Friday, December 26, 2008

Twas the Day After Christmas

It’s over for another year. I’ve already begun putting away the evidence of the holiday, starting with wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift bags that can be used another year. The tree is still up, but I keep looking at it, thinking it will be the next thing that I concentrate on. It’s been up since Thanksgiving, and I am ready for that section of my living room to return to the way it was. I miss my bookshelf table where I keep all of my children’s books. It was pushed into the bedroom to make space for the tree. I want it back where it belongs!

My mother had a tradition that everything from Christmas had to be out of sight before New Year’s Day. She said that the Baby New Year would have his own Christmas, and he didn’t want to see anything from the old year. I think it was Mama’s way of saying the same thing I am thinking this morning. Let’s get back to normal! Sounds like a pretty good tradition to me.

I have a coupon in my purse that was given to me on Christmas Eve when I was shopping at Kohl’s as a way to entice me to do some after-Christmas shopping. It is quietly beckoning to me, and I guess I’m going to follow my urge to get out into the fray one more time to see if I can find something I really need at a bargain price. I can’t think of a thing that I need, but the $10 off coupon keeps whispering to me to return to Kohl’s.

This was Rocky’s first Christmas, and he was totally absorbed in the gift bags, wrapping paper, and stockings. Tom and Diamond were ho-hum unimpressed with the morning’s festivities, but I think they’ll admit that they like the treats that Santa left for them. Phil and I had a delightful morning, and both of us were successful in surprising the other with the gifts that we gave. The afternoon was spent watching the first season of “Deadwood”, a gift to Phil from Jeremy. We still have two seasons left to watch, so this gift is one that will keep on giving for quite awhile. After our Christmas dinner of pot roast, we settled in for a quiet evening and an early bedtime.

This has been a wonderful Christmas! Beginning with Cookie Baking Day and continuing on through our trip to Indianapolis and Louisville, and finally ending in a few quiet days at home prior to the holiday, it was near perfect. The only thing I missed was being with Wade this year. I hope that by next year, he’ll be settled in a good job and we’ll be able to get together sometime during the holidays.

Now I must begin thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Wonder what they will be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Eve

That is what today is – Christmas Eve Eve. When I was a little girl, our mother made up holidays for us to celebrate. We had unbirthdays, half-birthdays, and always Christmas Eve Eve.

This was the day that we went out and bought our Christmas Tree. When Molly and I were little, Daddy and Mama, Bob and Grady would participate in the selection of our tree, but as soon as Molly got her driver’s license, this became something that we did together as sisters. We’d go from lot to lot as we looked for the right tree for our home. We were never looking for a perfect tree, but one that needed us. By the 23rd of December, the lots were pretty much picked over, so it was a challenge for us to know which one of the remaining trees was the one for our home. They were all pretty straggly looking by that time. We also were on the hunt for mistletoe, because Christmas wasn’t complete without the mistletoe hoop hanging in the archway between our living room and dining room. We had to find a Christmas Tree lot that also sold mistletoe before we’d even look at the trees. It was all or nothing for us, which added to the fun and adventure of the expedition.

We’d finally find our tree and mistletoe and take them home. I remember Daddy sometimes made a Christmas tree stand out of two pieces of lumber, but as we grew older, the new and modern Christmas tree stands that held water came into fashion, and that is what we used. As soon as the tree was placed in the front corner of the living room, so that the lights would be visible through the window, we were ready to decorate. First on the list of things to do was checking the lights. We’d string them out across the room and replace any lights that were burned out. Once the lights were on the tree, we’d then get into the ornament box and begin adorning the tree with ornaments that were loved and familiar to us. We each had our favorites, and would make sure that these special ornaments were hung on a branch with full visibility and deep honor. Some Christmases we’d drape popcorn and cranberry strings onto the tree, sometimes it was dressed with construction paper garlands that we had cut out and made by hand. When icicles came into fashion, we added these to the tree to add sparkle and glitter. The last thing to go onto the tree was the star, which was one that Mama had made out of cardboard covered with aluminum foil. Daddy usually had the honor of placing the star on the tree while we watched. We’d stand back to take a good look at the finished project, and there was never a Christmas that our tree was not beautiful and special. We’d then tie the mistletoe into the special hoop made from an embroidery hoop wrapped in red ribbon and place it in the archway, ready to catch someone standing under it for a holiday kiss.

We could hardly wait for evening when we could turn off the lights in the living room and have only the tree lights filling the room with Christmas warmth. Daddy would put a Christmas music album on the record player, we’d have a cup of hot chocolate and sugar cookies that we had cut-out and decorated. All of us were immersed in the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings of Christmas as Daddy plugged in the lights and we’d simultaneously all take a deep breath from the shear wonder of it all.

I have many memories of Christmas Eve Eves. Each year was different in small ways, and they all blend together now in my memory to paint a wonderful childhood Christmas mural.

I think I need to do something special today in honor of Christmas Eve Eve – I think I’ll go bake a batch of sugar cookies!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Heart of Christmas

Up until yesterday, I thought I was ready for Christmas, but I wasn’t. There was a small hole in my heart that I didn’t even know was there until we arrived in Indianapolis.

Driving up here to be with Brian and Roy to celebrate the holiday was special in itself, and going out to dinner before making our way to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Yuletide Celebration” was something worth looking forward to simply because they are so much fun to be around. Roy was performing in the concert, so we were all excited with anticipation of the upcoming event. On our walk from the parking garage to the restaurant in downtown Indianapolis, we happened upon someone we had met two years earlier in Nashville, Jack Everly, Principal Pops Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. We paused to visit for a few minutes before heading in our respective directions. Then, around the corner, we were greeted by Ann Hampton Callaway, the hostess and star of the show. Overflowing with personality and life, she greeted us as if she had run into old friends, and I knew immediately that we were in for a real treat when we went to the performance a little later. Already the evening was promising to be fun, but I was not emotionally prepared for what I would experience in the next few hours.

We settled into our seats in Hilbert Circle Theater and as the program began, the spirit of Christmas settled as softly as falling snowflakes over the theater. We enjoyed the fun of the saxophone playing Capitol Quartet, the warmth of Ann as she welcomed the audience with her crystal voice and song, the amazing voice of Daniel Okulitch, and of course, the Dancing Santas and Singing Elves. I honed in on watching Roy, following the sweeping bows and nimble fingers of the violinists, and becoming mesmerized by the fluid motions of Jack Everly as he conducted the orchestra with the grace and poise of a true artist.

It was during the second portion of the production that my heart was touched. As Ann sang “I Wonder as I Wander”, the spirit of Christmas penetrated to my innermost being, and I was swept away by the wonder and miracle of Christmas. Tears filled my eyes, and ran down my cheeks from that moment until the program ended. I realized that something had been missing from my Christmas celebration up until this moment, and what was missing was the music. Nothing could have been more beautiful than the music that was surrounding me, whirling around me, and carrying me to a place of pure joy and serenity. Listening to the unique arrangements of familiar Christmas hymns brought me back to the true meaning of Christmas, and filled the small hole in my heart.

After the performance, as I was recovering while waiting for Roy to make his way from backstage to meet us, I was satisfied that my evening had truly been a day that would be in my collection. The real surprise came as Roy met us and told us that we were invited to join Jack Everly in his room backstage. Wow! Could there possibly be more to this wonderful evening?

In a few minutes I was seated on a comfortable sofa in a delightful room filled mostly by a grand piano. One of our hosts, Ty Johnson, Executive Producer of the “Yuletide Celebration”, immediately felt like someone I’d known for years, instead of someone I’d just met. A wonderful host, he treated us to delicious cookies and petit fours, along with a bubbly glass of champagne. Soon, Jack joined us, and we enjoyed talking to the two of them and getting to know them both. It was such an honor for me to be in this place and with these two gentlemen , I could hardly believe that this was actually happening. Over the course of the evening I had been given a divine gift in the music I had experienced, and to be in the presence of stewards of God’s gift of music was almost more than I could comprehend and absorb.

As I write this, I find myself totally at a loss to express the way I am feeling about last night. I only know that in my prayers I have often asked for confirmation of my faith, and last night my prayer was answered. My confirmation is music, and it’s been with me all along, all my life. It is truly God’s sweetest gift and one that is all the proof I need that there is much more to life and the universe than what we can experience with our five senses. Music carries me beyond this earth and shows me a glimpse of heaven.

Now I am ready for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,
Christmas is only a week away, and we are all very excited about your visit to our home on Christmas Eve. We will have a plate of cookies and a glass of milk waiting for you on our coffee table, and we hope that you will take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to indulge in some homemade goodies. I’ll make sure that they are covered, so that curious little noses won’t find them first and sample your treats before you get here.

Our kids have expressed to me that they are unable to write a letter to you, so I am writing on their behalf. I am certain that they will all be awake early on Christmas morning, eager to see what you have left for them in their stockings. Speaking of stockings, since we don’t have a fireplace, we have hung our stockings on the window sill of the picture window in the living room. You can’t miss them.

Our youngest, Rocky, also known affectionately as Rocket Man, The Rockster, and Rocky Top, is very excited about Christmas. This is his first, as he is now eight months old. He loves the Christmas Tree and all of the low hanging ornaments, but he has been a very good boy, and has not tried to climb the tree. He would like for you to bring him a new collar, preferably a red one. He lost the one he had one afternoon not long ago while out in the woodpile catching field mice. It somehow got snagged; thankfully it was a breakaway collar, and he was able to get free. The collar is lost, however. It must have fallen down in the stacks of lumber, and we were unable to recover it. He misses it very much.

Big Tom has been very nonchalant about Christmas, and has not told us what he would like to receive. We know him very well, though, and he loves those crunchy kitty treats. The vet told him on his last visit that he needed to take better care of his teeth, or he would need to come in for a cleaning, so he has been diligent in reminding us daily that the crunchy treats are good for his teeth and gums. Both he and Rocky also love the salmon in a tube that is good for preventing fur balls in their throats, so if you have one laying around somewhere at the North Pole, please stick it into your bag for our boys.

Sweet Diamond has been a very good girl this year. She is our companion, protector and friend, and she deserves the best that you can bring to her. As you may remember from last year, her favorite thing to eat is peanuts. She would love to receive a jar of roasted peanuts for her evening treats and a bag of peanut butter flavored dog biscuits that she likes as her reward for doing something good. As with Tom, she needs something crunchy to help keep her teeth clean and gums healthy, and the dog biscuits are perfect for this.

Our kids don’t ask for much. There is really nothing that they need, as all three are very thankful for their home and family. Our greatest desire is to see their bright eyes on Christmas morning as they dig into their stockings to see what you have left for them. They all wish you a Merry Christmas, and a big thanks, through their way of purring motors and wagging tails, and hope that you have a happy and healthy New Year.

Thanks, and God Bless,
Jennie

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Unusual Christmas Angel

From Christmas, 2004. This year I have contributed to a project to supply warm, comfy shoes for the homeless in Atlanta. I often think about my friend at the underpass, and wonder if he is still there. He might be the recipient of a new pair of shoes this Christmas!

The rain is coming down hard, and the wind is whistling up Spring Street from under the I-20 / Spring Street interchange. What is left of Hurricane Jeanne is storming up and down Atlanta streets as I depart the office parking deck to head home for the day. The traffic line is longer than usual for this time of day, as people like me leave work a little early to try to beat the rush hour traffic mess. As I inch along Spring Street, my car tires make waves in the standing water, and I cautiously keep my eye on the vehicles in front of me. I see him ahead, standing under the bridge.

He is one of Atlanta’s homeless, and he has staked a claim on this small piece of downtown real estate. Most afternoons he is there, waving to passersby and crisply saluting the cars of commuters he recognizes. On the first few days of my commute, I notice that every now and then a motorist rolls down a window and passes a dollar bill or a fistful of coins into his hand or paper cup. I also notice his smile and wave and cheerful demeanor. After a week or so, he begins honoring me with his salute. The first time I hand him a dollar bill as I pass by, he flashes a broad yellow-toothed smile, and gives me a “God Bless you.” I mumble “God Bless You, too” back at him. Every day since, he waves to me even before my car is fully in the underpass, and then salutes me as I drive by, even if I don’t slow down to hand him a dollar or a handful of change. On days when he isn’t at his post, I miss him. During the days of Hurricane Frances and Ivan, he isn’t on duty under the bridge, and I find myself worrying about his well-being.

Today, a horrible, rainy, windy afternoon, I see him out there wearing a tattered canary yellow vinyl poncho, which is whipping around him in the wind, his backpack a protruding hump underneath the poncho. I quickly grab my wallet and search for a dollar bill. I slow down as I near him and roll down my window. “It isn’t much,” I say to him as I place the money into his hand. “God Bless you, have a nice day,” he says to me. Then, he honors me with his salute and a grin. “God bless you, too,” I smile as I turn my car onto the interstate entrance ramp in the pouring rain.

Some people may think the homeless people of our city are worthless deadbeats or hopeless addicts. I don’t know anything about my new friend. I only know that I feel blessed everyday as the recipient of his smile and salute, and I believe that an angel is watching me as I follow the cars in front of me onto the interstate to go home.

May you be blessed with your own special angels this Christmas season!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Sixth Happiness

My Christmas letter, 2003....... this is still my wish for my family and friends in 2008.

Not long ago, I awakened in the middle of the night and was unable to get back to sleep. I turned on the television, hoping it would lull me back to dreamland. I paused the remote control at the beginning of the movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman. My channel surfing stopped, and I was wide awake, instead of getting sleepy as I had intended.

A Christmas memory flooded my consciousness, and I was 10 years old, sitting in the Decatur theater with my father. It was Christmas afternoon. All the gifts had been opened, Christmas dinner eaten, and dishes done. Daddy had told me to get my coat, we were going to see a matinee together! As I watched the movie this night from the comfort of my middle-of- the-night bed, I remembered the Decatur theater, seeing this movie with Daddy. The smell of buttery popcorn mingled with the musty velvet of the theater curtains and seats, the feel of a silk scarf placed carefully across the back of my seat so that I wouldn’t catch ringworm, the wonderful story unfolding on the large movie screen, the scent of Daddy’s Aqua Velva aftershave, and the special feeling of sharing an afternoon with my father, were as real to me as they had been that long-ago Christmas afternoon.

I remembered the movie and the beautiful Ingrid Bergman. As I watched, the story I had viewed as a child unfolded and I became caught up in the drama of the young missionary woman who traveled to China, believing that God was leading her there for a special purpose. She faced one obstacle after another, but she never faltered in her faith, and she wouldn’t let anyone stop her from pursuing the mission she believed to be her calling from God. It was a tale of adventure, a story of unconditional love, a saga of a woman accomplishing what no man of her day believed she could. But most of all, it was an unveiling of the Sixth Happiness in her life as she ministered to the people of China during an era of great change and challenging times. Tears filled my eyes, both from the emotional story and from the warm memory of that Christmas afternoon with Daddy.

And so it is, in the spirit of Christmas and with respect for the ancient Chinese blessing of Five Happinesses, I have adapted them for my Holiday greeting to my family and friends. As we celebrate Christmas, my gift to you is my desire and prayer for:
Long Life
Good Fortune
Benevolence and Tranquility
Prosperity
Good Health
Most of all, may you discover the Sixth Happiness, which is unique to you and your life. Whatever it is that gives you passion for living and makes your life whole is your personal Sixth Happiness. Embrace it!

May the love of family and friends, the warmth of home, and the promises of each new day be with you this Christmas and in the New Year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Christmas Doll

As Christmas gets nearer, I am going to post some of my Christmas writings from the past few years. For some who know me, these may sound familiar to you, as you received them from me in the form of my Christmas letter. Here is the one from 2001.

I was five years old and Christmas was getting close. My mother told me that I needed to think about what I wanted Santa Claus to bring me, and that we would go downtown to sit on Santa’s lap once I decided what I would tell him. It didn’t take much thinking for me. All I wanted was a doll that could walk and talk. Nothing else interested me.

Mama dressed me up in my Sunday dress and shoes, and we walked to the trolley stop to ride the bus to Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta. Once there, we easily found the line of children waiting to talk to Santa, and took our place with them. My turn came, and I pranced right up to Santa, climbing onto his lap. When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him- a doll that walks and talks. Is there anything else you want Santa to bring you? No, thank you, just a doll that walks and talks.

From Santa’s lap, we made our way to Rich’s toy department. Mama and I began looking at dolls to see if we could find the one I wanted. A pretty saleslady approached us and offered to help. I told her what I wanted. She smiled and said, “Well, young lady, I’m not sure we have a doll that walks and talks, but I have lots of dolls that I can show you.” The first one she took off the shelf was a doll that could walk. She showed me how to hold onto its middle and move my hands to propel one leg and then the other forward. The doll was pretty, but she was stiff and couldn’t really walk. She wasn’t the one I wanted. The next doll was one that could talk. But her lips were painted onto her face, and I had to turn her completely upside down to make her chirp a whiny “Ma-ma” from somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach. That wasn’t talking. This doll wasn’t the one I wanted, either. I wanted a doll that could walk and talk. The saleslady showed me doll after doll, demonstrating what each one could do, but none was the doll I had asked Santa for. Finally, in desperation, she said she had one more, but she didn’t think this doll was right for me, either. Into my arms she placed a big soft baby doll, dressed in pink, with light brown painted hair and blue eyes with real hair eyelashes and eyelids that blinked open and shut as I moved her head. She was soft and plump, and the size of a real baby. She was beautiful! But she doesn’t walk or talk, both my mother and the saleslady reminded me. Thoughts of walking, talking dolls momentarily flew out of my mind as I held this wonderful baby doll. I gently handed her back to the saleslady, and she placed her back on the toy shelf. I had told Santa that I wanted a doll that walks and talks. I knew his elves could make a doll for me that walked and talked. As Mama and I left Rich’s, I counted on Santa to bring me what I really wanted for Christmas.

On Christmas morning, I was awake early to see what Santa had brought me. To my surprise, he had not left a doll that walks or talks under our tree, but the baby doll I had held so tenderly at Rich’s. I gently picked her up and carried her to Daddy’s rocking chair to rock and love until the rest of the family woke up to see what Santa had left at our house. I don’t remember wishing for a doll that walks and talks ever again!

My Christmas doll wasn’t the one I thought I wanted, but she was the one I needed, and she needed me. She couldn’t walk or talk, but that didn’t matter to me. I named her Cathy and loved and cared for her for many years, while she loved me back by simply being soft and huggable, and by gazing at me with those crystal blue blinking eyes.

My wish for us all this Christmas is that we remember that it isn’t getting what we think we want that makes our lives complete. What makes life wonderful is discovering the “baby dolls” we meet along our way who need our love. And it is in our response to them that we become more caring, giving, and compassionate human beings.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rainy Day

It rained all day yesterday. The raindrops tapped on our metal roof in gentle rhythm, lulling us all into a laziness that lasted the entire day.

We desperately needed a rain like this one, one that began during the night on Friday night, continued throughout the day yesterday, and is hanging on in the early hours this morning. Georgia has been in a severe drought for the past two years, and this type of rain is most welcome. I can visualize farmers dancing in their fields, slushing through the mud, raising their hands to the sky in thanksgiving and praise for this wonderful rainfall. I also can hear in my mind the prayers in churches this morning that include something about the rain as the streams, rivers and lakes all receive their manna from heaven.

Indeed, it was a lazy day in our house. None of us seemed able to muster the energy to get much accomplished. I was successful in getting our Christmas tree decorated, while Phil and the cats snoozed on the chaise, and Diamond stretched out on the living room rug to keep watch on what I was doing, working up the energy to wag her tail occasionally if I should pause to give her a pat on the head. Once the tree was dressed, and the lights were turned on, I settled in the lounge chair and joined my family in their reverie. Football games on the television kept us somewhat interested; however, we snoozed through many exciting plays, and only got the final score of some of them.

We didn’t want to cook, either. Since we didn’t have a traditional Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, there were no leftovers to nibble on, so I was forced to do something for our dinner. The easy way was the one I took- the crockpot. I put a pork roast in it around noon, and by 4:00, the aroma was enough to rouse us from our easy chairs to eat dinner. Phil and I put together a quick meal, and had an early supper, sharing nibbles of it with our “kids” as they sat patiently beside the table, eyes glued on us hoping for a hand-out. The glass of wine with dinner made us sleepy again, and back to the comfort of the living room and television we went.

Everyone needs days like this one which soothe the mind and replenish the soul. It was a day of hibernation, of rest and revitalization. The earth needed this day as well as we did, as the ground welcomed each raindrop, soaking it in and storing it for future use.

I love these rainy days………

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Four Words

Tuesday evening after talking to Wade on my cell phone for a little while, I noticed that I had a text message waiting for me. When I checked to see what it was, there were only four words in the message, “I have breast cancer.”

This certainly wasn’t a message I wanted to receive, especially from the sender of the message, Lynne, one of my dearest friends. I immediately called her on the phone to respond to her short message. I remembered the phone call I received over seven years ago when my breast surgeon told me, “You have breast cancer.” I knew the feeling of receiving this message, and I knew that Lynne needed my support.

I’d never wish breast cancer on anyone, but once you know you have it, you are immediately a member of a sisterhood of support, prayers, faith, fears, and always optimism. It is the optimism and faith that keep you going as you make decisions on the best treatment, how to make it through the next few months, and ultimately how you are going to let it affect your life. For me, it has been an ongoing journey, one that I am still traveling, although I’ve had a clean bill of health now for a number of years. Lynne is at the beginning of her journey, and she has a lot to experience and learn. She will soon find out who her true friends are, who she can trust and whose advice she can cast aside, and how to block the negative remarks that come her way, always from well-meaning folks.

For me, it has been a life-changer. I live daily with the physical – the tightness on my left side, numbness that includes an itch that I can’t scratch, and a permanent ice cream scoop sized dent in my left breast. But on the spiritual side, breast cancer has also enriched my life. I welcome each day with thankfulness and hope, and I am now much more aware of my world around me. I’ve learned, and am still learning, what things are important, and which ones I can toss. I’ve met some wonderful people, and have made some great friends. I now wear a badge of honor, a little pink ribbon, and I walk proudly as a survivor in cancer walks.

Yes, Lynne, I’d never wish this on anyone, especially you. But I know that you are strong and determined, and I am confident that you are going to be fine.

Just like me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Live First, Work Second

This was the subject of one of the four educational sessions I sat in on at the CoreNet Global Fall Summit this week. Part of my job for the three days was to attend these sessions, take notes, and then write up brief reports on them for the website. The others that I attended were on the hyper-connected workplace, sustainability practices, and future-proofing the workplace. For those in corporate real estate, these three were very timely, and were actually very interesting to me.

However, the session on Live First, Work Second struck a chord with me. While the gist of the session was on looking at the Millennial Generation (those folks now in their 20s who are coming into the workplace in droves) and how they look at life and work, there was one thing that Rebecca Ryan, the speaker, said that stuck with me.

She said that we come into the workplace carrying five balls, one rubber ball and four glass balls. The rubber ball is our work (or job). The four glass balls are our family, our friends, our health, and our integrity. We juggle all of these balls as we live and work. If we should drop the rubber ball, our work, it will bounce back. If we drop any of the other balls, they will shatter. As she spoke of the Millennial Generation, she said that these “kids” understand this and openly declare that they have both a life and a career, and they realize the resilience of the rubber ball.

All of this made me think about my own life and work. I love my job, but I also value my personal life and my private time. There have been times when I thought I didn’t take my work seriously enough, which was why I didn’t climb the professional ladder as some of my peers had done. As I think of these five balls, I now understand that maybe I made the right choices along the way, and sometimes let the rubber ball drop while I held tightly to the glass balls.

Some call this work/life balance. The Millennials turn it around and call it life/work balance. I like Rebecca’s title: Live First, Work Second.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Election

It’s over. All of the campaigning, the constant chatter on the television, the heated discussions on the bus, in restaurants, and just about anywhere we have been for the past two years where opinions differ- it’s oddly quiet today.

Last night, Phil, who has been following the presidential process closely, watched a movie on television. When I asked him if he was going to follow the election returns, he told me that he’d wait until morning to find out who won after all was said and done. I went into the bedroom early and settled down with the book I am currently reading. It was blessedly peaceful in our home, compared to the past several months of listening to spin, poll results, pundits debating, and all kinds of hypothesizing on all of the cable stations that Phil follows religiously.

This morning the bus ride into Atlanta was eerily quiet. Nobody mentioned the election, or even talked much at all during the commute. Once in my office, I found people reluctant to say something to co-workers, including myself. I knew pretty much who in the office voted for which candidate, and I could tell who was rejoicing and who was mourning, even though there wasn’t much conversation. By lunchtime, a few people tested the water and a discussion began about the election around our lunch table, although nobody said anything that would offend someone who didn’t feel the same way. Even at the bus stop this afternoon, small groups were clustered, talking in whispers. It was all very dignified and politically correct, I thought.

Now I will watch and wait. I don’t know what’s going to happen, which promises will be kept, and what the future will hold for our country. The stock market took a nose dive today. I imagine it was due to a lot of people grabbing their capital gains before the predicted taxes go up on them. After the last month of economic crisis, the gasoline shortage and of the tail end of the presidential election, we’ve all been on a wild roller coaster ride. Nobody really knows what the best course of action for us individually is in regard to our retirement funds, our methods of saving, or our strategies for maneuvering into the future. We are watching our president-elect select his cabinet and chief advisors, and hope that his decisions are wise. We also wish him well with the enormous task that is now before him. Some of us are bitter, others are disappointed. Many are jubilant. History has been made, and change is definitely coming our way. Personally, I am weary of the whole shebang.

I just hope he doesn’t screw up!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Beach

****I wrote this on Monday while at still at the beach. This morning, we packed up our things and headed home - I wish we had come home yesterday! I didn't want to change what I wrote on Monday, so here it is.****

I am sitting on the balcony of our timeshare condo at Ormond Beach, Florida, listening to the constant roar of the ocean. I look out and watch the waves rolling in and breaking on the sandy beach. It’s a clear, sunny day. The ocean is reflecting the blue of the sky, and a cool breeze makes me want to move my chair out into the sunshine where it’s warmer. It’s a beautiful day.

The beach – it used to hold me in its grasp, and I felt like I couldn’t survive unless I made my way to the ocean a few times each year. As a young woman, I found strength and peace on the seashore, and our summer vacations to the shore were therapeutic and healing for me. When we would take our vacations, it would almost always include a beach somewhere, either near Mama and Daddy’s house in Clearwater, or at a beach cottage along the North Carolina shore. Never much of a sunbather, I’d spend my time walking along the water’s edge collecting shells, playing in the sand with the boys, body surfing, and simply sitting and gazing at the water.

I realize on this trip to the beach that it no longer holds the power over me that it once had. I’ve been here two days, and am already thinking about going home. The constant roar of the waves is not soothing to me as it once was – it is becoming irritating and monotonous. I miss the sounds of the birds singing, the whisper of the wind blowing through the pine trees surrounding our house, the mooing of the cows in Mr. Ernest’s pasture, and the faraway whistle of the train passing through Social Circle. Instead of soothing as it once was, the sounds o f the ocean are somehow intrusive to my senses now, and block out other sounds that I know are out there.

It’s not that I don’t like the beach. I feel the greatness of God and sense the vastness of creation when I am walking on the beach. I enjoy watching the sandpipers at play and interrupting the seagull conventions as I walk. I love to feel the wind in my face. I still look for shells to pick up, and watch for jellyfish to avoid stepping on. My beach walks are invigorating and stimulating, and very refreshing. It’s just different somehow than it used to be.

I think what has happened is that I don’t need the beach or the ocean anymore. I’ve moved on in my life, and over the years have learned many lessons about myself. I am thankful that the beach was always here for me when I needed it, and that it gave me the strength and courage that was missing from my life at the time. But today, while sitting here, I long for a quiet path to walk, to listen to the sounds of a running stream, the chirping of birds, and the song of rustling leaves from a passing breeze.

Things certainly have changed for me. I’m ready to go home.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Aunt Bernice

Every little girl should have an Aunt Bernice.

Phil and I stopped to visit my Aunt Bernice on her farm in north Florida on our way to the beach this past week-end. As we drove down the country road toward the farm, I remembered that it was once a dirt road, now paved, and we used to cross three small bridges, not there anymore, before we reached the new farmhouse that Uncle John had built for his family. Uncle John is no longer with us, but Aunt Bernice still calls the little house her home. It is no longer a new house, either. Aunt Bernice is now in her 80s, and it has been her house for 50 some-odd years.

Phil and I recognized the farm, not by the house, because you could hardly see it behind the huge magnolia trees that hid it from view from the road. We saw the familiar shed as we approached where Uncle John used to store lumber, feed, tools, machinery, anything that needed a roof over its head. As we turned up the driveway, the little gray house didn’t look new as it always does in my mind, or as big. But despite its age, it still invited me to visit, and the screen door still creaked when I opened it to knock on the front door. I could hardly wait to see Aunt Bernice, wrap up in her hugging arms, and have a couple of homemade biscuits I knew she was keeping warm for us in her oven.

As a child, I loved my Aunt Bernice beyond measure. I still do, and I treasure her more now thinking of all of her many acts of kindess toward me when I was a little girl. I remember getting on a Greyhound Bus in Atlanta as a little girl and riding all by myself to Jasper, where she and Uncle John would pick me up at the gas station that served as the bus terminal for the small town and place me between them in their pick-up truck for the ride to the farm. I loved my visits to the farm. It was there that Aunt Bernice taught me how to make butter from cream and to make buttermilk biscuits with milk from their cows, how to feed a baby calf from a bucket with a nipple attached to it, how to thread tobacco leaves onto the long stick for drying in the tobacco barn, and then how to unthread them when they were dry and stack them for taking to the tobacco market. I also learned how to wash clothes in a wringer washer, collect eggs without breaking them, and how to call pigs. I also learned how to amuse myself on hot summer afternoons when it was too hot to work in the garden by swatting flies on the front porch, playing pick-up-sticks, and reading books from the bookshelf in their livingroom.

Uncle John was my mother’s younger brother, and he and Aunt Bernice lived on a wonderful farm in Jasper, Florida. Uncle John also had a mail route, but I never thought of him as a letter carrier – he was always a farmer to me. Aunt Bernice worked with him on the farm, and my cousins Paul and Barbara, worked, too. On my summer trips to the farm, I was assigned jobs, but I didn’t work nearly as hard as they all did. I was their little cousin from the city, and they knew that I didn’t have a clue about what living on a farm was really like. Aunt Bernice always came to my rescue when they teased me, and found something that I could do very well to praise me for. One summer I was the champion fly swatter, another summer, I was the best calf baby-sitter that she knew. She even helped soothe the sunburn I got from sitting in the pasture all afternoon one day with a baby calf asleep on my lap.

Aunt Bernice has a wonderful sense of humor and a comedic timing that is second to none. I think this probably served her well during periods of hard times on the farm. I love visiting her, because I know that she will make me laugh, will bring the funny out in me, and we’ll laugh and cut-up and have a wonderful time together.

While I can’t relate all of the wonderful memories I have of my Aunt Bernice (and my Uncle John, too), in this short blog space, they live in my memory and are there to pull out whenever I think about her. She has always been a wonderful role model for me - a strong woman, both physically and spiritually, and as beautiful a person as I’ve ever known.

The world would be a much better place if every little girl could have her own Aunt Bernice.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Global Warming?

So far this October has been the coolest one I can remember in all the years that I have lived in Georgia. I don’t ever remember switching from air-conditioning to heat on our thermostat before Halloween, and we had to do just that last week. I also made my first pot of homemade chicken noodle soup of the season last week-end, which I usually don’t make until November or December!

It’s delightful, and I’m not complaining. I love the nippy mornings and the cool breezy afternoons when I am outdoors going around and about in my job and my personal life. This morning is very chilly and a steady rain is falling – I am very happy to be working at home today! I am also liking a cooler house at night. Phil and I put the electric blanket back on the bed last week, mainly for him. I haven’t turned my side on yet. He is very cold-natured and sleeps with the thing turned up to dark toast while I stay over on my side of the bed where the sheets are cool and refreshing. All summer long I fought night sweats, throwing the covers off of myself and then pulling them back up several times every night. For the past week, I have slept through the night without waking up, and am much more comfortable with the lower temperatures. I also feel more rested when I wake up in the morning!

We hear a lot about global warming, and it may be the case globally. However, in Georgia this month there is no evidence of warming. The long-sleeved shirts, light-weight jackets, and flannel pajamas have made their way from the back of the closet and drawers to the front, pushing back the tank tops, summer skirts, and shorty p.j’s.

We leave tomorrow for a short vacation in Florida, where I am sure the temperature will be warmer than it is here. I am looking forward to a few days on the Autumn beach, where it won’t be dreadfully hot, but nice and warm during the days. Weather.com tells me that evenings in Florida will be cool, so I’ll pack a couple of sweaters and sweatshirts in case I need them for evening walks on the beach. I need to bring my plants indoors before I leave, because the forecast for next week calls for temperatures near freezing in Georgia while we are away.

Global warming? I don’t know about global, but certainly not locally this month in Georgia!

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's All in the Eyes

Diamond, my German Shepherd, is sitting on the rug next to my desk this morning, gazing at me with her big liquid chestnut brown eyes. She isn’t happy, because Phil drove off in the truck a little while ago and didn’t take her with him. She’s here for the day with me, to keep me company and guard me from any possible intruders into our domain.

It’s been a long, hard week for me. We had “staff collaboration week” at CoreNet Global, where I work, which meant getting up before dawn every day, traveling the 52 miles to the office in Atlanta, and then sitting in meetings a good portion of the day. I was late getting home in the evenings, so Diamond and I haven’t been on a walk together since last Sunday. She is patiently waiting for me to finish whatever it is that keeps me occupied at my desk. Her ears are perked up; she is on alert – ready to go! She’s even beginning to make her signature sound – a little whining noise to remind me that she’s here, and not so patiently waiting for me.

For myself, I am tired. It’s not that I’ve been that busy at these collaboration meetings, but that I’ve been off my schedule, eating food that I’m not accustomed to eating, and not getting enough rest at night. I've missed my evening walks with Diamond. In addition, on Wednesday evening after the workday was over, we had a staff bowling party, and of course I couldn’t miss it. Bowling was a riot – I was on a team with two good bowlers, myself, and another co-worker whose bowling style was just about as clunky as mine. The most entertaining part of it all was that Elaine and I (the two who couldn’t bowl) had the highest scores for the first game! Nicki, the bowler, remarked that she couldn’t understand how two people with such weird techniques could beat her at her own game! For the second game, I redeemed myself and bowled a pretty terrible game, with a low score to match. I even dropped the ball at one point and it went backwards! Everyone around us laughed and cheered. I took a bow and tried again, this time managing to aim the ball in the right direction. It really was lots of fun, and a wonderful diversion from the intensity of the week’s activities at work.

But back to Diamond. She doesn’t understand work or bowling, or anything about my job at all. All she knows is that she‘s bored and irritated that she’s not in Phil’s truck this morning. I can’t stand the sad look in her eyes another minute.

We’re going for a walk!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another 60th - And a Stroll Down Memory Lane!

60th birthday parties do this to me – send me on another visit to my childhood.

Friday night was my friend, Gayle’s, 60th party, and of course Phil and I had to be there to celebrate with her. It was a wonderful evening, and a perfect place for a party, at a special events facility on the bank of the Chattahoochee River on a clear autumn evening. Tables were set out on the patio, and we all gathered in small groups and large to chat, visit, and catch up on one another’s lives. There must have been over 100 people at the party – Gayle is very outgoing and caring and is loved by a host of people!

We Decatur folks flocked together to talk, laugh, and relive our childhood and teen-age years together. It was great seeing a few that I haven’t seen since I was 16 years old, and several who have become part of my life since I’ve returned to Georgia. Photos passed from hand to hand as we saw ourselves as kids and teen-agers in old black-and-white glossies, and in yellowed newspaper articles from the local paper. What fun!

One of the highlights of my evening, however, was seeing a childhood friend from elementary school, Dan. He came to the party with my friend Lisa, and did we ever take a stroll down Memory Lane together! Dan lived on Avery Street, which was about a block from my house on Winnona Drive. I only had to cross one street to get from my house to his. We both attended Winnona Park Grammar School, and were in many of the same classes together from first grade through seventh. Dan and I shared many common memories and caught up with each other on the neighborhood – who’s still there and who’s gone – and relived some of our childhood memories. He is one of the few people I know who remember that Margaret Bowen had a roller coaster in her back yard and that Betsy McCammon fell off her shed roof trying to fly, fracturing her back and cracking a front tooth. However, I think the one thing that got to me the most in seeing Dan again was when he gently touched the birthmark on my face, and noted that it’s still there.

My birthmark – I hardly ever think about it anymore, but yes, it’s still there. As a child, people were always either telling me I had a smudge on my cheek, or taking a finger to try to wipe it off for me. It’s a small grayish round mark, about the size of a dime, but as a child it sometimes felt like a huge thing to me. When I was a teen-ager I tried to cover it up with make-up, unsuccessfully, and often felt self-conscious about it. Then, as I grew up, I learned to embrace it and claim it as my own unique identifying feature, and now in my “older” years, I haven’t even thought about it in ages! When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t even see it anymore. Dan’s small gesture and remark took me by surprise, but it touched me that this was one of the things he remembered about me.

Birthdays and birthmarks. The year of our 60th celebrations is almost over, but birthmarks live with us for a lifetime. And Dan proved to me that friendships can also endure for a lifetime, even when there are decades and miles that separate us. Thank you, Dan.

Reunions can be very, very sweet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Storm Named Rachael

It was a quiet and calm Friday afternoon until my friend Rachael arrived at the house to help put together snack mixes to give away at Relay for Life later that day. When she walked through the door, it was like a tornado had blown into the house.

Rachael is a loving and giving young woman who becomes personally involved in her friends’ life traumas. She also is a member of a family that seems to have one crisis after another. She gets caught up in all of the drama, and as a person who cares very deeply, she sometimes finds herself frazzled and at her wit’s end. I never had a daughter. but Rachael is the closest thing to one that I have and I love her dearly!

I had a pizza prepared when she and her little girl, Lillie, arrived. We sat down to eat, and the dam broke. Rachael ignored her cell phone's incessant ringing while she talked, and Lillie, finishing her pizza, went out onto the deck to play with Uncle Phil. Rachael filled me in on all of the happenings in her family, in the preschool where she teaches, and in the lives of her friends. After about twenty minutes of venting, she looked at me and asked, “How are you doing?”

I caught my breath from all that I’d heard for the past several minutes. Thankfully, things in my life have been pretty calm lately. “Except for Phil’s mom calling me Alice now, nothing much is going on around here,” I answered her. There have been times during our friendship where the tables have been turned and I’ve unloaded on Rachael, so I was very glad not to have anything to burden her with from my own life. I caught her up on Mom’s condition at the nursing home, and how she is doing o.k., but slipping mentally and losing weight. Being called Alice is pretty mild compared to the stuff Rachael has dealt with the past few weeks. I also gave her a quick update on Wade and Brian, giving her the Cliff Notes version of their lives to-date.

“I need to come over more often,” she sighed as she settled down in her chair and began to relax. I agreed. There is something about our house that is calming to Rachael, and it is a kind of sanctuary for her. I do my best to make our home welcoming and comfortable for all who visit, but for Rachael there is something special about coming over to spend some time with me. I treasure my time with her, even when the intensity gets to the Level 4 hurricane ranking. My house seems to be a good place to ride out the storms, and the calm afterward is sweet and serene.

We finished our pizza, and got to work on the snack bags. The storm was over, and the sun was shining again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Change is in the Air

October arrived today and with it came a bright blue sky, a brisk cool breeze, and the promise of a chilly night tonight. The seasonal change from summer to autumn is in full swing. On the way home from work I noticed some yellow and red in the trees alongside the interstate. I also felt the need to open my car sunroof to let the wind blow through my hair and the afternoon sun shine on my head.

There are other changes, which aren’t associated with nature. Gasoline is still scarce in our parts, although we have the promise that this crisis will last another two weeks at most, and the assurance that the worst is now behind us. A few stations were operational on my route home, and even one in Social Circle was open this afternoon. It’s quite a change to have to ration our gasoline and plot our course as we make the most of each trip we take in the car. It’s a good lesson in conservation and stewardship of our resources.

With all that is going on in Washington D.C. I sense changes that I am not able to identify or clearly anticipate as Congress struggles with creating the bailout package that is supposed to save our economy. I don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen, and it appears to me that the blind are leading the blind up there in D.C. We’re in a big mess, and nobody really knows the best road to take or if the plan they are drawing up will work. My plans for retirement aren’t as clear as they were a few weeks ago, and I wonder just what kind of changes we may see to our way of life within the next months and years.

Change - - - Phil is planning his garden for next year with the intent that we will become more self-sufficient. I am planning ways to cut our costs and sock a little more away in a rainy day safe place. We both know that change is in the air, and we hope that we can weather whatever this wind blows our way.

I had my semi-annual exam with my oncologist yesterday, and she asked me if anything had changed since she saw me last. This brought my thoughts back to my health and how the lack of change in this part of my life has been a blessing thus far. While all of this change is going on all around us with the approach of winter and the change in the political and economic forces of our country, I am thankful for my health. I won’t get the results from my bloodwork for another few days, but I don’t anticipate any change here.

As I write this, I think about all these changes and wonder what will be next. I hope that whatever happens, I’ll continue to be able to say, “At least, I still have my health!” When all is said and done, this is one area where no change looks pretty good!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No Gasoline!

The part of Georgia where I live is in a panic. There’s not enough gasoline to go around!

I found myself contributing to the panic this week, as I searched for a station that had gas to put into my car. I was running on fumes and had to find some fuel in order to get home. Finally! I spotted a station with a few cars at the pumps, and pulled in. The man pumping gas into his truck nearby informed me that the owner of this station was accepting cash only. I had $10 in my wallet, so I bought a couple of gallons of gas. This got me by until yesterday, when I finally found a station that had only Plus and Supreme gasoline. I decided my little Honda would like Plus, so I began filling up. The pump stopped at $25 – the limit the station had set for fill-ups. At $4.39 per gallon, it wasn’t much, but it eased my anxiety somewhat. The worker at the counter told me that he doesn’t know when he’ll be getting a supply of gasoline.

I am working at home today and tomorrow, and perhaps days into next week if the gasoline trucks don’t make it out our way. I’m going to check our local stations here in Social Circle to see what their status is. Since I have to drive 50 miles each day to get to the bus that takes me to my job, I am very thankful that I have the ability to telework.

Besides the rush to the gas stations that have gasoline, at least for a short period of time, there is also the commuter bus to contend with. Everyone wants to ride, and nobody wants to stand. Yesterday morning I got to the park ‘n’ ride twenty minutes early, and there was already a long line of very disgruntled and angry people waiting for the bus. People who are ordinarily cordial had scowls on their faces and looked like they were ready to attack the world as well as the person in front of them in line. I don’t understand it. Being angry doesn’t change a thing. Times are tough right now, and from the looks of things, they could get worse before they get better. It doesn’t help matters at all for us to be ill-tempered toward our neighbor. I guess fear brings out more frowns than it does smiles.

Like I said, I’m working at home now, and glad of it!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The First Day of Fall

The sky is bright blue, the breeze is brisk and cool, the wildflowers are blooming everywhere, and the spider webs are draped all over my house. Fall has arrived!

I love summertime, and generally don’t anticipate fall and winter, as I hate to put my summer clothes away and start thinking in layers. This year is different, and I am actually looking forward to the change of seasons. I’m not sure yet how I feel about winter, but fall so far is looking pretty good. I have some nice clothes for the cooler weather this year, and I am looking forward to wearing some new things. I’m also very weary of sweating from the heat, and don’t think I’ll mind a few shivers this year.

I made my last batch of scuppernong jelly last night, bringing jelly making season to its official close. It’s a good time, too, because it’s almost impossible to find jelly jars anywhere! I finally located some in Winder yesterday and stocked up, just in case I may need a few before next spring. My pantry is stocked with jellies, ready to give away, and my jelly making equipment is now stored in the back of one of my kitchen cabinets. I am looking ahead to cookie season, which begins in late November as I prepare for the sixth annual Jennie Lou’s Christmas Cookie Baking Day which will be on December 6 this year.

I’ll do a good fall housecleaning between now and December, get rid of all of the spider webs, and hope that this winter is not a ladybug one. As soon as the weather gets cool, the ladybugs and all of their family and friends somehow find their way into the house, and spend the winter with us. We had an abundance of them last winter, and I am hoping that this year they may be scarce. They don’t do any harm, but thousands of them are a few too many!

The leaves haven’t begun to change color yet, so I have that to look forward to. And I know we’ll still have some warm days. But on this first day of fall, I’ll have to go for a walk and enjoy the crispness that is out there this morning.

I’m on my way now!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Snakes! Yipes!

Yesterday afternoon on our walk down our country road, Diamond and I happened upon a snake in the middle of the road. Being curious by nature, both of us moseyed over toward the thing to check it for vital signs. It looked as if it was dead, but one can never be too sure when dealing with snakes.

Sure enough it was dead, but even in that condition, it was creepy. It was about three feet long and what I’d call skinny. Probably not full grown yet, I surmised. Diamond sniffed it, and I nudged it with the toe of my sneaker. I looked a little more closely to see if it had the diamond-shaped head of a poisonous snake, but whatever had run it over did a number on the creature’s head. I also noted the pattern on its body. It was a light brown snake, with a darker brown geometric pattern running down its body. It didn’t look like what I remembered a rattlesnake to look like from the skin of one that hung in my brother’s bedroom for years when I was a little girl. But just to be on the safe side, I checked out the end of its tail for evidence of any rattles. None there – not a rattlesnake.

Diamond and I left the creature in the road where we found it and continued our walk. I began thinking about this summer and the many times I was deep in brambles and weeds searching for wild plums and blackberries. Phil always warned me about snakes, but I wasn’t overly concerned. I believed that between Diamond racing through the brush and all the noise I made kicking at briars and brambles, any smart snake would run (or slither) for safety from us. Thinking about this dead one in the middle of my road made me consider the danger I could have been in all summer long. I didn’t know if this snake was poisonous or not, but if it had been, I could very easily have crossed its path on either side of the road on a multitude of occasions. And I was sure that it probably had brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles slithering all over the place near my house. I was very happy thinking about the automobile that stopped its forward progress.

After we got home, I did an internet search for brown snakes in Georgia. From the photos on one of the official snake websites of Georgia, I determined that this snake could have been a copperhead or a mole king snake. I need to go back and look more closely at its pattern, because from the photos on the website, these two snakes have similar markings.

Whatever it was, it woke me up to being more careful and observant when I am out in the woods and brush. We have snakes!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11

I am watching the replay of the events of seven years ago on the television this morning. The emotions that well up inside are almost more than I can handle. I am crying as I watch the replay of World Trade Center Towers being hit by the two planes, and then collapsing in clouds of smoke. I think about those people who were in the towers that morning, and the utter terror they must have been experiencing, at least those who survived the initial hit and fireball. I also cry for the firemen, policemen, and other rescue workers who risked their lives to try to save their neighbors. It is so emotional to me that I find it difficult to concentrate on the work I need to be doing this morning.

It was very different for me on September 11, 2001. It was the events of this day that initiated a turning point in my life and made me face my own inner terrors.

I had finished radiation therapy for breast cancer in June, 2001. I thought I had a great attitude toward my state of being, and felt optimistic about the future. However, I was taking Tamoxifen, in hopes that it would lessen my chance of getting cancer again. The Tamoxifen was giving me a variety of side effects, which I found hard to deal with. As a consequence, my oncologist prescribed two additional medications – an anti-depressant and a blood pressure pill. These two were supposed to help with the constant hot flashes and cold sweats that the Tamoxifen was causing. I was medicated to the hilt, and didn’t realize until September 11 what these were doing to me.

I heard talk in the hallway at TAPPI that morning, where I was working at the time, and caught the gist of the conversation – some planes were missing somewhere in the air in the Northeast, and nobody knew where they were. Hmmm. This sounded a little weird to me, but no concern. A little later, there was a scream down the hall that I stepped out of my office to investigate. We were all herded into the conference room where the television was now showing a smoking building on the screen. I quickly learned that one of the missing planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York City. How terrible, I thought, but I didn’t comprehend the tragedy. I went back to my office, where my phone was ringing. It was Brian, who lives in New York, reassuring me that he was o.k. I still was in a kind of fog. I was happy to talk to him, but nothing sunk in deeper than the surface. As the morning progressed, I traveled back and forth from office to conference room to see what was happening, soon learned about the three attacks, and watched the television coverage. I thought about my nephew, Gary, who worked at the Pentagon, and called Molly to see if she had heard anything. I was relieved to hear that Gary was o.k., but throughout this entire morning, I felt no emotion whatsoever beyond curiosity and a feeling that something bad had happened.

We were sent home early from work that day. When I got home, Phil was already there, visibly shaken by the events of the day. He could hardly talk about it without starting to cry. I had no tears in my eyes, and could not make myself feel sad. I knew something was wrong with me.

A couple of days later, while talking to a co-worker, I realized that it was my medication that had taken away all feelings of that terrible day. I began thinking about my personal situation, and realized that I didn’t want to go through life this way. I quit taking my three medications, cold turkey, called my oncologist, and made an appointment to see him. I knew that the threat of cancer was something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life, but September 11 helped me realize that life is more than just trying to avoid cancer. I had to have my emotions back, I had to feel again! Even if some of my feelings were fear and anxiety, then they were feelings I had to confront and overcome. I told my oncologist that the quality of my life was much more important to me than the false reassurance of the medications, and he accepted my decision, although reluctantly.

It is now seven years later. I can now cry over September 11, and I live a full and highly emotional life. Hot flashes and cold sweats are my occasional companions these days, but I have learned to accept them as proof that I am still alive! My outlook on life is different, and I no longer fear cancer as I did seven years ago. If it makes a reappearance in my life, I’ll deal with it as it comes. I am not going to let the fear of possible cancer somewhere in my future stop me from living.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Relay for Life

It never ceases to amaze and overwhelm me how cancer touches each one of us. I’ve been participating in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life for a number of years – I’ve actually lost count of how many I have been involved in, as they are beginning to blur together – and I have to stop and think about it. I remember the first Relay I took part in, which was the year after I had breast cancer, which was 2001. I cried during the entire Survivor’s Walk. Since then, I’ve walked almost every year, maybe missing a year or two after we moved to Walton County, when my church formed a team.

How many walks I’ve made isn’t the issue here. What amazes me is the response every year when I send out my annual request for support. I always invite donations, but don’t ask for them. What I ask for is names. I want the names of people who are fighting the battle, have triumphed over cancer, and of those who have lost the fight. Three years ago I wore a memory bracelet with names of these people written on them. I had over 40 bracelets on both of my arms, and some hung around my neck as pendants to a necklace. I promised to walk a lap in honor or memory of each person. Since then, I’ve written names on my team shirt. Last year, I had so many names on my shirt, I was unable to walk a lap for each one individually – there were too many! This year I’ve enlisted my sister, Molly, to walk with me. Between the two of us, we’ll walk a lap for every single person whose name is on my shirt – I hope! The list is growing rapidly!!

I sent out my annual email this past week. The response is indeed overwhelming. I’m not counting the money that has been donated (but for which I am most appreciative), but the list of names is growing rapidly. The messages I receive from both family and friends when they send me the name(s) to put on my shirt are touching. I read stories of courage and bravery, faith and hope, joy and sadness, as well as requests for prayers. As I write this, I have tears in my eyes thinking about it. I am sure that I will cry my share of tears during the Survivor’s Walk and every lap that I walk in memory and in honor of these special folks.

Let’s all fight cancer. If we can’t do it with our money, we can at least take a walk in honor or memory of someone.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Rode Hard....

This morning I understand the expression “rode hard and put up wet.” When I woke up and attempted to jump out of bed, my body screamed at me to let it stay in a prone position where the pain and stiffness wouldn’t be so bad. I managed to sit up at the edge of the bed and for a minute contemplated all of my body aches before attempting to walk the short distance to our bathroom. I ached all over – even muscles in my thumbs were sore. As I began to move around, the screaming subsided, and became a begging voice for me to get back into bed. What made me feel like I’d been put up wet? The past two days of working out in our new garden plot with Phil.

Phil has been talking about enlarging our garden ever since we planted our three tomato plants, three pepper plants, two squash hills, two cucumber plants, and the little row of green beans this past spring. My strawberry patch was already well-established, and we decided that we wanted some fresh home-grown vegetables this summer. The little garden was plenty for me to take care of, and I harvested enough vegetables for us to eat and more. Phil caught the gardening bug, and nurtured our little garden spot with tender loving care. He began talking about having a larger garden for next year, and when my brother, Bob, offered to sell him his tiller, the die was cast.

I’ve never seen anyone brag on a machine the way Phil has his tiller. He staked off a section of our property for his garden, and began clearing. He soon found that it was too much for him to handle alone. When I came home from work on Thursday afternoon, part of our land had a new crewcut. Phil had hired a neighbor to come over with some big chopping contraption to do the job he and his riding mower and tiller couldn’t do. Trees had been felled, blackberry thickets were gone, and we had not one, but two garden spots- the original one was enlarged, and we now have a much larger rectangle of naked earth on the opposite side of our house.

On Friday, Phil asked me if I had plans for the week-end. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Bright and early Saturday morning, I received my assignment. My job was to take the tractor-mower with the wagon behind it and transfer dirt from one area of our property to the new garden plot. Five wagon loads later, my task was accomplished and I sat down to catch my breath. Phil, in the meantime, had begun tilling his new space. He shouted at me to go ahead of him and the tiller to pick up and toss out sticks, roots, rocks, and anything else I found that would be in his way. This job was more that I bargained for. After a trip to the shop to get the hatchet, I was bending, pulling, chopping, and tossing. We worked like this for three hours when we both looked at each other, noting that we are now 60 years old, and called it a day.

Yesterday morning I was sore, but not bad enough to turn him down, when Phil asked me to help him again. This time he wanted me to clear out the smaller plot where my extended strawberry patch will be planted. The tasks of Saturday were repeated, but this time I had a partially ground up tree trunk to deal with. After clearing the plot, I began the second task on my list – to take up the tomato baskets, tear down the poles and strings where the beans had climbed this summer, and prepare the old garden for mowing and tilling. I also took it upon myself to do some much needed weeding in my strawberry bed, and transplanted a few plants that had become strangled by Bermuda grass. By noon, I was done. Thank goodness, Phil was, too! We both spent the afternoon indoors- he napped and I worked on an afghan I am crocheting.

If he asks me this morning if I have plans, I am going to make up something! I want to spend my Labor Day holiday as far away from labor as I can get!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Women's Bonds

Our book group met yesterday during lunch hour to discuss the book, The Red Tent. From the discussion of the book a nugget was offered that landed squarely on me, and kept rumbling around in my mind all afternoon, taking root, and becoming something I have to write about.

One of the book group members noted that the women in the book had a strong bond as a group, which helped them survive and thrive in the culture in which they lived. She also looked around our little group at the conference room table and remarked that women today are still bonding together, in book groups, knitting groups (which we have each Tuesday) and other groups that bring us together.

What hit me about this observation was in memories that bubbled to the surface yesterday afternoon. For twenty years of my life, I had no group of women with which I could bond. Even in those that I participated in, I never felt like I was part of the group. As a minister’s wife, I was always held on the fringes, never included in the intimacies shared by women or embraced as a confidante. Away from the church, whenever I would join a group of women, as soon as they learned that my husband was a preacher, I felt an immediate barricade go up, keeping me from their inner circle. Even the ministers’ wives club was stilted. None of us wanted to share with the other wives, because we feared what might get back to our husbands, or that we might sound like we were complainers of our lives that were directed and called by God.

[At this point, I want to make a statement about this period of my life. While I felt excluded from groups of women, I was fortunate to have a few true and lasting friends, and I will always treasure these special friendships where these wonderful ladies took the risk to become friends with the minister’s wife. Norma, Jane, and Eunice, if you are reading this, I do not include you ever as anyone who did not welcome me into your arms of love.]

Things are different for me now. For example, Tuesday evening after work, two of my bus buddies and I met for dinner. The three of us got to know each other on our commuter bus over three years ago, and a close friendship has grown among three women from very different backgrounds, with very different jobs, and with an age gap of about 20 years from me, the oldest, to Shawn, the youngest. Sandy, Shawn and I talk and laugh, sympathize and celebrate, share ideas and give advice. This is the kind of bond I imagine the women in The Red Tent had, and one that I embrace in my own life.

I also have other bonding groups in my life. There’s our knitting group on Tuesdays, book group every month, girls’ trips to craft fairs, mini-reunions among old school friends, lunch outings with co-workers, etc., etc., etc. I am no longer on the outside looking in, but consider myself a very fortunate woman who has discovered the joys of having women friends and feeling the bonds of women’s groups. I am no longer confined to the sidelines, but am solidly in the circle of bonding women.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Windy Day

Tropical Storm Fay is meandering her way across northern Florida today, on her way to Alabama and Mississippi. It looks like we aren’t going to get the soaking rainfall that we need so desperately here in Georgia, but the forecast is calling for clouds, wind, and scattered showers for the next several days. I hope we will get enough to water the last of the summer flowers and plump up the wild muscadines ripening on the vine twining up a sweetgum tree on the edge of our property.

I opened the french doors in my bedroom where my home office is located, as well as the one window that we can open in our living room. The breeze is drifting across the house, keeping me cool, and providing me with fresh southern air. But more than the breeze, I am enjoying listening to the wind in the pine forest outside my french doors, and the tinkling of my five sets of wind chimes out on my front deck. I don’t think there is any prettier music than wind blowing through pine needles accompanied by wind chimes. It is cloudy outside now, and if I step over to the doorway and look out, I can see the cloudy remnants of the tropical storm crossing the sky overhead. No rain yet, but the moisture in the wind tells me that it will soon be here.

Besides listening to the wind in the pines, I love the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair. Earlier this morning I took a break from my work and ventured outside for a short walk. I took out all of the hair clips keeping my hair out of my eyes while I worked and let the wind have her way with my hairdo. Back inside with tousled locks and a refreshed spirit, I am back at my desk until I can’t stand it anymore, and I’ll be back outdoors!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Yesterday, my sister called me on the phone to relay a message. My cousin, Barbara, told my sister, Molly, that her mother, my Aunt Bernice, had talked to another aunt, Aunt Lois, who told her that she wanted to get in touch with me. She had tried calling my phone number, but I had my land line disconnected a couple of months ago, so she couldn’t get through to me. I had written Aunt Lois a note following her recent heart attack, and she wanted to tell me how well she is doing. It took this long string of phone messages to finally reach me.

I called Aunt Lois on the phone this morning, and we had a delightful conversation. She thanked me for the note I had written to her, and told me that she is unable to write these days because of her arthritis. As we said our good-byes, she said she’d look forward to hearing from me again soon. I also made sure she has my cell phone number, so that she can reach me directly next time!

Then, later today I received a hand-addressed envelope in the mail. I was curious. I hardly ever receive personal mail anymore, but only emails and phone calls. I was delighted to open it to find a postcard with a photo taken from a painting of John the Evangelist, photographed by my friend Mike from a 15th century Tigray, Ethiopia, Gospel book. On the back was a short note from Mike, in handwriting that I remember from my high school days when I used to receive letters from him from college. He wrote to thank me for a favor I had done for him (with a check enclosed) and to tell me that he would soon be leaving on a trip to Mongolia. It was wonderful reading his note, and I thought about my Aunt Lois and how much she must enjoy receiving mail.

I enjoy writing letters, although I don’t write them like I used to do. A couple of years ago I decided that instead of buying birthday cards for family members and friends, I would write each person a personal note on special note paper instead of sending a store-bought card. I made each note special by saying something personal in it about the person who was having the birthday. Most of my family and friends commented on how nice it was to receive their notes. However, I heard from one family member that another had complained that I hadn’t taken the time to go to the store and select a birthday card! Go figure!!

Letter writing. Is it gone with the world of internet, cell phones and text messaging? I hope not. I think I’ll go write a letter to Aunt Lois. And then, I’ll select a nice note card and send birthday greetings to a friend whose birthday is next week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fifth Avenue New York City

Brian and I are strolling down 5th Avenue in New York City on this busy Friday afternoon. We’ve just emerged from Central Park, where we meandered along shady trails and talked for over an hour, soaking in the beauty of the day and enjoying the company of mother and son. We find ourselves in a different world from the peaceful park- we’re on the street along with a multitude of other people, most with a destination in mind, and no time to waste.

As we walk along the sidewalk, dodging folks whose way we are in, and skirting around sightseers who have paused to decide what to do next in the city, I begin looking at faces and bodies. There are so many out here, and each one holds a story I wish I knew. The writer in me begins making up stories about the most interesting ones, and the philosopher in me is contemplating the meaning of life for each person I observe. I don’t personally know any of these people. I don’t know what their jobs are, why they are out here on 5th Avenue at 1:00 in the afternoon, or what their dreams are. I wish I did --- I can only imagine.

What I do ponder is what hides behind their faces. I put myself into the mix and project myself into some of the ones we pass. I am sure that each one of the people on this street in New York City has a dream of some kind. They want their life to count for something and they want to make a difference in some way, so that when they leave this earth, someone will remember them and miss them. Who knows what their jobs are or what they do for a living. Do they have families somewhere, either here in the city or somewhere else on this tiny planet in our vast universe, or are they alone in the world? Do they like their jobs? Or are they working simply to make a living so that they can do something that they enjoy when they leave at the end of the day? Are they counting the days until retirement, or thriving in a profession where they believe they are doing something worthwhile? The stories I could create are endless, as is this throng of humanity that we are brushing against as we walk.

So, what’s the point of this little observation of mine? It is merely one of the days in my collection, but I believe it is one that is significant. It is one in which I realize how small I am and how many other me’s there are out there in the world. I think of the children’s story, “Horton Hears a Who” – a person’s a person, no matter how small. New York City is just a speck, a grain of sand on the huge beach of the universe. But on this speck are people with dreams, ambitions, purpose and direction – all wanting something noteworthy to emerge from their existence here that will somehow make a difference to someone, somewhere.

And I am one of them, dreaming my dreams and wanting my own life to count for something.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Friend Norma

I met Norma for the first time in August, 1991. In fact, it was either on or near her birthday, which is today, August 6. It is also her husband, Vince’s, birthday, as well as my ex-husband, David’s. Because the three of them shared the same birthday, we went over to Norma’s house to have birthday cake and celebrate the three birthdays. We were new to the community, David having been assigned to the Methodist Church in Hampton, VA, in late June, and I hadn’t made any friends there yet. Norma and Vince were members of the church, and somehow in conversation with their new pastor, they learned that they shared a birthday with David. David wanted me to meet Norma, so they planned for our visit to their home.

When Norma met us at her front door, I felt like I was greeting an old friend, someone I’d known my entire life. There was no introductory hesitance of circling each other, scoping each other out, or tiptoeing around each other. We were immediate friends. As Marina would say, we are “Old Souls” (see my blog entry about this subject). Norma served us a slice of delicious strawberry cake that birthday afternoon. When I asked her if she’d share her recipe, she readily agreed, went into the kitchen and returned with an index recipe card. On it was written “Betty Crocker Cake Mix.” Our friendship was sealed with that recipe.

Norma was my friend during the most difficult year of my life, the year my marriage was seriously unraveling. Her doors, both at her house and at her office at Christopher Newport College, were always open for me. She was never judging, always listening, and tirelessly providing me with an anchor to steady me through those stormy days. She even donated blood for me when I had to have surgery the spring of 1992, which I considered the ultimate in friendship. The following year after David and I officially separated, Norma was the one who went with me back to the parsonage and helped me pack up my personal possessions. She gave me advice on what to take and what to leave, since I only had the back of a pick-up truck to carry everything. I don’t know how I could have done it without her help.

During the past fifteen years, Norma has been a loyal long-distance friend, and we have seen each other on a few occasions. Her friendship extended to Brian, who was her student assistant when he was in college at Christopher Newport. I always felt so good knowing that he was under her watchful eye as well as having the time of his life working in her office.

This past winter, Phil and I met Norma and Vince for dinner at Provino’s in Snellville. They were traveling through Georgia and stopped at Stone Mountain for a couple of days. When we saw each other at the restaurant, the ten years since we’d last seen each other melted away, and these two Old Souls were together again! Time evaporated as we talked, laughed, sympathized, and generally caught up on ten years of life. It was hard to say good-bye. As we hugged, I wanted to cling to her and say “Come home with me!” Once again our lives crossed paths and then took different directions, but our friendship remains and we will always be ready to pick up again where we left off when we see each other again.

Thank you, Norma, for being my friend. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Letting Go......Again

Yesterday was one of the hardest days in my life. I took Liberty to the Walton County Humane Society.

It brought back a memory of years ago when we took our little hound, Joey, to the Winchester, Virginia, Humane Society. We felt that we had no other choice, and it broke my heart. We had recently moved into a new parsonage on a busy road, and she couldn’t adjust to not being able to romp as she had at our previous home, which was located on 10 acres of open field. She was not happy staying indoors, and hated being tied to a chain in the yard. She was miserable, and we were, too. When we left her at the shelter, I requested to be contacted if she was ever scheduled for euthanasia. I never got a phone call, so at least I felt confident that she found a new home.

With Liberty, I am not as confident. Anyone reading my blog, please go back to the one in early July where I wrote about Liberty’s arrival at our house. Since that day, Liberty has thrived. She’s put on weight, her mange is almost gone and she now has fur on her feet, legs and ears. Her mysterious white eyes are bright and playful, while still just a little spooky to me. She is a happy little dog with a tail that won’t stop wagging. If we had no other pets, I think I’d try to keep her and train her. However, she didn’t get along with our German Shepherd, Diamond, and played the jealous sister whenever I’d give Diamond any affection. She also frightened our kitten, Rocky, and irritated Old Tom. Liberty needs to be an only child somewhere.

I tried my best to place her in a safe shelter, but kept running against brick walls. I finally got some advice from a private rescue organization in Monroe. The lady there told me that state regulations keep them from taking a dog from a private party, but that they go to the Humane Society on a regular basis to rescue adoptable pets. They also take them to Petsmart on Saturdays and Sundays for Pet Adoption Days. This gave me hope.

Yesterday was the day. I knew that every Thursday is Euthanasia Day in Monroe, so I figured that taking her on Friday would give Liberty the greatest chance of being either adopted or rescued. I cried all the way home, and then I had trouble concentrating on anything the rest of the day. I kept thinking about her, and doubting my decision. I didn’t ask to be notified if she is ever scheduled for euthanasia. I don’t want to know. I also couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of her before she left our home for the last time.

My brain tells me that I did the best thing, both for Liberty and for our little family. But my heart isn’t listening.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Catching a Little Neutral

It was one of those days. As I sat in my hammock swing on our deck watching the clouds drift by and listening to the summer breeze in the pine trees, I wondered if this day would be one I’d remember years from now. Nothing much was happening in my life that could be classified as memorable, and the entire day had slipped by much as the clouds overhead were doing. Rocky and Tom were snoozing on the deck, Tom on the railing and Rocky on the floor beneath. Diamond was stretched out at the edge of the deck, watching and listening for any intruders on her property. Little Liberty was at my feet, tail wagging, waiting for an opportunity to play. It was a lazy day, and I wasn’t inclined to do anything but swing and observe the world around me

I remembered a phrase from a book I read this spring by Jimmy Buffet, “catching a little neutral.” He compared life to an automobile, which has three options, forward, reverse, and neutral. Life, he said, only has two choices – forward and neutral. We don’t have the ability to go backward as a car can do- to retrace our steps or select another route. But we can pause in our journey through life and catch a little neutral from time to time.

This is what I was doing on this sultry summer day. There wasn’t a single noteworthy thing going on in my life, and I hadn’t accomplished anything significant all day long. However, I was catching a little bit of neutral and enjoying every moment of it.

I think I will remember this day, after all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chicago Surprise!

This time last week I was eagerly anticipating my upcoming long week-end trip to visit Wade in Chicago. My suitcase was packed and my flight reservation confirmed. Wade had made all of the arrangements for my trip and had bought my ticket as a combined birthday and Mother’s Day gift. Chicago and my son were beckoning me, and I could hardly wait to get to Wade’s apartment and have three full days to explore the city with him.

If I had known ahead of time what was in store for me, I don’t think I could have endured the excitement. But I was totally in the dark about what was soon to happen and would remain so until Saturday morning.

After arriving in Chicago Friday evening, I got off the airport shuttle at Wade’s place hungry and ready for a good dinner. As soon as I dropped my suitcase in his apartment, we headed out on foot to find a nice restaurant that looked appealing to us. Over dinner we talked about the next few days and how we might like to spend them. The three days stretched out ahead of us unplanned and wide open for any adventures we might find. I was simply happy to be with my son and to have some precious time with him.

Saturday morning dawned late for me – I couldn’t believe it was almost 9:00 when I roused from a good night’s sleep on the air mattress on the living room floor. And I was hungry! I suggested that we go down the street to Einstein Brothers Bagel shop (one of my favorite places in Wade’s neighborhood) for a breakfast panini – my treat. Naturally, Wade was agreeable to this plan, so we quickly dressed and headed toward coffee and food.

Everything changed as we finished breakfast and went back to Wade’s apartment. As I turned the corner from his entry foyer into his living room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Brian and Roy were sitting on my air mattress, grinning and announcing “Surprise!” I was flabbergasted. My three boys were in the same room with me, and I ‘d had no clue that anything was in the air. I was totally and absolutely surprised and thrilled. All I could do was hug each one of them over and over and cry! Wade had orchestrated the entire week-end without letting the cat out of the bag, and here we all were, together in Chicago for three whole days! I couldn’t be happier if I’d tried.

The week-end passed in a blur of fun – eating out, sightseeing, going to the movies, watching movies at home, talking, laughing, walking, more walking, and enjoying plenty of food and drink along the way.

In my collection of days, these sit right up in the top of the basket and rank among the very best. I’ve wanted the four of us to be together in the same place at the same time for such a long time, and I’d just about stopped hoping it would happen anytime soon. Wade made it happen, and he, Brian, and Roy together made my wish come true.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sweet Addiction

Phil is convinced – I’m addicted. And what a sweet addiction it is …. at least for me!

We all know about football, basketball and baseball widows, those women whose husbands park themselves in front of the t.v. during the sports seasons. In this case of addiction, the tables are turned. Phil is a berry widower, because every summer I am hooked on berries - picking, preserving and eating them.

Last night I got home from work after 8:00 pm to a cold hamburger sitting on the kitchen counter and Phil snoozing in the living room. Where was I all this time? At the blueberry farm! What was I doing? Picking blueberries with my friend Sandy. Do I need more blueberries? Of course not, this is my fourth trip to the farm in two weeks. I have a pantry full of jellies and preserves, and my freezer is packed beyond comfort with the fruits of my summer labors. What did I come home with? Five pounds of fresh, plump, juicy blueberries.

It was lovely at the farm last night. The heat of the day was releasing its grip on Georgia, a cool breeze was drifting through the rows of blueberry trees, and the birds were having a song fest. I was in heaven as I filled my bucket with berries I don’t need, snacked on some as I meandered down the rows, and enjoyed chatting with Sandy about a multitude of subjects.

After picking blueberries on Saturday with Marie and her children, I found myself out in the briars searching for the last of the blackberries. I can’t help myself! If I know there are luscious berries out there, I have to go searching for them. I don’t want to leave a single one to dry out and go to waste. But, with my addiction there is a huge sense of peace and pleasure. I keep very little of what I pick. Most of the fruit ends up in jelly jars ready to give away, and I pack up bags of fruit to give to friends and family. And, above all, I love being outdoors where I can pick berries and let my thoughts loose and send my worries off to drift away with the wind for a little while.

I’ll probably be out at the blueberry farm this afternoon. I want to take Rachael and Lillie over there to share it with them. I’ll pick a few more pounds of berries and help Lillie fill her bucket. I plan to make a cobbler today for Phil. And tomorrow, I’ll take blueberries to work to share with my co-workers.

Mr. Kitchen told me last night as he weighed my berries when I was finished picking that it looks like the season will extend into August!! YEAAAA!!!! Addicted? You bet!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summertime, and The Livin' Is.........

Yesterday morning while getting my hair cut and colored, my hairdresser, Layla, asked me, “Are you having a good summer?” Layla has been styling my hair for over seven years, so she knows a lot about my family, my work, and my life in general. After all, she’s my hairdresser, and when I am in her shop, which is every five weeks, we have lots to talk about. I always have an 8:00 am appointment, and am the only one in her shop. Over the years, we’ve become friends. She knows my family and I know hers through our conversations over shampooing, hair cutting, coloring, highlighting and eyebrow waxing.

Layla knows my sons by name, even though she’s never met them. She wanted to know if they were coming to see me this summer, or if I had plans to go to Chicago and New York, where they live. She also knows about my barn home, my berry picking and my gardening. Yesterday, she was the recipient of a jar of wild plum jelly, which she accepted with many thanks. She told me that she will have a jar of wild cherry preserves for me the next time I come in from her home country of Iran. She always repays my small gifts with those of her own, usually something unique to her home country and culture.

After Layla asked the question about my summer, I began telling her about my upcoming trips to Chicago, Boston, and New York. We talked about Wade and Brian, and I updated her on their latest accomplishments and activities. She was sad to learn that Wade and Belinda have broken up, but she was happy to hear that he is doing so well in his job in Chicago. She always enjoys hearing about Brian and Roy and their New York life, and was thrilled when I told her that Brian is having a staged reading of his play this month. She told me that I needed to go to New York to see it. I told her that I’d be going to Maine next January to see the play when it is produced up there, so she was satisfied that I am doing what I should be doing as my sons’ mom.

I told Layla about our vegetable garden, the blueberry farm I discovered this summer, and my bumper crop of wild plums. All of this is making my summer very busy, and very full, as well. Layla also heard about our little orphan dog, Liberty, and how she is adapting to being around Diamond, Tom and Rocky. Layla loves hearing about my adventures at my barn home, and she always says, “You got out of this neighborhood at a good time!” I think it means a lot to her that I drive 45 miles to go to her shop for my hair appointments after moving out of the area five year ago. She knows that Phil’s mom is in a nursing home near her shop, so a part of our appointment time is also spent in updating her on Mom’s condition. She always checks with me before I leave, “You’re going to see your mother-in-law, aren’t you?” And at each hair appointment, she wants to know how Mom is doing.

I keep up with Layla’s family, as well. I enjoy hearing about her daughter’s and son’s summer activities, and about her husband’s ventures in the restaurant business. I have watched her children grow as the photos at her station change with every school year. I love seeing her photos of her trips back home to Iran, and have learned so much about the culture there and how her family lives in this faraway country. I am happy that her niece is now happily married to an American man, and have hopes that her other niece will be able to come to the United States to live and work.

Yes, Layla, I am having a very good summer. It is packed full this year, but I am enjoying it. And, I am glad that I have my appointments with you during the summer to keep my hair from going wild and to have these quiet Saturday mornings to spend with you.

It’s summertime, and the livin’ is…………wonderful!