figuratively or otherwise) back and forth, winding the same curves, beating the same path as if the road will miraculously lead us to another destination.  But we dead end into our round trips so much that our path has ruts in it.  We go from one end to the other, then back again with the familiar scenery, same autopilot turns, even the blind drive that warns us to slow down ahead.  My problem (it's cute that I'm pretending there's only one) is that my dead ends and road blocks are my own.  The road circles with my panicked imagination and self imposed limitations. I'm a rat in a maze that I build in my head.

But taking the road LESS traveled and having the guts to get on a highway that doesn't have street lights or large green road signs can generate that love struck awe filled anticipation we've been missing.  We have no idea where we are going, what problems we'll encounter, who we'll face or if the experience is going to be positive.  We always think we have time.  Tomorrow I can accomplish great things, because it'll be a fresh start.  Next month I will be free of (insert whatever responsibility here), so then I'll be able tackle my goals.  As soon as I pay off (insert whatever debt here), then I can afford the education I need to reach my accreditation.  When I'm not so tired (insert whatever exhaustion here), I'll be able to dedicate my energy to this passion.

The time is now.  It's time to fall in love with whatever you're putting off and get the butterflies back in your stomach.  Your goals aren't high enough if they don't scare you.  If your heart's not hammering with anticipation, be braver, go deeper.  What's the new career path you want to take?  Where's the passion you've pushed off the stove so far that it's not even on the back burner?  When are you going to launch that philanthropy you've always wanted?  Who are you going to show your new skill?  What class are you going to take about something you've always wanted to learn but you were afraid to try?  If you don't have doubts and you're not scared then your goals aren't high enough.

It's time to drive the long distance for what sets you on fire.  I wish for each of you the anticipation of working Friday through Sunday on that "THING" you want until you can have it for the rest of your life, every day of the week.

What's your dream?  What's the song that reminds you to go for it?

Go see about the girl.  Go find love on the weekend.

Flowers In Between The Fence

 If you ride the fence too long, you'll end up with splinters.  - Unknown

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Instead of "on the fence" or picking a side of the fence - have you ever thought of growing and blooming and stretching for the sunlight between and through the fence?  Flowers can't help where they are planted or where they land from a seed scattered by the wind - they just go about the business of growing and blooming in the only way they know how.  By adapting.  I saw a quote on one of my friends pages that goes something like this:  Toddlers don't begin the study of learning how to walk, then after they fall several times, suggest that maybe walking just isn't for them.  Nope.  They keep on keeping on until they figure out the process of one foot in front of the other.  It's nature.  Same with the stubborn blooming flowers.  They continue to grow regardless of obstacles.  They adapt and become one with the fence in such a way that the fence becomes blurred and you don't see the barrier, you only see the blooms.  You see the good and the beauty softens the border.

Here's my point, and I do have one.  Division is good in math class. 

Separation is helpful when you're sorting clothes for the wash. 

Sides are ideal when you're cheering for a team.

And fences that govern a school yard by halting errant balls and preventing preoccupied children from running into the street have a well served purpose.  This safety measure obviously reasons with academia and matters of a parent's heart.  Protect the children from themselves and distracted drivers.

We can accept the foundation of boundaries.  The limits of what's acceptable on your side or my side but we NEED the flowers in the middle.  Those persistent warmhearted individuals everyone seems to love.  The people who smile in spite of life.  Laughter IS their most natural dialogue.  Compassion moves through them as easily as daffodils sunny faces rocking in the wind.

 

A friend will overlook the broken fence and admire the flowers in your garden. - Unknown

 

It's that full-on bear hug squeeze you get just when you thought we were doing the polite pat and sideways half hug.  It takes you by surprise but feels so good to be human and connect and be a deeper real.  Those angels who break up nervous tension with soft encouraging words and expectant eyes anxious to see what you'll say.  They're the ones we need right now.  The beautiful in-between fence growers.  The flowers that grow between that rock and very hard place to show that life will flourish with sunshine and rain.  Life accepting the good and the bad and weathering it all.

 

Fear is the highest fence. - Dudley Nichols

 

We need you.  Not only the peacekeepers, but the gentle reaching creatures that make you forget why you were fencing in the first place.  The Labradors Retrievers of the human variety.  The unconditional loves who can't wait to see us again.  The free spirits who beckon us to forget about our worries for just a little while and go for a walk or throw a ball.  Send it over the fence and we can leave this gate and find it together. Search for the ball, find a friend, set out on a journey that's not just our back yard.  Travel is the greatest way to see what little space we have in the world.  Travel outside your fence to open your mind and expand your heart.  Compassion can't help but make a home in your soul.

 

The same fence that shuts others out, keeps you in. - Bill Copeland

 

I want to be the flowers that poke their bright faces through the fence and spread colorful joy for the heck of it.  I want to show the world wild, breezy images of every shade and hue. I want to be the flowers that even if temporary - camouflage what divides us and gives beauty a chance to join us.  I want to be a flower that makes people smile.  Even the most delicate flowers, damaged and broken can lead people to the fence.  Their paper thin petals, scattered and crushed can create a captivating path for explorers walking toward the fence.  As the traveler approaches, the blended aromatic fragrances will drift into their nose and settle into a soft spot in the soul.  The native will hear the busyness of bees and birds, seeking food and nest.   We can turn the border into a vibrant gathering place without losing our integrity boundary.

 

Seeds to Share

2 Corinthians 6:12-13

12 We didn't fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you.  Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way.  13 I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection.  Open your lives.  Live openly and expansively! 

When Dad Came Home

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Skies like this one, painted in late afternoon make me think of my dad.  Just before the sun sinks behind the hill, I'm eight years old again. When the sky becomes swirls of cool blue mixed with the last of the day's sun, I'm in the house where I grew up.  I sat by the kitchen window, focusing my stare through three backyards until my eyes reached the main road.  I would bounce my knee, waiting for my dad's white Plymouth to slow down to make the right turn onto our street - Fleming Terrace Road - A street I lived on four decades ago.  But when I see this sky, all blurry, and orange with lines of dark trees, I can feel the vinyl covered chairs sticking to my legs.  I can hear Andy Griffith's whistle coming from the small black and white TV sitting on the counter.  The smell of mom's dinner warming on the stove. What I would give to rest my arms against that windowsill in Greensboro, North Carolina and wait for Daddy to come home from work.

The Winter Wait

Ahhh, the winter wait.

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Waiting in December was fine because it never felt like we were waiting.  We were dashing through the snow and making cocoa and baking everything like we had our own cooking show and our fans depended on us.  The January winter wait wasn't bad either because of the excitement of a New year.  A fresh start.  New beginnings and resolutions.  The only wish was that we could fast forward to March so the gym wouldn't be crowded.  Stupid resolutions.  Don't blame me though, I wasn't there.  During the February winter wait, we fall victim to the Valentine's hype and we either slip into rekindled love and splurge on chocolate and wine or survive the ONE holiday that puts a billboard over your head with a gigantic arrow blinking neon - SINGLE - SINGLE.  February we either celebrate or survive and give the side eye to a rodent basing our next six weeks of weather on a shadow. God help us.

We wait for the sunless, dull days to be bright again.   We wait for frigid winter to be over so we can move onto hopeful spring.  But Mother Nature is a wicked tease and she often lulls us into an early season change with blue skies and chirping birds.  The days seem just a wee bit longer and in the morning we can back out of our driveway to orange pink skies instead the deep navy feeling like it's four a.m..  (If's it dark when I leave, my non-early bird body says it's four a.m.) Seasonal disorder affects many who go undiagnosed and find depression edging its way into otherwise cheerful lives.  We wait for winter to move on so we can focus on the promise of something new revealed after months of dirt, cold and dormancy.

Our sad winter wait makes us hibernate, avoid the cold, and stay inside.  We groan when we reluctantly move the heavy blanket to the side just to go the the bathroom.  We convince ourselves that flannel is the new black.  We wait for an excuse to get up and do something productive, but decide the weather is not fit for man nor beast because we've heard our grandparents say that as they stoked a fire and pulled their sweater closer to their chin because we are ALL living in a Charles Dickens novel.

The winter wait also becomes the winter weight.  I need to lose 19.5 pounds (20 sounds unconvincing) before warmer temperatures force the dreaded season - closet exchange - the cruelest library of fashion on this entire earth.  I WAS comfortable in the dark colors, the bulky, the various forms of camouflage.  My oversized sweaters and lined leggings were my garment friends and now I must turn them in and browse the spring and summer remnants of yesteryear (Yes, yesteryear!) Every season change illicits fashion creativity because Jesus knows that those striped shorts I've had since pre-baby will keep it's undefeated title "She cannot tug, tow, push or pull one thigh into these shorts."  (And the crowd goes wild and turns away in horror at the spectacle.) My baby girl who is now 13 could put both legs in one side....but why would she?  The shorts are tragic and I think the elastic dry rotted.  The shorts died a slow death in the closet with a fluorescent light that hums.

Winter wait or Winter weight - Either way - I want to offer you this tiny bit of encouragement:

Last November, we had a cold snap. Frigid frost and winds burnt the leaves off of one of my favorite plants.  I should have covered its tender, tropical leaves.  I should have dug it up, potted it and set it near a sunny window.  I should have built a greenhouse around it!  (Okay maybe not that.  I'm about as handy with new construction as my dog is with driving.) But you get the point, I should have done more to protect it.  It seemed all was lost and the plant would become join the compost pile.  But without reason or any color of green on my thumb, I hoped against hope when I gave it a planter and scooted it nearer the warm afternoon rays in the kitchen floor. I watered it even though the last of the brown leaves fell into the planter and the stems became brittle husks.  I couldn't bear to throw it away. I had to believe that it was only dormant and life was somehow reconstructing, regenerating below the surface of dirt.  I wanted to believe the shock of the cold had not ruined it forever, even though all signs indicated it was finished. 

New growth on brittle stems. 

New growth on brittle stems. 

This plant became my Winter Wait anthem.  I waited and watered and hoped that the sun and God would bring life back to what I had loved but not cared for.  I needed a second chance to make things right.  And because God is good....and because I was faithful in watering and care....and because some plants are perennial and help me make a great point....We have sprouts.

We need the Winter Wait to appreciate new beginnings.

 

Seeds to Share:

Song of Songs 2:11-13  

"See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

Taking a (kindness) Stand

The damage has been done. Her wing won't ever beat it's way into flight. It won't coast on the breeze just before it breaks the sky's reflection in the lake as she lands. Her brokenness is not a life sentence, it's her life finding another way. And sometimes she relies on others for healing and nurturing.

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I haven't wanted to put into words what I've been feeling these last few weeks.  I'm afraid my words would be covered by nearly everyone else's words who have access to a computer and a news feed.  But I think this image of a goose with a broken wing embodies the political environment.  It's existing, but it's struggling.  I took this shot when I was feeling bluesy and pity-partyish and this goose just ruined it for me.  How could I feel sorry for myself and our country when her options have been reduced to this?  She carries on because it never occurred to her NOT to carry on.  What choice does she have?  How can you look at something so humble, broken and not feel compassion for their will to survive?  That's us.  That's America.  We are broken and torn and fighting amongst ourselves but it never occurred to us to not continue.  Some of you may criticize me for not "taking a stand" or avoiding posting my political beliefs but I never wanted Finch to take a stand, wave a banner or cross enemy lines.  I wanted a safe place to explore this world and my small place in it when it all just gets to be too much.  And America is too much right now.  But it carries on - because what choice do we have?

Honestly, I am afraid.  If I write what I feel, even as it splits open my heart, will it jeopardize my fledgling writing career?  More importantly, what about my school age children?  Will the teachers treat them differently if they discover how I feel?  Will their classmates shun them because of the political position of their mom or dad?  How will it affect my online friendships?  Are they really friends if they choose not to connect with me because our politics differ? What about my job? When I write words that criticizes one and celebrates another - that action will categorize me.  I will have earned my label.  Are we all going to have to post our views as a sign on our virtual lapel?  Who decides who is good and who has to go?  I don't think it's the people in power.  It's the citizens who are too afraid to stand up to injustice and hide to protect their own families and interests.  And here I am - hiding.

I believe there are many like me who choose to lay low and not publicly pick a side. Does that make us weak?  Do you think we're cowards for not announcing our position?  Do you think less of us because you can't cram down the lid on our box?  Are you aggravated because we clutter your room, and sit in the corner as your unfinished business because you can't decide if we're going to the attic or the basement?

If you've already judged me before I've chosen a side then we've already ripped the seams on our tattered society quilt.  America is better than this.  Supporting one charity doesn't diminish another.  We can love and support our homeless AND we can love and support the Refugees.  It does not have to be either OR.  Putting good into the world will always be a good thing.

Just ask the goose that will never fly again after it eats the corn left by the kindness of others. 

Be kind.  Be supportive.  Be a vet who can fix a broken wings.

Love One Another

It's so hard being a feeler. What's worse is a feeler who can't stop thinking about all their feels and everyone else's. Your mind itemizes your convictions while contradicting your heart as it beats compassion for diverse beliefs. All of your fuzzy feels and thinking thoughts basically give you a heart brain - and boy is it throbbing.  We Feel-Thinks are the empathy and analysis Siamese Twins.

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Our lives are pounding with noise and dissent.  Arguments prevail and everyone seems to be on the defensive. The Golden Rule seems to be a tough one to apply to these days. It's been forgotten and unfortunately misused.  We react to situations in the same spirit with what was presented to us.  If we receive abrasive and short, we return the same. Our bark is loud revealing our part of the equation. We do the "unto" unto them, rather than reversing the cycle.  We've missed the chance for peace.  But let's face it, peace is illusive these days because everyone's vision of it differs.

How can we let our light shine without torching the place?  If we are all lit up then the heat from all our flames will burn us.  How can we use our fire and passion to ignite a more perfect union?  The struggle to be true to ourselves while allowing others to be true to themselves is where the wick unravels.

But what if by separating all that heat, we could create something positive?  Instead of a tight, compact firecracker with intense pressure burning against one another, we step back and we lift away. We find our own space, and rise above the noise.  A thousand lanterns against the dark night sky.  We can drift away and break apart and we discover how to do good in our own way. We would illuminate a breathtaking night sky speckled with all different ways to bring light into this world.  We can be stars on a canvas with room to breathe and awareness of precious perspective.

Love wins.

Humankind.  Be both. 

Seeds to Share: 

John 13:34 - A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Matthew 7:12 - So in everything, do to others what you have them do to you...You know this verse as the Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have done to you.

Changing the ME to WE

I don't know whether to wave a white flag or notify everyone that I'm pissed off.  Would anyone care if I surrendered? Would it matter to the world if I was enraged?  What if I stopped thinking about myself and the importance of my notifications and took that time and thought about someone else's surrender or rage?  Would it matter to me?  Would it change my course of life to see their public display?  Would a small piece of the world I live in care about another human's moment in their life?

Two things happen when people post. 

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1. Their tribe rises to meet them and comments and shares their agreement.

2. Their opposition rises to meet them and comments and shares their disagreement.

People. We're not getting anywhere.

It never occurred to me to unfriend someone because we disagree on politics or any other subject for that matter.  Your choices are your own and that is what makes living in a diverse, interesting society so wonderful.  It breaks my heart to see people blocking, hiding and purging their friend lists creating their own online utopia.  A perfect world based on what that one person believes, values and supports.  Of course it's not the real world - but online we can make our world whatever we want.

**Get offline and cross state lines.  We are humans who need real connections.**

It takes a lot of restraint not to blast your opinion to others with your online megaphone but as I tell my besties, be like Dory and just keep swimming (and scrolling.) Kindness and civility have been caught in the undertow and swallowed up by angry, frothy virtual waves.  So much rudeness and insensitivity tossed around and left as trash on the shore during low tide.  We're left with a beach not fit to enjoy.

Why are people are so concerned with their own feelings, opinions and wrongs made against them that they have become completely oblivious to OTHER people's feelings, opinions and wrongs made against them?  News Flash: Bad things happen to other people.  *Insert Shocked Face Palm here* It takes so little to be kind but so many of us dismiss it with a wave of our hand and an unconcerned shrug.  WE have to be better than this.  WE are better than this!

If we allow ourselves to be drawn into others lives and experiences we can better appreciate our own.  If we pay attention to others for just a moment - REALLY pay attention - we can't help but notice that there will always be similarities in our struggles.  There is a pattern to our unhappiness.  There is hope in our differences because somewhere in the IN-BETWEEN is the beautiful, neutral truth.  But more than that - therein lies compassion.  A human trait drowning in a world full of MEs.

The other day, a business acquaintance texted a question about picking something up from my office.  I wrote back and explained I would be out that day because my husband was having surgery.  The next text from her read. "Oh - okay. Thanks."

Ummm, "Oh - okay. Thanks??"

This is what I'm talking about - people are so consumed with their needs that they don't slow down enough to recognize someone else's concerns.  How much time would it have taken to say - "Hope your husband's surgery goes well - I'll catch up with you another day."  Alternatively, maybe I shouldn't have bothered her with the details of my absence.  The fact that I would be out and unavailable on that particular day was sufficient information.  Maybe we were both concerned with our own issues and not aware of how we could have been more in tune to the other.  What have we become?  A society of MEs.  Does it happen or matter to ME?  If it doesn't happen or matter to ME then I won't become involved with it.  We've forgotten the part about being relatable to OTHERS.  The part about giving to OTHERS.

Your opinion, life story, white flag or rage matters.  Every voice, position, belief, and background matters.   You are as much a part of the universe as the rest of us are but our experiences shouldn't cloud or cover one another.  The storm of my life shouldn't destroy the sunny beach of yours and knowing that storms come and go makes us wise that this too shall pass.  Ruining someone else's blue sky because yours happens to be gray is pointless and unnecessary.

We all have the ME in us, but the WE can be is so much better.

Seeds to Share:

Romans 12:15 - Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Galatians 6:2-3 - Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself.