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What’s Growing under the Mailbox?

Have you noticed the lavender and purple groundcover flowers in yards this spring?  My thrift has never been prettier.  It’s so pretty that I posted a picture on Facebook and while friends who commented agree the blossoms are pretty, some do not agree on what’s growing under my mailbox.

            Isn’t that phlox? Creeping phlox? Plox?  Moss phlox?  “Aren’t the plants with purple blooms thrift and those with white blooms candy tuft?” asked someone who grew up in Giles County, Tennessee.

            I learned on a trusted gardening website that Phlox subulate, a low-growing perennial, is known as creeping phlox or moss phlox and is also called thrift and is a member of the phlox family.  And according the owner of a local nursey and garden center, both names are used.  The garden center stocks phlox in many colors: white, lavender, and shades of pink and red, and when customers ask for thrift, they are asking for phlox.  Candy tuft is a different plant. 

            The names phlox and thrift may be regional, and thrift is probably an old-fashioned name. The comments under my Facebook post shows that many of us who call it thrift learned the name from our mothers and grandmothers. 

            Mom grew thrift.  For as long as I can remember at my childhood home, lavender thrift covered the four-foot bank between the yard and driveway and draped over the stacked rock wall by the driveway.  Every spring, blossoms covered the bank and throughout the rest of the year, thrift was a green ground cover.              About thirty years ago, Husband and I transplanted many plants from my parents’ yard.  I expected that a couple of years later, the plants would spread and thrift would cover the ground around our azalea bushes.  Mom warned me that the shaded area I’d chosen to plant wasn’t the best for growing thrift, and she was right.  It didn’t flourish, but it lived and eventually it spread, but never like Mom’s.

            Many years later, after Mom and Dad’s deaths, in the middle of summer when the green plants were wilted, a young man mowed our yard and cut weeds using a weed-eater.  He cut my thrift to the ground.  I cried and told myself it was only plants, and I should have told him not to cut the groundcover near the azalea bushes.  

            I dug up some of the roots and transplanted them to an area in a small flower bed that was in full sunshine, and the next spring, I tended those few green sprigs as if they were in intensive care.  They survived and when Husband and I moved four years ago, I transplanted enough thrift to cover a one-foot square and I added plants that I bought at the local garden center

            So, the blanket of lavender and dark pink thrift under my mailbox isn’t just beautiful, it’s a happy childhood memory that I was determined to capture and enjoy. 

            Call it thrift or phlox – it’s all the same.

Tribute to Beverly Cleary

As I read a recent obituary for award-winning author Beverly Cleary, I wondered if the AP writer knew Henry Huggins and Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits and Beatrice (Beezus) Quimby and her little sister, Ramona?  Did the writer know they lived on Klickitat Street?  That children loved to read these names aloud? That we teachers could hand students any book written by Beverly Cleary and know it would entertain and encourage readers?

            Beverly Cleary’s first book, Henry Huggins was published in 1950 when she was in her early 30’s and introduced Henry’s neighbors, Otis, Ellen, Beezus, and Ramona.  They were kids who played in each other’s backyards and went to school together.  Cleary worked as a librarian when a little boy asked, “Where’s the books about kids like us?”  There were books about kids who had nannies and servants and were well-behaved and talked proper, but none about kids who did chores and got dirty and said things to each other that they’d never say to adults.  So, Cleary wrote about adventures of normal kids who got mad and did silly things that made readers laugh out loud.

            Fifty-five books by Cleary have been published, some in twenty-nine languages, and over 85 million of her books have been sold.  In 2009, her series of books about Ramona were made into a movie. Her first books were aimed at young readers, but Cleary also wrote books for middle grade students, teenagers, and her memoirs.  Her books received many awards, including the prestigious Newberry Medal Award, the top children’s literature award.  The awards she liked best were state awards that were based on votes by children.

            Cleary remained humble and knew her readers well.  For thirty years she answered her fan mail herself, and when she received letters from children whose parents were divorced she wrote a book for them.  “Dear Mr. Henshaw” is a series of letters between a sixth-grade boy and his favorite author, and that boy connects with every reader who has ever been lonely.

            My favorite Cleary books are about Ralph S. (Smart) Mouse, and I just learned that she created Ralph to hook her own son on reading.  I remember struggling young readers who successfully read about a curious mouse that learned to ride a red toy motorcycle and became best friends with the owner of the motorcycle, Keith.  After I’d read aloud The Mouse and the Motorcycle to students, many wanted to know about Ralph’s other adventures in the sequels.

            Cleary’s books have stood the test of time.  As I read about Ralph S. Mouse to a young Grand, he rolled a red car across the living room rug and when Ralph’s motorcycle flipped in the air so did my Grand’s red car.  “Can a mouse really talk?” my Grand asked.  Only to children and only Ralph.  “What if all animals could talk?’              That’s the magic of books.  The what ifs and the connections between the characters, the listener, and the reader.  I’m thankful Mrs. Cleary created such magic.

Watching for Bluebirds

Most people purchase a home security camera to monitor their front and back doors.  A small wireless camera that takes video clips and photos is perfect to see visitors, animals and people, who are at your doorstep.  A phone app sends a picture, can also capture audio, and even allows you to speak to visitors. 

            But my friend doesn’t use this small camera to monitor doors. She watches what goes on inside her bluebird box.  When she recently showed me videos of Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird building a nest, I wanted a bluebird box in my yard.  This is one time that it was as easy said as done.

            Another friend, a member of the Cookeville Bluebird Club, put me in touch with the Don Hazel who builds and installs bluebird boxes and now I have one.  Don, president of Tennessee Bluebird Society, became interested in providing homes for bluebirds because during past decades the bluebird population decreased about 90%.  Bluebirds nest inside a cavity, such as old woodpecker holes or crevices in a building, but since there are fewer natural nesting places, they accept bluebird boxes.

            Many people have had bluebird boxes for years, and the formation of a local bluebird club has increased interest during the last year.  The club installed ten boxes at Cane Creek Park and four at Dogwood Park, and the club receives monitoring reports from a total of 53 boxes in the Cookeville areas. To join the club or learn more about bluebirds, email cookevillebluebirds@gmail.com and you might want to check out the Tennessee Bluebird Society Facebook group.

            I was excited when I saw a bird dart in and out of the small round opening on the front of my bird box, although it was a chickadee not a bluebird.  For two days, Mr. and Mrs. Chickadee carried blades of dry grass and bits of moss and then they were gone.  The bird box can be opened on the side to monitor the birds’ activities and to clean out the box so after ten days I removed the grass and moss. That day a male bluebird sat on top of the box.  He cocked his head from side-to-side, flew away, and returned carrying pine needles inside the box.  By the end of the day, he’d covered the bottom of the box and Mrs. Bluebird had flitted around outside the box.

            Success!  I expected to show off a bluebird nest, eggs, and chicks to my Grands and anyone who would quietly look inside the box. But the nest foundation has been abandoned. Sometimes Mr. Bluebird begins a nest, but Mrs. Bluebird wants a different home.  However, my friend who takes bluebird videos has assured me that Mrs. Bluebird can be fickle and they might return to my bird box.  

            I continue to monitor my bluebird box in hope that Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird will return and build a nest.  Maybe I should put out a welcome mat and a plate of mealworms mixed with cornmeal.  I’m trying to be patient.

Who Inspires You?

I first noticed him about two years ago.  A heavyset young guy walked briskly past my house in the middle of the day.  He wore a long sleeve black shirt and dark shorts and he walked the loop around the neighborhood a few times, but I didn’t recognize him as a neighbor. Not many days later as I ate lunch, he walked past again, wearing the same clothes.

            After several months, his walk became a slow jog and he jogged past our house, not around the neighborhood loop, about midday. During the winter months, he wore a black knitted cap and traded his shorts for long dark colored pants.  Monday thru Friday, he jogged past and I wondered what was his story.  Some warm days, I’d eat lunch on my front porch and could have yelled to him, but he was focused on the street and I hated to intrude. 

            Now, his jogging has turned to running and he isn’t heavyset – he’s almost slim.  His black shirt is faded, but the knitted cap looks the same.  On a sunny winter day, as I walked the neighborhood loop for exercise, he ran near me so I called out to him. “I’m impressed that you run every day.  Do you have two minutes to talk?” I asked.

             He stopped and said, “Thanks,” and I realized he wasn’t as young as I had thought, maybe almost 40? After introducing myself, he told me his name which sounded familiar.  Thinking he might have been one of my children’s classmates, I asked where he went to school.  He attended Capshaw Elementary and graduated from high school in a neighboring county.  When I said that I’d taught at Capshaw, he told me that didn’t remember all his teachers and they probably didn’t remember him, but most people remembered his twin sister.

            I asked what inspires him to run every day.  “I’ve got a five-year-old son and I want to keep up with him.  I thought I’d just walk during my lunch hour,” he said and he explained that he works less than a half mile from my neighborhood. “Then I speeded up a little. It’s surprising what your body can do.  I never expected to run,” he said. 

            “That must be your lucky running shirt,” I said.  He laughed and said, “Yeah, I take these clothes to work and put them on to run, and I take them home to wash every night.”

            I searched through Capshaw Elementary School yearbooks and found brother and sister, 6th graders in 1992 -1993.  Neither were in my homeroom class, but I remember two twelve-year-old kids who smiled often and were well-behaved, hard-working students.             Now when I see him run, I silently cheer him on.  This runner’s determination to keep up with his son inspires me to keep moving, keep exercising. Maybe my body will surprise me. And my brief chat with him reminds me that my path often crosses with good people and taking just a few minutes to talk can be a blessing.

What Comes Next?

Should Husband and I accept an invitation for Friday night take-out pizza at our friends’ house? We were all vaccinated with our second shot two weeks ago.  My mind rambles. Will we hug?  Will we wear masks when we aren’t eating?  Will we sit across the room from each other?

            Uncertainty and hesitation loom. I’m conditioned to staying home and not being in closed spaces with anyone, except Daughter’s family who’ve been in our covid bubble, since March 2020.  Husband and I have set Zoom or FaceTime dates to visit with friends and we’ve talked while looking at a computer screen so crossing boundaries back to in-person visits makes me a bit nervous. But isn’t this type of gathering what we’ve missed most for a year? 

            After reading an article in the New York Times and written by a primary care doctor who is a mental health advocate, I’m a bit consoled.  Lucy McBride wrote, “Month after month, we have been yearning to be done with enforced distancing, social isolation and life in a more virtual reality. Now that the moment has arrived — as millions of Americans have been vaccinated and millions more will soon roll up their sleeves for it — the prospect is oddly disconcerting. Upon reentry, many of us will face something new: FONO, or a Fear Of Normal.”

            I’ve become comfortable in elastic waist pants and loose t-shirts, and I’ve been what I call ‘leisurely busy.’ I am happy reading a book, making a pot of soup, and kneading a loaf of bread.  I’m content with my fingers on a keyboard to write and to play online scrabble with friends. 

            During the coldest, dreariest days of winter I thought how fortunate that Husband and I are retired so we don’t have to go to work and we haven’t had to seek medical care.  The pandemic gave us permission to stay up late to watch television series. Six seasons of Longmire, twelve seasons of Heartland, three of Anne with an E, and forty episodes of The Crown. We’ve kept a jigsaw puzzle spread on a table and I often sat down in the middle of the day to find just a few pieces and then realized I’ve sat there until mid-afternoon.  I’ve watched more television and put together more puzzles in a year than in five years previously.  And I enjoyed it all.

            During this year at home, some people have completed big projects – like my friend who stitched ten quilts.  My only project was to organize my parents’ photographs that have been pushed aside since they’ve been mine for twenty-five years.  Someday I’ll write the stories that go with a few of these photos, but not now.

             As life returns to somewhat normal, it won’t be the same as pre-pandemic. There’s been too much turmoil, too many heartaches, too many loved ones lost.  Dr. McBride wrote, “It’s understandable to experience emotional whiplash, even as trauma recedes.”             

I need to ease into what comes next.

When Kids Draw

Erin posted a picture on Facebook of her two-year-old daughter’s drawing, a lop-sided circle with lines crossed where Azalea’s marker began and stopped.  Erin wrote, “I spy a heart.  This is the first intentional shape that I’ve noticed Azalea draw, and I couldn’t be prouder.” 

            If Azalea is like my Grands, she’ll soon be drawing circle people.  Micah was almost four when he drew my portrait.  Using an orange marker, my Grand drew a lop-sided circle with three small dots in the center and a short, straight line under the dots.  He drew four lines that began inside the circle and extended far outside it.  The dots were my nose and eyes; the line under it was my mouth. Two lines beginning near the eyes were arms and two lines pointing down were legs.  A scribble at the circle’s top was hair, and dots immediately above the arm lines were ears.

            Micah was 5 ½ when he drew a picture of himself, his Pop, and me, and we were the same height in his drawing . We had circle heads with oval eyes and upturned one-line mouths.  Atop our heads, he portrayed hair perfectly: spirals for his curly hair, straight lines for mine, and none for Pop.  He drew stick people with one long line for our bodies and crossing lines half-way down the body for arms and very short inverted letter v’sfor legs. We’re holding hands, and I’m holding a heart-shaped balloon – one that flies, my Grand told me.  

            On another page, Micah drew several faces and he asked, “Gran, which one do you like best?”  I asked him to explain each face.  Most expressed an emotion: anger, surprise, happy, sad, disappointed.  One face yelled, really loud, and one was nothing, just there.  We talked about what might have happened to cause someone to have each face.  Micah gave some serious and some silly explanations.  Then he insisted I choose my favorite, and when I chose the smiling person, he said, “I knew you’d like it best.”

            At age six, Micah used every color in the box to create a stick figure drawing of his Pop.  An orange face, open purple mouth, round blue eyes circled in red.  The body, arms, legs and feet were all different colors.  The head was huge, but the arms and legs lengths were real life proportion to the body. My Grand was proud of his work and said that I would probably want to keep it.  

            I love kids’ drawings.  Simple and expressive.  Studies suggest that one can know a child’s home life, his intelligence, his ability to handle stress, and so much more by looking at his drawings, and that’s probably true.              But here’s my thoughts.  Let kids draw whatever they want, even arms where ears should be.  Let them explain (without criticizing or suggesting changes) what they drew.  And keep a few drawings, like a lop-sided circle that looks like a heart and a picture of Pop.

Well, That’s Strange

I answered my mobile phone because I thought I recognized the number that was calling. Wasn’t that the number a friend gave me yesterday and I didn’t put it in my contact list? 

“Hello,” I said.
A soft southern female voice said, “Is this Vicky?”  I was wrong, but the rest of the conversation was one that makes me chuckle, even now, three months later.

Me:  Who are you calling, please?
Caller: Vicky Henderson
Me: I think you have the wrong number.

Caller: Is this Vicky?

Me:  No this isn’t Vicky. I think you called a wrong number. My number is 252- _ _ _ _.
Caller: That’s the number I called. 

Me: But it’s not Vicky s number
Caller: Well, that’s strange.

Strange, indeed.  Bless her heart.  During our next few minutes of conversation, I’m not sure that Caller ever believed that I hadn’t stolen Vicky’s number.  She was sure that she always called Vicky using my phone number. 

This wrong number call, pleasant and entertaining, was worth answering.  But because I don’t want my phone to ring for unwanted calls, now I have those calls silenced. On the iPhone settings, I chose Phone and clicked silence unknown callers.  Calls from unknown numbers are silenced, sent to voice mail, and displayed on the recent list. Incoming calls continue to ring from people in my contacts, recent outgoing calls, and Siri suggestions.

You know what seems strange?  That incoming calls continue to ring based on Siri’s suggestions.  How does Siri determine from whom I receive calls? What’s her criteria?  Who is Siri, anyway?  According to my phone, Siri is a personal assistant.  Imagine that.  A personal assistant that needs no training and knows the unexpected calls that I need to receive.  So, if a friend from long gone-by days calls, will Siri make my phone ring?  But Siri must be doing her job because since she has screened my calls, I haven’t received a signal voice mail from an unknown number, although many appear on my recent list.  

Thinking of strange phone incidents, years ago I received a call from my number.  This happened before I’d knew about spoofing when a someone disguises a number by changing the caller identification. I held my phone in my hand and was shocked that the call was from me.  I wonder is Siri would have accepted that call because, after all, it is a known number.

I don’t understand exactly how phones work.  As I kid I asked how my words could go through a wire all the way to my aunt’s house, and now it seems like magic that cell phones convert voices to electrical signals. And

it’s strange when the words Potential Spam and Spam Risk are displayed for incoming calls.  The word Spam brings on another column.  I’m glad Caller called and we talked.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put all these strange random thoughts together, and since I haven’t heard from Caller again, I assume she has Vicky’s number.

We Remember and We Care

Last year’s calendar reminds me where I was and what I was doing on this date 2020.  Shuttle pick-up at 2:15 p.m. Southwest flight #5743 at 5:00.  On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, Husband and I flew home after a visit with Son and family. 

            But I don’t need a calendar to remember what happened that day.  Before daylight in the Mountain Time Zone, Husband and I received phone calls and texts from friends and family members asking if we were okay. We called friends and Daughter here in Cookeville and learned that our house wasn’t damaged and that Daughter’s family and close friends were safe.  Everybody remembers where you were and what you were doing when you learned about the EF-4 tornado whattorethrough our county.  It affected all of us.

            Everyone knows someone who lost loved ones and their homes and the normal life they had lived before March 3.  We must never forget the 19 people who lost their lives.  All who loved them continues to grieve.   Many who lost their homes moved from their former community.  The daily reminders created too much pain.  It’s a year later and the memories resurface.  The ache doesn’t go away.

            I will never forget the pain on my friend’s face after her home was destroyed.  She told me the first things she wished for were her own shoes and clothes and her purse, including her identification and insurance cards.  So many times, before going to bed as I kick off my shoes in my closet, I hesitate.  Should I 

put my shoes and tomorrow’s clothes beside my bed? Should I put my purse within arm’s reach?  And many times just to be sure it works, I’ve turned on the flashlight in my bedside table drawer.

            I’ll never forget the stories of people who lost their homes, their cars, their clothes, and their pictures, and they were thankful.  Thankful they weren’t hurt.  Thankful their children, their parents and grandparents, their spouses weren’t injured.  Their stories reminded us that people are so much more important than things and that we must tell those we love how much we love them. 

            Who can forget the stories of first responders and volunteers?  The first responders did their jobs well.  They rescued. They saved lives.  And they shared stories of heartbreak. They didn’t bask in their heroism.  They bowed in humbleness as did the hundreds of volunteers who carried away destroyed homes and trees.  Volunteers provided shelter, food, water, and clothing – necessities usually taken for granted.

            I recently read a devotion entitled, “Interruptions.” The writer, a minister, quoted a mentor who said, “Interruptions often are the ministry.”  The writer stated that God splatters each of our lives with unheralded, yet opportune moments, that come at us out of nowhere.  I immediately thought of March 3, 2020.             

Let’s reach out to someone who is reliving the pain of a year ago.  Make a phone call and let someone know we remember and we care.

Driving Woes

A police car followed me on 10th Street from the intersection at Fisk Road and then south on Old Kentucky Road where the speed limit is 30 m.p.h. I made sure my speedometer stayed under 30.  I wondered what did I do and should I stop.  The road’s shoulder was narrow so I kept driving.

            Approaching the traffic light at Broad Street, I saw the police car’s blue lights.  At least, he didn’t turn on his siren, and I could easily stop in a church parking lot.  Determined to stay calm, I put on a mask and got out my driver’s license. 

            A Cookeville City Policeman wore a mask and stood several feet away.  I greeted him tentatively.  “Hello?” I said.  His first words calmed me: “Ma’am, you didn’t do anything wrong.”  I exhaled deeply.  “But your license plate expired June 2020,” he said.

            “Really?” I asked.  “Seven months ago?”

            His eyes smiled.  “Yes, really.  You are welcome to get out and look at the plate. I’ll show you the sticker.”

            To avoid being argumentative and explain my questions I said, “I believe you.  It’s just that my husband and I take care of things like that.  We stay on top of paperwork.”  Now, I laugh at my reply because obviously we didn’t.  I wondered how much the ticket would be and if the missing sticker was in my van glove compartment, an arm’s reach away. 

            “Well, the county court clerk’s office is open today so you can take care of it,” he said, and I realized that he wasn’t reaching for paper and pen or an electronic device as if to write a ticket.  

            I asked his name and then expressed appreciation to David for being considerate and understanding. I assured him that I’d have a new sticker that day, and I did. 

            Husband was as surprised as I was. There wasn’t a 2021 sticker in the van glove compartment, but paperwork for the June 2020 sticker, and years before, was there.  Although we found evidence of payment for his vehicle’s license renewal, there was none for mine.

            It’s still a mystery that we didn’t “take care of things like that.” It won’t happen again.  I wrote a note for June 2021 on all my calendars:  renew license plate.

            Five days later, I went to Sonic to purchase eight gift cards for our Grands for Valentine’s Day. After ten minutes, a server handed me two cards and apologized because my order would take a while since the card machine wasn’t working well.  I continued reading and relaxed.  After another thirty minutes, I had eight gift cards and pushed the van’s start button. 

            Instead of an engine purr, I heard the hiss and clank of a dead battery.  Husband came to my rescue and thankfully jumper cables reached from the battery of his vehicle to mine.

            Before leaving home now, I check my van’s tires and gas gauge, make sure the engine trouble light isn’t on, and adjust the mirrors.   Two unexpected driving experiences are enough.

I’m a Can-Do Kid

            “Gran, number 1!” my six-year-old Grand called from the backseat of my van.  So, I pushed the 1 on the CD player and hear the words I’ve heard a gazillion times:  I’m a Can-Do Kid written by David Plummet and John Archambault, illustrated by Lisa Guida.  “Will you skip to the song?” Micah asked because he wanted to skip the reading of the book and hear the song.

In 2008, when our oldest Grand was three years old, our neighbor Joan Tansil gave me a book and CD entitled I’m a Can-Do Kid.  The CD is a four-minute reading and a three and one-half minute song. Every Grand who has ridden with me has listened to it, over and over and over. And I used this book as a prompt when I had an opportunity to do writing activities with kindergarten through third grade students. All kids have a story to tell using pictures or words, or both, of what they can do. 

            The story begins with simple lyrics.  “I can see the sunshine.  I can smell a rose.  I can tie my shoes.  I can wiggle my toes.”  Another stanza includes seasons: “I can build a snowman with a funny nose.  I can plant a seed and watch it grow.”  The book invites conversation about handicaps: “I’m a wheelchair wonder with wishes and dreams.  I can do wheelies and be on teams.” 

            All kids like the stanza about music: “I can play kazoo, bang a garbage can, scrub-a-dub a washboard, clang a frying pan.”  Most kids know what a kazoo is and many have beat a metal pan with a wooden spoon, but most don’t know about metal garbage cans and metal washboards. 

            My Grands and students repeated the chorus loudly. “I can. I can. I can. I can. I can.  I’m a can-do kid, yes I am. I’m a can-do kid, yes I am.”  As I copy these words from the book, I smile, just as children do when they say and sing, “I can.” 

            I just noticed there is not a single exclamation point in the book and in this time of short text messages and social media comments, exclamation points are common.  If there ever was a time to express joy and happiness, it’s while saying and singing, “I can!”

             All of us need a big dose of ‘can-do therapy.’  Youtube.com offers the song and pictures from the book; search for I’m a Can-do Kid.   Listen and watch.  You’ll be singing along with the chorus and those words will rattle around your head for a few days. 

            Last week, using FaceTime I read the book to Micah while he sat in his house across town.  When I got to the chorus, he sang, and when I read the last page, he asked, “Hey, Gran.  Can we hear it again?” 

            Of course, we can.  And then we’ll talk about all the things we can do.  That’s the best part of this book.

I’m a CAN-DO Kid