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Celebrate Friendship Day

How will you celebrate National Friendship Day? It’s Sunday, August 6th and I didn’t know it exists until recently. There’s an official day for almost everything and most I ignore, but friends should be celebrated.

The founder of Hallmark originated a day to honor and appreciate friends in 1919, but it really didn’t catch on. In 1935, the United States Congress proclaimed the first Sunday of August as National Friendship Day. It isn’t known exactly why, but as World War I came to an end there was a need for friendship among countries and people.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an International Day of Friendship with the idea that friendships between people, countries, and cultures can inspire peace efforts and after the UN proclamation many countries adopted Friendship Days. The basic idea of all counties is the same: a day to acknowledge friends’ contributions to your life and to cherish the people you love.

Neither Hallmark nor proclamations are needed to convince me the importance of friends. As a young teen, I learned to appreciate friends when my parents often welcomed my girlfriends for overnight slumber parties. Later, I depended on college friends to get through late night study sessions and unravel tangled emotions.

Neighborhood friends’ visits and impromptu lunch dates carried me through long days of caring for my babies and toddlers. When Daughter and Son played sports and attended scout meetings, my friends and I carpooled. Fellow teacher and writing friends encouraged me when I wanted to throw away red pens and keyboards. All along life, friends have kept me going and growing.

Quotes I’ve heard are true. Friends ‘do’ without waiting to be asked. A true friend knows your faults and loves you anyway. A real friend walks in when others walk away. A friend is a gift you give yourself.

Friends sat beside me while I fretted in hospital waiting rooms. They showed up at my front door with hugs and food when my parents passed away. They said, “I’m on my way,” when I called for help. They stood beside me even when I messed up.

And I’ve heard that friends know us better than family and friends are the family we choose. Friends are family? Yes, according to Kathryn.

I commented to Kathryn that she had a large group of friends from different walks of life and she responded, “Yes, I have a big framily.”  Framily? Did she misunderstand what I said? Did I hear her correctly? Then I realized framily combines friend and family.

“That’s a perfect word,” I said. Friends who are closer than family. Friends who know more about us than family. Friends who shoulder heartache when family stumbles.  Although the word framily was first used in 2006, the concept has been around for a long time. Remember the 1990’s television show “Friends” about six people who resembled a family?

National Friendship Day. A day to honor people you love. People who are your framily.

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In Case of an Emergency

Omni House Parker Hotel. Boston. Monday. 9:25 a.m. The day begins with coffee and sweet rolls in the room. Leisurely, my college girlfriend, Alicia, and I brush our teeth, put on shoes, and listen for four girlfriends to knock on our door. Today is the first day to sightsee and celebrate our birthdays, our friendships that began in 1965 when we were Tennessee Tech freshman.

June and Kathy knock. We hug and greet. A loud voice thru the hotel intercom interrupts our conversation. Something like, “The Parker House uses voice messages to notify guests of emergencies. We are concerned for your safety. In case of an emergency, you will be given directions after this message.” The message repeats.

June, a retired school principal, says, “Well, that brings back memories of fire drills at…” The intercom breaks in. “Evacuate the hotel immediately. Go to the nearest stairway and down the steps.” June opens our room door. The message repeats. I throw my iPhone into my purse. Alicia says, “You go on. I’m just going to put a coat of clear polish on my nails.” The message repeats.

“No, you’re not. Grab your purse. We’re going,” I say. Alicia follows June and Kathy to the hallway. There is no sign of fire or smoke. As I follow my friends, the evacuation announcement continues. I pray our other two friends are safe.

Near the stairwell, a room door opens. A woman holds a baby in arms. Two young children stand beside her. My grandmother instincts kick in. I take one step toward them and note fright on the toddler girl’s face. No, this child doesn’t need a stranger to add to her fear.

My friends and I fall into the single file line down the steps from the fifth floor. I grip the rail with one hand and my purse with the other. No one says a word. I look down, planting my feet on the steps. Stay calm; don’t be scared I say silently. Fourth floor. No one hurries. Mechanical walking. Shuffling of feet. No talking.

My hair covers my eyes. If I fall, people will stumble. “I have to stop to get my hair out of my eyes,” I say. An unknown voice replies, “Thanks for the warning.”

I tuck my hair behind my ears. Sling my purse onto my shoulder. One more flight.

Hotel employees hold the lobby doors open and stand to form a walkway to guide us outside. Police officers and firefighters stand in the lobby. No one speaks. My friends and I find a place on the sidewalk to stand. A phone call confirms our other two friends are outside and walking toward us.

Two fire trucks are parked in the street. Firefighters sit in the cab. The hotel intercom blasts, “All clear. Have a good day. Thank you for your cooperation.” My friends and I hug each other.

Kathy says what each of us thinks. All clear. The best words of the day. Another reason to celebrate.

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Straight Line Winds Hit

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 7.18.16 AMLast Saturday night, most of us were carrying on normally, not expecting damaging weather. Husband and I hosted our supper group, friends who have gathered around each other’s dining room tables for decades. Lightning flashed. We heard, and ignored, the rain and the wind.

The lights flickered and then darkness. Of course, someone kidded that we should’ve paid our electric bill. We waited for the lights to come on. “Well, this is a first. We’ve never eaten in the dark,” someone said. I made a mental note to always use candles as part of the table decorations.

Eventually, someone turned on the flashlight on an iPhone. Using it, I found the box of candles stored under a bathroom sink. Christmas red glitter candles, white candles, fall candles. Some tall, some short. Each set on a glass plate and lit. Two under glass globes brighten the dining table.

“Luckily, I turned on the coffeemaker before dinner and we can have coffee with dessert,” I said. We cut pies, scooped ice cream, and poured coffee in the glow of candlelight. All seemed well as we talked and told stories of past times the power went off.

And then a text was received from a someone’s adult child. “Are you okay? Trees and power lines down everywhere.” The message was read aloud three times before we all listened. Another adult child sent a similar message. “Stay put. It’s bad out here.” We were being told by our children to not go out of the house. That was a turnaround from years past.

Twenty minutes later, through phone texts, we all confirmed that our children and grandchildren were safe. By candlelight, we cleared the table, scraped dishes, divvied leftovers, and took our children’s advice.

We settled on the sofa and comfortable chairs and someone told a joke. And that reminded someone of another joke and another. And soon, jokes were just a few words: “Remember that one about the train.” We laughed hard. We reminisced funny past group experiences. Hee-hawing and cackling.

During a moment of quiet, someone said, “So if we’re asked what we did Saturday night when the lights went out, we’ll say ‘Just sat around and told jokes with old friends.’ ” The evening ended. All got home safely, detouring to avoid blocked roads.

Through the night, the city employees and volunteers worked to restore electrical power and clear roads. And Sunday morning, like so many people, Daughter and Son-in-Law and their children discovered their yard covered with large limbs, branches, and twigs. They called a friend and asked to borrow his truck. He brought his truck, his chain saw, and his children. Two other families pitched in. The dads sawed, big kids carried big limbs, little kids toted branches. Hours later, the yard was cleared.

I hope such fierce winds never hit again. It’s a time Husband and I will never forget and Daughter’s family won’t either. We’ll remember the winds, the darkness, the damage, and most of all, the friends.

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What’s Normal?

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-7-36-16-amI declined a brunch invitation because I was in the middle of moving. “I hope to get back to normal soon,” I said.

My friend quickly replied, “What’s normal?” A question most of us have heard. Normal. We know what it means: usual, ordinary, expected, everyday, routine, fixed, traditional.

I’ve missed normal everyday life for the past few weeks. I can’t define a normal day for another person. Everyone’s routines are as different as fingerprints. None of us do the exact same things nor in the exact same ways.

But I know what’s not normal for me and my days have been packed with not-so-normals. Like handling a warm apple pie candle five times while packing. Throw it in the garage sale box. Wait, it goes with the electric simmering pot that’s in my writing and sewing room. Don’t pack it with books because it might get mushed. Not with fabric. What if it comes out of the plastic package and makes a mess? Put it with kitchen stuff or maybe the bathroom stuff or just stick it in my purse.

It’s not normal to brush my teeth with my finger. I patted myself on the back because the coffee pot, coffee, and cups were ready for the first morning at our new house. Yet, I didn’t have my toothbrush or bath soap.

It’s not normal to sit on a living room couch with a broken leg. The movers warned us the back right leg was loose and when I accidently bumped into the couch, the leg fell off. Anyone else flip a dozen light switches before turning on the light you want? And who can’t turn on a front porch light? It’s controlled by a push button, not a switch. At least, that’s what Husband says.

It’s not normal to move a box of sandwich zip lock bags five times. Which drawer or cabinet should they be in to be most handy?

I pushed every button on the microwave. A dim light came on. A brighter light. Nothing happened. The word ‘Cancel’ flashed. Just cancel. Lukewarm coffee, that was hot an hour earlier before I lost it, tastes good.

It’s not normal to search ten minutes for peanut butter. Hit my head on the same cabinet door three times in one day. Read out loud the words printed on oven controls and still be confused about which button to push first. Not recognize the sound of my doorbell. Lose a bathroom rug. Hang bathroom towels straight and evenly spaced because that can be accomplished quickly to satisfy my need for order.

It’s not normal write this column just before deadline. To continue to move the words “Write column” from day to day until it had to be done.

These past few weeks have thrown me curves. I look forward to flipping light switches and turning on my oven with confidence. And laughing and visiting with girlfriends over brunch. I look forward to normal.

Laugh – It’s Good for You

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-2-38-11-pmJune wiped her wet eyes and took a deep breath. “Oh,” she said, “I feel so much healthier.” I, too, wiped my eyes, as did my college girlfriends while we celebrated a milestone birthday. We’d laughed so hard, we cried. So hard that we emptied a box of Kleenex to wipe our faces. June took another deep breath and said, “I love being with you all because we laugh. Long and loud.”

What was so funny? We reminisced about a time when we were together and got caught in a downpour of rain at a shopping mall. We made a plan to get to our van without any of us getting our hair wet. Holding the only small umbrella we had over her head, Blondie walked to her van and parked it closer, two parking spaces away. The other six of us huddled under a store awning. Carrying the umbrella, Blondie jumped a puddle of water and walked toward us. She and June walked back to the van. Blondie got in the van and June carried the umbrella and walked Kathy to the van. Then it was Kathy’s turn to walk one person to the van. A few trips later, and after we’d all jumped over the same puddle of water, all seven of us were in the van. No one’s hair was wet, but we poured water out of our shoes and our clothes were damp.

We laughed then, almost twenty years ago, about how silly we must have looked walking two by two under a small umbrella and we laughed when we were together recently. Hysterical, uncontrolled laughter.

According to medical authorities, there’s evidence that we were healthier after laughing. I read an article in Reader’s Digest that quotes from a book, Heal Your Heart, by Dr. Michael Miller, MD. He states that deep belly laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which activates nitric oxide. This chemical causes blood vessels to dilate and increases blood flow, reduces the buildup of cholesterol plaque, and lowers the risk of blood clots. After fifteen minutes laughing, volunteers in Dr. Miller’s study got the same vascular benefit as if they had spent 15-30 minutes at the gym or take a daily statin. No treadmill. No meds. Just laughter.

Even watching a funny movie improves health. In another study, the blood vessels of those who watched There’s Something About Mary dilated, and the blood vessels of participants who watched Saving Private Ryan narrowed. And it’s been proven that people with heart disease were less likely to use humor in an uncomfortable situation, such as when a waiter spilled water on them, than people with healthy hearts.

Now I know why my friend, Jo, is super healthy. She shared that one morning while walking for exercise, she fell, rolled, and got right up. Because she rolled with such good form, she laughed. “I’d rather be sore from laughing than from a fall! I laugh out loud every time I can,” Jo said. Most often at herself.

So maybe a couple of old sayings are true. Maybe laughter really is the best medicine and maybe laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects. No negative side effects – only positive ones.

Good reasons to laugh hysterically and keep a sense of humor. And good reasons to get together with friends who laugh with you.

It’s All About the Suntan

imagesBeach towel. Spray bottle filled with water. Transistor radio. Baby oil and iodine. History textbook. Everything I needed to get a perfect tan. Actually, I didn’t need the textbook, but as a college student I carried it along just in case the mood to study struck while I soaked up the sun.

On sunny spring days in the late 1960s, the narrow yard between two dormitories and concealed from Dixie Avenue by a brick wall was filled with Tennessee Tech coeds wearing bathing suits. Like an overcrowded beach during vacation season, we laid towels in rows, side by side, and saved spaces for friends. Some places were like Sunday morning church pews – reserved, but unmarked. Ideally, spring quarter classes were scheduled around sunning time, early morning and late afternoon classes. Midday was for sunbathing.

We didn’t protect our skin from the sun’s rays; instead, our goal was a perfect tan. Who dreamed up the notion that baby oil with a few added drops of iodine made good suntan oil? We smeared oil all over our bodies and lay for hours, or until our next class, baking our skin and we sprayed water on ourselves when we got hot.

The yard wasn’t the only place to sun or lay out, as we said. As a freshman, I lived on the 5th floor, the top floor, of Unit B dormitory, now M. C. Cooper Hall. Jill* lived in a single room across the hall and her room had a small dormer window that opened onto a flat roof over the building’s wide porch. One night Jill, and two other friends, Ada* and Kara*, and I decided to climb onto the roof.

We moved Jill’s desk under the window, removed the screen, and climbed as if we were heaving ourselves out of a deep swimming pool. The stars were close and the air cool. We could see and hear people, but no one knew where we were. We looked across Dixie Avenue, above the treetops, to the eagle atop Derryberry Hall. And then about mid-March, we realized the roof was the perfect place to get a tan and we could wear whatever we wanted. That black roof was closer to the sun and much less crowded than the sunbathing yard.

Only about fifteen girls lived on 5th floor, but we four friends didn’t share our sunning hideaway. We locked Jill’s door so no one, or so we thought, knew about our escapades. We whispered to each other, never played our radios, and even pretended to study. We weren’t scared of the height, but we were scared of getting in trouble. We stayed close to the window and left it open so we could climb inside quickly. Actually, we sunbathed on the rooftop only a few times. That black roof was miserably hot!

Thinking back to those days of sunbathing, my friends and I should have been scared that we were damaging our skin. I’ve had several basal and squamous cell non-melanoma skin cancers removed, most likely a direct result of overexposure to ultraviolet rays. But we had great tans, kept each other’s secrets, and I’m confident we were only four of many, many coeds who ventured out onto dormitory roofs.

During this year of TTU’s Centennial Celebration, it’s been fun to share some of my experiences as a student. Thanks to all who planned and carried out the many events. I hope the current students cherish their memories and appreciate their education as I do.

*Names changed because I promised my friends I would.

This Time Last Week

DSC03442“On our way. Friends coming too,” Daughter texted. A morning snow sledding party for nine children, ages 8 months to 10 years, and their parents. Daddies hoisted sleds out of the back of SUVs, and mothers carried food baskets. Husband entertained our youngest Grand, who is too young to sled down our backyard hill, and I donned my boots and coat to watch the outside fun.

Eight children, five adults, and twelve sleds, in all shapes and sizes at the top of the hill. Within minutes a line formed, much like snow skiers waiting to ride a ski lift. “I’m next!” was the mantra of the morning. Children rode doubles on a long wooden sled with their daddy or mother. Older child and younger or two youngers doubled. They raced. Girl against boy. Daddy against son. Mother against daddy. And they lugged their sleds back up the hill. “Walk up the side. Not in the middle of the hill,” the parents shouted, over and over and over again.

One daddy stood at the bottom of the hill beside a big tree, a possible hazard. The children veered away from it or did just what their parents told them. “If you’re about to hit a tree or out of control, roll off your sled.” Two mommas sat with crossed legs on matching disc sleds at the top of the hill. “We’re next,” one said. “We’re going down together. Holding hands.” And they did. All the way to the bottom. Neither let go of the other’s hand and neither rolled off her sled as they headed straight toward the tree. One momma crashed into the side of the tree. She looked up at her husband, who had caught every child who had careened within a few feet of the tree. He threw up his hands and then helped her up. She was okay. I heard one of the older kids ask another, “Why didn’t she just roll off?”

Sleds were abandoned. Children made snow angels, ate handfuls of snow, and walked along the edge of the creek. (I anticipated a snowball fight – that was the next day when only Daughter’s family came to sled.) Time to go inside where Husband had the gas logs burning and had thermoses filled with hot water. The mothers’ baskets overflowed. Hot chocolate and cider mixes, apple juice, bananas, cookies, pretzels, yogurt, string cheese.

Wet snow clothes were thrown into the dryer. Coats hung over open doors. Boots lined up in corners. “So I’ll know where they are,” one mother said. They ate and drank. They sat. They talked. They laughed. Big kids lay in the floor. The young ones cuddled beside parents.

“Who’s ready to go back out?” a mother said. The older kids quickly bundled up. A younger one balked. “I don’t want all that stuff. I just want to play!” Her choice was simple. Wear all that stuff or stay inside. She wore the stuff. Within twenty minutes, only Husband, youngest Grand, and I sat by the fire. Sledding, round two, was short and then they left. They took their sleds and their empty food baskets.

Later that night, on Facebook I looked at pictures and read a post one of the mothers wrote. “Gotta love when childhood friend’s parents still invite us over to play in the backyard. It’s like we are 16 again…but have husbands and children now.” I gotta love it, too.