Monday, December 27, 2010

After Christmas Musings

Christmas is over, and my thoughts are now focused on putting away all of the decorations and getting our home ready for a new year. I often get a touch of depression during this time of the year, but I am determined not to let it happen this year. It’s all a matter of perspective, I have decided – how I look at things – and mine is going to be upbeat.

While writing this, my kitten, Zuzu, is pawing at the letters on the computer monitor as I type. It makes it difficult for me to see what I’m writing, but she sure is having fun. As I think about a new year, I look at this beautiful kitten, and imagine what she is going to be like as an adult cat. She has added such a lively addition to our family, and her curiosity is something that I can identify with. It gets her into trouble as it sometimes does me. Mine is more often categorized as nosiness, while hers usually includes pens and pencils getting stuck underneath the furniture, or a soaking if she falls into the sink running with water. I am eager for the new year with all the discoveries this little cat and I will make.

I am also looking forward to lots of walks with Diamond. Jeremy gave me a Sherpa hat for Christmas, so I have no excuses for not going on blustery winter day outings with my girl. With my silk long johns, a warm coat and gloves, and this fantastic hat, I’m ready for the coldest of Georgia winter days. Diamond is beginning to show her age with a touch of arthritis, but she never hesitates to get excited when I start lacing up my walking shoes. I can learn a lot from her about getting older and loving life.

I begin a new job next week. I’m not sure what my feelings are about this. I’ll have to wait until I get started to make a statement about being back in the work force. These two years have been great as I’ve stretched my wings in many creative endeavors and have enjoyed the luxury of creating my own daily schedule. I have completed projects that had been put on the back burner, and have fulfilled some dreams that I didn’t ever seem to have the time to pursue. My novel is written, my photo note card business is now a reality, and the summer produce market is part of our summer lives. While 2010 has been a challenging year in many ways, it will have to go down in my archives as one of my best years.

This morning, some of our Christmas snow is still on the ground. It’s the first Georgia white Christmas I’ve ever experienced. But, as I look out over our property, I see our garden, now covered with white splotches, and imagine springtime and young vegetable plants sprouting in the warming soil. My soul longs for springtime, even as I bask in warm Christmas memories. In a couple of months I’ll be planting tomato and pepper seeds, and another growing season will begin.

I’ll begin undressing the Christmas tree this morning. I will pack up my angel and other ornaments, which now include a beautiful new angel from my cousin, Susan, a pink beaded breast cancer ribbon ornament from my friend, Bea, and an “Angel of the Garden” statue from my sister, Molly. This one won’t be packed away, but will find a new home on the bookshelf above my desk to help remind me who I am.

Phil decided that next year we may need a larger tree, as our collection of ornaments grows each year. Coming from my resident, bah-humbug Scrooge husband, I can declare with a smile that this Christmas was a huge success, as I put away the decorations for another year.

Lookin’ forward to 2011!

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Is Love?

This is my Christmas letter from 2007. It means as much to me today as it did the day I wrote it. I hope my blog followers will enjoy reading it. For some, it's for the second time.

What Is Love?

This was a question posed to me this summer by a very dear friend. Did I have an answer to the question? My immediate knee jerk response was, “Beats me!” followed by countless hours of pondering the meaning of love. Now, as the holidays draw near, and we turn our attention toward gift giving and receiving and celebrating our faith, family and friends, I decided to share some of my insights with all of you. I could write on and on about love, but maybe this Christmas letter will hit the highlights. I always welcome responses from you if you have something you’d like to share with me on the subject.

First, I’ve come to the conclusion that love is enduring. Even when we think love dies, it doesn’t. Through the pain of what we think is the death of love, we find ourselves growing and our horizons expanding, and we become capable of even greater love- it may be directed into a new direction, and might lie dormant for awhile, but it is still there waiting to emerge and bloom.

Love makes us cry. We cry when we are happy and we cry when we are sad, angry or grieving. It is love that brings tears to our eyes and pain to the pit of our stomachs. Sometimes love causes us to hurt- it isn’t love that hurts us, but how we deal with the many facets of love.

Love makes us a family. Whether those we love are blood-kin (a familiar Campbell family term) or are those we “adopt” into our family, it is love that binds us together.

Love changes. Romantic love matures to either enduring love or transforms itself through heartbreak and loneliness as it motivates us to expand our reach toward others. Disappointment from love not returned motivates us to find love in new places.

Love is flexible. It is forgiving.

Love comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. I love Phil, I love
my sons, I love my friends and family, I love my home, I love my
dog and cats, I love the feel of the wind on my face, I love pizza
and English toffee, I love a long hot shower, I love country music.

Love is eternal. I love my parents dearly, even though they have
been gone from my sight for many years. When asked if I believe
in life after death, I have two reasons for believing as I do. First,
I am incapable of not believing in it, and second, l believe that
love cannot be destroyed, and is the essence of God.
We are created to love and to be loved.

Love is the song of the universe and God’s greatest creation and gift.

May you be blessed this Christmas surrounded by love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God. (I John 4:7 NEB)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not a Winter Person!

I miss sunlight, warm breezes, and open windows! I am not a winter person.

When I woke up this morning, it was still dark. I thought about summertime, when I’d be out in the garden picking vegetables at this early hour, getting a head start on my day. As I wrapped myself up in my warm, fuzzy bathrobe, and slipped on my equally fuzzy slippers, I wished for a t-shirt, shorts, and my gardening Crocs. I could hear the furnace running, pushing warm air into the house, and I wanted to open the French doors in my bedroom to listen for some early morning summer sounds. I poured myself a cup of hot tea, cuddled up underneath a warm lap blanket, and longed for daylight.

With light brightening the day outdoors, I decided to go downstairs to see what Phil was up to in his shop. I knew the weather report for last night was for freezing rain, but when I hesitantly checked the deck floor, I was delighted to find that it was wet and not icy. Thankfully, I continued with my cautious steps, so when I slipped on the top step – ice! – I wasn’t caught entirely off-guard. As my feet went out from under me, I proceeded to slide and bump down the stairs. I grabbed the handrail and was able to stop my forward progress after only six steps. I hate icy stairs! With my slippery slide halted, I checked myself out, noting that nothing on my body was terribly painful, although I knew I had hit pretty hard. I couldn’t stand up or get a foothold, so I ever so slowly inched myself backwards step by step by pulling with my hands on the handrail. When I finally reached the deck floor, where it was only wet and not icy, I was able to stand up, and walk back inside.

Once inside the house, I discovered that I had a pretty raw scrape on my arm, a sore place along my spine, a red spot on my left thigh, and I was shaking like a fall leaf on a windy day. I checked my robe to see if it had torn, but it was only wet. Other than that, and being shaken from my adventure, I gave a prayer of thanks that it hadn’t been worse, and poured myself another cup of tea.

Now, an hour later, my neck is beginning to ache a little, my arm is burning from my scrape, and I know that I’ll have a few bruises on my back and leg. I’m not going to venture outside again until after the sun has hit the stairs, and has melted all of the ice.

I think I’ll spend the rest of the day dreaming of warm days and sunshine!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Christmas Means to Me - My Annual Christmas Letter

When I was a child, there was an annual Christmas activity in my elementary school classroom. The teacher would write the word “CHRISTMAS” on the blackboard and then instruct us to make a list of holiday words, using each of the letters in Christmas. This was back in the dark ages when we could talk about Christmas in school, have parties, and wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.” In the spirit of Christmases Past, here is my updated list as my Christmas letter to my family and friends.

C - H - R - I - S - T - M - A - S

C – is for Cookie Baking Day, the highlight of the Christmas season for Phil and me. On the first Saturday in December, our home transforms into a cookie-making workshop for the day. Friends, family, and sometimes strangers, fill up our home with laughter, memories, fun, and wonderful things to eat. We spend the day baking cookies, and then share them for everyone to take home. It is my day to bask in the warmth of those I love, celebrate the start of the holiday season, and overdose on sugar.

H – is for home. There’s no place I’d rather be at Christmas time. My home is my nest, my sanctuary, and my anchor. It is the place where I know I belong.

R – is for reindeer antlers. Every year as I unpack the holiday decorations, I dust them off, straighten them out, and get ready to wear them on Cookie Baking Day. On Christmas morning, Diamond wears them for a short period of time. Even Phil takes a turn with the antlers at some point in the season. I haven’t figured out a way for the cats to take their turns. The antlers with jingle bells on them add a little bit of silliness to the season. I love my reindeer antlers!

I – is for the incredible feeling of thanksgiving I have for living to experience another Christmas season. Even with all of the traditions, each year brings something new and special – simply incredible!

S – is for spices. I have some special recipes that get pulled out every December. One in particular that I bake every year contains molasses, ginger, ground cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. How I love the way my house smells when these cookies are baking! Also loved are my spice-scented candles and herbal teas.

T – is for travel. While I love my home at Christmas time, it’s a rare season that we don’t travel somewhere between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Whether it is to attend a holiday concert where Roy is performing, to spend a few days at my friend Beth’s beach house, or to simply take a day trip, we really enjoy a little holiday travel.

M – is for mystery. Bishop Kenneth Goodson preached a sermon many years ago on “Stewards of the Mysteries of God” that I’ll never forget. While he was speaking directly to an ordination class of ministers, the message penetrated my heart. Christmas is filled with mystery, which leads to faith. There is so much that I don’t understand about God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, but as a steward of God’s mysteries, I embrace the message and the gift.

A – is for angel tree. When I married Phil, I brought a box of Christmas tree ornaments from my divorce that were special to me. Most had been given to me by friends, students, and my boys. As I unpacked them the first Christmas that Phil and I put up a Christmas tree, I realized that most of them were angel ornaments. Thus, my Angel Tree was born. Over the years, more ornaments have been added, transforming it to an Angel and Other Stuff Tree, but I treasure my angels, and the story that each one holds.

S – is for steak dinner. Christmas Day is usually a quiet day at our house. My sons rarely come this far south or east for Christmas, and Phil’s sons typically spend the day with other branches of their family. Instead of preparing a traditional turkey dinner, we have developed our own tradition – steak. I set a romantic table, complete with wine and candlelight, Phil grills the steaks to perfection, and we feast on Christmas filet mignon.

So, dear family and friends, this is what Christmas means to me. What do the letters in CHRISTMAS mean to you?

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Strange Case of Writer's Block

I’m back in my Collection of Days. I’d like to say that I’ve been suffering from a case of writer’s block for the past month, but if I am going to be honest in my writing, I have to admit that it’s been more a case of writer’s avoidance! It’s not that my days have not been interesting. On the contrary, my dilemma is that I haven’t found the words or the courage to honestly write about some recent special days.

Last month my mother-in-law died. It affected me profoundly, mainly from the perspective that it was a huge relief that she finally let go of her earthly body at the age of 89 and journeyed to her next place. I loved her dearly, and I wish I could say that she was a wonderful person, which she was in some ways. However, in reality, she was very difficult for me to love, and for many years I wasn’t sure how she felt about me. It wasn’t until her final three years of life that we became close, became confidants, and I finally let myself love her unconditionally.

I remember a comment she made to me early-on as I told her that Phil and I had married. Her response, “That’s wonderful, Jennie. We always hoped that Phil would marry Susan.” [a former girlfriend]. Then, one Christmas early in our marriage, she proudly presented everyone in the family with a new pair of bedroom slippers. When she got to me, she said, “Sorry, Jennie, they didn’t have any in your size on sale.” It was comments such at these that built the wall that separated us. I could see how she loved her family and was always helping out people in her church, but I wondered where I stood with her. I also knew that she was always trying to get me to influence Phil to do things that she thought he should do. When I refused to intervene, she didn’t like it one bit.

In spite of things like this, I grew to love Mom. After Pop died and she moved into an assisted-living apartment, we became fast friends. I shared my writing with her, which she seemed to enjoy reading and discussing. She also confided some of her deepest thoughts with me. Whenever I’d go to visit her, she wanted to know about my sons, and how they were doing. She was always interested in hearing about their lives and careers. Up until a few months before her death, when senility took more and more of her away from me, I knew that she was aware of who I was when I’d visit her in her nursing home room, because she never failed to ask me about Wade and Brian.

Her funeral was difficult. Phil and his sister haven’t spoken to each other in several years, and Mom’s death didn’t change anything. While the minister spoke of her love of her family and how much it meant to her, I felt a deep sadness that her family had splintered and was uncomfortably enduring having to sit together in the same pews for her service. I also admitted to myself that some of it was her fault. When something difficult came her way, she’d turn her head the other way, wouldn’t want to hear about it, and would pretend that everything was fine. She just never could admit that things were less than ideal in her family, even though she was always willing to add a critical comment about whatever the issue of the day happened to be. In contrast, she would always find excuses for everyone’s, including her own, behavior, as her way of forgiving herself for making such caustic comments and thinking such thoughts.

Mom was a World War II veteran, and she was buried in the National Cemetery in Canton, Georgia, with military honors, next to Pop, also a veteran. As the bugler blew Taps, something inside of me was released, and I finally let Mom and all of the Lazarus family conflicts drift away with the warm October breeze. I knew that Phil and his sister might never reconcile, and that the awkward times with the family were now a thing of the past for me. In a purely selfish thought, I realized that never again would I have to endure the strain of family get-togethers, when someone was always mad about something, and never have to dread coming face-to-face with Phil’s sister who openly despised us both. Instead, I thought of the good things that I knew about Mom, and cherished the special moments that we had together acting like girlfriends in her apartment, and later in her nursing home room. I remembered the way she would grip my hand, not wanting to let go, and how her eyes would sparkle when we’d share a private moment or joke. I remembered her smile when she’d spot me walking down the hall toward her room, and the delight in her face that I had come for a visit.

No, Mom was not perfect, and she had the ability to get under my skin and irritate me to no ends. But I miss her, and will miss my visits with her. I am happy that she is finally at peace and is exploring heaven with her beloved Trooper.

Good-bye, Mom. I love you. I am now ready to write again.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Cheap Entertainment at Our House

There is nothing like a kitten to provide hours and hours of cheap entertainment. Again, we have a kitten in the house, and our home dynamics have changed once more.

When Diamond and I were on our daily walk on Friday, she took a keen interest in the kudzu –covered bank near the beaver pond down the road from our house. I knew she had found something, but didn’t know if it might be a turtle, an armadillo, a grasshopper, or some other small animal. I let her off leash and began listening. Coming from the undergrowth was a meek little “meow.” Oh no! Not another kitten! I waded into the twisted vines to investigate where she was sniffing. I heard a “PFFFT” coming from deep in the brambles, after which Diamond quickly went into reverse and backed out. I took her over to the edge of the road and put her into a sit-stay, so that I could get a better look at whatever she’d found. Out from the kudzu leaves poked a little black and white face, showing curiosity, fear, and false bravado. I put my hands out, palms up, and this adorable little kitten approached me gingerly, sniffing my fingers. Scooping it up into my arms, I immediately felt a ferociously strong purr box. Diamond waited patiently in her position, but I could tell that she was keenly interested in her find. I released her, and she headed right back into the kudzu. While I held the kitten, now snuggling up in my arms, I heard another “meow”, as Diamond sniffed further into the mess of kudzu vines. I tried to coax this second set of vocal chords out into view, but wasn’t able to see the other kitten. It was too scared to take a chance on us. After about five minutes, with kitten in arms, we reluctantly left the pond bank, and headed back home.

Entering the house where Phil was resting in his lounge chair, I announced, “Look what Diamond found.” Phil knew that it was a kitten, as this has happened more than once since Diamond has come to live with us. I put the kitten into his lap, where he flipped it over, announcing, “It’s a little girl.” I was elated. With two male cats in the house, I was ready for a little female. I took her back from Phil, while he prepared a welcome-home meal for her of cat chow and milk, and loved on her a little more. Her purring never stopped, and she didn’t object at all to being held the way our Rocky does. After letting her down to eat, we let her investigate her new surroundings, and except for being wary of Diamond, who was chomping at the bit to smother-mother her, she settled in just fine.

Big Tom sauntered through the cat door shortly after Little Girl arrived, gave her his typical “ho-hum, another cat in the house” look, went to the food dish, and pretty much ignored her. Rocky, on the other hand, was traumatized. One glance at her, and he went into an over-drive frenzy of kitty panic, zipped through the cat door, and disappeared. We didn’t see him again until suppertime, when he slunk back in, hoping not to encounter this new monster in the house, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed back to the safety of outdoors.

Two days later, the little kitten, still without a name, sleeps next to me as I write. Tom still ignores her, and Rocky has decided that even though she is terrifying, he doesn’t want to leave the good life he has here, and steers clear of her. She and Diamond touched noses this morning, which delighted our sweet German Shepherd mommy dog. Hope springs eternal. For me, I’m in love. She slept on a pillow above my head last night, and I roused once to feel her nibbling on my hair and to listen to her beautiful purr. When I awoke this morning, she was curled up in one of Phil’s big hands, receiving a gentle petting from him.

The little girl has already made us laugh until we just about doubled over. She declared war on her shadowed reflection in the wood floor, attacked the door mouse doorstop, spent twenty minutes wrestling a piece of yarn, chased the laser pointer light all over the living room, doing flips and turns as she pursued it, and practiced her left hook on Diamond’s nose when Diamond got a little too close for comfort. She also got stung on the face by some kind of insect that she captured. But most of all, after figuring out how the cat door works, she proudly practiced going in and out several times in a row.

There’s just nothing more enjoyable than a kitten! Now to figure out the perfect name for her, because we’ve decided she’s a keeper!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cottage Industries - A Sign of the Times?

I was driving down I-20 a few mornings ago, daydreaming as I drove to my job over near Spaghetti Junction. I had been listening to country music, as I always do when I’m in the car, and for some reason it had begun grating on my nerves. I switched off the radio, and was enjoying the silence inside my car. Because I wasn’t bombarded with music, I became more aware of my surroundings, namely the other cars on the highway. A new phenomenon became obvious to me as vehicles passed me and I whizzed past others, giving me pause for thought. I began reading magnetic car signs.

The first one that caught my eye was an old pick-up truck towing an open trailer loaded with lawn mowers, rakes, blowers, and all the stuff needed to manicure a lawn. Pasted to the driver’s side door as I passed this slow poke was a magnetic sign advertising “ABC Lawn Service”. I glanced as I passed, noting that inside the truck was a young man and woman.

Next was a mini-van that buzzed by me. The first thing I noticed was the extension ladder fastened to the roof. The magnetic sign on the side of this vehicle identified the young woman driving – “Kim’s Chandelier Cleaning” - complete with phone number and website. Kim, who I assumed was the driver, was an attractive African-American woman, probably in her 30s or 40s.

A little further down the highway, I discovered more interesting reading. There was a sign stuck to the side of an old sedan. It read “East Atlanta Courier”. A man about my age was the driver, and he was obviously in a hurry to get somewhere. We were at a place on the interstate where the traffic was stop-and-go, and we inched forward side-by-side along the jammed-up highway. I knew he was in a hurry, because he was drumming the steering wheel with his hands and was furiously chewing on a piece of gum. He kept answering his cell phone, talking for a couple of seconds and then hanging up. I imagined that he was updating someone on his progress, while carrying an important document or package to its destination in Atlanta.

Once traffic began moving again, more cars and trucks of varying ages and conditions caught my eye. I saw one advertising a “fix-it man”, another hawked “cake decorating”, and yet another claimed to be “carpenter, dry-wall, painter, plumber, electrician.” Wow! A man of many talents in that old truck! I also saw three Mary Kay decals on back windows and an Amway bumper sticker. I hadn’t seen one of those in years. I also passed four more lawn care trucks and trailers. This must be a pretty lucrative business, or at the least a relatively easy one to start up.

All of this set my mind to thinking about the people supplying these services and products. I wondered if they, like me, had been the recipients of a lay-off visit from human resources somewhere in the past couple of years. Were they still looking for work, or had they used their ingenuity to reinvent themselves with independent businesses in order to make a living? I was curious, and also impressed.

I then began thinking about myself, imagining what my magnetic sign might say if I had one. Of course, “Jennie Lou’s Treehouse” came to mind, as this is the name of my Saturday market booth. What would I advertise - my home-baked breads, jams and jellies, the cotton and bamboo fiber wash cloths that I knit and crochet, photo note cards, rag rugs, dried herbs, fresh vegetables? Or would I hawk the services I provide – research, organization management, meeting planning, tutoring, writing? I would most certainly need a super-sized sign for all of the little things that have kept me busy since I left my last office!

I turned into the driveway of my part-time job, which by the way, is located in my friend, Beth’s, home, and is a very successful independent enterprise. I was ready for a day of utilizing my talents to help her business flourish. I grabbed my bag filled with bread, jelly, and vegetables from my garden, and entered her home ready for a day of research, proofreading, organizing, data entry- whatever tasks she had ready for me.

With one last thought of the people I had “met” on the interstate, I said a quick prayer for them to succeed in their endeavors, and began my workday.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

As My World Turns

The past few weeks have been amazing to me. I continue to marvel at how the world turns to bring around surprises into my life in which I can see the divine hand in it all, and view in awe the ways God is sending his grace gifts my way.

This all started with an email to me from my minister at Social Circle United Methodist Church a few weeks ago asking me if I’d be interested in a job opening in the church’s district office. Our district superintendent had sent out a notice to all of his pastors asking for recommendations for an administrative assistant at his office. Since Richard, our pastor, knew that I have been officially unemployed for the past year-and-a-half, he contacted me to see if I’d be interested. My response to him --- as long as it doesn’t involve a daily commute to Atlanta, I’d like to hear more about it.

Lo and behold, Richard sent me the name and email of our District Superintendent – Dr. Gary Whetstone! There could only be one Gary Whetstone in the world, and that would have to be the big brother of Pam and Mona, who were members of the youth group at New Hope United Methodist Church, David’s student appointment when he was in theology school back in the 70s. Being a fringe member of our church, and not actively involved beyond my weekly knitting group, our Relay for Life team, and early service on Sunday, I didn’t even know who our DS was! I typed up a quick email to Dr. Whetstone, with my resume as an attachment. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was qualified for the position, but I sure would love to know about Pam and Mona, as well as news about his parents.

I think Gary invited me to Athens for an interview as a courtesy, since I had a history with his family. It was a lovely interview, and I enjoyed meeting with Gary and his search committee. I knew, however, on the way home from the interview that this particular job was not the one for me, and definitely didn’t have my name on it. I faced the fact that I really didn’t want to become close to the policies and politics of the church again, and while I felt that I would enjoy working with Gary, I knew that this wouldn’t be a career choice for me at this point in my life.

However, it opened the door for me to make contact with Pam through Facebook, which led to a lunch with her last week in Blue Ridge, when Phil and I were returning home from seeing Brian at his play’s premiere in Kentucky. Seeing Pam was like having a burst of fresh air on my face, and the years faded away as we visited over lunch with her mother, Lu, at a little Chinese restaurant in Blue Ridge. Pam encouraged me to contact other New Hope youth group members who were also on Facebook, and after returning home, I did just that.

I am now Facebook friends with several of our youth group from those three years we were at New Hope. I love Facebook! It has brought me, after so many years, back to people whose lives touched mine while I lived the life of a minister’s wife, and has renewed my faith in Christian love and the incredible ways God can reach across decades and the internet to bring me back into the loving arms of those people I knew in the churches we served. It has been a year of Facebook surprises. First, it was a reunion between me and friends from Fieldale United Methodist Church in Virginia, and now with these great “kids” from New Hope. If it weren’t for Facebook and my local minister, none of this would have happened.

All of this also led to another revelation. While driving to Lincolnton this week to have lunch with a friend, my mind was wandering over the past 18 years since I first met her as my academic advisor and professor at library school. I realized that I have been an ex-minister’s wife longer than I was a minister’s wife. Those years, however, had a dramatic impact on me, and were instrumental in designing who I am today. With writing my novel this past year about a minister’s wife, and then reuniting with former church friends, a lot of memories – some of them buried very deep – have bubbled to the surface, and I can examine them with fresh eyes and attitude. I can also shed my ex-preacher’s wife cloak and simply be an old friend to laugh and cry over special memories and share in what’s happening today in all of our lives.

As I collect the days of my life, these recent days have certainly been worthy of noting in my Collection of Days. And I want to take this medium to thank those people who are now connected to me through Facebook and through my blog to say “thank you” for loving me and standing beside me, for reaching out to me, and for being my friends. For so many years I lived in the shadow of my ex-husband, who was adored by his congregations, not realizing that I could be loved apart from him as an individual in my own right. It took a bit of time for me to lose the feeling of invisibility, and I am thankful that God is patient and kind, and has blessed me by bringing so many special people back into my life.

But before I give Facebook all of the credit, I cannot end this Day without a mention of two special friends who have kept up with me since pre-Facebook days. My two friends in Virginia, Jane and Norma, are my angels who have lifted me up on their wings ever since the day my marriage ended. They never judged, they never questioned, they always loved, and they have been a constant in my life since the day I moved out of the parsonage so many years ago. And I also want to thank Wade, Brian, and Roy for encouraging me to sign up on Facebook, because it is through them that many of these wonderful connections have been made.

Wonder what the next surprise will be….. Stay posted!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Call

A few weeks ago while working at my tutoring job at Georgia Perimeter College, I was catching up on the students' reading lists so that I could better assist them with their writing assignments. On this quiet evening I was reading the short story, "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin. Inspired by the concept of an entire story taking place in the time frame of a single hour, I decided to try my hand at writing a short story with the same theme in mind. The last short story I wrote was in the seventh grade (I still have that particular story, and coming from a 12-year-old writer, I consider it quite good). I've always heard that you should write about something you are familiar with, and being a preacher's wife is something that I know a lot about.

For those of you who continue on with this blog who are familiar with my history, I want to assure you that this short story is FICTION. The minister husband is not David, my minister-ex-husband, and the wife is not me (although her questions about The Call are similar to those I asked God from time to time during my minister's wife years). Please do not think of this as an autobiographical sketch. It isn't. Angela and Matt are both my own creations, and are not based on either David or me, or my experiences as a minister's wife.

Here is:


Angela could tell from the way the door to the garage slammed that Matt was upset. As she stood at the kitchen sink scrubbing potatoes for dinner, the old familiar lump in the pit of her stomach bubbled to the surface and swelled, making her immediately nauseous. Matt would be standing behind her in less than a minute, bear-hugging her and giving her a peck on the nape of her neck – a sure sign that something was wrong. She wondered what she had done this time.

A million scenarios raced through her mind in the time it took for him to cross the foyer, traverse the family room and enter the kitchen. It amazed Angela that so much could flash across her brain in such a brief time. Maybe this time it wasn’t some transgression belonging to her; perhaps he was perturbed by something, or someone, else. She prayed that this might be the case.

The life of a minister was not an easy one, she knew that. Matt had to deal with a church full of strong-willed individuals, each carrying his or her own ideas of Christianity and how they believed the church should be run. Why Matt chose this path in life she couldn’t understand. What was this thing - The Call - that he had to follow all the way to the church pulpit and parsonage? Why couldn’t he be satisfied with simply being a good church member, like everyone else in the congregation?

Sure enough, her fears were realized. Before she could turn off the water at the sink or put down the potato in her hand, she felt Matt’s arms wrapping around her middle, upsetting her stomach even more, and the familiar nibble below her ear lobe. Recognizing that this expression of affection was a bad sign, she hesitantly asked, “Rough day?”

“You could say that,” Matt answered stiffly. “We’ll talk about it later.” With that, he released his grasp on her and headed to the bedroom to change from his preacher attire into more comfortable sweats.

Angela knew in her heart that she was the cause of the so-called rough day. Still standing at the sink, she absent-mindedly continued scrubbing the potato and gazed out at the field behind the parsonage, looking at nothing in particular, but taking in the late afternoon beauty of the sun caressing the wild flowers and bending the daisy faces toward the west. A lone tear tracked its way down her cheek, where she quickly lapped it into her mouth, tasting the saltiness of her fear.

“Why is it that God’s call hurts so much?” she quietly asked herself and whoever spiritual might be listening. “And why didn’t you call me, too?” she addressed God directly. Life had been good before The Call. She and Matt were happy, or at least she thought they were happy. Maybe they really weren’t, or he wouldn’t have wanted to leave a good job as marketing director of a successful firm to make such a drastic change in his life. Or maybe something was lacking in their relationship to make him go in this new direction. She had no answers, but plenty of questions.
Angela snapped back to reality as she realized the water was still running in the sink and the potato was just about scrubbed to death. Poor thing, its skin was nearly gone. She could almost identify with it.

Suppertime was quiet. While Matt hungrily chowed down on pork chops and fried potatoes, Angela could hardly swallow. She couldn’t help but wonder what their after-dinner conversation would be. She didn’t dare broach the subject while Matt was eating. He liked to enjoy his meals without the added challenge of a conversation. His typical response to her whenever she tried to start one, “Angela, I talk to people all day long. I’d like to eat my supper in peace, please,” kept her from saying a word. As they sat in silence, Angela reviewed the previous day, Sunday, in her mind, trying to remember if she had said something inappropriate of a preacher’s wife, or had snubbed someone. It had been an ordinary Sunday, as far as she could recall, but she had that familiar sinking feeling that she had done something that would come to haunt her until she and Matt moved on to their next church. She hated these silent meals, but in the six years since Matt had become a preacher, she had gotten used to them in a strange way. As long as he didn’t have anything to say, then she didn’t have to come up with a response, or more often a defense.

Last month, it was a cold-shoulder that she didn’t even know she had committed when she brushed by Eleanor Porter in the church hallway without stopping to chat. She had been late to her Sunday School class, and simply didn’t think to stop and engage in a conversation with that hypochondriac of a woman. And then, last year, Mr. Wilson, chairman of the pastor-parish relations committee complained to Matt that Angela needed to dress differently for the Wednesday night suppers. She had made the mortal mistake of wearing a skirt that was a tad short, and a sleeveless knit top that wasn’t two sizes too big on her, like most of the clothes that met Matt’s approval. Before that, in another church, there was a complaint that she sang too enthusiastically in the church choir, and a big hub-bub when she declined an invitation to fill in for the church pianist who was going away on a two week vacation. It seemed to her that someone was always on her case about something, and Matt never came to her defense, at least not that she knew of. Instead, he’d come home, give her the silent treatment for awhile, and then spring on her. Angela wondered if he ever supported her in front of his parishioners. She was glad that they didn’t have children yet. She shuddered to think about the complaints that would fly over the way she’d raise their kids. She had decided a couple of years ago that she didn’t want to bring a child up as a Preacher’s Kid. Matt still talked about having a family from time to time, but recently he’d been too preoccupied with the church to even want to have sex more than once or twice a month. She didn’t think she had much to worry about in that department. “Thank you God, wherever you are,” she silently mouthed.

She sat across the table from Matt, watching him eat, her thoughts drifting on and on. As she recalled all the times she’d gotten into trouble with him about her lack of preacher’s wife skills, she wondered if maybe there might really be something wrong with her. Was she a snob? Was she truly insensitive to church members? Did she portray a poor example of a minister’s wife? Matt had accused her a few months ago of being a weight around his neck, and she was beginning to believe that she really was dragging him down in his profession. Her own career was second-fiddle to his, even though she put her heart and soul into the community day-care center where she played games every day with senile senior citizens and listened hours on end to tales of younger years, lost loves, and unappreciative children. She loved these old folks. Why didn’t she feel the same about church members?

An ah-ha moment slapped her in the face. Maybe it wasn’t her after all. Could it be Matt? She suddenly realized that she wouldn’t have known anything about these offenses of hers if Matt hadn’t brought them to her attention. And, like the peace-maker that she was, she took to heart whatever the issue of the day happened to be, always trying to change to please him so that his life would run more smoothly. She suddenly felt very weary, and silently addressed the only God that she knew, “OK, God. I’m not the person Matt wants me to be. And, I know very little about The Call. But I’m tired of trying to be someone I’m not. I need your help with this.”

With this simple prayer, a new resolve took root. A stronger spine began to grow, giving Angela audacity she didn’t know she had. She looked across the table at Matt, not knowing what was on his mind, and realizing that she didn’t want to know. He pushed away from the table, having finished his dinner, gave her a peck on the cheek, and moved into the family room, leaving the kitchen for her to clean up. This gave her a little time to prepare, and to breathe another prayer, “God, I really, really need your help.”

With dishes in the dishwasher and the counters sparkling clean again, Angela wiped her hands on a dishtowel and moved toward the family room. This time, she wasn’t afraid of what was coming, but was armed with a newly found invisible shield. Before Matt could say a word, she stood in front of his recliner, firmly planted her feet, and said to her husband, “Matt, I’m sorry that you had a rough day, but I don’t want to hear about it tonight. If it has something to do with me and some member’s feelings I’ve hurt, you can forget about ever telling me. I don’t want to know.”

Matt sat upright in his chair, a look of sheer puzzlement on his face. “Angela, I had a long talk with Marcia Taylor today…” He didn’t have a chance to finish.

“Whatever Marcia Taylor had to say about me is not my concern,” Angela cut him off, “and I don’t want to hear about it. I’m tired of trying to please everyone, and I’m tired of not being able to count on you to back me up.”

Matt was uncharacteristically speechless. Angela had never spoken to him in this manner. This wasn’t like her, and this outburst baffled him.

She took a deep breath and continued. “I’m going to the gym to work out now. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. This will give you some time to think about things and decide who you are married to, me or the church. We can talk when I get home.”
With that, trembling inside with fear, but also feeling a strength she didn’t know she had, she spun on her heel, grabbed her gym bag and car keys, and exited the room, her head held high.

By the time Matt could jump out of his chair and run after her, the garage door shut in his face, and she was gone.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Spontaneous Creation? Has Anyone Asked God About This?

I recently read an article about Stephen Hawking’s latest book, which included his thoughts about creation and God. The article quoted Hawking, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.” He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” And then, "The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science 'God', but it wouldn't be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions." (

I usually don’t write about deep theological insights in my blog, but I can’t let this one go without a comment from Jennie Lou. I have been thinking about this for the past several days, and while I don’t possess the mind of a genius like Dr. Hawking, I do claim to possess a sliver of the heart of God, and have spent a lifetime asking God questions and kneeling in awe of God’s scientific mind in creation. It seems to me that Stephen Hawking has never taken a few minutes to ask God a question or the patience to wait for the answer. I have. I have felt the presence of the spirit of God, in what Marcus Borg describes as “thin places” in his book, The Heart of Christianity. Thin places refers to those places, times, and situations where I have felt God’s spirit near me, bringing me a sensitivity to the presence of God, often with tears streaming down my face. I feel very sorry for Dr. Hawking, that he has spent a lifetime looking for answers only in science, but hasn’t experienced the personal God who is ready to listen to, and answer, questions.

Spontaneous creation? God. The laws of gravity and science? God. The origin of the universe? God. Easy peezy for me. I don’t need to be a genius to see this.

But then, I would like to ask Dr. Hawking a question. I’d like to ask him how he explains music. Whenever I get discouraged or have doubts about God, all I have to do is listen to music to bring me back to his side, both human-crafted music and the music of nature. For me, music is the window into God’s heart and mind, both here on earth and throughout the universe. I know that there are laws that define music, like those that set the universe into motion, but there is no scientific explanation that can explain to me why music brings me to my thin places. Music can calm me down, bring back both sweet and painful memories, set me to twirling in dance, put me to sleep, wake me up, lift my spirits. And, while Dr. Hawking is a genius in the area of scientific theory, I wonder if music touches and moves his soul. It is through music that the heart of God is revealed to me, and as I believe, music is one of the avenues God uses to reach out to us humans. God is the master scientist, musician, and creator, and most definitely a good listener.

Try asking God a question, Dr. Hawking, and then listen. You might be surprised.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

As Summer Comes to an End.....

It’s finally happening. Summertime is releasing her hot and humid grip on rural Georgia. And not a minute too soon – I was becoming very weary of endless days in the high 90s, nights that felt more like Florida than Georgia, and a monthly electric bill that made my heart stop momentarily when I opened it.

The skies are changing to that beautiful autumn blue that doesn't have an adequate word to describe it. It reminds me of the Wedgwood china that I loved as a young girl, and the term “Carolina Blue” comes to mind, even though it’s a Georgia sky! Wispy, cotton candy clouds are now gracing the azure dome, replacing the puffy animal shaped clouds that gather together in the summertime to send us our summer thundershowers.

The breeze carries the fragrance of autumn, enticing the senses with the fragrance of kudzu blossoms and cut hay. While the days are still warm, the air holds a hint of autumn coolness, refreshing the face and neck during long walks in the countryside. The heaviness of summer air is gone; the weight has been lifted.

Even the okra is beginning to show the weariness of summer. While it loves the hot sultry days, and produces in abandon when the other vegetables have given up for the season, it is showing signs that it is tired of summer, too. The pods are beginning to curl and have funny little bumps on them, and I don’t have to pick twice a day to keep them from growing too fast and too tough. It continues to bloom, and the butterflies love the delicious butter-colored blossoms, but its days for this season will soon come to an end.

It won’t be long until the bright colors of Fall will replace the rich greens of Summer. Goldenrod will grace the fields, delicate fall wild flowers will replace summer daisy faces, and an entire wild garden of color will replace those of summertime. Leaves will begin to drift to earth, pecans will drop from the trees, and earth will prepare herself for the cold months of rest.

It has been a wonderful summer, despite the heat. Our garden produced an abundance of produce; our freezer is full, and our pantry shelves are sagging from the weight of canned goods. I loved the summer, but I am ready to shift gears and focus on something other than vegetables, fruit, and herbs for awhile. I welcome the Fall breezes and bright sky, and the coming days of winter hibernation.

Goodbye, Summer. I’ll see you again next year, and I’ll be ready to welcome you with anticipation and joy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

They say that when you break up after a long relationship, you shouldn’t jump right into another one. They also warn against dumping a lover or partner for a new one. “They’ve” also been telling me for months, “Jennie, you have to get a new washing machine and dryer.”

I have had a 17-year relationship with my faithful Kenmore washer and dryer. We’ve been on intimate terms since BP (Before Phil). I knew two years ago that our relationship was on the skids, but I persevered, and my washer and dryer kept on chugging along, always loyal, but beginning to make funny noises of complaint. I love my washer and dryer. Both have lived through abuse, neglect, over-loading, and being moved from place to place, never skipping a beat in their performance. I always knew I could count on them, and they never disappointed me. Until recently.

I first noticed the struggling sounds my washing machine was making about a year ago, and it wasn’t spinning the water out of the clothes the way it had in its younger days. And my dryer began leaving me little messages on my clothes, telling me that the drum was beginning to rust. I ignored them as much as possible; yet, on the sly I began doing internet research on new models. Feeling guilty, I couldn’t let them know that I was contemplating replacing them for newer “trophy” models.

Two weeks ago, when I had to turn up the volume on the tv in the living room to drown out the noise in the laundry room on the other side of the house, I knew action was required. I worked up my courage, sneaked out of the house, and drove to the nearest Sears store. A very nice and friendly salesman, Nick, was sent to me by the washing machine gods that day. I told him what I had, and what I thought I wanted in a new washer-dryer set. He showed me everything on the sales floor that came close to my list of requirements without making a single recommendation. He then let me ask questions, and answered them professionally and honestly. (I slipped in a few trick questions to make sure he was on the up-and-up). I finally decided on a Maytag set, with visions of the lonely Maytag repairman in my mind, and the deal was done.

Five days later, Nick and his co-worker, Charlie, appeared at our door with two huge boxes, ready to install my new washer and dryer. I watched as they unplugged and unhooked my old set, almost breaking into tears as I watched them roll them out of my home. An hour later, my new Maytags were ready to use, and my laundry room sparkled. As I washed my first load, I had to keep checking on the washing machine to make sure it was working. It was quiet!! The same with the dryer – I had become so accustomed to the clanking and grinding of the old ones, I was amazed at the near silent whirs and whispers that emitted from the new Maytags.

Even though I am pleased so far with my new set, I miss my old Kenmores. They are still with us, sitting in our carport, waiting to be taken to laundry room heaven. Whenever I pass them on the way to my car or to the garden, I pause to touch them and thank them for all they did for me. I also tell them I’m sorry I had to replace them! Seventeen years is a long, long time, and they never let me down.

Yes, breaking up is hard to do!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this has been the hottest summer in Georgia history! We have had week after week of temperatures in the 90s and 100s, with no relief from the summer heat wave. I don’t ever remember a summer being this hot for this long, or one that didn’t give us a little relief from the heat at least a few times during the season. Being a warm-weather person, I’ve never complained about summer – until this year. For the first time in a long, long time, I am actually looking forward to Fall, brisk breezes, and a chill in the air.

Our garden finally succumbed to the heat, with the exception of the okra and jalapeno peppers. They thrive in hot house conditions! We have more okra than we know what to do with, and I’ve been giving it away to anyone who expresses the slightest interest in it or reveals a twinkle in the eye at the mention of fried okra. It will probably continue bearing into September, unless I go crazy and pull all of the plants up in protest for their love of this stifling heat! It looks like I’ll have jalapenos for a few more weeks, and I know that they will sell well at the Saturday market if I don’t have a use for them. I’ve been making candied jalapenos this summer, so I’ll probably make another batch of this delicious concoction before offering up peppers for sale or as gifts. The butterflies also love this last hurrah of summer, as they feast on the nectar of the okra and zinnia blossoms. The heat doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

This is the last week that the blueberry farm is open, and I am already in mourning. Yesterday morning at sunrise I was at the farm picking my last bucket of berries, knowing that it would be my last until next summer. I’ve feasted on fresh blueberries all summer long, and it’s truly a sign that summer is coming to an end when the gates close to my beloved blueberry farm. I am sad thinking about it, and it seems like a long, long time before next summer comes around again.

Yes, the Dog Days of summer are upon me, and I am tired. Tired of being outdoors at the first hint of daylight picking vegetables, tired of standing at the kitchen sink and stove half of the day preparing vegetables and fruit for preserving, tired of weeding, and tired of worrying about critters getting into my garden and feasting on the fruits of my labors. But I know that by March 2011 I’ll be excitedly planning a new garden, selecting seeds and getting them started in tiny pots indoors, wishing for days of wearing shorts and t-shirts with no layering involved in my daily attire, and longing to get my hands into the dirt. All I need are a few months of cold weather to forget these August Dog Days, and I’ll be ready for a brand new summer.

In the meantime, I think I’ll escape into my air-conditioned home for these last steamy summer days, and begin thinking about some cold weather projects, all the while giving thanks for our bulging freezers and overflowing pantries. It’s been a hot summer, but it’s been a very good one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Loving and Hating the Town that Always Seems to Be Asleep

I was reading my friend, Natalie’s, blog recently ( loving and hating New York City. As I read her thoughts, I longed to walk down some New York streets, stroll in a park with Brian and Roy, and step into one of the many little eating places they have found to share with me. I wanted to smell the city smells, listen to the city noises, and taste the city food. I also wanted an afternoon of window shopping in the city (although I always feel like country-come-to-town), keeping alert to avoid bumping into a constant throng of people on the sidewalks, and dreaming big dreams. There is something about the city that sparks my imagination and revitalizes my creative energy.

Like Natalie, I often feel like I don’t belong in the city, even though I love it every time I go to New York to visit. But, I’m always glad to get home, which brings me to my own reflections on “Loving and Hating the Town that Seems to Always Be Asleep.”

Social Circle, Georgia – my hometown for the past seven years. I don’t live inside the city limits, but on a dirt road about three miles from the lone traffic light in the center of town. Except for 3:00 pm on a weekday school day, the town is pretty drowsy. But when the school buses roll out in the afternoon from the local schools, you don’t want to be at the main intersection, or turning left out of the post office parking lot, unless you have plenty of time to spare. It’s also very important to abide by the 25 mph speed limit in town, because the Social Circle policemen absolutely love to pull over speeders and write out tickets. They are especially visible on Sunday mornings – I've decided that they are on the prowl for people who are running late for church. The townspeople are friendly enough, but very few know me by name, except at the bank, which I visit on a pretty regular basis, and at the post office, where I pick up my mail a few times each week. I’ve been a member of the Methodist Church since moving here, but still only know a handful of people. Like Natalie in New York, I just don’t feel like I quite belong in Social Circle. I don’t have any family members in the local cemetery, and no streets are named for my family. I don’t live in one of the many historic homes in town, in one of the few trendy subdivisions or on one of the rambling horse farms outside of town – I sometimes think I’ll always be an outsider here. There are times when I feel as much out of place in this little town as I do when I’m in New York.

I miss the conveniences of living in a bigger town. With only one little local grocery store that is actually very well-stocked with fresh produce, local eggs, and great meat, the pickings are sometimes slim (and a little more expensive) on other items that we like to stock in our pantry; thus, we make regular treks to the nearest Walmart, ten miles away, for a wider selection of food and other necessities. We also have to travel a minimum of ten miles to get to the restaurants we like; eating out is an event. Luckily, we’ve found a good dentist and a wonderful family doctor in Social Circle, so at least we don’t have to travel far for our health needs. We also have “Fred’s”, a Walmart in miniature, that carries a nice variety of greeting cards, canning jars and lids, cheap Crocs knock-offs and discount jeans, and other odds and ends that we can pick up locally.

Even though I have not fully acclimated to small town life, I love my five acres on my dirt road. With my gardens, the forest behind our house, and all of the beauties of life in the country, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We always have something new to learn and experience. For instance, last Saturday morning at the crack of dawn, Phil and I watched in amazement as our colony of bats returned from their nightly feeding frenzy to the bat house he built for them on the side of our house. We laughed and cheered as we watched them zoom in toward us and then slip into their house to sleep off their nightly carousing. I never thought I’d be excited about providing a home for bats, but this country living is catching on, and I find myself finding wonder and enjoyment out here every day. I love the dark starry nights, listening to the quiet whispering of the wind in the pine trees, watching the beautiful butterflies sipping nectar from the thistles and other wild flowers, and relishing the solitude of sitting on my porch sipping a minty mojito or glass of crisp wine. When I think back to my days of commuting to work in Atlanta, I shudder, take another sip of wine, and thank God for blessing me with my home here on my dirt road, and my newly-found simple way of living.

I’m always ready to visit New York, but I think I’ll stay here in Social Circle, where life is very, very good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hitting the Wall

On Saturday afternoon about 4:00 PM, I hit the wall, figuratively speaking. It had been a long time since this had happened to me, and I was somewhat miffed that I ran out of steam a couple of hours before going out to dinner with friends. It had been a busy week, but I hadn’t been aware of how draining it was until Phil reminded me, reciting a list of things I’d done during the week, as I was struggling to get back onto my feet.

One of my main tasks for the week was watching my leg wound on a regular basis after getting the stitches removed on Tuesday, and fretting that it wouldn’t heal the way it should. I obsessed over my leg - the shade of red, the warmth of the wound site, the formation of scabs, and the lumpiness underneath the skin. It was either on my mind or lurking in the shadows all the time. This alone was enough to exhaust me!

I was on the go all week long. The garden kept me on my toes, as I picked okra, beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers, and then had to do something with them after coming in from the garden. Much of my spare time was spent in the kitchen, washing vegetables and preparing them for the freezer. I even made a new creation, candied jalapenos, a recipe that I came up with after extensive internet research and taking what I hoped was the best from several recipes I found online. The result was a delicious combination of hot and sweet, and I was very pleased with myself. One of our huge pumpkins found its way into the freezer as I labored over lugging it upstairs to the kitchen, cutting it up, cooking it, and then blending it into a creamy puree.

Besides all this, I tutored at the college one evening and helped out my friend, Beth, in her site selection business two days. I also found time to pick blueberries, knit a wash cloth, and bake bread for the Saturday market. Saturday morning at the market was extremely busy, as I sold out of almost everything at my booth, and commented along with everyone else how hot and humid it was.

So it was that at 4:00 Saturday afternoon I sat down to rest for a few minutes and crashed. Somehow, I managed to get myself out of the chair an hour later and freshened up enough to go to our favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner. Once there, with a few chips and salsa in my tummy, and sipping on a strong margarita, I artificially perked up and enjoyed dinner immensely. But by the time we reached home after dinner, I was done. I managed to dredge up enough energy to call Brian to wish him a happy birthday before my lights went out, and didn’t regain consciousness until the sunlight hit my eyes yesterday morning.

And so, now, it’s another week. And it looks like it’s going to be a full one. I hope I learned a lesson last week, and I plan to spend a little more time with my feet up and my eyes closed each day. No more crashes for me – that wall I hit was no fun!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's Blueberry Time!!

I’ve been watching and waiting for the “Blueberries” sign to go up at the corner of Spring and Hightower in Social Circle, pointing the way to Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm. The date has been circled on my calendar for at least two months – June 26 – so I knew that the farm was scheduled to open this past week-end. Seeing the sign was all the assurance I needed that the day had finally arrived!

I couldn’t go on opening day, and it just about killed me knowing that other people were getting my blueberries. I wasn’t generous at all in my thoughts, even though I knew there would be plenty of blueberries for everyone, as well as for all of the birds and deer. I thought about blueberries all day long.

“They’re as big as grapefruits!” proclaimed a friend when I asked her if she’d been to the farm yet. Her husband quickly corrected her exaggeration, stating, “There are some the size of quarters – big, juicy, and sweet.”

O.K. I had to wait, and without a lot of patience. The farm is closed on Sundays, so I spent the next day dreaming about blueberries ripening in the summer sun, waiting, like me, for Monday morning.

I awakened early Monday before dawn, with you-know-what on my mind. I waited as long as I possibly could, at least until sunrise, since the farm opens at dawn. I watched the sky brighten with the new day, and at 7:30 am, I was in my car driving the six miles to the blueberry farm.

I wasn’t the first person there. Two cars ware already parked in the field. I hopped out of my car, grabbed a couple of buckets, selected the row I wanted to pick from, and began my blueberry quest. The birds chirped their welcome (or was it a warning?) from the trees as I meandered my way down the row picking my berries. It was quiet and peaceful, and my thoughts drifted as I made my way from tree to tree selecting the most beautiful blueberries I was sure I'd ever seen. Grapefruit-sized berries eluded me - but I found lots and lots of luscious berries, ranging from pea-sized to the size of a big shooter marble. I was a happy girl, picking blueberries, listening to the birds, and dreaming of bowls of fresh berries and homemade preserves to feast on all summer long.

With my two buckets filled to the brim, I reluctantly left the blueberry field to pay for my morning’s bounty. By this time, I was excited about getting home, dividing out my berries to give some away, making preserves and syrup, and nibbling on fresh berries the rest of the day.

Let’s see – when will I go back? As soon as I have a couple of hours to spare. There are still more blueberries out there waiting for me!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Memory of My Daddy

From my book, "A Collection of Days", this chapter is appropriate for Father's Day as I remember my father.

Two Phone Calls

It was a hot, summer, Florida evening. Mama, Daddy, and I had finished supper and were clearing up the dishes when the phone rang. It was my roommate from Mount Union College, Jackie. She was calling to tell me that she was in Fort Lauderdale visiting her grandmother, and would love it if I could drive over to spend a couple of days with her. Of course, I was delighted with the prospect of a little adventure on my own- driving my baby blue ’64 Cutlass across the state to have some beach time with my good friend. I saw no reason why I couldn’t go, but when I asked permission, Daddy stolidly said no. After I hung up the phone, I lashed into Daddy about all the reasons why I should be able to make this trip, but he had as many reasons why I could not go. Our argument culminated with my screaming at him, running to my bedroom, slamming the door, and flopping onto my bed in angry tears.

I lay there crying, feeling sorry for myself, and otherwise despising my father for being such a stick in the mud. I felt like I was an adult, and he was treating me like a child. It wasn’t fair, and I was angry and hurt.

While I was in the midst of my temper tantrum, the phone rang again. Several minutes later, there was a knock on my bedroom door. Thinking the phone call was for me, and that Mama was on the other side of the door, I sobbingly responded, “Come in.” To my surprise, it was Daddy who walked over to my bed and sat down. Tears were streaming down his face. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry, and I knew that something terrible had happened as my stomach turned a flip in anticipation of what I was about to hear. Daddy wrapped his arms around me and told me that my cousin, Madeline, who was nine months pregnant, had died suddenly. What about the baby? was the question that popped out of my mouth first. The baby, a little boy, was dead, too. My tears instantly turned from tears of a selfish teenager to those of grief, as the news sunk in deeper and deeper. Daddy didn’t know the details, only that she was gone. As I cried in my daddy’s arms, and felt his strong arms around me, I felt the love he had for me, and his thankfulness that I was alive and healthy. He was only looking out for my safety and well-being by prohibiting me from driving across Florida by myself, and maybe being a little selfish himself in an attempt to protect me from some unknown harm lurking out there on the Florida highways.

I have often thought back to that night. My emotions ran the gamut within about an hour’s time, and changed me forever. I never felt closer to my dad than I did that night, within a moment’s passing after thinking terrible and hateful thoughts about him. I never saw him shed tears again the way he did that night, and we never spoke again of that time we shared, wrapped in each other’s arms on the edge of my bed. We would continue to have our arguments and disagreements until the day he died, but we had a deep understanding of one another, which brought a more intimate daughter-father relationship, still alive even years after his death.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Little Gardening Basket

I don’t remember when Mama first began picking fruit and vegetables and placing them into her little brown gardening basket. I’m sure she must have had other baskets, but I don’t remember any except this one. During the growing season every year it either sat on her kitchen counter or was swinging from her arm as she went to and fro from her garden. She would come into the house with the little basket laden with strawberries, blackberries, beans, squash - whatever was in season at the time.

The last summer of Mama’s life, the basket sat idle on the counter collecting dust, used recipes, and assorted pens and pencils. Like her garden that summer, the basket looked forlorn and lonely. It waited patiently for Mama to get well and swing its little handle over her arm and head outdoors.

Mama didn’t get well. After her death, my brothers and sister and I went through all of her belongings, choosing what we’d like to keep and what we would let go. It was a heart-wrenching job, consisting of many shared tears and memories. Somehow, the little basket was overlooked and found itself in the pile of left-overs bound for the Salvation Army. Before I gave my final o.k. to call for the truck to come and pick up the remnants of my parents’ lives, I went through them one last time. I couldn’t let the basket go, even though I had more than enough baskets of my own at home. I picked it up, placed a few odds-and-ends into it and reluctantly gave my blessing for the dispersal of the rest of the pile.

This was almost fifteen years ago. Since that day, the little basket has been my summertime companion, carrying my own berries and vegetables and flowers. It has also been my connection to my mother every spring and summer, as I’ve followed in her gardening footsteps and think about her as I fill it up with the bounties of my garden.

This morning while I was picking beans, the basket fell unexpectedly to the ground, its handle still hanging from my arm. Upon examination, I saw that on one side of the basket the handle had slipped out of the woven reeds holding it, and the weight of the full basket broke the reeds on the other side. In tears, I scooped up the fallen beans and okra I had been picking, and placed them all back into the basket. Carrying it like an infant in my arms, I slowly walked back to the house crying over the little basket’s seemingly mortal injuries.

Back in my kitchen, I unloaded my morning’s harvest onto the counter and examined the basket more closely. Determining that it was beyond my expertise to try to repair it, I gently placed the handle inside the basket and placed it on a shelf where I could always see and touch it. I selected another basket from my collection – this one much bigger and sturdier – and silently anointed it for its new job.

I’m going to miss carrying my little brown basket to the garden every morning, as well as the bond it provided to my mother and memories of her. But maybe it’s time for it to rest from its labors and enjoy the pleasures of my kitchen. I’ve decided to use it to hold dried herbs and spices.

I’m sure Mama would be pleased.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Friendship Chain

It’s funny how an assortment of random occurrences will weave themselves together to become something meaningful in my life. Let me share this with you.

Recently, while looking for a new knitting pattern for a wash cloth to take with me to my Tuesday night knitting group, I found a pattern for a “Friendship Chain” pattern online. I saved it on my Favorites list, made a couple of copies, and began knitting a new wash cloth. It was an easy pattern, one that flowed smoothly as my knitting needles clicked against each other, and within two hours, I had a completed project that I was casting off from my knitting needles. Then I made another one, and another one. There was something about the pattern that I loved – it was symmetrical in its design, and the stitch count was easy to remember, making knitting rhythmic and musical. It reminded me of singing a familiar song, one in which I knew all the words. I was pleased with the end results, and added my Friendship Chain wash cloths to my growing bundle that I hope to sell and give away.

While knitting this interesting pattern, my mind wandered as the words “friendship chain” tumbled around in my mind like a song that hangs on repeating itself over and over as a type of mantra in my brain. Memories began to emerge.

I pictured summer camp at Camp Fire Girls’ Camp Toccoa, where I spent several weeks each summer as a child and teen-ager. In my mind I saw us girls standing in a friendship circle around the evening camp fire, our arms crossed, always right over left, holding hands in a circle, singing the camp’s signature song, “Beneath the Pine Trees,” and then “Taps”, before squeezing hands in release and heading to our cabins for the night. As a Camp Fire Girl, this was a familiar ritual. After each weekly meeting our small group would form a friendship circle with our arms crossed, singing “Make new friends, but keep the old – One is silver and the other gold” followed by “Sing your way home at the end of the day.” This was our friendship chain, and the pattern I was knitting strangely reminded me of our crossed arms, standing in our friendship circle. Singing, always singing.

Yesterday, Phil and I met our childhood friend, Luci, for lunch in Decatur. Luci’s mother has recently died, and we invited Luci to meet us to express our support and friendship. Our invisible friendship chain materialized as we talked, shared common experiences, and enjoyed being back in our childhood hometown for a few hours. The links of our friendship chain were strong as we relived childhood memories, walked down familiar streets, and laughed and cried together. As Phil and I drove home, I thought about Luci and the history of our friendship, remembering our MYF group at the Decatur Methodist Church, remembering similar friendship circles with arms crossed, as we helped each other through adolescence and along our individual faith journeys.

Last night, the final thread in this emerging tapestry completed the picture as I happened upon a PBS program on television on the folk singing group, Peter, Paul, and Mary. As I listened to their songs, I was a teen-ager,back at Camp Toccoa with my baritone ukulele, sitting on a top bunk with my cabin-mates strumming and singing folk songs, including “If I had a Hammer”, “Blowing in the Wind,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, and others that this group and other folk singers had brought into our lives through the magic of radio and long-play record albums. I also listened to these artists as they shared their experiences of singing during our turbulent teen-age years when Martin Luther King was teaching us about peaceful resistance, equal rights, and dreams of a racially unified America. In one of the video clips from a performance in the ‘60s, I saw Peter, Paul, and Mary standing shoulder –to-shoulder on stage with a group of singers and equal rights leaders, their arms crossed, holding hands in a friendship chain. I began to cry as I listened to their song and realized how folk music has been a vital link in my personal friendship chain throughout my life. I also heard an old, old message that had begun with the Camp Fire Girls’ friendship circles, and hadn’t left me, even though it had been buried until the day I found the knitting pattern for the Friendship Chain.

I plan to knit many Friendship Chain wash cloths. They remind me of the importance of my friends, the bonds that the friendship chain symbolizes, the strength of holding hands with friends in an eternal circle of love, and the importance of keeping a song in my heart.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Cottage Industry

Yesterday was my first day to set up my booth at the Monroe Outdoor Market. Phil built a wonderful display “kiosk” for me last week, and I was eager to see how it would work. Made of left-over kitchen cabinet doors and an old market umbrella we had used on our deck years ago, it was an answer to the market requirement that all vendors must set up under some kind of canopy over our display tables. Compact and sturdy, Phil was sure that his creation would be perfect for me. I thought so, too, and looked forward to my first day at the market.

I woke up early in order to get ready, went outside to pick fresh lettuce and herbs, and by 8:00 am, we were on our way to Monroe. When we pulled up into the vacant lot that transforms into a market every Saturday during the growing season, I was warmly greeted by old friends from last year’s market, and met a couple of newcomer vendors. It didn’t take Phil more than a couple of minutes to unload my new display kiosk, and for me to raise the umbrella. I couldn’t have been more pleased, and within another few minutes I was ready for business. Phil stayed around for a little while, but then left me there alone while he ran some Saturday morning errands.

I set out my loaves of bread, arranged my jars of jelly, and put the lettuce and herbs in a place where they would be easily seen by browsing shoppers. I had decided at the last minute to take a box of my photo note cards and a basket of my knitted and crocheted cotton dish cloths to add a little color to my booth. I set up my canvas chair, got out my crochet hook and ball of yarn, and waited to see what would happen.

Being a holiday week-end, we weren’t sure how many people would visit the market. The other vendors commented on the small amount of traffic walking through the market, but I was delighted. Most of the early birds were merely looking and visiting, checking things out, looking for fresh vegetables, of which there were few. Soon all of the early squash, new potatoes and spring greens were gone. A few people stopped by my booth to see what I had, and bought a loaf of bread or jar of jelly. Several asked me if I was going to be a regular vendor at the market - they had already bought bread for the week, but were interested in what I’d have next week. I also had inquiries on what herbs I would have, and I promised that there would be some there next week. My one pack of cilantro sold within the first hour. One shopper zeroed in on my basket of dish cloths and selected two to purchase, not blinking twice at the price. I was thrilled!

By 11:00, I had sold all but three loaves of bread and things were slowing down. It was now time to barter. I visited one of my friends who was selling home-made English muffins. She wanted to try my cracked wheat bread, so we made a trade. I also got a dozen fresh eggs and a package of fresh roast coffee in exchange for either bread or jelly.

When Phil arrived at noon, I had already taken down the umbrella and put away my left-overs, of which there were few. He helped me load my table and umbrella into the truck, and we helped the other vendors fold up their canopies. As we pulled out of the lot, I began counting my money. I discovered that it had been a good morning for me. Even though it seemed that it was a quiet morning, I had surpassed my goal of how much I wanted to make.

So, now I need to think about making more jelly, deciding what kinds of bread to bake on Friday, and getting some more cotton yarn to make more dish cloths. I also need to come up with a better way to display my photo note cards – I think they’ll sell if they are more visible. Being a market vendor certainly won’t make me rich, but it’s a delightful cottage industry, and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.

I’m already looking forward to next Saturday!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Manicure

My hair was freshly colored and highlighted, blown dry and styled, and I was ready for my big week-end in New York City at Brian’s Prom Party fundraiser for “Checking In, The Movie.” As I was getting out my money to pay my friend and stylist, Layla, for her miracle work on my hair, she suggested that I make a quick stop at a nail salon before heading back home to Social Circle. I glanced down at my hands, and knew that her idea was a good one. Layla told me the name of the owner of a nail salon, located in a nearby strip shopping center, and instructed me to tell her that Layla had referred me to her.

It had been over eight years since I’d had a professional manicure. It was when I was in Cancun for Wade’s wedding, that my sister, Molly, and I treated ourselves to a little sister-time in the resort’s beauty salon. I didn’t remember much about the procedure, except that we had a great time being pampered that day. My memories weren’t much help on this day, as I headed across the street to find the nail salon.

I found the salon easily, and upon entering, a voice from ‘way in the back called out to me, “What do you want today?” There were a few customers seated around the shop, most having something done to their feet, which looked like they were soaking in something, but I wasn’t sure who the mysterious voice belonged to. I called back to the voice that I wanted a manicure.

“Pick out a color,” the voice instructed me. I thought it came from a young woman seated at a small table at the back of the shop, but I wasn’t sure. I looked around and found rows and rows of nail polish bottles on a wall shelf close to where I was standing. I gazed at the selection, feeling very much like country come to town. I stood there for at least five minutes, trying to decide what color I wanted. The young woman in the back of the shop never moved or offered to help me, so I was stuck with making my own decision. I finally settled on a neutral shade that looked a little pearly. I thought it might go well with my navy blue sequined dress and pearl necklace that I’d be wearing to the party in New York. As I took it off the shelf, the young woman motioned for me to come back to her post.

I carried my treasured bottle of polish back to the little table, and sat down. First thing I said was that Layla had sent me there. The young Asian woman, whose face was covered except for her eyes with a hygienic mask, gave me no hint that she knew who I was talking about. I handed her the bottle of polish, and I could tell that she was smiling by the squint around her eyes. I questioned her, “Do you think this is a good color for me?” She nodded and said that yes, it was a nice color.

I placed my hands on the table, still looking at her eyes, which now scrunched up along with her forehead as she saw what she had to work with and the challenge ahead. “Go wash your hands,” she instructed me, pointing to a sink nearby. I did as I was told, and returned to the little table. Again, she looked at my hands, and with one word, summed up her thoughts, “Gardening?”

“Yes, I have been,” I answered, embarrassed by the dirt under my nails. To which she asked, “Flowers or vegetables?” As I began telling her about my spring garden, she placed one of my hands into a bowl of warm soapy water, and began working on filing the nails and digging the dirt from the other. As she worked, she asked me questions about my garden and what I was growing, making me feel a little less uncomfortable. She had a delightful voice and lovely accent, muffled by her mask, but I could tell that underneath she was a very pretty young woman. As she finished one hand, she moved the bowl for it to soak while she began working on the other hand. I relaxed, and began to enjoy the experience.

After all the fingers of both hands were cleaned and filed, and cuticles were clipped, she took each hand on at a time in hers to massage with a delightfully scented cream. I was now in heaven. Following my massage, she asked me again to go wash my hands, after which she began with the nail polish, first one hand and then the other, utilizing a small fan to quickly dry the polish on one hand while she polished the other. After two coats of polish and a finishing coat, she left me for a few minutes with my hands under the fan for everything to dry completely. When she returned, she checked my nails, confirming that they were now dry and I was finished.

I followed her to the front of the store. She took off her mask, revealing an absolutely stunning face, and told me that the cost was $10. I was taken aback for a second or two – first, by her classic Asian beauty, and then by the cost. I was expecting at least twice that amount. I happily paid her, giving her a generous tip, thanking her profusely for making my hands look elegant, apologizing again for bringing dirt from my garden with me.

As I headed toward my car, I checked out my nails, confirming that I had selected a very nice color, amazed at how pretty they looked. I also knew that it wouldn’t be another eight years before getting another manicure!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reflections On My Year of Unemployment

When I was laid off in March 2009, I welcomed my newfound freedom with a variety of emotions, countless doubts and fears about the future, and a nagging feeling that I might finally be old enough to be retired. Spring was on its way, Phil and I were planning to plant a big vegetable garden, and I welcomed the free time I now had to get ready for the summer season, pushing my negative thoughts to the back of my mind. I was ready to pick berries and fruit, make jelly, bake bread, and learn how to freeze vegetables. I also began my job search, silently hoping that nothing would come my way until after the summer harvest.

During the first few months of unemployment, I worked my way through the bitterness I felt over being let go from a job I loved, changing gears in my mind of what I needed to concentrate on, and accepting with gratitude a weekly unemployment check. I prayed a daily prayer to God that He would send me a new job that I would love as much as my previous one. I talked about reinventing myself, although I didn’t have a clue over who the new Jennie might be or what she’d look like. Secretly, I hoped that I would receive a phone call from my employer with an apology for having let me go and an invitation to come back. I imagined my answer, along with my list of conditions for returning, and pictured myself once again working on my beloved Knowledge Center Online, the internet library I had created and managed for almost five years.

I was in for a myriad of surprises. First, nobody called me, inviting me to come back to my old job. Second, my professional network which I felt would jump at the opportunity to hire someone like me with my wealth of experience wasn’t interested at all in me. And third, I discovered that age discrimination is alive and doing very well as I applied for, and was rejected from, jobs that seemed perfect for me. Was I really getting old? Was it time for me to mosey out to pasture? And, lastly, I began to enjoy my days – going for long walks with my dog, trying new recipes for baking bread, and picking up my knitting needles and crochet hooks again.

After we put our summer garden to bed for the winter, I came indoors for the coldest, wettest winter in Georgia that I can ever remember. With the long winter, I experienced a bout of mild depression, and sat on the pity potty for a few days, but decided that it was not a comfortable place to sit for very long, and concentrated on keeping on keeping on. I hunkered down at the computer, still looking for the perfect job, but also picked up a novel I had begun working on a couple of years ago, and began writing again. A friend of mine asked me if I could help her out one day a week for a month or two to help her dig out from a pile of work that she had been too busy to take care of in her business. I still prayed for that elusive job, hopeful that God would place an opportunity in my lap that would put me back into the wage-earning world. With each application I sent in and with each email that contained my resume, I believed that a new job was just around the corner.

It is now May 2010, and I am still officially unemployed. I quit asking God for a job a few months ago. Why? Because one day I discovered that God had answered my prayer with one that wasn’t at all what I expected. I am still helping out my friend one day each week, and have been a listening ear and support for her during what I think must be the most difficult year in her life. We both agree that God had a hand in putting me in her office for a very special purpose. I am also tutoring writing and English one evening a week at Georgia Perimeter College, where I help struggling young (and not-so-young) students with their writing assignments. I have taken my love for photography, which is strictly amateur, into the creation of photo note cards that I have begun selling to friends and family and giving as gifts. I also have plans to sell my knitted and crocheted baby wash cloths and kitchen dish cloths at a fall craft festival. In addition, I’ll set up my table every Saturday morning this summer at the outdoor market in Monroe to sell my home-made bread and jellies, as well as some of the surplus from our garden. My novel is in the hands of a literary agent, and I am waiting with fingers crossed that she’ll like it. My life is full, and while I am not collecting a regular paycheck, I am enjoying life more than I have in years.

What has amazed me the most during this past year is that Phil and I continue to pay our monthly bills and have enough each month to keep us from digging into our savings to any great extent. We’ve discovered that by simplifying our life, sharing and bartering with our neighbors, and opening our home to friends for hot meals and friendly hospitality, we’re doing just fine. We’ve had some challenges, but somehow each one has been resolved without throwing us into a tailspin.

I am still open to having a job plop into my lap, but only if God finds one that is perfect for me. I continue to look, since I have to in order to keep the unemployment checks coming, but they will run out eventually, and they’ll need to be replaced with income from another source. But then, Phil and I are both close to Social Security age, so maybe retirement isn’t such a bad thing, after all!

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Strange Shadow

A few days ago, Diamond and I were on our daily walk enjoying the early evening breeze and lengthening shadows. The sun was low on the horizon ahead and to the right of us, casting our elongated shadows slightly behind us, to our left.

I was gazing at the sky and deepening green on the trees lining the road, when Diamond began slightly pulling on her leash. I glanced down at her to see that she was looking back over her right shoulder. Thinking about the bicycle race we had encountered the week-end before while walking, I immediately thought that she must be looking for bicyclers coming up on us from behind. I tugged on her leash, gently scolded her, and got her back into a heel position, giving her a treat for obeying my command.

We walked on a few more steps when she looked back again. I glanced back to my left, where she was at her station beside me, about to scold her again for not behaving correctly. I was startled to see a third shadow on the road behind us. I wheeled around to see who was following us, seeing nothing but empty road. There was no one there. Diamond continued to look back, as if she could see something.
I re-checked our shadows, and the third shadow was gone. Now, I joined Diamond in looking back behind us every few steps. What could have caused the third shadow? What could Diamond see that I couldn’t?

As we continued our walk, Diamond calmed down and began paying more attention to the road ahead. My thoughts wandered to thoughts of guardian angels, ghosts, and other explanations for an additional shadow on the road with ours. I decided that something, or someone, was following us and got caught by the sunshine. When I related this event to a friend of mine, she suggested that it might have been one of my parents watching over me that afternoon.

I don’t know who or what it was, and have no good explanations. I do know what I saw, and it was, indeed, a shadow that didn’t belong to either Diamond or me. I might have thought it was all in my imagination if Diamond hadn’t been acting the way she was, looking back and putting tension on her leash as she kept turning her head to check the road behind us. I felt no fear, but instead a warm reassurance that we were not alone, and certainly not in any danger. Diamond never growled, barked, or moved into any defensive protective stances with me. Whatever it was, it simply caught her attention and curiosity, like the bicycle riders we had seen a few days earlier.

Those guardian angels need to be more careful about their shadows!

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Girl, Diamond

Yesterday was Diamond’s appointment for her yearly physical with her vet, Dr. Jeff. She knew something exciting was about to happen when we pulled the car into the parking area of the clinic. She could hardly wait to get out of the car and into the building. She loves Dr. Jeff and his staff, and also relishes the smells in there. Forgetting the ‘Heel’ command, she practically dragged me from the car to the door.

We were called into the examination area as soon as we signed in, not giving her a chance to sniff the floor and furniture first. “Let’s see how much you weigh,” the assistant said to Diamond, then to me, “She’s too big to lift. Can you get her to walk onto the scales?”

Obviously, she didn’t know my girl very well. I took the leash and pulled slightly in the direction of the huge scale. Diamond knew what I wanted from her, and stepped gingerly onto the platform and sat down. Then came the surprise – 102 pounds! Diamond had gained over 5 pounds since last year. I silently gave a prayer of thanks for the daily longs walks we take together – it could have been much worse!

Once settled in the examining room, we waited patiently for Dr. Jeff to come in to see us. Diamond kept her eyes focused on the closed door, and cocked her head in anticipation with every sound she heard from the other side. Finally, Dr. Jeff stepped into the room, greeted her warmly, and she was a happy girl.

Diamond didn’t know what Dr. Jeff began talking to me about. If she had, she might not have looked quite so happy. “Diamond is a Senior Dog now that she’s 7 years old,” Dr. Jeff told me. “Have you noticed any changes in her since last year?” I admitted that I had. Besides the weight gain, she seems to be getting lazier and not so energetic about racing around the yard or playing. She also has been showing less interest in her food, although she eats well. She’s just not excited about dinner the way she used to be. She also has trouble at times getting up from her favorite position, “Down –Stay.”

Dr. Jeff looked at me, and said, “She’s just like us. As she ages, her metabolism slows down and things begin to change for her.” It felt like déjà vu for me – I had heard almost these identical words at my annual physical exam a few months ago. We’re both getting to be old ladies!

Dr. Jeff proceeded to give me his advice. No more table scraps, except for special treats. No more bones to gnaw on, unless they are big and lean (and don’t let her chew them up), increase the daily exercise (walking), begin including glucosamine and chondroitin in Diamond’s diet for arthritis, take off a few pounds. The good news was that peanuts are still o.k.- Diamond’s favorite treat. I was relieved to hear this, and I felt like Diamond was, too. While he talked, he slipped in 4 shots, which Diamond didn’t even seem to notice. She was fascinated with Dr. Jeff’s voice and his gentle ways with her.

“Let’s give her three to four months of good eating, plenty of exercise, and the glucosamine and chondroitin,” Dr. Jeff said to me. “Bring her in to be weighed on a regular basis. If she doesn’t perk up and lose some weight, then we’ll run some tests on her to see if there’s something going on inside that we can’t see.” And, to Diamond, he said, “You’re a beautiful lady, Diamond.”

And she is. As we left Dr. Jeff’s office, Diamond looked up at me with understanding in her eyes. “We may be getting older, but we’re in this together,” her eyes said to me. Wagging her tail and giving my hand a nudge with her nose, I knew she was ready for a walk and a treat for being such a good girl.

The long walks will do us both good!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Springtime on Planet Earth

Driving home from Martha and Grady’s house last Saturday in Belmont, North Carolina, I was amazed at how the view had changed in only two days since I had made the trip up Interstate 85 for a short visit.

On Thursday, as I was driving northward, the air was cool and heavy with moisture of an impending front, and pine pollen was blowing around in clouds across the highway and median, whipping around the cars and trucks on the highway and giving the air a yellowish cast. As I got out of my car to fill up with gasoline in South Carolina, the chilly wind hit my hair, sending it wildly flying around my face, and I grabbed for my sweater that I had tossed onto the passenger seat. After filling my tank, I raced the clouds into North Carolina, and arrived at Martha and Grady’s home less than an hour before the first rain shower of the day passed through.

Saturday morning, the day for driving home, dawned sunny and brisk. The rain had washed away the pine pollen from the ground and the air, and the world seemed to sparkle with brightness. It promised to be a beautiful day.

What hit me as I drove down the highway was how much brighter and greener the world had become since Thursday morning. Where there was only a hint of new life in the tree branches two days earlier, they now graced an array of shades of tender green, set against the dark green needles of the pine trees. Bright pinks, whites and purples decorated the scenery, as springtime brought out her finery in redbud blossoms, dogwood blooms, and drapes of lavender wisteria vines. And the sky – what a vivid blue! White fluffy clouds decorated the sky, and the contrast of blue, white and green took my breath away. The rain had washed away all hints of the yellowness of two days earlier.

In spite of the heavy traffic and the noise of the highway, Mother Nature ruled the morning. As I drove along, soaking in all of the visual beauty of the morning, I thought about our wonderful planet, Earth. In my mind, I tried to imagine what it must have looked like before the age of interstates, factories, and cities. How I wished I could travel back in time to take a glimpse of the world when it was fresh and unspoiled. I wondered if the first inhabitants of this part of my world marveled at the spring flowers, the azure sky, and the budding leaves on the trees. Did they suffer from the pollen? Were they as happy as we were to watch the rain wash away the yellow dust from the earth? Did they stop in their tracks to follow a puffy white cloud cross the sky, changing shape as it traversed the blue canopy? Did they breathe deeply of the wisteria blossoms and pick a few wild flowers to grace their homes? Did they appreciate the miracle of new life in our planet’s springtime?

My imagination kept me company along the trip home, and before I knew it, I was pulling into my own driveway, only to see my strawberry patch loaded with white blossoms and the promise of luscious berries in a few weeks. I prayed a quick prayer of thanksgiving for all of the blessings and beauty of the earth, my home.