Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

Ice Ice Baby – NOT

We bought a house.  It is beautiful!  And with it, came a very, very nice freezer.

It’s a Thermador.  If you removed all of the shelves, I bet it would hold two adult bodies.  Not that I would ever need to freeze bodies… but if I did, I could fit a couple, easy.

I mean, this is a nice freezer.  It probably cost more than Stephanie’s car.  I’m not sure why the previous owner invested in it.  Maybe they really liked popsicles. 

The house was vacant when we moved in and the ice bin was full.  After a day, we used it all.  We like ice!

The next day, I expected to wake up to an abundance of cubes.  There were few. 

I read the manual.  I changed the filter – not inexpensive.  No production increase. 

I called the repairman to explain our situation.  He said, “Oh, Thermador’s only make about 8 cubes per hour.”

I said, “Well, then you don’t need to come because that’s about what it’s cranking out.”

I went back to Google.  It said a Thermador freezer makes 8 cubes “per harvest.”  It takes 60 – 100 minutes to complete a harvest.  New math tells us that, at its best, this machine will crank out about 192 cubes of ice per day and these are not big pieces of ice.  They are average size at best.  With seven family members, each person can have 27.42 cubes per day for them and any guests they might invite over to visit.

Last Tuesday I was making a smoothie and had to give Michelle a piece of gum in exchange for four pieces of her ice.  We had about 25 people over for a graduation party on Thursday.  If none of us drank a cold drink all day, each guest could have four cubes.  It was embarrassing to tell Michelle’s best friend’s father to put two cubes back in the bin so her music teacher’s husband could have his allotment.

I am disappointed in Thermador.  It’s like buying a Tesla and discovering it only goes 16 miles per hour.  I miss my Kenmore.  Less frou-frou, more ice!

Warning… do not move!

Warning… DO NOT MOVE!

It’s just too hard.  These are the top eight reasons not to move, in no particular order:

8)  You have to talk to the cable company.  I tried to cancel AT&T because Julie already had a great deal with Spectrum that would transfer to the new house.  They would not let me.  I called six times, S-I-X.  They kept texting to tell me about the appointment to set up my new service at the new house.  HOLY SMOKES!  I cancelled for garden seeds… don’t they understand that word?

7)  Boxes.  You have to collect them.  You have to tape them together.  You have to pack them.  You have to move them.  You have to unpack them.  You have to break them down.  You have to get rid of them.  My relationship with boxes is very odd at this point. I feel as if I know them, personally.

6)  The damn packing tape dispenser – how many times did the tape stick back on the roll and cause me to dig it off with my pointer fingernail?  About six hundred.  So frustrating and time consuming. There must be a better way.

5)  The movers.  Mine lost a mirror and the footboard of a wooden bed.  I moved three miles from my last house.  How do you lose a bed in three miles?

4)  Discovering how nasty the house you’ve been living in for 30 years is.  It was unreal the gunk that was living in the top cupboards, under rugs and under beds.  Ew.

3)  You will pull your back out.

2)  Spending entirely too much time at Goodwill – I bet between Julie and me we have taken 30+ trips to Goodwill in Raleigh or Charlotte.  We even found other places to donate because Goodwill can be a bit picky about what they take – no old treadmills… seriously I hauled that thing over there for no reason at all.  Same with the city dump and mattresses.  It costs $100 to dump a mattress!  My guest room mattress was at least thirty years old.  The dust mites could have walked it to the dump without me.

1)  It takes some time to get your mojo.  It is extremely disconcerting not to be able to find the garlic press in the new digs.  The search is on!  For everything.

Actually, it is worth moving to me because I get to be with the woman I love, full-time and in the same city!  But next I move, it will be to the funeral home.  And hard as I’ve worked over the past few weeks, that may be sooner than later.

Oh So Funny

Zeila

The final kid has made a decision.  Michelle will attend UNC next year!  It breaks my heart because I attended NC State and that too was an option.  But she’s going baby blue.  Her mother would be proud.

She has also reconnected with a friend from middle school who will be her roommate.  I don’t know her well, but my recollection from the early years is stellar.  One mutual friend told Michelle, “There is going to be some fun had in that dorm room.  You are the funniest two people I know.”

As I ponder my youngest kid’s personality, humor pops to mind. 

I recently ran across a note I’d scribbled in 2009.  It listed several quotes from Michelle, my then precocious five-year-old.

Each night the girls would choose a book to read before bed.  A favorite was not really reading.  It was the I Spy book.  Each page had hundreds of items and the text tested your searching abilities.  There might have been a Christmas theme and your challenge would be to find four santas, six stars and a mistletoe wreath.  One page held trinkets from Halloween, and we were searching hard. 

Michelle (reminder, she was five):  “I want to find that damn bone.”

Me:  “You shouldn’t say that.”

Michelle:  “At least I’m at home.”

On a flight back from Wyoming that same year, a Sci-fi movie was being projected on the overhead TV.  Michelle was sitting with her Nana.  At one point in the movie, a guy pulled off his mask and his head had no eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  Michelle looked at her grandmother and said, “Now that’s not something you see every day.”

On that same vacation, Lisa was working to get Michelle to stop sucking her thumb.  It was incessant, and we had tried numerous tactics to quell her urge.  At bedtime one night, Lisa said, “Michelle, you have to try to stop sucking your thumb.”  Michelle replied, “I can’t sleep without sucking it.”  Lisa responded, “You have to.”  Michelle’s come back?  “Some parent you are.  I’m not going to sleep tonight.”

She spoke as if she was 82 yet she was trapped in a kindergartener’s body.

Her humor has continued and kept me in stitches a good portion of her life.  I will miss the daily chuckles.  UNC will gain.  It will be a funnier, happier place come mid August.

Packing It Up

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The packing has begun.  I’m not 100% sure I’m moving yet.  We’re in that due diligence period where the buyer and seller have to argue about who is paying for what.  But I am beginning to organize just in case.

We moved Julie out of her house in March.  She’s in an apartment temporarily while we figure out our next step.  What we’ve discovered in the process is that we have A LOT of stuff.

Mattresses, we have mattresses for days!  Most of hers are younger than mine, so I’m tossing mine out.  The one in my guest room was in my grandmother’s guest room.  She moved out of her house and into a retirement community in 1996.  She built that house, oh, I’d say in the mid 70’s.  My best guess is that the bed was purchased upon arrival.  Although, come to think of it, perhaps she moved that one from the house my dad grew up in.  The queen set is somewhere between 46 and 83 years old.  Who cares?  My guests never stay that long.

The bed in Michelle’s room, which all of my kids have lived in at some point, is much younger.  It was purchased in 1993. 

I have a difficult time throwing things out.  When a pair of boxers no longer has enough elastic to stay up, I synch them for as long as possible.  One day I was jogging and I felt something around my knees.  My boxers had fallen on either side and the waistband was dangling below my thighs. 

I was a sad day when I tossed those little guys.  They had been through so much with me.

For the second time, I cleaned out my koozie drawer in the kitchen. 

Julie: “Honey, why do you have a drawer full of koozies?”

Me:  “I might need them.”

Julie:  “Why would you ever need 35 koozies?”

Me:  “Well sometimes Brad and Tim come over for a beer on the porch.”

Julie:  “So maybe keep three?”

We don’t even use koozies when they come over.  But I hate to see them go.

Julie has about 25% of the cabinet space in her apartment that she had at the house.  And yet, somehow, a popcorn maker the size of a Volkswagen avoided storage and made it to the new place.

Me:  “Why are you taking this enormous popcorn maker to the apartment?  Shouldn’t it go into storage?”

Julie:  “I think I might need it.”

Me:  “We have microwave popcorn.”

Julie:  “I need it.”

It’s ok.  This past weekend as I was packing, some people in my family were trying to toss the massive popcorn tub I won at the movie theater several years ago.  I told them I needed to hold onto it for all of the popcorn Julie was gonna make in our future life.

Together we have 6 hatchets and four axes.  There will be no shortage of firewood at our house.  We’re like a Boy Scout troop.

We’re gonna have to buy a big house.  Or maybe a mini-storage business.  Goodwill, here we come!

“I’ve Got The Memories…”

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The Folks

Vaccinations abound!  We were finally able to celebrate Christmas this past weekend with my parents.  Although masked, I walked into their house in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and gave my mom and dad a BIG, FAT hug.  I’ve seen them a couple of times over the past twelve months but not much, and the only physical connection we’ve had was a slight bootie bump at departure.

My folks are aging, like us all.  They’re pondering a downsize.  This is great news for them!  They will get all of the Christmas eating without nearly as much fuss.  I turned 55 this year, the minimum age for most retirement communities, and if I could get Julie to go, I’d sign up tomorrow.  Food, food, food!  BINGO and a built in Uber.  Who could ask for more? Some even have a a soft ice cream machine with all-you-can-eat sprinkles. My mom will be in heaven.

It may be this year or maybe the next, but they’re considering options which is good I think.

As I watched the seven grandchildren this weekend, I pondered the good times we’ve had on Meadow Wood Road.  And, I pondered the memories from my grandparents’ homes.

One had a screen porch with a black swing, and as I remember it, a patterned orange and green plastic cushion that would withstand nitric acid.  My brother and I would sit on the swing and count the many cars that flew by on Hoffmeyer Road.  We would each pick a color and could only count our colored vehicles. Each car was one point. Most points won. Chad would always choose white.  He’d encourage me to go with my heart – a color that fit my personality – like orange or yellow or purple.  Who wants to count boring white cars?  I’d think to myself.  In an afternoon, he would rack up 80 points rubbing it in as the hours passed by.  I might have one, maybe two if the Dukes of Hazard drove by.

At my other grandparents’ house, I have distinct memories of a powder green naugahyde couch, my brother and I in matching blue silky pajamas my mother had made for us, trying to knit.  My grandmother was a master and looking back on it was likely working to break typical gender roles.  Why couldn’t a boy enjoy knitting?  I concur.  But this boy did not.  It’s actually hard.

As I begin to ponder moving from the house where I raised my girls, occasionally I find a hint of melancholy set in.  The same is true as I think about my parents’ and my grandparents’ homes.  My eldest niece said it best on Saturday, “I have the memories.  That’s all I need.”  Pretty sweet.

CURAD Ouchless

My fiancé, Julie, finally sold her house.  We moved her out this weekend into a temporary place in Charlotte.  Now, it’s my turn.  It’s like dominos – one step forward puts the next in motion.  When we finish, the plan is marriage and ONE house.  After five years of dating, it’s probably time.

I’ve had workmen at my house shoring up odd jobs, and I’ve been cleaning out like a crazy person.  I’ve watched Julie do the same.

It’s interesting what you find – it’s fun, it’s dirty, and sometimes it pierces a heartstring.

Last night I was shoring up the Rubbermaid band aid container.  Does everyone have a band aid box with various shapes and sizes of stick ‘ems and gauze?  In my quest to clean out, I came across an old tin of CURAD Ouchless Bandages.  I started to toss it without looking in.  But that’s not my style.  No, I look in everything to see if there is any feasible reason I might want to save something.  I hate to throw things out – what if I could reuse it?  An old towel could become a new rag.  What if someone else could use it?  My junk is another’s treasure.  What if it conjures up a memory that I might otherwise lose?  A hand drawn card from Michelle dubbing me the “best father” of all time!  That’s like an Oscar for me.

I opened the can and there were no boo-boo strips.  Instead two bills, one dollar and a five.  On the dollar, my grandmother had written:  This bill was in my father’s wallet on the day that he died, July 30, 1965.  On the five the same message but for my great-grandmother, This bill was in mama’s wallet on the day that she died, June 21, 1970.  Also rolled up with the money was a note in my great-grandmother’s writing saying keep this bill always to remember your dad.  I was not yet 1 when my great-grandfather died and only five when his wife passed.  But how cool to have a physical remembrance of their love and our family history.

It is hard to move out of a house that you’ve lived in for nearly thirty years.  The laughs that we’ve had.  The tears that we’ve shed.  The victories and losses.  The weekly totes in of the groceries.  The fall nights on the screen porch.  All are special.  Comfortable.  Warm.

And yet, the danger of gripping so hard to the past is the possibility of foiling the future.  We have to pack our CURAD tins in a cardboard box, and take them with us as we move forward.  Our past can stagnate or add delight to what comes ahead.   I choose delight all day long!

My At Home Physical

It’s time to renew my life insurance.  Gotta have it, but there is nothing fun about the process.

I have a physical every single year where they poke and prod me, why, why is it necessary for the insurance company to repeat the process?  I sign a form releasing my medical records to them.  But they insist on coming to my house to inflict more pain.

Last week, a little old lady strolled up my driveway at 9 AM.  She works for a company that makes house calls.  It’s like Grub Hub but for bodily fluids.

The woman told me she was a retired nurse and took this on as a part time job just for fun.  She had white hair and a suitcase full of syringes and vials.  She asked me six hundred questions, that I’d already answered online, and then asked if I wanted to pee first or have my blood drawn.

I freak out at the sight of needles, and blood, so I chose to get that out of the way. 

“Can you please take it from my hand?  My arm veins like needles less than the rest of me.”

Phlebotomists don’t like hands. 

“It’ll hurt worse that way,” she scolded.

“I’ve been told that before.  But the idea of a hunking piece of medal shoved up the crease of my arm makes me pass out so the hand it will be.”

“Suit yourself.”

I turned on the TV for a distraction.

It didn’t hurt.  It never does.  It’s just the thought of it.  Blood is supposed to be INSIDE you.  Just like your spleen.  I don’t want to see it.

She then gave me a cup and told me to fill it.  At the doctor, you pee in a small container and leave it in a little metal cabinet where it magically disappears.  I had to bring this one back out and hand it to her like I was serving a cup of tea.

“Would you like a sugar cub or dash of cream?”

She didn’t finish it.  I had to pour the leftovers back down the toilet.  I felt like she’d seen a very private part of me.

My home nurse then informed me she had to perform an EKG and told me to remove my shirt.  She lay me on the couch.  Sadly, that day I’d hire men to replace a significant portion of my roof.  As she stood over me, her hands on my bare chest, out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the roofers walk by my back windows.  We made eye contact.  He quickly walked away.

I could only imagine what he was thinking.  I’m grateful she didn’t check my prostate. 

The Vice President

I recently watched a documentary on Prime Video called The Antidote.  It’s about kindness.  Now is probably a good time for all of us to consider that word:  kindness.

Kindness really isn’t about being nice to people you like, it is more active than being polite.  It takes action and perhaps action with people you don’t have that much in common with. 

The Antidote follows several stories of people and organizations that are truly working to serve others.  Two of the stories jumped out at me.

The first is Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, a medical clinic that serves people who live in abject poverty.  The staff walk the streets of Boston finding homeless folks who need medical care.  When they take these people to their clinic, the first thing the medical staff do is wash the patients’ feet.  They actually remove their often damp socks and shoes, get on their knees and soak and WASH their feet.  They say that this act, physically kneeling before these people, changes the dynamics – building trust.

I don’t even like to touch my own feet, much less the feet of someone I don’t know!  Imagine how meaningful that could be to someone who is often overlooked, ignored, or looked down upon.

The other vignette that stood out to me was of a community that has fully embraced people with disabilities.  The Center for Discovery in Sullivan County, NY, provides care for adults and children with the most complex medical disabilities.  One of the participants in the program shares her experience.  She says, “They are listening to what I have to say.”  She then describes a group of about eight friends who convene weekly at the Pickled Owl restaurant.  They call themselves the Self Advocacy Group.  This participant proudly boast:  “I am the Vice President (of the group).”  She is so proud.

I was touched by how simple it is to make someone feel relevant and loved.  Listening – making people feel heard.  It’s not that hard.  And don’t we all want to be the Vice President of something? 

Years ago I was the Sargent at Arms of my 7 AM rotary club.  I hated the early meetings, but dang, I was THE Sargent at Arms!  I bet there aren’t that many people who can boast that they have held that position.

I’m wondering how I, how we, can give more people the opportunity to be the Vice President… of something.  It just can’t be that hard.

Michelle’s College Essay

The youngest, Michelle, is a senior in high school. She has been doing some major essay writing recently. The one below made me laugh. Maybe the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!

This is the prompt from the university:

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful? We know nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are. Anything goes! Inspire us, impress us, or just make us laugh. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy and with an attitude.

This is the essay:

       I like to think of myself as the funny sibling in my family. I am the youngest of three girls, and as the youngest I have made it my duty to keep family dinner conversations, holidays, and hangouts exciting. You can always find me carrying a speaker around the house blasting music or convincing my sisters to play my favorite game, the No-Smiling-Game. The rules of the No-Smiling-Game are simple: the players try to make each other laugh while also simultaneously trying not to laugh in the process. No matter how annoying my sisters say the game is, they always give into playing because they know it is a guaranteed laugh. However, most recently I’ve found a new way to entertain my family and me: word mashing. 

            One may ask herself, What in the world is word mashing? Like the No- Smiling-Game, it is just as it sounds, taking two words and mashing them together. I’m not really sure where my word mashing, or as I like to call it “washing”, habits started. I think it was sometime during quarantine when I was extremely bored. I got my sisters in on the joke early on because I was constantly combining words around the house. However, my extended family wasn’t exposed to it until our annual summer vacation to the mountains of West Virginia. 

            The first word mash of the week was random, but in my personal opinion, the best of them all. My grandpa was telling a story about his very close encounter with a bear and mentioned bear territory. So naturally, I created “bearitory.” The beauty of word mashing to me is the accomplishment felt when finding a really good match.  After announcing a new word mash to the family and explaining exactly what word mashing was, everyone got in on the fun. 

One night at dinner my family and I were on a mashing roll. It all started when our waitress announced we were having spaghetti for dinner. The spaghetti noodles and spaghetti sauce came to the table thus “spoodles” and “spauce” were born. My uncle, Jesse, catching onto the trend, added that we were also having a “vedley” for dinner as an alternate way of saying vegetable medley. My 75-year-old grandma even joined in when she was inspired by the toppings on her salad: “Oh! I’ve got one,” she said tentatively, worried her word mash might not meet the high expectations of the experts at the table. She proceeded with caution, “Blumbles? Like blue cheese crumbles?” The entire table busted out into laughter. That night we came up with quite the list of “washes.”           

Throughout the week the list grew. Each day brought dozens of new and brilliant mashes to add to the collection. We even created a sort of point system for our new game. For example, the more obscure the word mash the more points earned. Additionally, if the word mash included two large words put together or if it consisted of two innocent words that sounded inappropriate, such as dill pickles (I’ll leave it at that), there was extra credit.

Once we left West Virginia, it was hard to return to a world where word mashing wasn’t commonly used by those around us. However, I’m not sure I would want everyone in on the fun. I sort of like the uniqueness of our family. Little things like “washing” or the No-Smiling-Game often bring the most laughter and create the best memories for me. 

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