a day is as it is lived

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So they say.
I’ve seen some babies that I had to wonder about. We’ve all seen me from the 3rd grade on. Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And sometimes beauty just is. Or isn’t.

But the eye of the beholder is awfully important.

Because I hadn’t read the 20 books I purchased with Amazon money at Christmas, it only stood to reason that I should buy a new book. Now my stack is one higher. But I don’t regret buying this one. It is changing how my eye beholds. The book is called “The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir” by Katrina Kenison. Put simply, it is a mother writing about her journey to loosen her grip on her changing family and to be okay with the changes and her lack of control over them. When she wrote the book, her boys were in high school, one a senior. She knew she was standing on the edge of a shifting landscape and she was trying to find her footing. In searching for hers, she has helped countless others find theirs. But she doesn’t find THE ANSWER and then provide readers with it. She comes to terms with the fact that there is constant change and no one right answer. There is no arrival at a plush resort where you can prop up your feet and read a welcome note from the universe that says: “You did it. You got there. Good job.”
There is just the journey. Just this day.

I have read quite a bit of the book already and will likely reference it more than once as the days pass. If you are on the brink of children leaving your nest, I recommend it. If they have left already, I still recommend it.

In contrast to this book, I received a blog by Sean Dietrich in my inbox this morning that got me thinking. Often I read his late night posts at 5:46 a.m. when my alarm has gone off but I’m not ready to swing my legs over the side of the bed quite yet. Sometimes I snooze too long and have to skip the posts altogether. This morning, I’m glad I read it because it got me thinking about the value in a single day. Sean wished the world a good day. He said, “So wherever you are, I wish you the best day you ever had. Ever. I really mean it. I hope the weather is bright, sunny, and warm. I hope someone you haven’t heard from in years calls you unexpectedly. There is nothing easy about the business of living. This is why I hope you have a good day. A perfect day, even. The best you’ve ever had.”

I know what he meant by that. I know what he was getting at. And yet, that hit me so funny. Like knocking my elbow hard on the corner of a table and then seeing black gauze for the next 10 minutes. How many of us are going to have a perfect day today? The best one ever? I would guess no one. Not a single one of us. The Midwest and northeast is experiencing flash flood warnings, winter storm conditions, and heavy snow. They haven’t seen the sun since late October. I would bet there are only 6 states in the U.S. that have any hope of warm, sunny weather, mine being one of those 6. Someone I haven’t heard from in years is not going to call me unexpectedly. My texts today consisted of having one child rat out another one for his driving with the ending line, “Don’t tell him I told you.” I also heard from my Shipt shopper, who does not know what a pepperoncini pepper is. He didn’t save me any trouble at all, because I still have to go back to the store for the two things he got wrong.

Other than those things, my phone has been silent.

This afternoon, my oldest son will come home and nod as he walks through the family room to his own room. He will later ask me what’s for dinner and offer a one word response to the menu.. If I ask him how school was, he’ll say, “Good.” And that will be it. I won’t see my second born until much later, after band is over. He doesn’t talk a lot these days, either. The girls will have plenty to say, much of it sandwiched in and around requests or complaints that I can’t do much to affect.

They won’t ask me about my day. They won’t ask me to read them a story. If I asked them about a story, they would squint at me. My youngest, who’s 11, would probably comply.

My point is not that things are bad now. I don’t feel that way about it. But they are different. Vastly different. My children are not the same people they were 5 years ago. We are not the same family we were when the boys listened to me read Little House in the Big Woods. Before iPods and cell phones. I look at the picture from this post of my young boys running down a Colorado hillside wearing baggy clothes and off brand shoes and I wonder where those boys went. I could wish for 10 minutes of that back. It does make me ache a little. But that’s not productive or rational thinking. They didn’t disappear anymore than I did. It’s just change. Growth. A moving into the Now What.

I have struggled all along with trying to manufacture that perfect day Sean wished me. If I just do this, then this will be the result. If A, then B. But that isn’t how it works. “A” flies up and hits you in the eyeball and “B” is a kick in the pantaloons. Kids grow. Parents make mistakes. TV sings its siren songs. Friends rise in importance. Likes and dislikes shift. Storms happen. Sideview mirrors hit trees. People get the flu right before out-of-town trips.

If I looked to have a perfect day, I’d be a Grade A Wreck by 8 p.m.

Today isn’t going to be the perfect day. Neither is tomorrow. The trick for me is to find a peaceful place to stand in an imperfect landscape.
To enjoy the short spurts of conversations, instead of wishing for an hour of soul sharing.
To just be content in this day, with these people, in these shoes that I’m wearing.
Right here.
Right now.

Katrina Kenison says: “Life is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It is an exploration, sometimes treacherous and terrifying. And sometimes the only way to move forward is to let go of all our cherished ideas about the way things “ought” to be, so that we can begin to work with things as they are.”

So, yeah. The beholder of beauty and the liver of a day cannot be under- emphasized. I was not a conventionally beautiful child, but my mother looked at my 4th grade afro and dress with the turtles on the collar and thought she was seeing something pretty special. So while there’s some people that don’t need a merciful beholder to be beautiful, most of us do. And some days are borderline perfect when all the planets and hormones and day planners and weather systems align. But most days fall far short of that and need just to be lived well for what they are.

All any of us really need is a heart that can handle whatever an imperfect day hurls at us. There is no way that life ought to be. There is only what is. How I choose to feel about that and what I do with it today is up to me.

Fridays are for Foto Fiascos

My mother, bless her heart, was a terrible photographer. The worst. I could prove this in front of a jury in a court of law. I have albums full of evidence. On Fridays, for at least a few weeks, I’ll be posting the worst of the worst from Mom’s albums.

Our first Foto Fiasco comes straight from a 1980 album page. It is a typical scene. There are many just like it. It is my brother and I posing atop someone’s final resting place. We didn’t do this by choice. We were directed. Sit there. Back to back. Smile. Look alive.

So irreverent.

In this particular photo, the real star of the show is Mom’s index finger. Our heads are not there. The words on the gravestone/monument are not legible. This is a picture of stone and knee caps.

In 1980, nothing was digital, obviously. You took pictures blindly on a tiny little point and shoot loaded with 110 film. Then, when your roll was complete, you dropped the film off to Eckerd Drugs and went back a couple of days later. Most people, upon seeing the picture of finger and knee caps, would have found the nearest trash can and tossed it in before walking out of the store. Not my mom. She put it in a prominent place in the album and proudly displayed it for 37 years.

Happy Friday.

True Love

This is the day Hallmark lives for. I used to live for Hallmark until Todd ruined it for me. Now I find myself rewriting bad dialogue in my head when the movies are playing out in front of me. Don’t get me wrong. I still watch. Just not as often or as freely. Now instead of watching with pure, unadulterated joy, it’s like sitting through a movie next to a person with bad gas. It taints the experience, for sure.

My first Valentine’s Day with Todd was altered by the death of my beloved grandmother in Tallahassee. We had plans to go up together the very weekend she died. We were in college in Tampa. She was in the hospital in Tallahassee. She was supposed to recover. They said she would recover. But she had a vain streak and didn’t want people seeing her not looking her best. She didn’t like the idea of me bringing Todd to meet her in the hospital. I was going to anyway. And so she died. By the Transitive Property in math (If a=b and b=c then a=c), I killed my grandmother.

Not really.
I hope.
But she did go out on her own terms. And she died 3 days before we could see her not looking her best.

So instead of us driving up for Todd to meet my very sweet grandmother, I climbed into the backseat of a Lincoln Towncar with my mom’s parents and drove to Tallahassee for the funeral. I was sad. I was terribly unprepared to let her go, because she was always my favorite. She was my beach grandmother. The grandmother that scolded my parents for cutting my long curls into an afro and for making me bail boats in lightning storms. The grandmother who thought bushy eyebrows were the bomb and was probably the reason I didn’t realize mine needed work until the year 2000. The grandmother who needed help crossing the creek in her “clamdiggers” as she slowly made her way down the beach to see her best friend, Aunt Catherine. The grandmother with the short, fat Christmas trees and the same old ornaments–some of them made of cardboard. The grandmother with a jar of full sized candy bars in her kitchen and cold glass-bottled cokes in her fridge. The grandmother whose snores were the stuff of nightmares, but who taught me to sleep through anything.

The grandmother who loved unconditionally and who always had time.

I think about her often. I even found her wallet and social security card in a box in my attic recently. I think about how much she would have loved her great-grandchildren. She would have reveled in the liveliness that trails behind her legacy. She would have adored that the second cousins know each other and get together when we can.

She would have loved my girls. I grew up always wanting a sister. Doesn’t every girl want a sister? I didn’t get that growing up, but I got the second best thing to it. I got to bring sisters into the world and watch them walk the occasionally dark path together, neither one willing to let the other stumble. Even though Lucy often says to me in exasperation, “Jenna is just the WORST person ever,” and at the time she truly means that. And even though Jenna has almost always done something the moment before that earns her that title, even then the love is undeniable. Two weeks ago, on the way home from school, Jenna looked at me and said, “I was thinking about Lucy today and I thought, I love her. I love her.” Right then and there, I got the sister I never had.

They fight. They give each other the stink eye. They each complain about the other. But they love. And I know that long after I’m gone, they’ll have each other. Not just on Hallmark days, but every day.

As much as I’d like life to play out like it does in Hallmark productions, it isn’t magical moments and bad dialogue. It isn’t throwing confetti when life is easy. Life is learning to love the sister who has injured you or the friend who just threw you under the bus or the spouse who doesn’t care anymore (general terms, people. Not my story). Love is action. And anyone can offer it, no matter the circumstance.

Maybe your Valentine’s Day included a death in the family and isn’t the holiday you envisioned. Maybe you don’t have a partner or a sister or a best friend. There’s always hope. There’s always someone who needs something. And in case you need a little extra help, Paul left a very simple, very bright formula to light the dark spaces of our lives.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Even when someone is just the worst person ever.
Even then. Maybe especially then.
Happy Valentine’s Day.


Monkey See, Monkey Sue

The other night when three of us were so sick, I googled “drunk monkey” and then “monkey taking Nyquil.” One of those two searches brought up the image that I used in my post. It wasn’t my best work. Nyquil was masking the symptoms of death that had crept into my bloodstream and were slowly taking me over.

The next day, Todd texted me.

“Are you aware of the story behind that photo you used?” he asked.

Oh no. I was not aware. At the time I posted it, I wasn’t aware of virtually anything. But I was intrigued, so I did a little research.

The monkey in the photo was named Naruto by PETA. The photo was taken in Indonesia with equipment owned by nature photographer, David Slater. He had spent quite a bit of time following this family of monkeys around, but had been unsuccessful in taking photos up close of their faces. Every time he got close, they blinked. Or balked. The pictures were bad. So he taught them how to press the buttons themselves and then left his equipment in the jungle within their range.

It wasn’t long before curiosity took hold and–you know how monkeys are–they started pushing buttons. Soon he had a few selfies on his hands. Most of them were blurry or useless. A few of them were amazing. And he published them. Because it was his idea. His Equipment. His setup.

He sold the main photo and made a little petty cash. Then he published a few of them in a book he put out.

And then PETA came along and got mad. Because, in the name of Mary Todd Lincoln, NO ONE GOT THE MONKEY’S permission to print the photo. And the monkey received no extra bananas for her million dollar smile.

Where’s the justice in that?

Well, PETA will tell you. There was no justice in that. So they gave the monkey a name and named themselves Naruto’s “Next friend.” That meant that they could act on behalf of the monkey in his legal matters. And they filed a lawsuit against David Slater, the photographer, who couldn’t even afford the plane ticket to fly back to the states and represent himself. The case became known as the “Monkey Selfie Case,” or more officially, Naruto vs. Slater. Ridiculous.

Eventually, the court threw out the case and declared that animals could not hold copyright ownership. PETA appealed and in September of 2017, both PETA and Slater agreed to a settlement. Slater agreed to donate a portion of future revenues to the preservation of the endangered species, which, by the way, he was pretty much already doing. Ludicrous.

“In April 2018, the appeals court affirmed that animals can not legally hold copyrights and expressed concern that PETA’s motivations had been to promote their own interests rather than to protect the legal rights of animals.”

Utter insanity.

I find it a little funny that the photographer asserts that the male monkey of the lawsuit, Naruto, is not even the monkey in the contested photo. The photogenic monkey was an older female named nothing by nobody and she doesn’t have a lawyer. She’s off in the lush green trees of Indonesia enjoying the spoils of the American legal system.

And that’s what I get for googling drunk monkey.

PIC BY A WILD MONKEY / DAVID SLATER / CATERS NEWS – (PICTURED: One of the photos that the monkey took with Davids camera. 2 of 2: This photo was rotated and cropped by the photographer) – These are the chimp-ly marvellous images captured by a cheeky monkey after turning the tables on a photographer who left his camera unmanned. The inquisitive scamp playfully went to investigate the equipment before becoming fascinated with his own reflection in the lens. And it wasnt long before the crested black macaque hijacked the camera and started snapping away sending award-winning photographer David Slater bananas. David, from Coleford, Gloucestershire, was on a trip to a small national park north of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi when he met the incredibly friendly bunch. SEE CATERS COPY.

Where there’s smoke

I’ve heard the saying plenty of times over the years: Where there’s smoke there’s fire. If that’s a true statement, then it also stands to reason that where there’s a smoke alarm blaring, there is smoke.

These are proverbs generally referring to the fact that there is usually some truth to every rumor.

Perhaps it was the metaphor that threw me off.

Early one Saturday in October of 1981, I wandered downstairs, barely awake, to the family room of our home on Marston Road. I had two things on my mind that morning: a waffle and some Saturday morning cartoons. A kid in 1981 had a very small window of opportunity in which to watch TV that had nothing to do with PBS, the news, Heehaw, or Lawrence Welk. That window was gloriously open from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. And I was on my butt each Saturday watching TV while that window was open. I took it seriously.

On this particular Saturday, my hunger for cartoons was matched only by my hunger for waffles and I was trying to satisfy both without missing out on either. I was a multitasking 10-yr-old. So I grabbed two waffles out of the freezer and dropped them into the toaster and popped them down. Typically what would happen next is that a person would sit, watch a little TV, and listen for the waffles to pop up in the toaster. But we were not a typical family. We liked to drive our appliances all the way to the junkyard or the grave, whichever came first. We got years more out of everything than any other family I knew. Years more than the manufacturer intended, I can assure you. Our toaster no longer automatically popped anything up. The pop up mechanism had stopped working months ago. Our method of toasting had become leaning over the slots and trying to determine when an item was golden brown and then flipping the switch manually with our poised fingers. That worked well enough when our focus was on point. But on this particular Saturday, I had come downstairs just as the Smurfs were coming on. The Smurfs were new, having just debuted in September, and my brother and I loved them. So as my waffles cooked away three stairs up in our kitchen, I sat cross-legged on the carpet with a goofy grin on my face and watched Brainy Smurf try to outsmart Gargumel. I forgot all about my hunger. I was living my best life.

Six minutes into the show, my waffles were done cooking. They were past done. They were so past done, their doneness had reached the smoke alarm that was mounted in the stairwell of our house. The alarm began to beep harshly. I’m just a tiny bit ashamed to say that even when the obnoxious beeping began, I did not look up from the Smurfs. In my mind, I had decided that my safety-savvy mother was testing the smoke alarm. Again.

It works, Mom. Now fan it so it’ll stop and I can watch my Smurfs and eat my…

About this time, my mother came flying down the stairs and into the kitchen shouting for my brother and me to get on our feet and get out of the house. It was only then that I looked up.

MY WAFFLES. Whoa, there, sister. The house is on fire.

The waffles had caught fire when no finger popped them up. The paper towels caught fire from the flame of the waffles. The curtains lining the kitchen window caught fire from the flaming paper towels. The cabinets from the curtains. You get the idea. It was all one big flame when I finally looked up at the urgent shouting of my mom.

Probably not the right time to blame it on the toaster.

“MISSY! Go get Mr. Shipp!” My mom was dialing 9-1-1 and shouting instructions at us as she reported the fire. I ran next door to get our neighbor, Mr. Shipp. My brother ran out into the garage to find a way to help. Mr. Shipp came running back with me and hooked up our own garden hose to fight the fire from the back door. My brother had come running back into the house with a canvas beach raft. He was using it to beat down the flames. But what actually happened was the flames just leapt onto his raft and now we had a portable Firestarter on our hands. Mr. Shipp turned the hose on my 12-yr-old brother, and his flaming raft, and put them both out.

“You kids get OUT of the house. NOW.” My mother had slammed the phone back on the hook and clearly did not require any more help from us. So Bart and I ran out through the garage and into the driveway. To wait.

By then the fire engines were wailing as they pulled up in front of our house. Firemen went in to inspect a morning of cartoons gone bad. When they got inside with their hoses, the fire was already out. Mr. Shipp had done good work. But the damage from the smoke was done. And irreversible. Neighbors had begun emerging from their own houses, finding the lure of sirens even greater than cartoons. I stood in the street and tried to explain to the few who were asking how this had occurred.

Well, you see, it’s like this. And it all makes perfect sense. Because you had to pop up the toaster on your own. The switch didn’t work. Curtains are flammable.

It was the toaster’s fault.

The rest of that morning is fairly nebulous to me. Cartoons were ruined. Waffles were burned. I was still hungry. Insurance guys came out and determined the house to be uninhabitable due to smoke. We packed our bags. The hallway going up the stairs was black as Satan’s soul and the scariest place in that house. Scarier even than the burned down kitchen. I hated running up and down the stairs as I grabbed my things.

That evening as darkness settled around the house as black as the burn scars inside, we pulled our car doors shut and headed to the Howard Johnsons on Appalachee Parkway. We had a room above a hopping bar where the music thumped into the wee morning hours. This was what our insurance had paid for. We were hoping the renovations would be a notch above the hotel room we lived in for a month.

I found the whole adventure far more exciting than the rest of my family. The nightlife was great. Morning breakfasts before school consisted of scooting up to a long counter at Yum Yum Donuts and ordering whatever I wanted while I listened to businessmen jaw about nothing. I was able to tell my friends I was living in a hotel. I probably left out that it was a Howard Johnson’s.

In the end, I think my mom appreciated the new kitchen, but she never thanked me specifically. When we were finally able to move back home, we took a tour of the new downstairs. The kitchen floors were new. The kitchen cabinets were new, now updated to reflect the 1980s instead of the has-been 70s. The paint–all new.

Before I raced up the stairs in the freshly painted hallway to chuck my stuff into my old room, I glanced one last time into the kitchen just to make sure.

Sitting on the brand new counter, pulled all the way out from the wall and anything around it, was a brand new, automatic, double-slotted toaster, shining like a polished silver dollar and ready for a Saturday morning waffle.

Sweet.

The Ups and Downs and Ins and Outs of Famping

camp·ing

/ˈKAMPing/nnoun: camping

  1. the activity of spending a vacation living in a camp, tent, or camper.”visitors can go camping in the vast wilderness surrounding the mountains”

famp·ing

/ˈFAMPing/noun: famping

  1. The activity of fake camping, in a lodge, hotel, motel, hostile, or other shanty with subpar mattresses and pillows, electricity, and indoor plumbing. “Friends can go famping in the woods of Brooksville, FL at Lakewood Retreat.

Last night I slept on a mattress purchased in the 60s. With one pillow. ONE PILLOW. At home, I sleep with 3 pillows every night, each one serving a different purpose and part of my body. Last night I attempted to mold pillows out of bath towels and body fat and still came up feeling like I had lost a game of Twister. The pillow I did have was so flat that it did nothing to span the gap between my shoulder and the bed. It could not meet me halfway. And to cap off the whole luxurious story, my daughter’s phone alarm went off at 7:15 this morning, telling me to feed her fish. Back home.

Every November for many years, we camped with a large group of our friends at Fort DeSoto State Park. Some of us in tents, some in RVs. From year to year it varied. In ways, it was glorious. The campfire talk at night, listening to the kids laugh on the playground, walking to the ice cream parlor with friends. But let’s be honest, I spent most of that time scrubbing the previous meal from the bottom of the cast iron pot we brought with us. I’d look over my shoulder to follow the trail of laughter to the playground and see them tossing their hair as they zipped down the slide. So carefree. Then I’d turn back to the inch-thick layer of dried grits and watch as my sweat dripped into the hose water I was using to scrub the pot.

Where’s the fun in that?
For the adults?

We got smarter as the years went by and figured out that real camping was for the birds. And the cowboys. And the campers. Not for us. We could still have all the glories of camping with none of the hassles. So we found a campground that was established in 1965 and hasn’t changed in the 54 years it’s been operating. We rented a ranch-style lodge with all original mattresses and very flat pillows and a long back porch that stretches the length of the building. Most of our time is spent playing games on the porch and chatting while rocking in our Amish rockers. At 8:30, 12:30, and 6, you can find us in the dining hall, eating food prepared for us by hardworking employees of the campground. And when our grits are mostly eaten, the last of the grit balls clinging to the bowl from which we supped, we place the bowl on the counter, where another nice person washes them for us. And then we walk outside to play shuffleboard, or four square, or human foosball. Or we sit in hammocks that are slung from a group of towering pines and we swing in the gentle breeze. From the porch, I can hear the voices of my children talking as they walk toward the game room or off to the next activity that is not coordinated by me.

I hear people disparaging the F in Famping. I can assure you there’s nothing fake in the fun I had playing four square with people from 3 separate generations. There’s nothing fake about the frolicking between the lodge and the dining hall. And there’s nothing fake in the festivity of these lifelong friendships.

I hear people talking about the glories of camping. Go ahead. I hear ya. Pitch your tent. Fight the racoons for the Doritos bag in your plastic bin at midnight. Thaw your bacon in the community bathroom sink before you fry it over your open fire. Talk it up. Wipe the sweat from your brow as you talk it up.

It’s all fun and games until someone has to wash a pot.

Every Toolbox Should Have Some Nyquil

Well.
If I were grading myself on keeping it interesting Monday-Friday, I’d give myself a tentative C-. Below average, but clinging to hope. And as far as diet and exercise go, I’d grade me at a D-, very precariously about to utterly fail. But I’m not depressed or deterred or defeated. Because at some things this week I have knocked an A+ out of the park. Just today I have:

  • Become a boss at digital sprinklers
  • Dragged a kid to the doctor to watch her test positive for Flu A
  • Talked to 7 different people about grass and sprinklers
  • Done 6 loads of laundry
  • Prepared a wholesome meal (chick fil a app)
  • Walked the dog 3 times and made 3 school runs
  • Taken Nyquil.

I don’t have original thoughts in my head at this hour. And when I did have thoughts in my head that might have passed for original, I was playing the sprinklers like a video game.

So maybe I don’t have an A in some important subjects, but there’s time and room for improvement. And I have friends making As. You know who’s making an A right now? Nyquil. That guy is something else.

G’night.