Paper Plate Awards

About three weeks ago I visited our YMCA’s Camp GRACE along with 15 volunteers who help raise money for the Y’s Annual Campaign. Funds raised help support programs for folks who need us but without help might not have the opportunity to participate.

The Y runs GRACE at three sites in the Triangle. This camp is for children with Autism or other Pervasive Development Disorders.

While at camp I was thrown back to fifth grade. I was a student at Glendale Acres Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC, and Mrs. Buie was my homeroom teacher. Once she made me write 100 times: I will not forget my homework. It seemed unfair to me because I realized I left my math at home and had my mom bring it to the school before class started. Somehow she found out I had a special delivery and punishment ensued. I thought I should actually receive extra credit for problem solving. She was hardnosed and didn’t see it that way.

I was not a particularly cool kid. I know that’s hard to believe!

I was an above average student but not stellar. I wasn’t particularly good at anything. I wasn’t athletic. When Scotty Cannon, who had hair on his chest by 3rd grade, threw the dodgeball, I simply ran off the court. If he hit you, you could have the word Spaulding emblazoned on your abdomen for two weeks. Back then we didn’t play with cushiony balls. No, we played with balls made out of two inch rubber, hard as a mound of hard clay!

But during the last week of school that year, I walked into the awards assembly. I was likely disengaged assuming smarty pants Lindsay Merron or cool boy Joey Brennan would rake in most of the acknowledgement. To my surprise, when the principal, Mr. Lawson, called out the winner of the final and most prestigious honor, the Citizenship Award, my name was called out!

I walked up to the stage like Jack Nicholson – cool as a cucumber.

What a great feeling – ME, Danny Tanner, the most citizenshippy out of 500 students! And, as I recall, the trophy was HUGE – bigger than any other.

As the YMCA Director walked us around Camp GRACE, she described their Friday Paper Plate Awards Assembly. At the end of each week, parents are invited in and staff present each camper with a decorated Paper Plate Award that recognizes something they’ve done well over the past five days. Perhaps it is Best Swimmer or Friendliest Camper.

Two things routinely happen at this assembly – the children go nuts for themselves and for each other, and parents weep.

Imagine seeing your child, who maybe has never been recognized for being the best at something, being lauded for his accomplishments. It is powerful stuff.

That’s what the Y does, day in and day out. It provides children, teens and adults opportunities to feel good.

TODAY is the YMCA’s Day of Giving, and my goal is to raise $5,000. Consider a gift that will help over 20,000 people who need a place to fit in, fit in.

GIVE NOW

Doggone

What a week!  Julie and I volunteered to dog sit for Lisa’s sister on the upper east side of NYC!  We split the week with DJ with a few day overlap.  I think Julie’s strategy was to make me fall in love with a dog.  She has always had one, or even two, at a time.  I have had none because feeding and taking care of three kids was ENOUGH. 

But oops, she may have got me.

I am slightly allergic to pet dander, my primary excuse.  I don’t want to pay for one, my second excuse.  And dag gone, picking up poop for any reason is a huge thumbs down for me.

Because his daily “routine” includes a morning walk where he does his business, my lovely wife took the morning shift.  On Tuesday, his system must have been turned around, because not only did he make hay at 7:30 AM with her, he also had a messy one at the corner of Park Avenue and 70th on my afternoon watch.  How embarrassing!  And he walks while he poops so I’m chasing his butt around with my little green baggy trying to discretely clean up.

There are a lot of dogs in NYC.  I met a lovely older woman, sort of looked like Nancy Walker, Rhoda Morganstern’s mother from the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  We had a casual conversation one night about 10 PM while Colby, my dog, and St. Francis of Assisi (I lie not), her canine sniffed each other.  It was lovely.  She frozen yogurt with all the toppings and her daughter recently moved to New Mexico.

One afternoon Colby froze, absolutely WOULD NOT MOVE, as we crossed Lexington Avenue.  I had to scoop him up as a Yellow Cab driver snarled at me and let out an aggressive honk.

Colby sniffed and licked most everything in sight, including my face.  I don’t even like to think what, by proxy, has been in my pores this week.  We played fetch with his slobbery orange tennis ball for hours – I throw, he runs, he brings back to me, I throw again.  It’s mechanical.

All this for six days.  Errr.  I miss him so!  He sat on me, snoozed on my lap, greeted me with great affection, whimpered when I left, looked at me as if I was his only one – sort of like my daughters, pre-teen.

We can’t get one now because we spend too much time away – but if anyone wants to join a dog share program, we are IN!  I think I eventually need one of my own.

What are you going to do with it?

AC Snow died this past week. AC was a long time columnist for the News and Observer here in Raleigh. He was 97. AC read some of my blog posts. On occasion he would email me to point out a grammatical error, “you’re much too strong a writer to make that mistake.” I was embarrassed about my blunder but was honored that THE AC Snow couched his corrections with a compliment. Strong writer! Yeah!

I knew his wife much better than I knew him. Mrs. Snow was a professor at NC State. I loved her so much I took three of her courses. I’ve used what she taught, public speaking, more than any other learnings in my life.

Nancy and AC lost a daughter in a tragic accident many years ago. He once wrote about it in his column. Perhaps the most remarkable thing to me about Mr. Snow was that even after this life-altering event, and yes the death of a child is forever life-altering, he rallied and continued to share joy with the world through words. The pain never goes away after grief, but one is able to recover – to find joy – to share joy – and live full again.

When Uncle Jesse and I started this blog about a decade ago, I was just beginning to reimagine a life that had been altered. Four weeks ago, I married Julie – she fills me in ways I could never have dreamed. I love her with all of my heart. I simply couldn’t have even dreamed of this day a few years back. It took faith, some luck, an army of supporters, and frankly internal grit.

If it hasn’t yet, it will likely hit you – grief, depression, life not turning out the way you’d imagined. What are YOU going to do with it?

I choose love.

I Forgot

I think I’d forgotten the beautiful things that come with having a full time partner.  The wedding is coming, and we are planting roots in Raleigh – working to build a life together.

Of course, there are the typical wins of most any relationship.  Someone to unpack your day with, a Ted Lasso viewing partner, a cooker/cleaner combo for dinner, it makes it much more bearable.  But maybe it’s the small things that your mate brings that make life most special.

Like cloth napkins.  I’ve used paper Food Lion 150 count for years.  The first time Julie set the table for dinner and brought out the niceties, I was perplexed.  Is someone coming to dinner?  Do we have enough to eat?  It wasn’t a guest she was preparing for.  Only us.  Folded cotton, just for me!

She sets out a knife, even when we’re eating soup!  Just in case I suppose.

The half-and-half is sometimes in a wee little pitcher shaped like a cow.  I was used to a carton straight out of the fridge.

The sheets get changed often, not just when the housekeeper comes.

There are soap cubes in the shower with bits of salt (or something rough) to ensure my pours are fully exfoliated.  My face feels so clean.

We don’t use towels for weeks at a time – once or twice and a new one is due.  Mmm – fresh!

Candles abound and orchids are potted.  Real live ones that take ONE ice cube a week to quench their thirst.  Occasionally there’s a pitcher of water with lemons and limes – spa water it’s called. 

I’m encouraged to stretch to keep me limber and eat special oyster mushrooms from the Farmer’s market.  I’ve been to the market more in the past six months than I had been in years!

I’m not sure what I’m bringing to this partnership – maybe a little laughter and an extraordinary expertise at balancing a checkbook to the penny.  But wow, its fun to share once more… to have your personality complimented by another.  I’d forgotten how good that could be.

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.

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.

“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.

Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

Proverbs 15:30

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.  Proverbs 15:30

Julie works for an organization in Charlotte, Share Charlotte, that brings the nonprofit community together with individuals and corporations.  If you want to make a donation, go to their website and you will find the nonprofit that strikes your fancy.  If you want to volunteer with teenaged boys who occasionally drive their parents crazy, just click those filters and opportunities abound.

As part of Do Good Week, their push for volunteerism, each staff member picked a charity to volunteer for.  As is typically the case, Julie, the Pied Piper, enlisted the whole fam to help.  She chose to feed 100 homeless folks at a local shelter.

We shopped for food, set up an assembly line, and bagged sandwiches, fruit, chips and homemade, well slice-and-bake, cookies to go.  Then four of us delivered the goods.

Our Zoom Sunday School lesson today was based on Proverbs 15:30.  But what in the heck can you do to lift others’ spirits when you can hardly leave your house?

As I thought about it – maybe a lot.

Perhaps you pay your housekeeper even if she isn’t coming to clean.  Or maybe you call that single friend you know is at home alone.  Notes, texts.  Checking on great aunt Lou-Lou.  Even getting takeout from a restaurant that is no doubt struggling to survive this shut down would be helpful.  I’d actually appreciate it, if you’re able, to keep paying your monthly dues to the Y!  Consider it a donation.

There are boundless ways to give, even from your favorite armchair.  There are infinite ways to spread good news to those in need.

In conjunction with several other nonprofits in the area, our Y in southeast Raleigh, a marginalized community, opened a one day food pantry.  Hundreds and hundreds of cars lined up filled with individuals and families who need help.  People are hurting.  People are hungry, like actually hungry.  I can’t even imagine being worried about providing food to my family.  These people live in our communities.  They are our neighbors.

Now is NOT the time to pull back – to be cautious with your time, effort and money.  Now IS the time to step it up.

As I slapped ham and cheese on endless pieces of white bread, Julie looked at me and said, “Now is the time for us to take our eyes off ourselves.”  Sometimes that’s hard to do when your own salary has been cut and your kids are eating you out of house and home.  And yet, isn’t that exactly what we should be doing in this increasingly fragile time?

Where is God?

This won’t be the first time I’ve wondered why God doesn’t step in to fix the situation at hand.  I’ve wondered when I’ve seen mass shootings that seem so needless.  I’ve wondered with terrorist activities.  I’ve wondered when those among us die at an early age or when I’ve seen, in my work at the Y, a child who has been physically or emotionally abused.  Does He not see the suffering?  How can He not act, not do something to get His world back in order?

If I were God, certainly I would immediately knock Corona to its knees.  Or, perhaps step in early on and not allow it to happen in the first place.  Where the heck is He?

As I sit in my five bedroom, 3800 square foot house, my most recent vacation still dancing in my mind; my children in private schools; my refrigerator so full I can hardly get the door closed; my twenty rolls of toilet paper scattered throughout my many bathrooms; my healthy children sleeping late with the ability to begin their online classes this week; my beautiful fiancé safe and sound at her home in Charlotte; I scoff at myself for even questioning why I’ve been thrown a curve ball this week.  Seriously, I am complaining about anything?  It’s ridiculous.

I don’t believe that God punishes us, but if He was a God who did that, He would certainly have reason.  Look what we’ve done to our earth?  This quarantine has given God’s creation a chance to rebound from the incessant wear and tear we put upon it.  He might want me to stop dreaming about more and to be satisfied and thankful for all that He has already given me.  Who knows?  He might take all of this, and make something better than we could ever imagine.

But I don’t think that God is intentionally trying to teach us lessons by creating hard times.  No, I think that the world just happens, and God picks up the pieces, supports us, often through our friends and neighbors, and puts us back together.

I’ve seen this story before.  I’ve experienced really hard times and come out stronger for it.  With time and patience, if you watch closely, you might see His hand at work again.

 

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