Web of Connections

All week I’ve been thinking of a few shining moments last weekend when 18 people were in my little bungalow at the beach. It was crowded, yes. And it was fun, yes again. Not everyone stayed for dinner, but everyone stayed long enough to choose a specialty cupcake that Elizabeth and I had bought the day before. Yummy! My favorite was called “Day at the Beach,” and it had a tiny umbrella perched atop the icing.

Since my daughter Carrie and I hadn’t had the opportunity to celebrate our August birthdays together, we chose last weekend, and I’m smiling as I remember the lively singing that went on in the kitchen as my brother Mike’s family and I sang Happy Birthday to me. Yes, you read that right; I sang to myself too. As a matter of fact, Sarah Beth claims that I’m the one who started us off. We sang to Carrie later that evening when she returned from the duck pond where she and her kids had sneaked off  to feed the ducks.

Within three short hours, just about everyone had gone home, and by the next afternoon, I was completely alone. And yet, I keep thinking of how although everyone had scattered and gone back into their separate lives by Monday, we had come together for a few magical hours. I can’t speak for my visitors, but as for me, those moments together have buoyed me up several times during the past week. If I need to chuckle, I just have to remember little Colton propped up on my bed watching television, my Kindle Fire clutched  to his chest as if he planned to read.  That was right before, grinning, he called me an egghead.

It’s nice to be part of a network of family and friends who genuinely care about one another. This past week marked the anniversary of the passing of a friend’s child. Much beloved by his family, this young man is sorely missed. As I told his mother, he’s still her son, and she’s still connected to him. Just because she can’t see him, that doesn’t mean that he’s not living his life somewhere else.

Later in the week, another friend told of watching an old family movie in which her mother-in-law was a young woman. Although her MIL (abbreviation I picked up from my DIL) left this life decades ago, she was there in the movie, young and vibrant as she laughingly walked towards the camera. The recipient of her DNA, one of her grandsons, also watched the film.

Living or dead, nearby or distant, there are people with whom we are connected. We’re all a part of a marvelous web of family and friends, and although we don’t get to see these folks on a daily basis, the threads of connection are there. My son sent me a picture of his infant son all dressed up for church this morning. “Who does he look like?” I asked myself as I thought of the web of which this precious child is a part.

Take the Time

What am I saying? Connections are important. Things like parties and signings and dinner dates with friends take time, but they’re important. Take the time for them!

I was a little tired after Wednesday’s 180 mile drive to Rincon, GA to see Braden on his 9th birthday. His great grandmother and I went down for the day so that we could share a Dairy Queen lunch (Braden loves that place) and some birthday ice cream.  After a few hours, we hopped in the car for the return trip.

Then on Thursday, the weekend got off to a great start with a movie at the Nick with Melissa, Martha, and Brenda. We went to see Kid with a Bike at the Nickelodeon and then walked down Main Street to Hunters and Gatherers for a bite to eat. When Brenda asked if anyone wanted to do some hunting and gathering, I thought she was asking if anyone wanted to go shopping! I didn’t know about this cool restaurant on the corner of College and Main, a superb location to soak up the ambience of downtown Columbia. That night there was some mellow music wafting outside to our table on the sidewalk, and we loved it. Loved the huge orange sun setting in the west too.

Then it (the weekend) got even better on Friday with Whitney’s pool party followed by a dinner date with Connie and Tilara. Whitney is turning 7 tomorrow, and her parents hosted her party a few days early. Although I couldn’t stay at the celebration very long, I can still hear the kids squealing and splashing in the pool. I joined my buddies at Salud for a great meal as we commemorated yet another birthday, Tilara’s. To our delight, there was a band playing that night, and I recognized the keyboard player from the night before.  Mellow and relaxing, the music set the tone for some good conversation and unwinding.

On Saturday, there was the book signing at Nephi’s Books, and afterwards, I scurried off to Wal-mart to get some last minute provisions for a honeymoon shower that we were hosting for Chris and Angie that evening. It turned out to be a fun event with lots of good food, especially Cindy’s and Judy’s yummy desserts. Mrs. Bowers’ slaw and Karen’s baked beans were a big hit too. And just in case you’re wondering, my fruit tray from Wally World also got some praise.

Sunday morning’s services were especially enjoyable. The speakers were awesome, and today I’m thinking of Brenda’s humorous opening sentences and Zach’s well-organized and confidently delivered talk. His parents have every reason to be so proud of him. And Primary was enjoyable too. The little children are funny, sweet, entertaining, and “fresh.” Their leaders are caring and concerned, and it makes me even more convinced that Primary leaders just like the ones in our ward were instrumental in helping to teach, guide, and love my children into the people they are today.

Church behind me, we scooted over to Irmo for another birthday celebration, this one for Olivia Jayne who turns 2 on Tuesday. She danced, talked, put on jewelry, ran around with boundless energy, devoured a chocolate cupcake, squealed with delight when her Uncle Matt threw her up in the air, and in general, just held her grandmother in awe as she (I) considered how much she had grown and changed in two short years. Olivia’s parents had come to Atlanta with their two little ones to spend Memorial Day with Amanda’s brother and his family, so I got to see the whole gang. Loved it! It was especially gratifying to see Ethan, my youngest grandson, being held by his paternal great grandmother.

Back in town, I scooted up to the hospital to see my aunt who’s recuperating from pneumonia. As an added bonus, I got to talk to one of my cousins, Sue, and to look at some beautiful family pictures.

What am I saying? Connections are important.  Things like parties and signings and dinner dates with friends take time, but they’re important. Take the time for them!

More Path Crossing

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about seizing the special moments in life with the realization that you “may never walk this way together again.” A couple of things have reemphasized the truth of that statement, one being a wonderful conversation with my friend June last night and the other this picture hanging on the wall of one of our bathrooms. It’s a half bath right off the kitchen, and I find myself darting in and out of there often for scissors, cotton balls, or quick mirror checks

This photograph ALWAYS makes me smile when I walk into the caramel colored little bath. It was taken on a pier in Manteo, NC on November 13, 2011. My brothers, Mike and David, and I had just completed a half-marathon and were happy to be finished! The two young women, Elizabeth and Sarah Beth, had participated in an 8K the day before, and the handsome young man is my nephew Chris. He had arrived just that morning to cheer us on and was the first family member I saw as I neared the end. With a charming smile, he said, “Looking good, Aunt Jayne! The others are right around the corner.” The two other women in the photograph are my sisters-in-law, Lisa and Becky, our biggest supporters and the ones who kept all of us straight. That morning they had arisen at the crack of dawn to take us to the race start a couple of miles away.

Introductions and background complete, there are dozens of things that looking at this picture brings to mind. When I see it, I remember so many of the things we shared and did together in the Outer Banks that weekend. While we all have our individual memories, we have our shared ones too. In no certain order, here are some of mine:

  • Getting in a little fender bender on the way back from the Expo that first night. My brother David was driving, and when the light changed to green, he inched forward. Unfortunately, the car in front of us didn’t move, and he gently bumped it. Being honest and upright and all that other good stuff, we pulled over to a parking lot and called the police. There were no nicks or scratches on either car, and yet the woman driving the other car claimed that the incident had shattered the glass in her back of their small station wagon. Mysteriously, there was no sign of glass anywhere…not even in the window! Although the police report said there was no sign of damage, the couple filed a claim. David and Elizabeth and I were in the car at the time, and we all decided that it WOULD NOT spoil our weekend. There are fraudulent people everywhere, and we just happened upon two of them.
  • The delicious meal that Becky prepared on Friday night. Six months later, I can still see and taste the salad that she prepared for us. And the spaghetti was delicious too! During the scrumptious meal, we talked and laughed around the table, and afterwards we adjourned to the living room for more conviviality (Mike will love that I used that word).
  • The shell covered horse statue at the school where Elizabeth and Sarah Beth began and ended the 8K.
  • Our excitement as the girls crossed the finish line and had their picture made with a pirate.
  • Lunch at Big Al’s. Loved the food and atmosphere.
  • The afternoon spent shopping, browsing, and sightseeing in Manteo.
  • Trips down to the beach to collect shells and marvel at the majesty of the ocean.
  • Standing in her bedroom while Becky showed me her collection of shells.
  • The lights on the pier seen from the strand.
  • Thinking of parents and feeling their influence on us. Seeing their DNA reflected in my brothers, daughter, niece, and nephew.
  • Missing my sis and wishing she could be with us.
  • David preparing a small pre-race breakfast on marathon morning.
  • The sights and sounds along the marathon route, including a crazy looking lady cheering us along. She was really a man dressed like a woman.
  • Finishing the half marathon and seeing Elizabeth at the finish.
  • Aching feet. In fact, in the picture my shoes are unlaced, and I’m standing on the backs of them. I remembered that when I looked at the picture and wondered why my legs looked so misshapen.
  • Watching people get beer from a beer truck. Kind of funny.
  • Chowing down on a free barbecue sandwich.
  • Laughing and chatting with my family as we got caught up in the post-race excitement around us.
  • Stopping for the brief shining moment (above) on the pier before leaving Manteo. We loved the flags, especially the American one that was blowing so beautifully in the breeze that day.
  • Topping the weekend off with lunch at Big Al’s.
  • Packing up and bidding everyone farewell.
  • Driving/riding down that long, long, long road back to civilization and taking in the coastal, marshy scenes.

Since that day, there have been changes both large and small. Nothing ever stays the same, right? I began a grandmother again with the birth of Ethan Paul Crolley on March 4, and Chris graduated from law school on May 6. It’s nice having a new baby and a new lawyer in the family!

I’m so glad the eight of us were together for these moments in time. I can’t speak for the younger set, but I’m pretty sure that my brothers and their wives and I will be on that pier for yet another photograph this November. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even convince my husband that it’s worth the seven hour drive.

Paths Crossing on Munich Strasse

This weekend my husband and I went on a little anniversary getaway to the mountains of North Georgia. While we did a lot of sightseeing there and back, most of our time was spent in Helen, GA, a unique replica of an Alpine village. We stayed at the Helendorf (more on this later) which is located on Munich Strauss, one reason being that the appearance of the hotel sounded more German than Day’s Inn on Main Street. The other reason is that my son Paul and his family were going to be staying there Saturday night, and I wanted to snag the chance to see them as often as possible.

We hiked, shopped, ate at some interesting restaurants, and in general, just did the “tourist thing.” We especially enjoyed watching the people tubing down the creek and vowed to do that the next time we go there. We also like watching the fishermen (didn’t see any fisherwomen) standing on the rocks of the creek casting their lines out again and again hoping for a big catch. We overheard a woman asking a shopkeeper if he knew where she could get some moonshine, and this naïve small town girl wondered WHY when alcohol seemed to be flowing so freely in the town.

On one of our walks we spotted some horses in a field, and they came over to socialize with us a few minutes. We stood there talking to them, and just as I began to wonder what in the heck one was supposed to say to a horse, a man from across the street came up and gave us a bag of carrots. “Here’s what they want,” he said. At first we were a little hesitant to take the carrots, but after he assured us that he kept several bags on hand for just that purpose, we took them. I loved our little walk that morning; it was breezy and cool and unrushed.

Time is a bit short this morning, so I need to get to the purpose of this post. A couple of decades ago I was at Girls’ Camp with some young people, including my two daughters, from our church. Not a “roughing it” kind of gal, I was only staying for one night, and maybe that’s why the ambience of the camp made such a lasting impression. Tucked away in the woods away from civilization, the area was peaceful and beautiful. That night we walked to a pond and placed candles on the water as reminders to let our lights shine. Seeing everyone’s candles gently floating together was a phenomenal sight and served to illustrate the power of unity and strength.

Of all of my memories of my time there, something else that has stayed with me through the years is a cross stitch sampler hanging in the dining room that read, “We may never pass this way together again.” I’m not sure why that impressed me so much but it did. I looked around at the faces of the people there and knew the truthfulness of that statement. Although I would see most of them again, it wouldn’t be in that setting, and it was then that I decided to  relish every moment that we were together. I also decided to do the same for other life experiences down the road.

So far, I’ve been pretty good at seizing the day and relishing the moment…and recalling them later. This past weekend was no exception. That’s one reason Amanda and I were determined to have family pictures made by the hotel mural before we left. While it’s true that you can hardly see baby Ethan, we can see enough of his face to let viewers know how beautiful he is. And then there’s precious Olivia with her brown bear. All dressed up to go to church in nearby Mt. Airy, she’d been nibbling on Cocoa Puffs just a few moments earlier.

As I look at the picture of all of us, I’m reminded of all of the moments we experienced together (and separately too). Some of mine include watching Paul throw Olivia up in the air in the heated pool the night before as she squealed with delight, the sounds of the babbling brook and laughter of the tubers as they floated by, the taste of the German potato salad that we sampled on Saturday night at the International Restaurant, the gurgling noises of the motorcycles, the sights and sounds of the hike to Anna Ruby Falls, and the ambience of the little village itself.

Will we meet there again? I hope so. I’d like to go tubing with them…or watch the babies so that Paul and Amanda can go. But even if we don’t meet on Munich Strauss again, at least our paths crossed there for a few brief hours.

Laughter, Stars, and Other Specifics

What makes Thanksgiving different from any other holiday if you don’t take a few moments to reflect upon and share some of the things you’re thankful for?

 

The moment had arrived for the Thanksgiving feast.  Everyone stood around waiting, knowing that I’d be making a little speech. It was undoubtedly the least profound of my life. I think it went something like, “Well, welcome to Thanksgiving 2010.  We sure hope everyone has a great time, and now I think Otis wants to say something.” He looked surprised and said, “Amen to that” before asking Paul to say a blessing on the food.  

I wish I’d said more. I wish I’d said something deep and moving, something memorable that my children and grandchildren could ponder later. I wish I’d said something like, “As we celebrate this special season of the year, let us be ever mindful of our multitudinous blessings, things like our health, these beautiful children, our great country, our ancestry, our family, laughter, music, the gospel of Jesus Christ, love, stars, the sacrifices of our forefathers and mothers, the power of prayer,….” By that time, one of my children would have probably said, “Mom, we know. We know what you’re saying.”

As it was, I finished my pitiful speech, and we proceeded to heap turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and other delectable goodies on our plates. Using the alphabet as a guide, we sat around our bounteous table and took turns stating things we were grateful for. It’s a corny tradition, but one I still insist upon.  One year Paul tried to take a shortcut by saying, “Everything,” and Thursday I gently chided him about it and told him he’d have to do a little better than that. “What’s better than the truth?” he asked.

What’s better than the truth is specific truth. Specifically speaking, I’m grateful for Braden’s more grown up demeanor. He’s a second grader now and has become quieter and more cooperative. He told me that he wasn’t too good at math, but I’m sure he’ll improve. I probably had a challenge with subtraction too! I’m grateful for Brooke’s sweet little spirit and her motherly attitude with the little ones like Colton and Olivia. And Emma, crazy Emma. I love everything about that little blond tyke, and I enjoyed painting her fingernails and toenails a sparkly pink color.  I painted Brooke’s nails too, but Paul said NO to my offer to paint Olivia’s tiny nails. I’m grateful for Colton’s energy and determination. And Olivia…I’m thankful for her beautiful blue eyes and her serene essence.

I’m grateful that these five children are surrounded by love and that they receive guidance and encouragement every day of their young lives. When we went around the Thanksgiving table recounting our blessings, Rich said darling daughters when he was hit with D and kids when he ended up with K on his next turn. His children know how much their father loves them.  I overheard Paul say, “You’re awesome” to his six-month-old daughter, and she grabbed his face with both of her chubby dimpled hands and squeezed his cheeks.

As I enjoyed the days with my children and grandchildren, I couldn’t help but think of my parents and grandparents and days of yesteryear. My paternal grandfather worked for the railroad, and as luck (?) would have it, there was a train track on a hillside near the villa where we stayed in Asheville. It was the first thing I noticed as I looked out the window Wednesday afternoon, and as we listened to the trains ride by during our stay, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather. Who knows? Perhaps he rode those very tracks where decades later his granddaughter and her family spent Thanksgiving, 2010.