Elephants and Plastic Cups

 

That tiny blue cup sitting in the windowsill next to the infant’s picture might look like just another gewgaw to you. It isn’t. It’s fraught with meaning. My grandson Ethan, 20 months old at the time, gave it to me on Thanksgiving morning as I left Lake Lure. I had received word about the passing of my stepson Chris and was battling shock, disbelief, and sadness.

As I prepared to return to Columbia, the precious tot came running up and, with a big smile, held up this miniature plastic chalice. I think he sensed my grief and wanted to cheer me up. I later placed it in a bathroom window beside Ethan’s picture, a reminder of his eagerness in offering it to me at such a low moment. Even in the grimmest of circumstances, there is beauty and love.

Ethan’s father Paul gave me a perfect segue into this post last week when he sent me a link to a Radio Lab podcast about things. I don’t know whether he sent me the link because of the reference to object permanence or because of my proclivity to surround myself with things that have special meaning to me. I have rocks, shells, and jewelry that once belonged to someone dear, were given to me, or were once in a special location.

According to the podcast, things remind us of events, people, locations. They evoke emotions, good and not so good. Some are imbued with the essence and energy of those who touched or owned them, and all could tell a story. Since objects can’t talk, it’s us to us to share their significance.

After listening to the podcast, I walked around my house and snapped these pictures in less than a minute. All are important—to me, that is. You already know about the blue plastic cup. Let’s take a look at the others.

See the sailboat? Paul made it when he was about 10 years old and gave it to my mother. She was delighted with this treasure and displayed it on a bookcase for years. After her death, I claimed it as mine, and I love it for the same reason she did: his little boy hands had created it.

The trio of wooden elephants reminds me of Dr. Peter Ekechukwu, friend and former colleague at Horry Georgetown Technical College. On one of his trips to Nigeria, his homeland, Peter selected the elephants and brought them back to me as a farewell gift. A trustworthy friend, he and I used to commiserate about our many challenges as department chairs, and when I left the college, he and his wife Angela prepared a feast for us, and even now I can smell the delicious bouquet of aromas wafting throughout their home.

The lovely lavender vase belonged to my grandmother, also known as MaMa Padgett. She collected small pitchers and vases and had quite a collection displayed in her china cabinet. A few years ago, her daughter allowed MaMa’s granddaughters to choose a favorite from the collection. I chose this one and two more, one for each of my daughters. Where did this one come from? What was it that caught my grandmother’s eye? I selected it because of its color and shape, and I like thinking that perhaps those were her reasons too. She saw it; she touched it. Now it’s mine to see and touch.

The huge shell belonged to my mother. Although she wasn’t much of a beachcomber, I think she felt a reverence for the sea and its bounty. This huge shell sat atop a bathroom cabinet and held fragment soap balls. I keep it on my dresser and display pearls in it. They’re pretty, and they serve as reminders that friction can create beauty.

What about you? Do you have a special letter? A piece of jewelry that reminds you of a loved one? What about a movie or theatre ticket? Some people even hang on to articles of clothing that they were wearing at a special event or during a time that they enjoyed.

July 20, 2011

Why the edginess? This was Carrie’s sixth child, and it had been nearly a decade since her stillborn baby boy had briefly entered our lives. Between then and now, there had been four live births, perfect babies. Still, there it was, a feeling I couldn’t shake.

“The doctor’s probably going to do a C-section,” Carrie had said a few days earlier. I sensed the apprehension in her voice and assured her that I would be there, not just for the delivery but also to help out with the other children afterwards.

As my daughter Elizabeth and I sped down I-95 that July morning, it was already muggy outside. Another scorcher! Neither of us knew what to expect or even how to think about the upcoming birth, so we mostly rode in silence.

“Want to stop at Cracker Barrel?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

“Me either. Let’s just get there.

“K.”

Arriving in Savannah a couple of hours later, we squeezed into a skinny parking spot in the hospital’s parking garage, and darted over to the hospital. After getting our stickers allowing entrance to the maternity ward, we hustled down the hall looking for Carrie. But where was she? By now, she should be getting prepped for surgery, but where?

We soon found our way to her room, and there she sat looking a little anxious and preoccupied, almost fragile.

“Whew. Glad we got here before they took you to the OR. I’d have been upset if I’d missed you,” I said, giving her a fierce hug.

“No danger of that,” she replied with a wry smile.

“Why? Are they backed up in the operating room?”

“No, nothing like that. The doctor came in, and since he was able to turn the baby, he thinks I should try a vaginal birth.”

“So that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah…unless Seth decides to move again before we can get the ball rolling.”

“We’ll just have to trust the doctor, Sweetie.”

“I know, I know. I just wish someone would come and start the Pitocin.”

Carrie had barely spoken when someone came in and whisked her away to another room. Small, the room had a huge window on the far side and a bed square in the middle of the tiled floor. For hours, we took turns waltzing in and out of Carrie’s room, chatting and waiting, waiting, waiting.

Finally, the moment of birth approached, and the doctor shooed everyone out of the room except for Seth’s parents and a nurse.

“Gee, I hate to leave. I’ve never really seen a live birth,” I said for the third or fourth time that day.

No invitation was forthcoming so I joined Seth’s granddaddy and aunt right outside of the room. The granddaddy chuckled and said, “Did you really think that hint was going to help?”

“I was hoping,” I said.

Just then, the door cracked open and Rich said, “Hey Jayne, Want to come inside?”

“You mean it?”

“Sure. Come on in.”

The atmosphere in the room was electric, tense, serious. The nurse counted, and the doctor said, “Push.” Many times.

“I see the head! One more push ought to do it,” the doctor said.

I took a peek and nearly gasped. I could see Seth’s head, but something was wrong. His head was blue. His little blue, limp body followed moments later.

The doctor called for the NICU nurses, and within seconds there were two or three extra nurses in the room with us. Two or three? I truly can’t recall. The atmosphere was charged with tension as the capable nurses worked with the baby and the machines.

I leaned over the tiny, still body on the table and began whispering to him as one of the nurses worked with him.

In the most calm, gentle voice I could muster, I said something like, “Hello Sweet Boy. I’m so glad to see you. I already love you so much. We’ve been waiting for you a long time and came all the way down here this morning just to see you. Wake up, now. I want you to look at me when I tell you how precious you are, how lucky you are to be born to parents who love you so much.”

From the bed, “Mama, what’s wrong? Why isn’t he crying? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” I said. “He’s just being a lazy little guy.”

“When can I see him?”

“In just a minute. I have to talk to him some more first.”

As I continued to speak to Seth in the soothing tones used by women in all corners of the world when comforting a child, his skin gradually became rosy. My throat tightened. I gulped before speaking again.

“Come on, Buddy. I want to see your pretty eyes.”

I was down on his level, inches from his small pink face.

Seth opened his eyes and stared straight into mine. We held the mutual gaze for several moments, and I heard the nurse tell the doctor that all was well. Amazingly, his APGAR score at birth had been 2 on a scale of 1-10.

I laughed and cried with joy. Seth was alive and well, and I was the first human he had seen on this earth.

When I told a friend of mine about the experience later, she looked into my eyes and said, “You communicated spirit to spirit. He knew who you were.”

That was three years ago. This amazing, precocious, adorable little boy doesn’t remember his grandmother coaxing him into life. But she does. It’s something she’ll never forget.

 

Shining Moments

Nothing big or major here. Just a few observations on life.

I’m at the beach for a few days and have relished every moment of my time here thus far. Despite being overly fatigued, my daughters and grandchildren have added much joy to my life. Here are some thoughts, not too deep but worth considering.

On the way to the coast, I stopped in Conway to visit with an old and dear friend. One of the many things I’ve always loved about her is her ability to hear about a situation and assess it “spot on” without all of the emotional fringe stuff.  Then too there’s the fact that she’s wise, spiritual, philosophical, and practical. If that sounds like an interesting combination, well yes, that’s what makes her so special.

Before we had our conversation, I turned the corner (more like a soft curve) and spotted two women walking down the middle of the tree-lined street, and I recognized them as my friend and her expectant daughter. Immediately I recalled a moment that happened 35 (?) years ago when I saw her cross Main Street from Ninth Avenue cradling this same daughter in her arms. Catherine was a baby, and her mom was taking her to daycare before work. Those were the days—the crazy days of childcare and working that somehow we managed to get through.

Decades later there were two blond, beautiful women ambling down a Conway street, one expecting a baby in less than two weeks. So in a sense, I was walking behind three generations although I couldn’t see the tiny one’s face or form – yet. Plus, they were in Conway. Conway. A city with a lot of history for these two and many, many others. You could almost sense the spirits of their ancestors hovering about.

Early the next morning my daughters and grandchildren were up and about making preparations for a couple of hours on the strand. I was in beach attire, and Colton, the little five-year-old kept playing (best word here) with my upper arms. “Why does your skin shake like this, Grandmama?” he asked as he flicked it back and forth.

“Leave Grandmama’s arms alone,” his mother instructed. “Do you think she’s enjoying that?”

Ah, the challenges of getting older. It’s neither fun nor attractive to have flabby arms, but what are my choices? Some people have surgery, but then there are scars to deal with. Plus, there may be more limited use of movement and strength. My intention right now is to keep them covered and focus on the wonderful things my arms have allowed (still allow). For starters, hugging people. I love that. Also driving my car, picking up things, and chalk painting furniture. I started to say “typing,” but I know there are people out there who might remind me of stronger souls than I who have learned to type holding a pencil in their mouths.

That same day I went for a walk on the beach, and four older ladies (75?) stopped me and asked me to take their picture. Happily, I complied. I snapped about four pictures, and hopefully one will be flattering of all four. When I handed the camera back, one of the foursome asked, “Can you even see her face?” She was referring to one of the group who did not want to have her picture made.

“Yes, she’s trying to hide, but she’s there.”

“Hey, it’s a memory,” I said. “Y’all are gonna love looking at it later and remembering this beautiful day when you were together and happy,”

“Yeah, listen to her. She understands,” one of the women said as I turned away to continue my walk.

That little five-year-old is now on the patio with me—no more writing for hours—maybe days. But life is good. I have great friends, arms to embrace this little fellow, and some good beach memories.

Doing my best to “seize the shining moments.” What about you?

Duty-Bound Chick

I’ve been reading and enjoying Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. Her words have struck many responsive chords over the past week or so, and I’ve often found myself thinking, “That’s me!” or in some cases, “That was me.” This afternoon I’m thinking of the author’s take on the Little Red Hen, a.k.a. Jayne.

When I was a younger mother, we often had family meetings about various daily living issues. A recurring topic was the unequal division of labor within the household. I did the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chauffeuring while the others (especially the children) contributed very little to the smooth running of the household. To make matters worse, they often whined when asked to clean their rooms or heaven forbid, clean off the table or fold clothes.

Evidently, despite a background in psychology, I had not yet learned the truth of “What you allow will continue,” a phrase I often see on Facebook these days. To make matters worse, I had undoubtedly been overheard saying, “You teach people how to treat you,” in my classes, and yet I had failed to see how paradoxical that was in my own home. I had taught everyone to treat me like one of my favorite and cutest children’s book characters, the industrious little hen.

In meeting after meeting, we talked about this sweet, giving little birdie. She repeatedly asked other barnyard animals for help, but they were always busy or disinclined. No one even wanted to go to the mill to turn the wheat into flour. I can still see her picture in one of my daughter’s books, scarf flying in the wind as she drove her little red convertible around the curves on her way to the mill. Elizabeth still occasionally says, “There’s a Little Red Hen car,” when she sees a red convertible.

But I digress. Do you remember the story? When the Little Red Hen returned from the mill, no one wanted to help her bake the bread. Accustomed to sacrificing for everyone else, she slaved away in her little kitchen making loaves of delicious, aromatic bread. When the bread was ready to eat, the sleepy cat, noisy duck, and lazy dog were eager to help her devour the tasty treat.

But the Little Red Hen said NO. She had had it! Enough was enough. Why should she continue to work so hard and do so much for individuals who never helped or appreciated her?

After reading Sue Monk Kidd’s discussion on this busy little creature, I had to laugh. I have been that hen! She represents Every Woman who has ever felt taken advantage of. (I know that she also represents other types of people too, but this is my story). Despite resentment, fatigue, stress, and latent anger, some hens (er, women) continue to ALWAYS put others’ needs first. According to Kidd, they’re letting themselves be martyrs. They need to come back from the mill and say NO once in a while.

Truthfully, I already knew all of the above. But I enjoyed Kidd’s  reminder that women need to think about themselves too. They need to treat themselves well and practice the commandment to love themselves as well as their neighbors.

I have more to say about this duty-bound chick, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. Right now the little red hen part of my psyche is nudging me towards some laundry and grocery shopping. But how about it, Ladies? Do you need to back off a little from others’ demands and focus on some of your own needs?

Kitchen Company

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No heavy duty thoughts tonight. Just a few insights and feelings that I had while working like a maniac in the kitchen Friday.

We were snowbound for a couple of days here in the sunny South this week, and at some point I started paying attention to recipes. A one-layer chocolate cake recipe grabbed my attention, and when I clicked the link, I saw the magic words “unsweetened cocoa.” How can a person go wrong with the real stuff in a recipe? I’ve made my share of chocolate cakes and have doctored them up to make them a little more delectable, but I knew that nothing short of bona fide cocoa could provide the rich chocolate flavor I craved. With the thought of my grandchildren arriving later in the day, I got out the big mixing bowl.

Lining up the baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, eggs, and other ingredients required more work than opening a box of Duncan Hines mix and adding eggs, water, and oil. And yet, I found that I got into the task (?) right away. I listened to my iPod and started measuring the all-purpose flour.

As I added the baking soda, I recalled the words of my mother. “Always break the lumps up. If you don’t, someone might bite down into a bitter clump in the cake.” I heard her voice again as I began applying butter to the pan. Years and years ago, I couldn’t figure out how to grease a pan with Crisco without getting greasy hands, and again my mother came to my rescue. “Just use a paper towel to rub it on,” she said.

I doubled the recipe because of the number of people who would be sharing the cake, and when plundering through the pots and pans to find a second one, I found a pink heart-shaped dish that my daughter Elizabeth had given me. “Perfect!” I thought. It will be Valentine’s day in a couple of weeks, and we can start celebrating LOVE MONTH this weekend. Then I thought about Lizbeth and how much she has taught me about placing culinary creations on pretty plates and platters. “It’s all about the presentation, Mom.”

Cakes in the oven, I took a look around the kitchen and felt a little heartsick. The counters were covered with cocoa and flour, cracked egg shells were resting in the sink, and the boxes and bottles of ingredients were scattered everywhere. And the mixer and beaters…what a mess. How in the world did so much batter get on the mixer???

Immediately I thought of my Grandmother Padgett, a superb cook but a messy one. Standing there looking at my counters, I could visualize MaMa Padgett whizzing around her small kitchen. From the sink to the counter to the stove and back to the sink she’d go, leaving a trail of flour with every move she made. I can still taste her “angel biscuits” and pound cake, the latter often chock full of walnuts.

But back to Jayne’s kitchen. After the cake cooled, I used a chocolate glaze purchased right off of the Wal-Mart shelf. It didn’t feel like cheating since I’d cooked the rest of the cake without a mix or short cut. Was it a success? Let’s just say that the last image I had of my grandson Braden before he and his family left my house yesterday was of him chowing down on the two pieces of cake I had put aside for our dessert last night. Did I stop him? No way! I looked at him and thought of what my mother would had done if she’d seen a grandchild enjoying that last little treat. I just smiled and tousled his hair.

If you’d seen me in my kitchen Friday, you’d have thought I was alone. But I wasn’t. I had three of my favorite relatives with me the whole time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the dozens of lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen, some about food preparation and some about life.

OBX Marathon Weekend

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Thoughts of last year’s OBX Marathon and Half Marathon sent me to my Shutterfly book of photographs and text that I put together afterwards. The above picture was taken at Jockey Ridge, the largest sand dune on the east coast, and is on the cover of the book. I’m lifting the words below from the last page, hoping to get my family and friends energized and motivated for next year.

What an awesome day. I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate way to describe November 11, the day of the OBX Half Marathon.

From the moment I heard “God Bless America” at the start until I watched my brother Mike and his wife Lisa dance in Big Als’s afterwards, sights and experiences too many to describe took place. A second cousin, Emily, also participated in the event. Wait, no, she did more than participate. She ran like the wind. John David, my nephew managed to whiz by her at some point, and my brothers weren’t too far behind. Me? I walked along like an automaton, pausing long enough to take some pictures.

Along the way, I saw some interesting sights. There were women of all ages wearing tutus and colorful skirts, and I thought, “Maybe next near for the skirt, not the tutu.” As I reached the top of the bridge leaving Nag’s Head, I passed an older man in a wheelchair giving it all he had. Loved his indomitable spirit! I also saw and appreciated hundreds of people along the route who gave water, Gatorade, and plain old encouragement.

In Manteo, we reconvened for some photo ops, including one inside of a ship in the harbor. We then headed to Big Al’s for lunch, something that’s become a tradition. The sweet potato fires and the ambience keep bringing us back. Mike and Lisa danced on the dance floor, but Chris, Becky, and I confined our dancing to table dancing…or as Chris called it, “Shoulder dancing.” We also sang along to a couple of songs on the juke box before going to back to Big Bird, the house we had rented, for some R & R. Later, four of us walked down to Jennette’s Pier before going to see Argo.

Monday morning we all arose early to have breakfast at The Dunes before parting company, a delicious way to say farewell.

Put November 9, 2014 on your calendars, Y’all (appropriate for a Southerner to say). It’d be great to have more family and friends there next year.

Along the Waccamaw

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We were sitting in the Trestle enjoying lunch when my husband called. Although I rarely take calls while in the company of others, especially during a meal, I decided to answer this one. I figured it must have been important since I’d already talked to him once that day.

He has the  “find my phone” app and knows where I am 24/7.

“Hey! I see you’re already on the way home.”

“No, I’m in Conway having lunch with Carrie and the California crowd,” I said as I smiled at Emma who was devouring her chicken strips with great gusto.

“Oh.” And then after a pause, “Well, are you leaving from there?”

“No, I actually have to go back to the beach before I leave.”

“That’s crazy! Why are you doing that?”

“Because there are 11 of us, and we couldn’t all fit in one car.  I’m a driver today and have been pointing out some of the sights of the area to Rich’s mom and sisters.”

“Well, when are you leaving Conway? Right after lunch?”

I was beginning to get un poco annoyed. It was hard to explain the desire/need  to spend every possible moment with the people around the table to someone who lives within a 30 mile radius of everyone he loves.  “Uh, well, we’re doing the whole River Walk thing first.”

Silence. Then, “Let me know when you leave.”

I promised to be home by dark and hung up the phone just as Brook asked if I’d share my sour dough bread with her. The Trestle in Conway has the best sour dough bread in SC, and Brooke, my 8-year-old granddaughter, apparently felt the same way.

We laughed and talked and had several photo ops. I bought a huge piece of chocolate pound cake to share with everyone, but my plans came to naught since 4-year-old Colton apparently thought I had bought it especially for him. After getting impatient with sharing the fork, he dug into it with his tiny fingers and pushed a savory bite into his mouth.

When we got down to the last bite, I offered to split it and share it with him. Keep in mind that I had only enjoyed two measly bites.

“Okay,” he said. “But how about I get the big bite?”

Bills paid and tips left, we took off for a stroll along the River Walk, and what a great time was had by all.  With temperatures in the low 70’s and the sun shining down through the majestic trees, the weather was beautiful. Old Man River just kept on gliding along, and we felt ourselves relaxing to its rhythms. Boats and at least one kayak slid by on the calm surface of the Waccamaw, and dozens of people sat on benches or sauntered along taking in the beauty of the scene. It didn’t take much imagination to think that this could have been an October afternoon in 1713 instead of 2013.

While the need to head for home and responsibilities nagged at my consciousness, I refused to succumb to “duty demands” and was determined to relish every moment of the afternoon. The children picked flowers for Aunt Heidi’s hair, and she was a good sport about it. Later I noticed three of the little ones surrounding Heather on a bench overlooking the Waccamaw. They were caught up in conversation with her, and I loved seeing the interaction between them. Glancing at the scene, I noticed for the first time just how much Brooke looked like her aunts, her father’s twin sisters.

There are many scenes tucked away in my memory bank from that special afternoon, too many to recount. Still, I’m listing one from each of the people I shared the hours with.

  • Carrie snapping pictures right and left. At one point, Colton jumped on her as she squatted down to capture just the perfect picture of Seth. Seth decided to get in on the fun, and it was fun to see her immobilized by the two tiny people.
  • Emma picking up acorns and placing them in strategic places for the squirrels to find.
  • Colton picking up what he perceived to be a unique rock and asking me to hold it for him. (I still have it)
  • Braden gleefully fun photo bombing his aunts’ pictures.
  • Seth sleeping peacefully throughout the hustle and bustle around him throughout lunch.
  • The interaction between my grandchildren and their California grandmother and aunts. Love abounded, and it touched my heart.

It was an awesome afternoon with lots of laughter and special moments. Maybe someone else who was there beside the Waccamaw that day will chime in with a memory. Or maybe someone out there in Cyberspace will share a memory of a time when he or she snatched a few hours from the daily round to make some memories.

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.

Decisions, Decisions

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Olivia and Ethan have been dancing together. Carrie’s kids have been hiding toys in the freezer, and the older ones have been experimenting with cooking. I miss them so much and have been counting the days until I see them again next week. All seven of them will be in Myrtle Beach at the same time for a few short days, and for the first time in months, they’ll all be at the same church together.

So what’s the problem? Anyone who’s read very much of this blog knows how I feel about the sweetness of being in church with one’s family. And to hear Brooke sing? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake. She pours her heart into it, and her enthusiasm in “making a joyful noise” gives the people around her the courage to sing a little louder.

The problem is that I’m having one of those approach-approach conflicts, the kind in which the person is trying to make a decision between two equally desirable and attractive options. It’s sort of like a no lose situation, and yet in this situation, if I opt to do one thing, then I’ll miss out on some holy experiences in the other.

On that same day, June 30th, the women’s organization, Relief Society, in my home ward is having a two-hour conference. It’s going to be a spectacular event, and the women who have been planning it have many uplifting, inspiring, and faith building experiences in store for us. It’s so important that both the Sunday school and Primary organizations are going to be led by the men that day so that all the women will be free to attend. We/I have been looking forward to this for several weeks.

What to do? What to do? I love my sistas, and I love learning and being inspired, but I love Brooke’s singing more. When talking to one of my sisters-in-law about it, she reminded me that there are some experiences you just can’t get back if you miss them. “Thanks,” I told her. “You’ve reminded me of what’s more important.”

“Yes,” she said. “You can see your grandchildren anytime, but it sounds like this is a once-in-a-lifetime conference.”

“Oh my gosh,” I said, laughing a little. “I thought you were saying to stay in Conway with the fam.”

“Not really. You can see them later that day and the next one too.”

She’s right. And yet, I can’t see them in church with each other, their parents, and their aunts and uncles. And then there’s the luncheon we’re planning at Elizabeth’s afterward. Breaking bread with loved ones is a peak experience too, made even more special by its rarity in this case.

I’ve made up my mind. Can you guess where I’ll be on the 30th?

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.