An Attitude of Gratitude…with a little latitude

It is the season of Thanksgiving. In two short days, privileged Americans will gather around tables all over this nation and gorge on foods they spend days preparing. Some of them will do it with solemn traditions and rituals that have been in their family for ages. Some will do it without thinking very hard about what it all means. Almost everyone, whether they feast or not—whether they have family to feast with or not—will stop and think about what it means to be thankful.

Thankful adj

1: conscious of benefit received <for what we are about to receive make us truly thankful>

2: expressive of thanks <thankful service>

3: well pleased :  glad <was thankful that it didn’t rain>

thank·ful·ness noun

I love the word “conscious” in the first definition. The benefit is received. But am I conscious of it?

Gretchen Rubin posted a quote a few days ago that burrowed itself into me and won’t leave. It said, “Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.”

Oh dear. Receiving the benefits. Conscious of nothing. Complaining of everything.

It is a hard thing to look in the face of and admit, but I think I’ve become this.  I’ve allowed some ugly stuff to creep in.

For me, in a situation like this, I like to do two things: (1) Figure out how I landed there and understand the journey, (2) Determine the quickest and most direct road OUT of there. I think the second facet will be easy. There are some easy roads out of negativity and toward gratitude. Spending more time In God’s word is a big one. Serving others. Serving the less fortunate. Meditating on POSITIVE things. Keeping a gratitude list. Focusing on the good in every situation. If your INPUT is good, so will your OUTPUT be. What I put into myself, will spill out.

But how I got here, and exactly when, bothers me. I honestly don’t know. I do think I’ve declined a great deal in the last 6 months, maybe starting in the summertime. And I think it relates somehow to the kids getting older and busier and more involved in activities. These things drain me, require my car and my excellent driving skills and my time, and take all of us away from  home and each other. They are temporary to some degree. Sports seasons end. Plays take place for audiences and rehearsals are over. But in another sense, they are not temporary. My family is moving into another phase of life with older, more active kids. I didn’t see it coming and I’m fighting this phase. I think a great deal of my own internal discord comes from my fighting the system instead of finding a way to thrive within it.

I read an article years ago about how to react if ever attacked by an alligator. Silly me, you may think. What a stupid waste of time to read articles about reacting to alligator attacks. Not really. I live on a river and I do stupid things. I think I have a reasonable chance of needing this advice at some point. If you are ever with me in a kayak, consider yourself covered. So I read the article. The point of it was that you can’t fight an alligator and win. He will win every time. The only way to deal with an attack is to roll with it. Literally. An alligator’s approach is to grab on and roll you over and under the water until you are dead by drowning. Then he stores you under a log and lets your meat rot and he’ll come back later and eat you. (You’re welcome. Now you know.) The best thing you can do in this situation is try to roll with the gator and come up to breathe and roll again. You try to keep rolling toward solid footing and give yourself time to be helped by someone else or get away.  But you can’t go contrary to the gator. You can’t fight against it. You have to roll with it.

I’ve been fighting a system that is stronger than I am. A gator. I’m fighting something unchangeable. And I can’t. I have to roll with it. Come up for air. Work myself into the systems so that I can still be effective. Roll with it.

I have focused on the things that were wrong and completely overlooked what’s still okay and intact. I’ve focused on all the time I don’t have, creating a paralysis that destroys the time I do have. I have required a circumstance that hasn’t existed and decided to sit down and wait for things to go my way. Anyone who was just on the recent camping trip in sweaty Florida will know what I mean. They went camping with this version of me. (A story may or may not follow in a later post, depending on how much self deprecation I feel I can handle.)



Well, now what? I don’t think it’s that hard to pull out of something like this. A big part of it is deciding to change. If you want to get somewhere, go there. Sometimes it really is that simple. A big part of it is realizing you have somewhere to go. I personally have to assess what can and cannot change and work within the system. I have a boy enrolling in high school to be a freshman next year. If I’m honest, right now is probably a whole lot less complicated and busy than next year will be. So it would serve me well to be thankful for now. I have 2 boys playing middle school soccer, one on JV and the other Varsity. That means 4 days a week, at least, of soccer. I have a 4th grader involved in chorus and drama after school on Mondays and Thursdays. And I have a tiny one playing violin.

All of these things are good and all are things I have allowed and endorsed, albeit reluctantly. So it’s time to embrace where I am—where WE are—and make it work. But I don’t just want it to work. I don’t just want to eek by. I want to thrive. I want it to work well.

That starts with me.

With me being thankful.

I saw an internet meme on Facebook (just typing those words made me want to punch myself in the face) that said, “It isn’t happy people that are thankful. It is thankful people that are happy.”

If Facebook said it, it must be true.

Of course I don’t mean that. But I do believe this:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Give thanks in all circumstances. In all circumstances.

I’ve been given the gifts. I have received the benefits. Now it’s time to say thank you. Baby steps?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

And Speaking of Dead People

A few weeks ago, my sister in law and I held a garage sale at a family beach condo. I know, rough life. But if you are going to be at the beach, I recommend you go out TO THE BEACH. An indoor garage sale didn’t afford much coastal breeze.

In deciding what to call this sale, we rejected garage sale, since it did not relate to a garage in any way. We also rejected yard sale for similar reasons. The label that came closest to defining our terms was Estate Sale, which indicates a total liquidation of contents and almost always means an indoor, walk-through-the-home sale. Perfect. Well, almost.

Two people expressed their condolences over the death of our parents. My parents are still alive. Some might even call them energetically alive. Dare I say spry? My sister in law also has living parents right here in town. I felt awkward explaining away the dead people. The sympathizers didn’t buy anything. I guess they told us.

At any rate, the end of the sale rendered more than $700 in revenue and no dead bodies. However, there were two different occasions in which we each thought the other might be dead.

And it is those dead people and their killers about whom I write.

I’ve already told you there are no actual dead people in this blog. If there were, I would hopefully take a decidedly different tone. But the fear of Death by Crazies came up twice.

The first occasion happened when an old codger named Tom wandered into our “estate.” He explained that he was a property owner and had 3 condos right there in our building. Two were in good, rentable condition. One was being renovated. Since our kitchen was ripped out and being redone, he was interested in what we were doing and willing to offer free advice. (As a side note, I cannot count the number of times people came in and said, “How much did you get for your kitchen?” “Oh, ha ha. Yes, well…we didn’t sell it. Blabety blabb blabb.” Ah, we wore that joke out.) Before the conversation with Tom was over, he had lured my sister in law, whom we’ll call Amelia upstairs to one of his units. When I agreed to let her go, I said, “Hey wait a minute! You’re not a serial killer are you, Tom?” He laughed. “Not as far as you know,” he answered. Comforting. “My wife wouldn’t go for that,” he finished. Ok. Well, that settled it. His wife wouldn’t allow murder, so Tom was safe.

So Amelia wandered off with a stranger named Tom and I was holding down the fort at the sale.

Tom and Amelia were gone for a long time.

Too long.

So I finally texted Amelia and said, “You still alive?”

She replied immediately. “Ha ha. Yes. Just finishing looking at the last condo. Back in a few.”

I thought about that for a second and said, “How do I know this isn’t Tom using Amelia’s phone to say ‘ha ha’ to me?”

She didn’t reply to that. I think she was either done with me or dead.

A few minutes later Tom and Amelia walked back in and I got invited to go tour his condos. Of course, I said yes, because no one had learned anything from all of this.

The sale went on. We sold our dining set for more than it was worth because a lady wanted it so badly. We didn’t want to sell it so we set a crazy price on it and she accepted.

The stream of people traffic that day was steady and thick. It wasn’t unusual to have 5-10 people inside at the same time.  Because of that, sometimes I would look up and not even realize who was inside shopping.

It was just such a time when Robert walked in.  I wasn’t the first to notice him.  Apparently, he marched in rather brashly and asked where the bathroom was. When Amelia pointed to the bathroom and said it was closed off and nothing was for sale in there (we’re keeping our toilets…), he went in boldly, turned on the light, and locked the door in our faces. Feel free to use the facilities, Robert. Help yourself. He did.

After relieving himself against our will, he shopped items in the kitchen and finally settled on 6 low-priced, stainless steel knives. He then walked over to a chair that nobody bought that day and plopped down in it, setting his unpurchased knives loudly down on a glass coffee table that was also for sale.  He was then sitting 3 feet from me.  Ignoring him was no longer an option.

I looked over at this man and took a moment to just absorb the outfit. His rotund, old-man body shape was stuffed awkwardly into baseball pants that were very much 20 pounds ago. Into those baseball pants, he tucked a turquoise golf shirt, and he finished off the look with loafers that a CPA might wear to work.

In the beginning, I was both entertained and amused. Even delighted. Here was a colorful character who was surely just resting up and chatting lightly before making massive and lucrative purchases. My delighted amusement lasted about 90 seconds. That’s how long it took me to figure that I wasn’t dealing with Entertaining.

I wasn’t dealing with interesting.

I was dealing with Crazy.

Amelia was in and out during my conversation with Robert. At this point, he hadn’t told me his name. From his vantage point, he thought he could see that our walls were warped. The solution was to panel them with oak from Home Depot. Amelia wasn’t taking the bait. She fought back. She doesn’t like oak and so she told him so.

“Well, then,” Robert countered…not to be deterred. “You can go to the Home Depot and sit down with the nice lady and find out what is selling. Then you go over to Lowes and sit down with the nice lady and say what is selling. Then you find the closest thing to what is selling to what you like. And that is called ESTABLISHING REALITY.”

Ok, Robert. What in the name of James Madison are you talking about?

This went on for awhile and my sister-in-law was politely responding to his crackpot advice because I was too busy taking a covert video of his crackpot advice. I did my best to blur his face so that I can’t be sued in the unlikely event that this post reaches more than 30 people. Take a moment and enjoy. Don’t miss the outfit.

There are a couple of things to note about this video. One is, I completely allowed my sister in law to handle the excruciating responses that were required at the end of all of his unnecessary and boneheaded renovation tips. But to retaliate, she threw me UNDER THE BUS and went outside and downstairs into the parking lot to “deal with the signs.” Huh.

So at this point, I was alone with Bob.  Knowing that she’d gone out to work on the signs, he took the opportunity to complain about our signs. He’d apparently passed the driveway three times.

“So what brought you here today?” I asked. “Were you shopping sales on Craigslist, or were you just out for a drive and saw our ‘bad signs?’”

And this is when weird shook hands with insane.

“Permission to speak Truth?” he asked. My eyes got buggy and I paused a long moment before answering.

“Uhhhhhh, I don’t know. Permission granted, I guess.” I mean, what am I gonna say? I had to know where this was going. At this point, I grabbed ahold of my brain and begged it to remember the next few seconds.

“I am guided by intuition,” he began. “Fueled by synchronicity, and drawn to grace.”

So, the powers of the universe led him there? I’m not quite sure what he intended me to take from that, but I am quoting.

“Well, grace is good,” I said.  Amelia was still gone. Dork.

“I am looking at that mirror,” he continued. “And feeling an attraction.” Seriously. “But I can’t quite seal the bond.” Again, I quote. Again, I have no idea what he was saying. I translated it in my mind as, ‘how much is that mirror? Maybe I will buy it.’

I needed Bob gone, so I got up, walked to the mirror, and looked at how we had priced it.

“This mirror has a price of $20 on it, but for you, right here, right now, it’s $10.” He looked at me and then looked at the coffee table.

“Will you throw in the knives for free?”

“Done,” I said.

Now get out.

Get. Out.


Here’s where the second almost-dead body came in.

Robert told me he had a bad back and needed me to carry the mirror down to his van.  What are the odds of that?

I collected his money before picking up that mirror. I’m not totally stupid. And I shot a look to my sister-in-law before walking past her with this asylum escapee. I’m not sure what I said in that look. Maybe it was a plea for help. Maybe it was a stink eye for her jaunt down into the parking lot. Maybe it was a warning to call the police if I wasn’t back up the stairs in 3 minutes.

I went down into that parking lot and I wasn’t back in 3 minutes.

After I put the mirror in his trunk, he wanted to know how he could continue our lifetime relationship. Another quote. Yeah, Bob. Sorry. That ain’t happening.  As I was trying to back away from the vehicle, he asked my name, wanted to know if it was the “name God gave me,” told me about his entire family history, explained how his own family name got truncated at Ellis Island, and asked for my dad’s phone number. I gave him my dad’s phone number. He said he wanted to rent the place. What do you say? I’m sorry. We can’t rent to you…on the basis of YOU’RE CRAZY.  Sorry, Dad.  Meanwhile, back in Room 206, Amelia had grown very concerned.  She called me but the phone rang right there in the unit. I hadn’t taken it with me. She then started looking over both balconies for his vehicle. He had parked in a blind spot. She was convinced that I was already under a concrete slab somewhere or stuffed into his trunk with the mirror and the knives when I finally walked back in.

My exhausting story about this dude ended with this:  “I’ve told you my story, but you can just call me Bob the Obscure.”

I made $10 off Bob the Obscure.

It’ll cost me $250 in therapy just to get back to where I was. Maybe we can just chalk it up to a lesson in “establishing reality.”

I’ve been in pursuit of reality for a long time. Remarkably few people are.

Being There

Today I had a couple of hours when I wasn’t feeling peaceful. When this happens–and sadly enough, it happens more often than it should–it is almost always for reasons too dumb to verbalize to other humans. And so I would never. I won’t even say them aloud to myself while walking or praying. What is there in my life that would justify anything but peace? I am healthy. I have everything I need plus a thousand million luxuries. I have a loving husband, 4 wonderful children, and family and friends. I mean, for the love of Ramon (I don’t like to say Pete), I have Jesus! I have too much. So I get irritated with myself when I feel this weird unsettled offness. And I try to stop it through a brisk walk or a prayer or anything that seems like it would serve as an attitude shifter. Today I chose to walk. I walked up to Florida College and back. I passed three old men, 2 german shepherds, one truly strange-looking dog, and a person on a bike that surely died shortly after she passed me. There are a lot of older people in my area. I hope to be one some day.

When I returned home, there were 3 or 4 extra messes that had not existed when I left. So of course, I barked a few orders and set the laws in motion. Heads were gonna roll if those messes didn’t disappear quickly enough. And then I decided to take a shower. That was more for others than for myself. After working in the yard all day, I had smelled better.  One can only require so much of their deodorant.  As I was about to step into the shower, the knocking at my bedroom door began. This is not terribly uncommon and a person has to double lock doors to keep out the riff raff. But that’s where this story goes bad.

“What?!” I said, annoyed that anyone was trying to get in.

“Can we come in?” I heard little Beloved’s voice.

“I’m taking a shower,” I said. “What do you need?”

And then I heard it. That phrase that was both the best and worst thing I’ve heard in weeks. Her answer, totally bare and honest.

“Nothing really,” she answered. “We just want to hang out with you.”

Oh man. There I was in my unpeaceful state of “what is your problem” and my daughters, 7 and 9 years old, were knocking at my door…needing nothing but my presence. Just wanting to hang out with me. How long until that is no longer the case? How long until I am begging to hang out with them and it is their tone laced with irritation or impatience?

I don’t know how long.

So you better believe I got clean fast and went looking for my daughters.

I found them reading on the porch swing, and they had left a space just right for me in the middle. I slid into my spot, patted them on the legs, and we hung out.

And I felt peaceful.

The Unexpecteds of Motherhood

Fourteen years ago today, I wasn’t a mother. I was only days away from motherhood that day and yet I had no idea. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the difference between a full term baby and too many burritos. It was that I wasn’t pregnant. I wanted to be. Badly. I had wanted to be for almost 4 years. But God had other very good plans for me and I had to be set on the path to motherhood by another vehicle. Someone else’s stomach.
Someone else’s sacrificial love.
Someone else’s miracle handed to me—placed in my arms—in Gainesville, FL. A girl with a pure complexion and a dimple and hazel eyes that caught the light from the hospital window gave me the best Mother’s Day gift I have ever received.
Her son.
My son.

So fourteen years ago today, I didn’t know that my life was about change. And I didn’t know HOW it would change. I had my pictures in my head. They were awesome pictures. I looked about 105 pounds and 5’ 10”, wearing clothes from Ann Taylor and flitting like a gazelle. Always in my head, I would be leaning over my future imaginary child blowing bubbles with them and smiling. I was usually wearing an apron and holding a basting brush. As if. Occasionally I’d tap the child’s nose or rub a curly little head. In these fantasies, I never yelled at anyone. I never melted down. The child never melted down. No one ever vomited or marked their territory in a line 14-deep at Costco. I was never exhausted from 6 weeks of consecutive night terrors (not mine…a kid’s) and my fantasy child ate green vegetables. I never struggled to establish and enforce rules and I certainly never went back on them. Nobody in my head pictures ever disobeyed. I mean, why would they? I was the perfect mother. In my head.

It was a lovely space. But nobody rents that apartment, because it isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. It’s too bad I didn’t know that 14 years ago. I could have saved myself, my husband, and my four babies a whole lot of trouble.

After one adoption, 3 pregnancies, and a whole lot of shattered fantasies later, I think I now understand it. I understand the whole motherhood thing. Each day I understand it a little more, but it is never what I expect.

I never expected that I would walk into a consignment store with two girls to buy ONLY CLOTHES and have the youngest talk me into the dumbest $7 toy ever. If you had told me that I would be such a lily-livered pushover ninny, I would have told you to get your own fantasy. Crazy person. You got me all wrong.

We were shopping for church clothes…today, mind you…this is not a throwback Thursday story. The youngest, getting bored by the scene because I wasn’t finding enough in her size, walked over to the toys and found a wooden toolbench thing with a hammer and screws and other ridiculous accessories. It was perfect for a 3 year old boy. Not for her. No, I said. No way. Put that up. We are NOT getting that. I am absolutely not getting that. It’s a baby toy. We didn’t come here for toys. I will not change my mind about this. No.

I bought it for her.
Her sales job was magic.
I have trouble with infomercials too. It’s a whole thing. If you keep at me, I crumple like a piece of paper. Fourteen years ago, I didn’t know that. I was a tower of strength then.

I certainly never expected to have two girls raid my Tupperware cabinet on the same Saturday (also today) to take pets for themselves: one, a slug from the front sidewalk and the other, a baby lizard rescued from the swimming pool. And I could not have predicted that the Slug Pet Owner would borrow my phone and look up the proper way to care for a slug. She came to me in the driveway while I was participating in very important motherhood-related tasks and said, “I need to microwave some soil.”

Hold up.
What did you say?

You heard me, mom. I need to microwave some soil. (This conversation was never in my daydreams.)

Why? (I opted out of sarcasm this one time just to get an unadulterated briefing of the facts here.)

Because that’s how you take care of a pet slug. You have to sterilize the soil.

No, you don’t. That’s crazy. He came from the sidewalk. It wasn’t microwaved. He doesn’t need sterile soil.

Your phone said he did. I have to do this.

No. No soil in my microwave. It’s a rule. They say this in the manual. No soil.

Please, mom. The website said I have to. He has to have microwaved soil to live.

I mean, what do you even say? It was like talking to Charles Manson. You can’t argue with that. So not only did soil go in my microwave less than 3 minutes later, I also lost a perfect clean Tupperware container to the soil.

It is now a very homey slug habitat.

And there is a baby lizard living in another one of my food storage containers out on top of the barbecue grill. His name is Lizzy. I don’t even know how she got him out of the middle of the pool without jumping in. I had already lost control of the entire out-of-doors situation. As of 5 p.m., Lizzy was missing his tail.

It’s probably in my laundry pile.

This wasn’t the motherhood I pictured.
It’s grosser. And weirder. And so much better.

To my mother who taught me first how burp and hold and change and love a baby, I am grateful.
To my mother-in-law who raised my husband to be the leader and lover of our family, I am also grateful.
To the pure-hearted birthmother who trusted me to raise the first love of her life when she was not in a place to raise him herself, how can I say thank you? She will never truly know the fierce love and gratitude I feel. It’s in every breath I take.
To the God and Father who first gave me Andrew and then gave me three more, I will try to give them back to Him…as I try with all I have to teach them to love Him for all He is and all He has given us.
To anyone who isn’t yet a mother, but yearns to be with angst and pain and emotions that cannot be quenched, don’t give up. Sometimes it’s a bumpy, twisty, ugly-cry road, but at the end of it, there’s a Tupperware container with a slug in it.
And a baby lizard.
And a missing tail.
Blue Ribbons of Motherhood.
Don’t ever give up.

Happy Mother’s Day.


Back from somewhere

It’s been some time. Some long time.
But just when I think it’s been too long to ever come back again–just when I think I should quit pretending and just give up the blog– I remember that this isn’t about who reads it or how often I write or when. Not really. This is the place I write the words that someday I will bind up for my children. Words about things they would never have remembered. We will hopefully all laugh and cry together remembering the silly and the sad. There’s been some of both. Every life has both. But I’m fortunate to have had a period of peace and joy and enough time to reflect on the blessings that sit in my lap and are gathered up all around me.

Tonight I feel especially thankful. It’s Easter weekend. I reflect on this like so many do, but this is not a huge event in our house or in our church because we reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection every Sunday. Every Sunday we commune together. This time of year is special because this is the time of year it really happened. But that sacrifice will be no less powerful 3 weeks from now. Or in late June. It’s every day. It’s everything.

My first cousins came over tonight with their families. Their children and mine got along famously, as has been the case in the last couple of years. The weather was perfect. The colors on the river were so rich and so green-gold that it seemed fake through the lens of my camera. I was astonished. We sat around and watched the flurry of activity in the pool and fought my youngest for control of the iPod. We shared stories about our grandmother and reflected on the last gifts she gave us. My oldest cousin (she’s not old, mind you, but there is a birth order here) and I both received gifts from her after she had died. I guess our parents had found these things put away in her apartment when they cleaned out her things. My gift was a crocheted afghan that was cream and simple and beautiful. With it was a note in her handwriting that said, “For Missy when she marries. With Love, Mama.” I boo-hooed like a little baby when I opened that gift after my engagement. She had been gone for a long time at that point. My cousin’s gift was a small baby blanket, knitted in pink, with another handwritten note. These blankets were crocheted sometime before 1991, long before I was married or my cousin had a child. My cousin’s child was born in 2004, just days before Mama’s Boy. She was a GIRL. My cousin named her Rebecca, after our grandmother. It had come full circle. Almost like she knew.

We talked about all of this tonight. And though these hand-made gifts were the last physical things she gave to us, it occurred to me tonight that her final gift to us was instilling in us the importance of getting together. There’s something inexplicably powerful in that. Her final gift to us was each other.

I ate my first McDonalds hamburger with my Mama. It’s possible that this cancels out the afghan. But she also eventually taught me not to take off the pickles. So there’s that.

IMG_7907 IMG_7860 IMG_7890

Thanksgiving Memories

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time to perfunctorily give thanks. Go ahead. Make fun of the word “perfunctorily” if you like. Or look it up and start using it in everyday language. It’s a good word. I don’t have a fantastic vocabulary. My husband and my father in law put me to shame and I find myself constantly saying, “Well, I’d respond if I had any idea what you just said.” I simply ask for a definition when I don’t know the word. Then I try to remember it the next time I’m looking for a weird word reference. If I don’t like the way the word sounds, however, like “innocuous,” I just skip the definition and pretend I never heard anyone speaking to me. That works, too. Innocuous just sounds like someone with a bad cold is about to cough something up. Flee from it.

Actually there’s nothing perfunctory about my gratitude. I am deeply grateful for everything I’ve been given and mindful that I don’t deserve even the scent of it. I am keenly aware of the kids growing up and of how soon the dynamic will change to the point where I’m calling them and wondering who’s coming home or what their plans are. Right now, they have no plans but me. I thank the Lord so much for this time. It will pass.
All of this thinking started a conversation about some of our favorite past holidays. And I can’t muse on past Thanksgivings without going straight back to Joe Wheeler State Park, AL. 2007.

It was August 2007 when the Texas family began to toss around emails about maybe doing something a little different for the upcoming holiday season. Of course, being August, I thought I was WAY ahead of the game in finding lodging options and making a game plan. I was grotesquely misled on this point. People who make cool plans for Thanksgiving make them far in advance of August or they make the same plan every year, ensuring that you never get the chance to rent their awesome cabin. But after spending an excessive amount of time online searching every possible camp, cabin, state park, Bates Motel, and dude ranch between Florida and Texas, we found a situation we thought was going to work. We’d go to north Alabama–the closest thing to a halfway point where you don’t have to marry a local to stay there and you get to go home with all of the kids you came with. This would be a 10 hour drive for my branch of the family and a 17 hour drive for the Texas branch. Eh. Almost halfway. It beats the wilderness in Mississippi. And Louisiana was never on the table.
And it shall remain that way forevermore.

I was 7 months pregnant with Sister Squish when that roadtripping adventure began. Our plan was to drive north on I-75, pick up my in-laws at the Atlanta airport after they flew in from TX, and then continue the rest of the trip with them in the car. This seemed like a good idea at the time. However, 2 of our existing kids were in car seats, which adds the bulk of an overweight teenager to the seat they occupy. And we had enough luggage to justify a horse trailer. So to add two people and THEIR luggage seems plum crazy now that I look back on it.
It was.

Alabama is an interesting place. As with Louisiana, I have to make the professional recommendation that one fly over the state whenever possible. If not possible, keep your eyes peeled, your GPS on hand, and a camera ready. You’ll pass large billboards advertising a stereotypical devil who is popping out of flames and saying “Go to church! Or the Devil with Get You!” (I did not make this up.) And you’ll happen upon the occasional oasis called the “Wallace Gro and Ser Sta.” I can only assume that this stands for Wallace Grocery and Service Station, but I suppose there are other possibilities.
We threw the inlaws in the car in Atlanta and kept going.
And going.
It’s been long enough ago now, (and time heals all wounds) that I don’t remember why we chose to stop at Walmart on the edge of town to buy ALL of the groceries we’d need for the week. Perhaps the only reason was that we are insane. Because there wasn’t room in our Nissan Quest for even an airline package of peanuts.
And it was raining.

So after 11 hours stuffed in a van with car seats, 7 people, and 27 people’s worth of luggage, we climbed out in the rain and went into WALMART 2 days before Thanksgiving to buy groceries for 12 people for a week, including the fixings for a large traditional Thanksgiving meal. Let’s pause to absorb that for a moment.
Just pausing on the Walmart portion alone would be enough.
We split up.
We each had a cart and a list.
We met back at the van 20 minutes later with the food. There was a moment at which we all stared at each other and these bags. We were all thinking the same thing. But it was raining and no one was getting any less crazy by also getting wet.

This story is too long, but I can’t finish it before introducing the house flies.

We kept driving. The further into north Alabama we went, the louder I could hear the banjos playing in my mind. I hoped it was in my mind. I searched the roadsides for chalk outlines or anyone whose eyes might not be right.
And then, just when I had decided to induce my own labor, thus ensuring that I would HAVE to get out of the car and also probably guaranteeing me a private hospital room for the week, we pulled into Joe Wheeler State Park.
It was a crisp, clear, beautiful fall day and the colors were changing late in the season. Suddenly it was all worth it. We signed in at the office and then wound our way around to our cabin, sitting high and stately above the Tennessee River. The rain had slacked off and we could unload in peace.
So we grabbed the 1200 bags of groceries we had just purchased and walked into the kitchen to set it all down.
That’s when we realized why this cabin had still been available in August when we booked. It wasn’t because no one else was looking. It was because all the other traveling hopefuls KNEW about this cabin.
This was the housefly cabin.

I’m not sure if this was built over an insect burial ground or had once been home to a serial killer or what, but there were 100s of flies. HUNDREDS. Maybe thousands. OK, probably not thousands. They were literally everywhere in the kitchen. All over the windows. On all the appliances. Partying on the screen doors. Everywhere.
Thankfully the nice folks up at the office had thought to supply us with a flyswatter, anticipating what our first activity might be. My father in law went to town, smack-smacking those things all over the place. If I live to be a twisted 95 year old woman, I will never erase the image of Frank smacking all those flies. He didn’t give up until the last one was dead.
And then there was the problem of all the fly carcasses, though I think I’m probably not supposed to use the word carcass on such a small creature. The sheer number of them, though, demands it.
Having killed all the flies, cleansed the place with garlic, and received our Texas cousins with joy, we were set to spend the week there.

The rest of my memories are pretty great ones. The highs were in the 30s and the trees were the color of sunsets. We played football in the field across from our driveway and took walks through the woods. We imagined fires in what had once been a fireplace (not as good as the real thing, but I can dream up a roaring fire). There were nights playing Yahtzee with a four year old who shouldn’t have been able to count dots, let alone figure out that he had a full house, write it down, and spank me at the game I had brought from home. There was the one year old who couldn’t talk but loved to walk around in the driveway picking up shells and sporting the cutest little snow cap ever to frame up a fat little face. There were cuddles with the newest baby who has the heart of an angel from Heaven.

And when it came to our Thanksgiving meal, (because after all—this IS a post about Thanksgiving), we managed to cook it in a primitive kitchen that wasn’t good for much more than lodging houseflies. I mashed potatoes with a fork and a spoon and one of those hand-held twisty mixers that people used before someone invented the electric ones. I think we might have roasted the turkey over a fire in the back yard that we built with flint and kindling, but it’s possible we used an oven. At the end of the whole process, however ugly it may have been, we had a feast. A FEAST. We had turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and corn and pumpkin pies and probably 10 other things I can’t recall.

And as we all sat down to eat it in a dining room full of two picnic tables, we had the prayers of a 2 and 3 year old, who from their precious little souls and in their raspy voices thanked God for the whole fat lot of us and for every moment in this haunted housefly graveyard.
After a week rambling through this cabin that had room after room after room, we came down to our final night there. I guess we must have had phones to the outside world and I think I recall turning on a fuzzy signaled TV. Perhaps it was this that told us some weather was coming. It was going to be harsh. The temperatures would be dropping and rain was coming. It was a great night to gather some wood and make yourself a fire. Oh wait. Never mind. That ship had sailed when someone removed the fireplace to make room for the insect farm.

We were sort of wondering what all of this was going to look like when, at 4 p.m. the power went out. The power was very VERY out. Let me just tell you where you don’t want to be for a night when the power goes out.
THAT HOUSE. I mean, how you gonna fight the flies if you can’t see them? How you gonna find that 113th room upstairs if you don’t have light? We did the only thing we knew to do. We huddled together back-to-back for body heat and slept that way for warmth.

Actually, we got in our vans and drove across the park to the Saturday night buffet inside the lodge. WOW. Where had THIS PLACE been all week? It was like we were back in 2007 again. There were fires and laughing patrons and white-coated waiters and moist little green jello cubes. And electricity.
And there were no flies.
And we were thankful.
Very thankful.
That was one of our best Thanksgivings ever.
But we haven’t been back since.
We may be crazy, but we aren’t stupid.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Cabin in AL
The House of 1000 Flies
Sweet Niece on the banks of the Tennessee River
One of the two picnic tables in the dining area. The adults in my life won’t let me post a picture with both.
Out for a brisk walk with my baby
Cold weather agreed with her.


Today was LONG. And tiring. And a little bit funny at times. I’m going to just ramble for a few minutes as if it hasn’t been months since I last posted. Go with me. Or don’t. No biggie.

I was up a lot last night with the child that has always had ear problems. At nine months, she had tubes put in and adenoids taken out. After they brought her out from those procedures, I thought for a second that she’d been switched with another, much uglier, baby. Minor surgery plus a LOT of screaming can make a baby look pretty smashed-pumpkin. In case you didn’t know.

Anyway, I’m ALREADY off topic. Her ears are not as bad as they once were, but she still tends to go that direction when congested. So she was up crying a lot last night and in and out of her bed, my bed, and no bed. We told stories about some crazy kid in the first grade and laughed at things that had happened recently. And then, shot from no sleep, we headed to the doctor this morning. We ended up at the Walgreens clinic because her pediatrician was slammed today. This is always a risk. Showing up to wait at Walgreens without an appointment is like I imagine it would be to spend 5 minutes playing slots in Vegas. Lose-lose.

We got there at 9. As we were signing in on the touch screen, which took 8 times longer because she wanted to sign herself in, the message popped up, “There are FIVE people ahead of you in the queue.” FIVE? That’s like a whole platoon! That’s a day’s worth of patients, man. I knew I was in for it. But my choices were this and this, so I sat down in a sea of other queued patients and waited. For 90 minutes. When we finally got called back, we were introduced to Dan, the very perky nurse practitioner with an odd nose and palate. Just odd. Ask my daughter about it sometime. She’ll tell you. He reminded me of a local dentist who calls your teeth “little rascals.” He was very perky, very talkative, and much, MUCH too enthusiastic to be treating an ear infection.

After a few minutes of paperwork and sech, he asked me what meds I had already given her.

“Just ibuprofen,” I answered.

“HEY!” he replied, much too exhuberantly. “Good call, Mom!” Then he looked at my girl. “Your mom did GOOD. She’s super! That was EXACTLY the right call. Gets that inflammation right down.” Insert hand motions for helping inflammation. At this point in my typing, I am laughing. You probably did have to be there to appreciate this, but this guy was SO OVER THE TOP on the ibuprofen thing. There was no rocket science behind my choice last night. Either I gave her the ibuprofen for the pain or I stayed up ALL NIGHT telling stories about weird kids in first grade. And at 2 a.m., man, I’m tired. I’m not above some marker sniffing at that hour. Yes, I am. Really.

Anyway, that Dan guy was weird. And he praised me for the ibuprofen enough to fill a 5-paragraph essay. Enough so that my 8 year old thought it was disturbing. But he fixed us up with something better than grape markers, so I’m cool with it.

I sat a lot today. In waiting rooms. Pharmacies. Cars. In so doing, I checked Facebook maybe 50 times. (Not enough going on today. Help a girl out, why don’t you.) That’s when I saw the picture with 25 comments of the cutest little boy ever. One of the comments was simply, “Previous.” I love that. I love it when someone comments “Previous” and never realizes they did it. Even though I know what they meant and that their phone likely came up with it, I still read it as “Previous” in my head and go on my way, merrier than before. Reminds me of the time I asked my friend if they were going to the park rectally. Not directly, mind you. Which was what I meant. Good, good times.

Read that however you like.
I’m going to bed now.