Biscuits, Toast, & Cornbread

My Grandmother Padgett was a marvelous cook. Even now, I drool at the thought of her walnut pound cake and the dark chocolate covered coconut candy she served. And it wasn’t just the sweet treats she excelled in. Her roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and angel biscuits were unsurpassed.

My other grandmother, Grandmother Clyburn, was my mother’s mother, and her cooking must have been fair (like mine?) because I never heard a single person brag on it. In all my years of knowing her and being in and out of her home, I don’t recall ever tasting any of her kitchen creations except toast and eggs. She broiled the toast after smearing it with real butter, and I loved it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m a mediocre cook at best. I can do it, but I don’t look forward to it like some folks. In fact, the idea of preparing a delectable dinner with several dishes is daunting to me, and I’m wondering if that’s why I’ve gravitated towards hosting holiday drop-ins with tasty finger foods for the past couple of years.

Last week as I began putting Christmas paraphernalia away, I came across three sets of Christmas china, none of which I had used for a “sit-down” meal,” a good old-fashioned family event. What is wrong with this picture? I asked myself.

Knowing I was going to see two of my three children over New Year’s weekend, I decided to prepare a traditional meal that included black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. We set the time for late Sunday afternoon, and I was filled with anticipation and honestly, a little bit of dread. What if my plans for around the table sighs of gustatory delight backfired?

My daughter Elizabeth, always organized, helped me plan and gather what I’d need. With ham, rice, cornmeal, buttermilk, green beans, and spinach, we felt good confident about the meal.

That’s when the self-doubt came to call.

I felt like something was missing, so we dropped by the Piggly Wiggly  at Market Commons. They have the best deli in South Carolina, and I chose a loaded baked potato salad, a Waldorf salad, and a small chef salad to supplement our Sunday feast. Armed with the essentials for a memorable New Year’s meal, I was content.

But here’s what happened:

  • The rice that I had so cleverly prepared with chicken broth was a solid, gummy mass of goo. Apparently, I forgot to burn off the burner.
  • The ham was incredibly salty. Also, I had heated and added a glaze that was much too spicy. Live and learn, right? I won’t be doing that again.
  • The Waldorf salad had too much celery, and I removed each tiny piece of it and then added a sliced banana for that mellow taste. Everything was fine until little Ethan announced that he didn’t like the “white things” on his apples. Despite his mother’s reminders that he liked coconut, he couldn’t be persuaded to eat one bite.
  • The green beans in the steamer bag were so green that they looked almost artificial. They were waxy and chewy and tasteless, the latter because  because I forgot to add seasoning.
  • The loaded potato salad that looked and tasted so good after being warmed in the oven for a few minutes became a soupy mess after being forgotten for another half hour.
  • The cornbread was so-so without my mother’s cast-iron frying pan to bake it in.
  • The chef salad that was supposed to add some texture and color to the menu remained uneaten in its festive bowl. Without a drop of salad dressing in the house, the dish was unappealing.
  • The Star Wars cookies Elizabeth made were colorful and yummy.
  • I had planned to prepare spinach, but well, why waste the time?

My idea of having a traditional around the table meal panned out. We used plates that had once been my mother’s, and we decorated the table with Christmas items that had not yet been put away. The scene was pretty. But the food. Well, it was so unappetizing that the experience has helped me come up with my word for the year: IMPROVE.

Improve in cooking, writing, loving, painting, teaching, helping, and every other area of my life. Vying for first place was learn, but since that’s something I already make it a point to do every day, improve wins the day.

Has anyone else decided upon a word to guide behavior, thoughts, and feelings this year? If so, what is it? And why or how did you decide on it?

Stick to the Basics

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“Stick to the basics, Mom. Just stick to the basics.”

Those are the wise words spoken by my son a few years ago when I had gone a little overboard experimenting with soup recipes for a Christmas meal. Not content with chicken noodle and beef vegetable, I added navy bean soup AND potato soup. Before I finally got the four soups and several bread/meats/spreads on the table, I was beside myself with tense aggravation. I could hardly enjoy the laughter and good will around me.

I vowed never to be so foolish again.

I kept that promise until yesterday when my husband’s mother, children, in-laws, and grandchildren came over for the annual Christmas celebration. We’ve done this event often enough to be able to predict everyone’s contribution, so I decided to mix it up a bit. I had attended a “beachie Christmas” party last week and was longing to duplicate the yummy shrimp and grits that Carol and Randy served.

How hard could it be, right? Carol directed me to Pat Conroy’s shrimp and grits recipe, and while I saw dozens of recipes online, Conroy’s wasn’t among them.

I went into Books A Million in search of his cookbook, but the Sandhills BAM had sold their last copy that morning. Undeterred, I browsed through some cookbooks until I found one with an easy recipe for Shrimp and Grits. So far, so good.

About 4:30 yesterday afternoon, things began to go downhill when I tried to sauté garlic and green onions in one skillet and fry bacon in another. Don’t ask. I think I misread something. Let’s just cut through all of the drama and say that I botched the dish. The grits were lumpy, and somehow I’d missed the directions about the shrimp and sauce being in one pot and the grits in another. Everything ended up together in one giant pot.

When he heard of the near fiasco, Kacey the chef said, “I don’t understand. Wasn’t there a recipe?”

“Yes, and I did a pretty good job of following the first four steps.”

Kacey read the recipe and good-naturedly reminded me that I needed to follow the directions in order. “No skipping around or leaving out,” he said.

Fortunately for me, Kelly and Angie, my step daughters-in-law are angels. Without laughing or teasing, they simply began making a roux to go on top of the shrimp and grits. Before they did, however, Kelly had to make a Food Lion run to get the necessary ingredients. Again, no teasing or complaining.

An hour later, we were all sampling the shrimp and grits, broiled tomatoes, buttered bread, and a cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. Dessert was especially good, Jenny’s brownies and Angie’s chocolate trifle. The main dish was “okay,” just okay. It’s not one I plan to try again any time soon.

As the evening went on, I remembered that it’s being together that’s important. Little Charlie fell and hurt his nose, the blood splotching his shirt and Kelly’s. Kacey and Big Charlie animatedly discussed religion, Otis gave a nice talk about missing family members, and the kids all liked their gifts. The little girls modeled their scarves before leaving, and Little Charlie took several “interesting” pictures with his new camera. Cooper walked around checking things out, and sweet baby Daniel slept through much of the evening.

I think a good time was had by all. Honestly, I’m a little distressed about that gummy concoction in my fridge. Just thinking about it makes me more determined not to go overboard later this week when my children cruise into town. I’m sticking to the basics.

How Do You Feel About Love These Days?

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How you feel about love these days? That’s my writing prompt for today, and it’s just what I needed to get my muse mojo going. After the sights and sounds of love that I experienced this week, the prompt is perfect. Every day for the past several days, I’ve been privileged to look into the faces of people dear to me and to hold my grandchildren close to my heart. I’m fascinated with Ethan’s blond hair and Olivia’s steadily increasing vocabulary. And the Maseda grands who live near Savannah? Each one is remarkable and well-loved.

It’s easy to love my grandchildren and their parents. In fact, I love all of my family, including the extended ones and the ones I don’t get to see often. My friends are dear to my heart too. I’ve studied several theories of friendship over the years, and I must admit that they all apply to my friendly relations. Some of us have been friends since we were preschoolers while others arrived more recently on the scene. Still, I love them all.

But what about those “other people,” the ones who are “different” from you and me? Aren’t we supposed to love them too? I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit lately too, largely because of Independence Day and the huge variety of people I’ve seen. Honestly, at the Myrtle Beach State Park this week, I’ve seen just about every shape, size, race, ethnicity, and race that there is. I’ve heard several different languages and sniffed numerous aromas emanating from the picnic tables and grills at the state park.

And how do I feel about it? I LOVE it! I love the diversity of people, customs, language, and traditions, and I love the USA. It’s a land choice above all other lands, and thankfully at some time in the past some of my ancestors made the decision to immigrate here. So did yours, unless you’re a Native American.

Back to love. Love is the most important emotion and force in the universe. It motivates us to action, soothes our wounds, binds us together, helps us grow, and sometimes breaks our hearts. Love is much more important than all the silver and gold in the world although everything, including love, goes a little more smoothly with money. I’d like a little silver and gold too. It’s just that for the essence of life, nothing can beat love.

There are several definitions of love, but the one I’m thinking of this morning has to do with what Christ said when delivering the second greatest commandment. In case you’re like me and need a little reminder of what that is and where to find it, look in Matthew 22:39: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” He didn’t say, “Try to love this person if you can.” He essentially commanded us to do it.

He didn’t say love the people of your tribe, family, race, social class, or political party ONLY.  It’s funny how things you learn as a child stick with you, and yesterday as I walked along the beach, I saw such a diversity of people that I kept hearing the refrain of “Red and yellow black and white, all are precious in His sight.” It’s hard to do sometimes. Those people talking with the funny accents as I waited for them to finish rinsing their feet and chairs and buckets weren’t feeling too much love from a sandy-coated, hot me.

What I’m getting at is that it’s easier to love people that you’re related or who are in your friendship circle. It’s harder to love those who speak a different language, worship a different god, or have a different complexion. At the same time, is it okay to pick and choose the commandments we follow?

Tell me what you think, my fellow Americans. I keep thinking of examples of love I’ve seen this week, enough for another blog post. Stay tuned. I’ll write that one tomorrow.

Macy’s, Journey, and Westway

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Two months ago, I had the pleasure of taking a whirlwind trip to the Big Apple with four of my favorite people. From this experience, I was reminded that it’s not possible to do even a tenth of what you want to do in an overnight trip. I also learned that talk is cheap. Some people yak and yak and then yak some more about how they want to travel and that they’d LOVE to go to New York at Christmas to see the huge tree in Rockefeller Center, and the next year finds them saying the same thing. And the next year too. You just have to DO IT and stop talking about doing it. Here’s hoping that if I write some of my memories, you’ll be encouraged to “go for it” next year.

On the plane ride home from NYC that Sunday night, I re-read parts of a book entitled The Writer’s Book of Days by Judith Reeves. Towards the end of the book, she urges her readers to use “I remember” as writing prompt. While this is a simple idea, and certainly not a new one, it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. It’s easier to say, “Hey, I remember the summer morning when my oldest child was born” than to actually write about the event itself.

That night after reading Ms. Reeves’ suggestion, I challenged my sister travelers to go home and jot down some of the things they remembered. Although they looked at me as though I’d had too much eggnog or something, I hope that they followed through. I did.

I remember:

  • Watching the cab dispatcher at LaGuardia and admiring his ability to keep everything moving. I also remember seeing a yellow Highlander and wondering if we’d get to ride in it. We didn’t.
  • The wild taxi ride into the city. We were so close to other vehicles that, to Katherine’s delight, we could see their lunch and the books they were reading. When one person gets excited and happy about something, it’s contagious, and before we arrived at our hotel, we were all laughing.
  • Dancing to Christmas music in the lobby with Charles, a bellman at the Hilton Garden Inn, and knowing that this was going to be a wonderful trip. He later danced with Katherine and tried his best to get her to sing.
  • Eating lunch at the Westway Diner, something that’s become a tradition ever since the day Otis and I spied Brooke Shields in a booth there one May day. On the Saturday in December, we had sandwiches and fries, and Elizabeth and I pronounced the fries to be the best we’ve ever tasted.
  • Not being able to locate the Gray Line tour bus and settling for “the other one.” It was okay, but the plastic cover on the top of the bus was old and opaque. We couldn’t see the sights clearly; nor could we hear our tour guide unless we used ear buds. Using ear buds, however, cut out the city noises. It was a trade-off: savoring the sounds of the city or listening to the tour guide’s spiel. I did a little of both.
  • The hundreds and hundreds of Santas and elves doing a pub crawl. I’m still not certain about how and why this event was taking place, but wherever we went, we saw Santas and elves merrily walking up and down the streets and in an out of pubs and restaurants. We were told that they were taking part in an official pub crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. I just know it was huge fun to watch them.
  • Katherine and Jeanita wheeling and dealing over scarves and pocketbooks in China Town. Elizabeth later got into the act and bought scarves for the Core 4, a group of work friends.
  • Dinner at La Mela in Little Italy, a high energy establishment with an “interesting” ceiling decoration. We all dined on something different, but I can remember only my choice, clam linguine with clams still in the shells.
  • Joining thousands of other people in Time’s Square after getting back to the city that night. We visited the Hershey store, gawked at the billboards, and bought scarves from what looked like a festive downtown city market, complete with Christmas lights outlining the red roofs.
  • Enjoying a scrumptious breakfast with Elizabeth in the hotel dining room the next morning as we watched the gray and overcast city come alive.
  • Walking briskly to Radio City Music Hall in the misting rain. Drinking in the sights along the way, especially the gigantic red balls and lights.
  • Standing in line at Radio City and enjoying the sights, including a man wearing a red corduroy hat and lots of little girls wearing their winter coats.
  • The moment when Ann realized that our Rockettes tickets were for the 23rd instead of the 16th. No problem. The staff arranged for other seats, even better than the ones we had purchased.
  • The Rockettes and Santa! Marvelous show! Later I told Elizabeth that witnessing such remarkable talent was almost a spiritual experience and that I thought I was going to cry. Trying to hide a smile, she said, “Mom, you did cry.”
  • Touring Rockefeller Plaza and having our picture made in front of the Christmas tree. I also offered to take pictures of other people, something I often do when walking on the beach. We oohed and ahed over the ice skaters and then hustled towards the M & M store. Loved it! Three stories high and fun.
  • Subway ride to and from Macy’s. A nice experience that made me feel that we were in a movie. The next time I go to New York, I’m going to learn how to navigate this system because it’s so much less expensive than paying for a taxi or riding a tour bus. However, I highly recommend the latter for people who are visiting for the first time. If it weren’t for the things I’ve learned on busses, I’d think Battery Park was in Times Square!
  • Buying a chicken shish kabob and roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Yummy! We had seen the roasted chestnut signs from the taxi on our way into the city, and I remarked that I wanted to sample this treat that I’d sung about for decades—“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”
  • Doing the Macy’s thing. Jeanita and I have this landmark on our Must-Do List every year, but this is the first time we had ever visited the shoe floor. We asked about Uggs and were directed to the second (if I recall correctly) floor. It was amazing! Shoes, shoes everywhere and not an Ugg in sight. No problem. We were sent to a store called Journey on the corner of 34th and Broadway where we were assisted by a peppy young man. Unfortunately, we spent so much time deliberating over shoes that we didn’t have time to visit the Museum of Modern Art, my favorite museum. Alas.
  • Eating at Z Deli across from the hotel after realizing it was too late to go to the MoMA. Great (tasty and substantive) pizza and interesting ambience. There were a couple of picnic tables in the front of the market/deli, and that’s where we ate as we watched the drizzling rain and enjoyed being together.
  • Riding back to airport through Queens and thinking of how dismal the sky was, yet how the little trees and lighted decorations glimpsed inside of apartment windows gave pause for thought.
  • Enjoying airport snacks while waiting at the gate. The Dunkin Donuts flatbread sandwiches taste better there than anywhere else.

In about an hour and 20 minutes, we landed in Myrtle Beach with memories of street vendors and China Town and Rocketttes and little girls in their winter coats. From start to finish, our adventure lasted less than 36 hours, but the time together and the experiences we shared will last a lifetime.

Okay, Ladies, what do you remember? And what about someone else who went to New York during the holiday season? Do you have a special memory to share?

31 Things

I started out with a lot of big talk at the beginning of this month. Following the prior examples set by Lisa Radvansky and Anita Erwin, I was going to post at least one thing I was thankful for each day in November. That plan somehow went awry early on, not because I couldn’t think of anything but because I was, well, you know, busy. That’s no excuse, of course. What happened is that I missed a day or two, and before I knew it, mid-month was here, and I didn’t want to play catch-up.

My son recently shared some information he had learned from an article stating that if people could think of at least three things per day that they were thankful for, it would help affect their happiness. From experience and observation, I know that such a practice can also improve health, decrease stress, and increase longevity. For some reason I’ve always been able to recognize and appreciate all of the good things I have going on in my life even in times of deep sadness, loss, or stress. Seeing the good while acknowledging the bad has kept me sane.

Throughout November, I’ve been uplifted and gladdened by the facebook thankfulness posts that I’ve read. While I slacked off in adding my own daily posts, I’ve continued to keep a gratitude journal, something that’s been my practice for about 15 years. I daily record at least five things for which I’m thankful. The only difference between now and then is that now my journals are all over the place. I use whatever is at hand, and the “journal” might be a notebook, a pretty journal, my laptop, my Kindle, or one of several tiny pads that I have scattered about. While this isn’t the most efficient method, it works for me.

This morning as I sat down to jot down a few items, I got carried away with events and experiences and sights and sounds of the past several days. So instead of writing something pithy or detailed, I’m just going to share 30 (one for each day in November) of those, mainly to demonstrate that you don’t have to get all formal and worry about sentence structure and correct phrasing when you’re just making a list. You just list things like:

  1. Paul and Amanda’s new car.
  2. Facebook picture of Olivia and Ethan staring at the Christmas tree lights.
  3. Elizabeth and Emma lying on a bed sharing stories and giggles.
  4. Last night’s full moon illuminating our neighborhood.
  5. Baby Seth kissing his father’s face and head.
  6. Look and feel of Elizabeth’s house at Thanksgiving.
  7. So much good food, especially the ham, the cornbread dressing (my mother’s recipe), and the apple pie.
  8. Rich, my son-in-law, Skyping with his family in California and listening to his twin sisters laugh (their laughter was contagious).
  9. Target trip with my daughters and two of my granddaughters.
  10. Seeing Wreck-It Ralph with the grandchildren and stuffing ourselves with popcorn.
  11. Listening to talks and music from the Mormon Channel on my iPhone.
  12. Seeing bits and pieces of the Macy’s parade, something I remember doing with my father.
  13. Rich and my children’s father putting Elizabeth’s together a bed frame for her
  14. Baby Seth walking around all over the house eating pumpkin cranberry scones ( a no-no unless you’re an adorable baby).
  15. Brooke and Emma’s pretty polished nails (courtesy of Aunt Elizabeth). They chose alternating colors of Penthouse Blue and Purple Passion.
  16. Skyping with Paul’s family in Atlanta.
  17. Braden seeming so tall and grown up. When did that happen???
  18. Hearing my children and grandchildren state the things they are thankful for.
  19. Rich and Brooke playing “Heart and Soul” on his iPad. I loved this so much that I downloaded two versions of this song to my Kindle Fire.
  20. Missing Otis during the holiday but remembering that couples can (and probably should) have spaces in their togetherness.
  21. Waking up rested on Saturday and recognizing the restorative power of sleep.
  22. Christmas music.
  23. Spending an inordinate time in the kitchen but then quickly remembering how awesome it is to have food, dishes, and hot soapy water to wash dishes with.
  24. Thinking of my parents and their November 1947 wedding. Missing them but feeling their presence.
  25. Emma and Brooke dancing and singing.
  26. Colton waking me early (before six) each day asking for my iPhone so that he could play with Talking Ben.
  27. Beach experience with Carrie and being so glad that we decided to go despite a limited time frame. The kids LOVED the birds and were awed by the fishermen. We even saw horses strolling along the strand.
  28. Seeing  Lincoln with Otis, Judy, and Carl on the night before leaving for the beach.
  29. Hearing and humming “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.”
  30. Uploading eBook on student success. Rich buying a copy and reading it on his iPad. Talking about Chapter One the next morning.
  31. I know November doesn’t have 31 days, but I just have to add one more thing: America!

That list took minutes to put together. The trick is to be attentive to what’s going on around you and make a mental note of it before you forget. Try it and let me know how it works out for you.

 

Lesson from Mama

 

The house is quiet tonight, almost too quiet. All of the Christmas company has gone home, the tree has been taken down, and the fireworks commemorating the new year are going off all around my house. As I reflect on yet another holiday season coming to a close, I’m reminded of another lesson I learned from my mother. Christmas isn’t just one day. Well, it is and it isn’t. What she meant is that Christmas is a season and a feeling and that it doesn’t have to be confined to one 24-hour period. When we spend so much time, money, energy, and thought into making the day one of unimaginable splendor and beauty, we sometimes miss the meaning and the magic.

So that’s got me thinking of when I first realized, “Oh, it’s here again!” Was it when I first saw the Salvation Army people collecting money at Wal-Mart? Or was it when I turned in the last grade for the semester? No, maybe it was the day after that when I attended a luncheon at our local CCTC satellite campus. Or no, I think it was actually when I arrived in NYC with three like-minded gals for a day of sightseeing and shopping in the Big Apple. If there’s anyone on earth who can see the Macy’s store windows and the huge “Believe” sign on the front of the block-sized department store and not feel the spirit, that person has some psychological issues.

I did a lot of fun things this season (including the above mentioned trip to Manhattan!), but when it comes right down to it, my most precious recollections have to do with people, the people I love…and some who are strangers too. In no particular order, here are a few sweet memories.

  • Seeing the Salvation Army men dancing dancing dancing in NYC. In front of Macy’s and at Rockefeller Center, these spirited men were entertaining the crowds and raising money for a good cause.
  • Seeing Santa sitting on a bench near Rockefeller Center. Jolly old Saint Nick happily posed for a picture with Kayla, the youngest of our group.
  • My husband’s children and their partners and children joining us on the afternoon of the 17th for food and fellowship. We were especially happy that Kacey could join us this year. And all of remarked on how much difference a year could make. Baby Charlie was walking all over the place, and last year he couldn’t even crawl yet.
  • Earlier that day, we had a Christmas get-together with all of my husband’s siblings and their families. When he and I first got married, these events were held in a home, but now that the family has grown so much, we’ve moved the party to a local church. Santa came. He was jolly and patient, but he couldn’t fool Whitney. “He’s not the real Santa,” she confided in me. “I could see the strap holding his beard.”
  • The night of the 22nd when I saw three of my grandchildren’s faces pressed up against window of the breezeway door. I flung open the door, hugged them tight, and then saw another sight for sore eyes: their other two siblings and their parents.
  • That same night around 11:15 when I heard a tentative “Mom?” It was my son Paul who had stopped over to spend the night on his way to Myrtle Beach where his wife and daughter were waiting.
  • Later that night seeing Paul and Carrie’s heads together as they discussed the merits of various laptops.
  • Watching and listening as the kids opened their gifts on the night of the 23rd. Need I say more about this? Everyone who’s been a child or been around a child can imagine this scenario.
  • The Christmas Eve brunch. I loved having my sibs(two of them) and their families, my Aunt Polly, my cousin Sue & her family, and of course my children here for a fun gathering. Thanks to help from my beautiful daughter Elizabeth, everything came together. We even played Christmas bingo…loved watching Brooke help her father play the game.
  • Following through with a Christmas Eve tradition of seeing a movie; this year it was Sherlock Holmes.
  • Sitting between Otis and Elizabeth in church on Christmas morning as we listened to the messages and the soul-stirring music.
  • Christmas day lunch at my mother-in-law’s house. After all of the feasting we’d been experiencing, we decided on a light menu, subs and cake. Loved that!
  • Monday brunch at Elizabeth’s home in Conway. More yummy food!
  • Having Olivia, Amanda, Paul, and Elizabeth come for a visit in Myrtle Beach and watching Olivia push her new pink grocery cart all over the house. She was wearing her black boots and chatting away. Later we went to Nacho Hippo for a farewell dinner.
  • Shopping for after Christmas deals with Elizabeth the next day. We love Target!
  • Naturally, I couldn’t include everything in the above. Who would want to read all of it anyway?

For some brief, shining moments, we were all together enjoying one another’s presence and remembering Christmases past. On Christmas Eve, I shared a toast with all who were present, and although you weren’t there, you’d like the toast. It was based on the end of a movie, Places in the Heart. My friend Martha had declared its ending to be the best of all movie endings so I had to rent it.

The scene takes inside of a church, and all the pews are populated not only by people who live in the small town but also by those who have “moved on,” either by death or change of location. They’re all partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and although there has been a lot of heartache and pain in the movie, in that final scene, everyone is there…everyone.

What I took from the church scene is that love is the most important and powerful force in the universe and that people who’ve once been a part of your life will always be there with you. You might not be able to see them, but they’re there. Oh and P.S., my mother was right. Christmas is more than a day.

Changing and Looking Ahead


My son and his family left Myrtle Beach this afternoon. It was marvelous to see them again…and heart wrenching to tell them good-bye last night. Atlanta, GA is a long way from here, and although I know I’ll see them at least once before Ethan Paul makes his debut in March, it was still hard to watch them drive away last night.

Still, if I’ve learned one thing in my life it’s that it (life) goes on. Despite separation, trials, loss, and pain, it goes on. Whining and feeling sorry for myself won’t bring the young family back. Nor will it bring back my parents and grandparents who no longer walk the earth. I’ve known people so sick or discouraged or miserable that they simply didn’t want to go on anymore. Fortunately, so far they’ve had the fortitude to keep on keeping on.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned: those whom you’ve loved never really leave you. They’re always in your heart and mind, and sweet memories of them can be conjured up at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of these recollections  have flooded my mind during this special season, thus making it challenging to spotlight just one. Many of them sort of flow into each other, like the dozens of Christmas Eves at my grandmother’s house when all of my cousins were there. Invariably, one of the adults would look out the window and declare that he had seen lights circling the area, a sure sign that Santa wanted to land. If I had to choose just one Christmas memory, I’d go with the one in which my grandmother read me an article from the newspaper about a little girl named Virginia who wanted to know if there was a Santa Claus. Spellbound, I listened to MaMa Padgett as she read Virginia’s letter and the editor’s response, thrilled to know that indeed Santa existed.

My sweet daughter-in-law seemed to have a case of the doldrums when I saw her yesterday, and I suspect it’s because she and I were feeling some of the same emotions. She’s on her way back to Atlanta now and probably won’t see her parents for several months. They’re serving a mission for the LDS church and only came home for a couple of weeks at this special season. They’ll be back in June. By then, Amanda and Paul will have another baby, Ethan. Hmmm. That brings me to a third thing I’ve learned: The only constant is change! Seriously, you can count on that one. Nothing ever stays the same. For better or worse, things (people, events, circumstances) are always in a state of flux. All I have to do is look at my grandchildren to see that!

I think of my sweet mama every day, and naturally she’s in most of my Christmas memories. Of the many, many lessons I learned from her, one is that a person always needs something to look forward to. Whether it’s a visit from a friend, a favorite television show, or a shopping excursion, having something to look forward to can give us momentum and buoy up our spirits. Having a hopeful expectation that something good is going to happen can make the crucial difference between happiness and misery.

As 2011 comes to a close, I realize the truth of the above even more. Life goes on, people never really leave you, change is constant, and hope is important. I’m looking forward to 2012 and all of the changes that it will surely bring. I hope that we can all adapt to whatever lies in store for us and, all the while keeping our loved ones in our hearts.