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Trivial Holidays ‘til Spring

Spring begins Friday, March 20, twenty-nine days from now, and winter drags. So, as I did a few years ago, I’m searching for holidays to celebrate.  Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, and that’s a time to wear green, pinch those who don’t, and drink from a frosty mug.  But there are many unofficial days to celebrate.  What better time than now?

            Did you know anyone can make up a holiday?  Adrienne Koopersmith, the undisputed champ of creating holidays, calls herself “America’s Premier Eventologist.” She’s created more than 1,900 holidays, during the past 30 years.  Timeanddate.com lists fun, wacky, and trivial holidays for every day, and I’m choosing Wednesdays.

            Today is Chocolate Mint Day, as in Girl Scout Chocolate Mint cookies. Or how about a chocolate mint latte? Chocolate pudding flavored with mint would be yummy, and so would a big bowl of chocolate mint ice cream.  Did you know there is a mint chocolate herb whose leaves actually taste like chocolate mint?  Add that to your chocolate cake recipe.

            February 26 is Tell a Fairy Tale Day.  Find a child and tell your favorite childhood fairy tale.  My Grands will hear Goldilocks for the ‘umpthteenth’ time.  Forty years ago, my mother made three stuffed bears, Papa, Mama, and Baby, for my children, and she gave them a Little Golden Book of the story.  The bears sway and bounce their way through the woods and their little home and Goldilocks runs.  Or you might host a fairy tale party.  Guests could dress as their favorite character and bring foods from favorite stories.

            March 11 is Oatmeal Nut Waffle Day. Yum!  These would be more nutritious than regular waffles because oat grain is high in protein, mineral, and fiber.  I’ll eat my oatmeal pecan waffles, topped with blueberries and syrup.  Remember, waffles aren’t just a breakfast food.  The combination of waffles and chicken would be even better with oatmeal nut waffles. 

            March 4 is March Forth and Do Something Day. This day encourages people to do something new to enrich their own or other peoples’ lives.  Its name is a play on the date, March fourth, which sounds like march forth, to move forward or into action.  So, march forth and do something.  Something that helps someone else.  Something that you’ve always wanted to do or said you would.

            March 18 is Awkward Moments Day to celebrate or forget those embarrassing moments that we’d like to forget, but are probably funny.  Laugh about those times with family and friends.  Like the time I thought I looked my best wearing a floor length new summer dress and new white patent shoes at a wedding reception.  While the band took a break, I walked across the empty dance floor to refill my punch cup and right in the middle of floor, I slipped and landed on my bottom. 

            Just four more Wednesdays until spring. That’s time to celebrate many trivial holidays and make up a few of our own.

Bring on More Snow

“You may have two cookies, “I told my 5 1/2 year-old Grand.

“Two? Can’t I have more? Four?” Micah asked. I bit my lip to not say, “Be happy for what you get.” Instead I said, “It bugs me when you ask for more. How about saying, ‘Thanks, Gran?’ Then after we both eat two, we might have another one.”

As I write this on Friday, the tree branches and shrubs are covered with snow. White flakes stick on the grass, but immediately melt on the roads and sidewalks. Like my Grand, I want more.

I want enough snow to completely blanket the ground. Enough for Micah to sled down hills on top of snow instead of sledding on snow mud as he did today.  Enough to build a big five-foot tall snowman in the middle of his family’s snow covered yard, not scrape together all the snow in his yard to build a tiny two foot, skinny Frosty.  The last time we had a really big snow Micah was less than two years old.

It’s time to do all we can to bring on more snow for all kids, big and small, and some my Facebook friends shared ideas.  Clean your car really well, inside and out. Plan an out-of-town trip. Wish for an arctic blast and a moist low pressure system from the south at the same time.

I turned to my teacher friends for more creative ideas that involve pajamas, ice cubes, crayons, and dancing.  One listed them and suggested this order:

Wear your pajamas inside out and backwards.

Get ice cubes out of the freezer and throw them off your front porch over your shoulder while singing “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow.” Turn on front porch light so neighbors can see you.

Flush leftover ice cubes.

Put a white crayon in the freezer and a spoon under your pillow.

Most importantly, teachers should not take their plan books home. It will jinx the snow.

Another teacher explained her official snow dance. Sing “Let It Snow” and twirl three times while holding your hands high in the air and wriggling your fingers to mimic snow falling.  This is most effective when teacher and students dance together at the end of a school day.

One teacher keeps a snow bird in her desk. When she is desperate for a snow day, she shakes the snow bird while her fellow teachers gather around to cheer her on. Her snow bird needs a vigorous shaking!

Another teacher said, “My kids ask God to bring us snow to play in and so Momma can stay home. Doesn’t God have a keen ear for children’s prayers?” And I’ve been reminded that Mother Nature needs to shake out her feather bed every winter and that’s what makes snow.

Whatever it takes, it’s time to sing and dance, throw and flush ice cubes, wear inside out pajamas, sleep on a spoon, freeze a white crayon, and pray. A skiff of snow is good, but I want more.

Brain Exercise

I am right handed. I do everything with my right hand.  Hold a fork to eat and a pencil to write. Brush my teeth. Zip my jacket. Get credit cards out of my wallet. I press the space bar on a keyboard with my right thumb.

Most of us humans, 85-90%, are right handed and researchers 

believe whether we are a right or left handed is determined in the womb. Young children begin to show a tendency to use one hand more than the other as soon as they pick up food with their fingers and put it in their mouths.  

I’m not like my dad who was mixed handedness, using different hands for different tasks. He wrote and ate with his right hand and played golf left handed. I’m not like my friend Brenda who is ambidextrous and can perform tasks equally well with either hand. Both mixed handedness and ambidextrousness are uncommon, but how I wish I were either.

I’m one of those people who has said, “I can’t do anything with my left hand.” Can’t never tried. Can’t never could. You can’t until you try.  Those sayings from my grandparents and parents hit me full force during the past weeks since I’ve had surgery on my right thumb to repair arthritis damage. I’ve learned to eat with my left hand and sign my name on a credit card charge, but some things are still hard.

The cast I wear holds my right thumb immobile and separate from my fingers. I can use my fingers, but they are practically useless on my laptop keyboard. Only my middle finger strikes keys easily. I stop and concentrate to make my left thumb hit the space bar. I had to adapt.

So I’ve learned to write more than a grocery list and a text message on my iPhone and iPad.  I hold a rubber tipped stylus in my left hand and swipe it across the keyboard screen. Using the SWYPE app I don’t have to strike individual letters to write a word and auto-fill gives me word choices. In fact, auto fill sometimes predicts the exact word I want. And I don’t have to touch the space bar between words. 

I knew using my left hand wouldn’t be easy.  A friend reminded me that switching from a ‘righty’ to a ‘lefty’ would be good brain exercise. The right side of the body is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain which is responsible for speech and writing. The brain’s right hemisphere controls the movement of the left side of my body  and is associated with creativity and imagination.  So as I string letters together to make words and words to make sentences, I struggle to use the part of my brain that doesn’t control writing and with a hand I’ve sworn I can’t use.

Only three more weeks and I hope to have my fingers and thumb, without a cast, on my laptop keyboard and holding my toothbrush and a spoon. But maybe I’ll sometimes exercise my brain and use my left hand. Just because I can.

Strange Sensation

 My right arm and hand, from a few inches below my elbow to my  fingertips, were encased in a hard cast and held by a sling.  My thumb was completely immobilized by the cast. The sling held my hand as if I were saying the pledge of allegiance. Twelve hours earlier, a surgeon had repaired my thumb joint that had been destroyed by arthritis.

My arm felt like a heavy cement log. I looked at my bent fingers and told them to be straight. They didn’t move. I couldn’t move my right hand and arm.  While I appreciate the effects of a nerve block for surgery, I was anxious for my hand to wake up. 

I stretched my left arm, spread my left fingers wide, and made a fist. Rolled my head forward, backward, side to side. Lifted my shoulders and straightened my back. I breathed deeply.  Blew out slowly.

Then I experienced strange feelings. It felt like I stretched my right hand, held my fingers and thumb wide apart, and made a fist. Then my hand opened, palm up. Shocked, I looked down. My arm and hand really were in a cast and sling.  What was this? 

During the next hour, I felt my right thumb tuck under my palm, a position that I’d often used unconsciously to protect my thumb. But my thumb was really in its cast and not near my palm. Another time I was sure my right index finger pointed straight at my waistline, several inches below where my hand was immobile and all my fingers were bent and numb.  

I’d read and heard about phantom pain.Is there such a thing as phantom movement? Is that possible? The next day when I had feeling in my arm and hand, I searched for answers. 

According to the National Institute of Health website, Phantom Limb Syndrome is a condition in which patients experience sensations, whether painful or otherwise, in a limb that does not exist. It’s possible that nerves in parts of the spinal cord and brain “rewire” when they lose signals from the missing limb.

My arm and hand exist, but because they were numb I wonder if my brain worked as if they were amputated. Several times during a two hour period, I felt movements. Seeing my immobile arm and hand in a sling didn’t align with what I felt. These were strange, unsettling sensations.  I’ve heard of pain in an arm or leg after amputation and always wondered if it was real.  How was that possible?

Now, I’m sure phantom pain is real. This experience makes me sympathetic to people who suffer from phantom pain. Imagine feeling severe pain in a leg that had been amputated. Because my brain told me that my fingers and thumb moved when they were in a cast, I know amputated limbs can hurt. 

Our bodies, our brains work in miraculous, mysterious ways.  And I wish my brain would miraculously tell my left hand to hold a pencil and write like my right ha

Coddiwomple and Other Fun Words

An unusual word I saw posted on Facebook, made me think of my paternal grandfather.  Papa was a first-class coddiwompler.  He usually drove to a particular place, but sometimes when I rode in his car with him when I was young, I’d ask where we were going.  He responded that we’d know when we got there, but he could’ve said, “We just going to coddiwomple.” He probably didn’t know that coddiwomple means to travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown or vague destination.

            Coddiwomple makes me think of Papa’s Sunday afternoon drives when he took Grandma on rides around Pickett and Overton counties.  He wanted to get Grandma out of the house, but there was never a destination and most often they didn’t stop except at a country market to get a cold drink, a carbonated beverage.

            Before leaving this word, I must share that several people commented on Facebook that coddiwomple is life’s journey. I agree. 

            My Granny often said, “Don’t put it cattywampus.” ‘It’ could have been a dish that she didn’t want me to put on the edge of the counter beside the kitchen sink or a quilt piece that she wanted me to lay on another with the straight edges even. Cattywampus is the similar to catty-corner when something isn’t lined up as need be.

            “You’re a nincompoop!” Oh, the many times I heard and said nincompoop when I was a kid.  Anyone acting silly was nincompoop.  I would never have said someone was stupid, but I’d say he was a nincompoop which meant the same thing.  This word is so fun for kids when the last syllable is shouted loud and long.

            I’m often bumfuzzled.  I’ve spent hours trying to find one piece to put in a jigsaw puzzle and out of frustration, I became flustered.  When someone tells me driving directions that involve more than three turns and landmarks or when I can’t understand what my young Grands say, I’m bumfuzzled.  This word is more fun to say that confused or perplexed because bumfuzzled rolls out of the mouth with a smile.

            Are you a lollygagger?  Do you waste time?  Do you spend time doing something that isn’t serious or useful?  Some procrastinators tend to lollygag, and people who don’t keep up on group hikes lollygag.  A beach or mountain cabin vacation is perfect for lollygagging, but lollygaggers aren’t appreciated when there’s work to be done.

            While searching out fun words, I learned that I suffer from abibliophobia.  Even when I’m reading a book, I want a few others stacked on my bedside table waiting to be read.  What if I decide the book I’m reading isn’t good? Even though my living room bookshelves hold books I’ve read, and Husband always has several interesting magazines, I need a stack (and it can’t be cattywampus) of unread books.  I truly fear running out of something to read.

            Coddiwomple, cattywampus, nincompoop, bumfuzzled, lollygag and abibliophobia – what fun words!  As I write these last words, I’m wabbit.  You probably feel that way too at the end of the day.

Salute to Coaches

How I wish I’d kept a tally of the team sporting events I’ve watched.  Some families go to concerts or movies together; my family takes in spectator sports.  My children played t-ball, volleyball, basketball and swam on swim teams.  There was a time when our family’s weeks were busy with high school and Tennessee Tech basketball games.  We were there to watch the players and cheer on our team, but I watch the coaches too. Some scream and pace sidelines. Some stomp. Some yell plays.  Some sit calmly and stand only to call a time out.  Recently, I’ve watched and appreciate three of my Grands’ coaches.

            “Great play! Way to stop the ball!” Lucy’s soccer coach yelled.  Stephen’s words didn’t surprise me, but I was surprised that he was congratulating the opposing team’s goalie who caught the ball Lucy’s teammate had kicked.  Then he yelled to his player, “Great kick! You’ll score next time!”

            As I watched soccer practice one day, Stephen gave all fourteen players, ages 6-8, high-fives when they ran onto the field.  It was a structured practice.  Players ran and kicked balls around the perimeter of the field and Stephen encouraged them when they ran past him.  Then he and two assistant coaches divided players into small groups to practice skills and they ran the field with them, teaching and praising, when the players scrimmaged.  There were smiles, high fives, and one-on-one instruction.

            At the last game of the season, Stephen talked to each player.  He knelt to Lucy’s eye level and put his hand on her shoulder.  “Lucy, you work hard in practice.  You’re learning to be a great goalie.  I’m really glad you were on my team and when we play in the Spring, I want you on my team.”  He said more and then he placed a participation medal around her neck. Lucy held her head high and grinned; I wiped tears.

            Janet walked on the YMCA swimming pool deck as middle-school age students, including two of my Grands, swam during practice.  I couldn’t hear what Janet said, but I saw her wide smile and thumbs up when all finished swimming laps.  Several times each week, Janet holds practice and she schedules meets. Her smiles and encouragement are contagious. I’ve watched Elsie’s and Annabel’s confidence grow during this past year, and I give credit to Janet for providing this opportunity for them to use their natural abilities and love of swimming.

            Travis bent low to look up to his players, young teenage boys, as they huddled around him on the sideline of the basketball court.  He could’ve towered above them, but he looked up to hold his players’ attention.  During games, he’s calm and gives instructions.  “Cut across, Samuel,” he yelled to my Grand.  When a player threw the ball away, Travis grimaced and then quickly motioned with open palms toward the player to stay in control. 

            I salute Stephen, Janet, and Travis who are volunteer coaches.  Thank you for giving your time and your efforts to teach, and more importantly, to also model character.

Don’t Miss the Chance

I almost didn’t go.  Daughter called and invited me to join her family at Cane Creek Park.  “Some of us are riding bikes on the dirt trail.  Want to come and stomp in the woods with the rest of us?”

             I answered, “Thanks. Not today.  I’ve got to go to the grocery store, cook, and write a column.” I hung up the phone and continued writing my grocery list, checking the refrigerator and pantry.  It was 10:30 a.m.  I didn’t need food on the table until supper time and writing could wait.  How could I pass up time with Daughter, Son 2, and five Grands?  And I knew part of the reason Daughter invited me is because she knows I need time outside, among trees.  I sent her a text:  I’m coming. Where can I meet you?

           Two Grands, ages 12 and 14, waved at me after I got out of my van. As we walked on the paved trail, they shoved and tripped each other.  They laughed; I grimaced. “Enough,” I said.  “Ah, Gran.  We’re just playing,” Samuel said.  I suggested they play like that when I wasn’t around.  He threw his arm around Elsie’s shoulders and they walked arm in arm beside me.  Elsie asked, “Gran, is this better?”  Much. 

          After the two youngest rode one time around the two-mile trail with their dad, they raced to the wooden vertical climbing structures. Eight-year old Lucy, quickly climbed high and stood twelve feet off the ground.  “Come on, Gran. You try,” she said.  I took her challenge, but stopped only a few feet high.  

          Youngest Grand’s short legs didn’t reach the first step so he unsuccessfully clawed and tried to get a foot hold. (Family rule: you can climb anything if you don’t need help getting up or getting down.)  “Gran, let’s throw rocks in the water!” Micah shouted.  There’s something calming about watching concentric rings on the water’s surface.

         All Daughter’s family except Annabel, age 10, were ready to go home, and she agreed to walk around the lake with me.  We gathered fruits from sweet gum and sycamore trees.  We searched for sweet gum balls that had really sharp points that felt like needles. We rubbed cedar tree twigs between our finger to smell a real Christmas tree, the kind my dad cut for our house every December.

        As we walked, Annabel and I held hands. “I’m going to close my eyes.  Don’t make me fall,” she said.  I said that I’d keep her safe.  I led her diagonally across the four-foot wide path.  “Don’t go crooked,” she said.

      “Trust me, Annabel,” I told her.  She giggled.  I stopped and led her around me.  “What if I get dizzy and fall,” my Grand said.  I reminded her to trust me.  We zigzagged and walked off the path.  “Why should I trust you?” she asked, her eyes still closed.

        “Because I said I’d keep you safe and because I love you,” I told her.         To think I almost didn’t go.