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!

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!

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.

All In For the Y!

I’ve been working at the YMCA in Raleigh, NC, for thirty 35 years.  My first job was driving a Y bus into marginalized communities, picking up kids and bringing them in for activities in the gym, swim lessons and a nightly devotion.  The program was called Y Boys, and we certainly had come characters including Budda and Meatball!  It’s been a long time, but I remember my kids well.

This past year I’ve run across two of my former campers.

Sarah, a teacher, has raised three kids of her own.  She told me she didn’t know she was poor until after she left her neighborhood.  Her generation was the first to attend college.  Her brother is an engineer, now living in Texas.  Her sister has a degree and lives up north.  Two of her children are in college, one working on her master’s degree, and one is thriving in high school.

Sarah told me that the Y was her respite.  When the Y bus drove into her neighborhood on Thursday afternoons, you did not want to miss the bus, she said.  She even remembered the boots I wore on a regular basis and several of the devotions I shared!  Who knew they were listening?

I also ran across Albert.  He was working at a restaurant – he came over to me and gave me a huge hug.  We grabbed lunch the next week to catch up.  Every time the Y was open, Albert was there.

Albert wasn’t a lucky as Sarah.  He had been sexually abused by his uncle for years.  His mother suffered from mental illness with no treatment.  Like too many other kids in tough situations, Albert had no idea that what was going on in his house was abnormal.  He just assumed everyone’s experience was similar to his.

He’s in his thirty’s now, and he said to me:  “Coming to the Y was the best thing that ever happened to me.  It was the best time of my life.”

When he told me that, my first though was How sad.  I then thought that perhaps is our sole role for some kids, to provide light in a dark world.  I’m grateful our organization has been able to do that for so long.

Since the mid 80’s, we have expanded our service in marginalized communities to include academic assistance after-school for 1,800 children at 55 different program sites here in the Triangle area.  We run full day summer camp where children get breakfast and lunch, learn to swim and receive an hour of academic remediation each day.  They pay $10/week (if they can).

Today at noon, the YMCA of the Triangle Areas kicks off our 48 Hours of Giving.  If you are in a situation where you might be able to contribute and help me meet my goal of raising $5,000 by Friday at noon, I encourage you to click on the link below.  And if you need assistance from the Y, please let me know.  We are open for ALL, regardless of your ability to pay.

MY GIVING LINK

Oh, and Scotty McCreary, a former Y camper, is holding a concert Thursday at 4 on Facebook for the Y.  Join in if you can.

 

 

Found the Marketplace

It’s just full.  So, so full.  My house.  Brimming.  You can’t walk into the attic.  The basement storage room is storaged out.  There’s a pathway to get to the old kitchen cabinet filled with… NAILS.  Nails and nails all kinds of nails, big ones, skinny ones, sharp ones too.  Why do I have so many nails?  Because I build a lot of stuff?  No.  That’s not the reason.  I honestly don’t know.  I haven’t nailed anything in sixteen years.  But there are thousands of them.

Julie had a friend who got rid of some stuff on Facebook Marketplace.  So I figured, what the heck!  It’s a pandemic.  What else I got to do?  I’ll try it.

I pulled out the old stuff, jammed in closets and hidden in giant Tupperware.  Julie took the pictures and created each item’s description:  Antique Tray with Pair Artistry (i.e. old tray with kid Decoupoge); four sturdy stools for a great painting project!  I think someone already painted a couple of them – so this would actually be a re-painting project.

But people love my junk.  I sold two Pier 1 vases from 1985 for like $30!  I bet they didn’t cost $30 dollars three decades ago when I bought them.  Ap-pre-ci-a-tion!

One annoying guy had me hold an old cabinet for 48 hours and then didn’t show to pick it up!  I was irked!  I lost THREE other buyers in the process.

I had these really old dusty topiaries that had been cluttering the fireplace hearth for twenty years.  Leftovers from a school auction.  I bet I had 35 people after them.  One woman hit me up and immediately drove to my house to get them.  I blew the dust off before she arrived.

I put the item on the porch; they leave the cash under the front door mat.  I fear the neighbors think I’m dealing drugs.  Lots of strangers at my front door.  They drive up, grab their stash, leave the money, and poof, they’re gone!  I haven’t met one of them in person.  I sort of like it that way.  Feels like a mafia deal:

“You want the goods?”

“Yea.”

“$45?”

“Yea.”

“Pick ‘em up on Bellwood Drive.  5 PM?  On the porch, over by the fern.”

“Got it.”

Other than cleaning out, which sort of feels like a household enema, the thing I like the most about this project is the moollah!  I once had a yard sale, stuff in the carport for days.  I sold $170 worth and hauled three minvans full of leftovers to Goodwill.  Last weekend I made $370 on about six items.  My phone dings when someone inquires on Marketplace.  It’s the sound of cash!

I’m cleaning out baby!  I’m ready to go!  Anywhere, actually.  Please…  Anywhere…

Sixty Years Strong

I can’t believe they have been married for sixty years.  I can’t imagine doing ANYTHING consistently for sixty years, except maybe eating.

That’s 21,900 nights together!  10, 950 Jeopardy shows they’ve watched through the years.

I wonder what makes them still like each other.  I asked my mom, what is the secret sauce?  She told me that she wants my dad to be as happy and full as he possibly can be, and he wants the same for her.  Maybe a lesson on selflessness, putting others’ needs before your own.

My dad’s advice?  Never go to bed angry.  I don’t think that’s a problem for them because they hardly ever argue.  Oh, they have differing opinions about things.  My dad makes a mess in the kitchen and cleans it all up when he’s done.  If my mom uses a spoon, she washes it before another utensil comes out of the drawer.  There is no mess in the kitchen – ever.  They had to replace their counter tops because she wiped the marble off.

I think, after sixty years, they’ve just come to accept each other’s flaws.  I probably have more than dad – that may not be so easy for my wife.

All of us likely develop our first impressions on what a marriage should be based on what we see at home.  What I saw as a kid was parents who showed affection for each other – yes, it was gross, but they kissed and hugged and flirted on a regular basis my whole life.  They worked as a team – cooking together, cleaning up together, teaching Sunday School together, hosting parties.  Mom and Dad LOVE to host a party!

They still scheme over what they get each other for Christmas, always trying to surprise the other with some little something special.

They laugh and laugh about the simplest things, like calling out my name as loudly as possible in the middle of K-Mart when I was a very embarrassable teenage boy.  They thought that was hilarious.  It actually wasn’t.

They studied the bible together, teaching Sunday School class at our church.  They read devotional books and prayed with us.  They showed me that a strong marriage is rooted in faith.

They have known each other since before high school.  In fact, my grandparents always told me they were in the same baby room at First Baptist Church in Florence, SC.  They were friends in high school, but never dated.  And then one Christmas, must have been about 1958, when dad was home from college, he randomly called mom to go out to catch up.  The rest is history.

I love their story.  I love them.  I am so thankful they are my parents and am so thankful that they showed me what a really, really good relationship looks like.

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