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In Between Week

What are you doing this last week of 2017? I threw out this question to Facebook friends.

I see these days as Mondays, kick-start days for tasks and chores. But I thought some people might say the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is down time, a time to kick back and do nothing. Daughter said she’d take a big nap on the 26th and then get back to me. Amy works a demanding job and is taking life easy until the end of this year and then start out strong in 2018. Peggy is resting up for an upcoming adventure in January.

Some people travel. “Get out of town,” Sherry said. Mary is travelling to NYC for shows, museums, the Downton Abby exhibit, and taking in Saks’ windows displays on Fifth Avenue. After a few days with family, Chuck will fly to Buenos Aires, and Mikey is fishing in Costa Rica where life is easy and warm.

Some hit the exercise mode and take on new classes. Michael gets back on his walking program this week with the goal of 500 miles in 2018. Jan is ready for the gym and workouts. Crystal rides her bike. Together Cousin Mike and his thirteen-year-old daughter start a beginner’s tap-dancing class that runs for four months.

Some people take on tasks. Marilyn is going through Christmas decorations and sorting them. Linda begins the decluttering that lasts through February. “It is a tradition,” she says. Crystal and her husband who are in the process of downsizing will begin to declutter. (I’ve done that. They have my sympathy.)

Some set goals. Kristy, the mother of a toddler and newborn twin babies, will make a game plan for simplifying her life and said, “So I can better take care of my now family of 5!” Alexandra will write her vision of Thrive with Hope’s Growth in 2018.

Some spoke of looking forward. I appreciate their optimism. Move toward 2018 with hope, love, faith. Look forward to new friendships, new opportunities for self-development, spiritual growth and personal well-being.

Almost all planned to spend some of this week with others. Time with family and friends tops most people’s list. Grandparents are enjoying grandbabies. Parents treasure having grown-up kids home. Out-of-towners are visiting everyone they can.

Many friends inspire me. They remind me to be in the present and count my blessings. Reminisce about the past year, the good times and the hard times, thanking God for seeing us through.

This week is like no other and I like it. I’ll do a few tasks. I’ll pack away most Christmas decorations. But not the carolers, one for each of our children and Grands, which will decorate the china hutch until Valentine’s Day and the nativity so the Wise Men can join the celebration sometime in January.

And I’ll get out my 2018 calendar and jot down planned events. And I have a new jigsaw puzzle to complete. But I’m convinced this week is a time to rest and enjoy being with those we love. I hope you do the same.

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When You knew it was Love

searchWhen did you know you were in love? My Facebook friends shared their stories for this column. Stories of love at first sight. Of confirmed love.

On our first date. He took me out for a nice dinner, told me I was beautiful, and made me feel like no one ever had.

I saw him leaning against a brick wall. Shades. Sullen. Looking all James Dean.

He jumped over my front porch railing and ran to me when I came home from work. I didn’t know he was on leave from the Navy.

While at a movie night at a friend’s house, he walked across the room and handed me his popcorn bowl with only half-popped kernels. He remembered my favorite popcorn.

When I saw him with his family, he was gentle, loving, and showed respect.

Coming home from a trip to Chattanooga sealed the deal. Ruby Falls is so romantic.

He kissed me in my parents’ kitchen when we were teenagers. I knew I’d marry him one day.

In 7th grade, I saw her for the first time and a lightning bolt struck. We were a parent-take-us-couple. To the movies, skating rink, a friend’s house. Then we went to different high schools, but reconnected in 10th grade. She called me on her birthday at 11:00 p.m. because her family had forgotten her birthday. That was it!

Our eyes locked across the room at our high school reunion. I’d had a crush on him in high school and he “picked” on me. I called him the day after the reunion and he sent me flowers. Three weeks later we began a long-distance courtship.

On our first date. He held my hand during the movie and walked, rather than drove, me home.

Six months into dating, we were slow dancing and the thought popped into my head, “I’m in love with this guy!” I wasn’t happy about it because I was 14 and had big plans. He went away to college and called me every Sunday afternoon. When I received a scholarship at a college close to him, I knew it was meant to be.

I heard a tiny bell chime when I first saw him. It was like heaven said, “Finally, they meet!”

When going to college badminton class wasn’t as important as going to lunch with him. I made a D in badminton.

Our wedding was only weeks away when our rescue boxer died. Phillip wrapped his body in a quilt and dug a grave at my grandparent’s farm. I realized that if I could endure such a sad time with Phillip by my side and still feel hopeful about the future, I had chosen the right partner for life.

Thank you, friends, for your mini-love stories.   I was swayed when he brought Ralph’s chocolate-covered cream-filled donuts and drove me from my college dormitory to 8:00 chemistry classes in the dead of winter. I hated early cold mornings and chemistry class. I loved Boyfriend, now Husband, and donuts. And still do.

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Patriotism at Its Best

imagesThe 4th of July.   Our country’s birthday, when Americans are most patriotic. We hold parades and concerts and backyard picnics. We wear red, white, and blue. Eat watermelon. Decorate bicycles with crepe paper streamers. Watch fireworks.

I’ve been right in the middle of such celebrations, but the most patriotic event I’ve ever attended wasn’t to celebrate our country’s birthday. Ten years ago, Son and Daughter-in-Law met Husband and me in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a long weekend visit. It was mid-July, time for the local rodeo. Since we didn’t have Friday night plans, a real western rodeo seemed like a fun evening.

As we got out of our rental car in the parking lot, we laughed that we weren’t dressed appropriately. White tennis shoes, wrinkled blue jeans, and tee shirts identified us as tourists. Other people wore spit-shined cowboy boots (many with silver spurs), long sleeve western shirts, and jeans with knife-sharp creases. Black, brown, and white cowboy hats with rolled side brims put Husband’s and Son’s caps to shame.

We bought our admission tickets, took a few steps into the arena, and I had one of those frozen-in-place moments. The arena was pristine. The rusty-brown colored ground in the center ring had been smoothed in a circle pattern. And America flags flew from white posts around the ring. It was the beauty of the flags that stopped me.

As we made our way to grandstand seats, cowboys stepped aside and tipped their hats. An usher led us to open bleacher seating and suggested we sit high so we could take in the show at its best. People already seated moved closer together to make room for us and nodded a welcome.

At dusk, floodlights dimmed and everyone stood. Riders on horseback and dressed in military uniforms presented the American and Colorado flags and two others I didn’t recognize. The horses raced around the arena and then stopped dead still in the center.   Old Glory rose above the other flags. All hats were held over hearts.

A traditional rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung, and not just by the singer holding the microphone. It seemed that every person standing sang. The red and white stripes waved. I wiped tears of pride.

I knew we were at a real rodeo. What I didn’t know was that the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which began in 1937, supports the military. Rodeo proceeds support service members and their families in the Pikes Peak Region. Colorado Springs is home to the United States Air Force Academy, U.S. NORAD/NORTHCOM (home to the American and Canadian joint forces), Air Force Space Command, Shriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base, and Fort Carson. The community is proud of its partnership with the armed forces.

The Facebook page for the Pike’s Peak or Bust Rodeo recognizes the event’s volunteers.

“What makes the rodeo work is the over 300 community and military volunteers who give their time to ensure we provide our community with a great rodeo. More importantly, it assures we can continue our tradition and #1 purpose of giving back to our military and their families. That’s what it’s all about and why we do what we do.”

And no doubt, that’s why a rodeo that we just happened to take in was the most patriotic event I’ve ever attended. It recognized the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

And, oh yes, the barrel racing and bareback bronc riding were the two most exciting competitions.

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Mom Said

Bertram Girls front030 - Version 2Sunday is Mother’s Day and I’ll honor my mom with memories. Even though she passed away more that twenty years ago, I still remember many things that she said, and not just her words. There was no time that Mom spoke louder or more clearly than when a surprise gift arrived one day.

At 13, I was as tall as Mom, five foot, seven inches and taller than all my friends. I didn’t like being tall. Mom often placed her hand on the small of my back and gently ran her fingers up my spine. “Stand tall and proud,” she’d whisper.

Dad’s large hands rubbed my shoulders. “No slumping. You’re beautiful – just like your mother,” he’d say.

I didn’t feel proud or beautiful. Just tall.

One summer day a package from Sears Roebuck came in the mail. Mom was pulling weeds from her flowerbed and told me to put it on the kitchen table.

That night while I lay in bed reading Mom laid the package on my bed. I’m not sure of the exact words of our conversation, but they were something like this. Mom said, “Susan, this is for you. You’ll probably never wear it. But you’ll have it if you need it.” I ripped the package’s thick brown paper. Inside was ugly white material—like the drop cloth we’d used while painting my bedroom. This thing had hooks and laces.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A back brace,” Mom said. “I know it’s hard to stand straight. I remember. I was taller than everyone at school.”

“A brace? My back doesn’t hurt.”

“It’s not for pain. It’s to help you have good posture. You don’t need this brace now. We’ll just put it in your closet and if you ever think it’s too hard to stand straight, you can wear it.” Mom put the hideous brace, inside its brown package, on my closet shelf. Front and center. Eye-level.

After Mom left my room, I wanted to throw the package away, but instead I threw it onto the closet floor, kicked it to the back corner. Throughout my high school years, that package stayed hidden. Mom still rubbed her fingers up my spine. Dad still patted my shoulders. They didn’t have to say anything. I never wanted to see that ugly brace again.

I survived being the tallest girl in my class, and I even accepted my almost-last place in our high school graduation line – shortest to tallest.

When Mom and I packed my clothes before I left home for college, she found the worn package on the closet floor. “I don’t think you need to take this,” she said. I was sure I didn’t.

Years passed. After I graduated from college and married, Mom and I cleaned out my closet so my room could be her sewing room. “Where’s the brown package?” I asked when the closet was empty.

“Gone,” Mom said.

“Where? Did you find someone who needed to wear that awful brace?”

“No. I threw it away after you left for college. It did its job. I’m glad it never came out of the package.”

“So you didn’t want me to wear it?” I asked.

“I hoped not. That might have been the best $6.00 we spent when you were in high school. You stand tall and straight with wonderful posture.”

Mother never took a child psychology or a parenting class. She was a smart, loving mother, and even now, half a century later, when I feel my shoulders slump, I hear her. Loud and clear.

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4th of July

 

Bicsearchycle spokes laced with crepe paper streamers.  Red, white, and blue balloons tied to the handlebars.  American flags taped to the back of bicycle seats.  Daughter wore blue shorts, a white t-shirt decorated with stars and stripes, and a red ribbon was tied around her ponytail.  Son put on his red shorts, white socks with blue stripes, and a t –shirt with the words Happy Birthday America written with magic markers across its back.  My children and their bikes were ready for the 4th of July parade!

 

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it’s been more than 30 years since the neighbors on Flatt Circle threw their annual 4th of July parties.  Small-town style.  They invited many families to celebrate our country’s birthday, and they blocked off their cul-de-sac street.  We neighbors and friends showed up carrying our lawn chairs and funeral home, cardboard fans.

 

What a grand event!  Anyone could enter the parade, but mostly children came decked out to march the two-block parade route.  My children’s bikes were decorated that morning, but it was obvious that some families had planned ahead.  Parents and children wore matching outfits, complete with holiday hats.  Painted signs and red, white, and blue banners were taped to the sides of Radio Flyer wagons in which toddlers rode.  We all waved American flags and patriotic music blasted during the ten-minute parade.

 

Our hosts loaded buffet tables with barbeque, hot dogs, cole slaw, baked beans – perfect for a hot summer day picnic.  Blankets and quilts spread on the ground were the dining tables.  After eating, the children raced their bikes and trikes and skateboards up and down the street while we adults talked and laughed and shared stories we’d told time and time again.  As darkness fell, everyone found a place to watch the fireworks show.  Young children settled in their parents’ laps, and big kids got as close to the fireworks as was allowed.  Bright, sparkling fireworks shot higher than the houses’ rooftops, and then the grand finale – red, white and blue flashes burst toward the sky.

 

When the party ended, we adults gathered chairs and blankets and children, who were too tired to ride their bikes home and begged to be carried.   Friends and neighbors hugged and shook hands and promised to get together more often.  After all, we lived just down the street from each other.

 

Our friends on Flatt Circle certainly knew how to host a party.  A parade and lots of fun and food and fireworks.  But looking back, the best thing about that celebration was that neighbors and friends gathered together.  It reminds me of the cookouts in our backyard when I was child.  Mom called her cousins and sisters who brought bowls of potato salad and fresh green beans and platters of sliced tomatoes.  Dad fired up the charcoal grill and cooked hamburgers. It was a big family social event. We young cousins played tree tag and hide-and-seek and eventually sat with the adults to hear the stories they told time and time again.

 

Let’s celebrate our country’s 238th birthday on July 4th with family and friends. Fireworks aren’t necessary, but there has to be food for any good southern celebration.  And there’s sure to be laughter and more than a few stories told.

Easter Egg Hunt

 

easter-egg-hunt-sign-13369720When I was a child, I was as eager to go to church on Easter Sunday as I was on Christmas Eve when Santa gave me a peppermint candy cane. I wore new clothes on Easter morning:  a pastel colored fancy dress, patent leather shoes, white socks with ruffles, and white gloves.  Mother made sure that my entire Easter outfit was brand new, but wearing new clothes wasn’t why I was excited.

 

On Easter at Byrdstown First Christian Church there was a big Easter Egg Hunt immediately after the preacher’s last amen. During the church service, several men hid eggs.  All hard-boiled eggs that church members had boiled, dyed, and decorated.  I didn’t hear a word of the service – not the hymns, prayers, scripture reading, or sermon.  During the long hour between 11:00 and noon, I squirmed and wiggled and stretched my neck to look out the open windows to see where Daddy was hiding the Easter eggs.

 

As soon as church was over, I grabbed my Easter basket from under the pew where Mother had put it so I couldn’t touch it during the service.  I ran out the church front door as quickly as I could.  I ran right past the preacher without shaking his hand. All of us children clutched the handles of our empty Easter baskets and lined up on the asphalt parking lot at the edge of grass.

 

On one side of the church, eggs lay on top of the grass in plain sight for the little kids to find, and the other side was divided into two sections for two age groups. Very few eggs were hidden for the teenagers because they were beyond hunting for eggs, but they were enticed to look for a prize egg.  Those of us in the elementary age group had the most eggs to find. We stood poised and ready, knowing that for every colored egg we could barely see there were many more hidden.   And when someone shouted, “Ready, set, GO!” we kids ran helter skelter gathering eggs that were hidden in tall tufts of grass, under shrubs, among the exposed roots of tall oak trees, and along a grown up fencerow.

 

We hunted until someone found the prize egg, a hard-boiled goose egg wrapped in gold paper, and the adults in charge declared that every egg had probably been found.   We children counted the number of eggs in our baskets because money prizes were given for the number of eggs found – the most eggs, the least, and none.  And the person in each age group who found the prize egg got a bright shiny silver dollar.  I found the prize egg only once—inside the downspout of the gutter.

 

I took home all the eggs that I found.  Eggs that other church members had boiled and dyed, and I hunted those eggs again in our backyard as many times as I could get my mother or daddy or brother to hide them.  There weren’t any prizes at home.  I hunted just for fun after I’d taken off my fancy new Easter clothes.

Easter Eggs

 

Unknown

 

Brown eggs don’t dye pretty colors like white eggs – except for purple.  Brown eggs dipped in purple water turn a beautiful dark wine color.  Most colors – yellow, green, blue – made brown eggs look like a clod of dirt.  Granny’s chickens laid brown eggs and Mom certainly never considered taking only wine colored eggs to the church Easter egg hunt.  That’s why, when I was a kid, Mom bought white eggs to color.

 

Each church family took colored eggs for the egg hunt.  On Saturday afternoon before Easter Mom boiled several dozen eggs – some white from the grocery store and some brown from Granny’s henhouse.  Mom and I, and my brother if Mom could rope him into helping, (teen-age boys think they’ve outgrown such childhood activities) colored each egg.  We used the Paas dye – tablets that dissolve in water.

 

Mom didn’t like plain one-color eggs.  We did half blue and half green eggs and tri-color eggs.  We’d color an egg all yellow and then dip each end in blue or red.  Using a paraffin pencil we’d draw designs that wouldn’t absorb color before dunking an egg in a color solution.  We decorated with glitter and sequins —anything to make an egg look fancy.

 

We colored a few brown eggs in red and purple liquid dyes and used crayons to draw designs on most.  Mom drew rabbits and simple flowers.  My favorite way to color brown eggs was with multi-colored stripes and zigzag lines and circles.  We spent what seemed like all afternoon sitting together at the kitchen table.

 

I dyed eggs with my children and now with my Grands.  Next week I’ll throw a plastic tablecloth over my kitchen table and bring out boiled eggs and coloring supplies.  The box of Paas dye hasn’t changed – except for the price – in 50 years.  And I’m glad.  There’s something magical about dropping a small colored tablet into three tablespoons of white vinegar and making brilliant colors, before diluting the solution with a half-cup of water.

 

And ever year, someone asks, “Why do you have to add the vinegar?”  Because the directions say to isn’t a good enough answer.  The vinegar creates an acid solution so that the colors bond with the calcium in the shell. And sometimes there’s more ‘why’ questions.

 

I know that plastic eggs are cheaper than real eggs and prizes or candy can be put inside each plastic one, but I like real Easter eggs.  The ones you boil and color.  And in the process, it’s a time to talk and laugh and create.  It’s not just about coloring eggs; it’s about the shared experience.

 

A few days ago, my seven-year-old Grand asked, “Gran, when are we going to color Easter eggs?”  I like that.  She didn’t ask, “Are we going to color Easter eggs?”   She asked, “When?”  Then she said, “I’m going to draw designs with crayons on some.”   Good, because I have some brown eggs to be colored and I don’t like Easter eggs that look like a dirt clods.

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