Gas AND OIL??

I’m not very mechanical.  That is actually an understatement.  I am not mechanical.  That is actually also an understatement.  I am like negative-mechanical.

I like numbers and I enjoy people and I can bake a fairly crusty pound cake, but I can’t fix a dag gone thing. 

Stuff with nuts and bolts, screws and gas – just not my thing. 

I try.  When I first purchased a house I painted the entire inside – 2,500 square feet.  I intended to coat the walls and ceilings.  I did as well as the floors, bathroom fixtures and myself.  It’s not for lack of trying.  I have every tool you could ever imagine – thanks to my father who desperately wants me to be a fixer.  He got that in my brother who can change car oil and install a garbage disposal.  Man, I wish I could do that.  If I could I’d have one in every sink in the house just because…

The other day I pulled out my lawn mower to cut the grass.  It was difficult to crank.  It’s only like twelve years old – why would it be so difficult to start?  I don’t ask a lot of it, just crank once a week, cut and then it can sit around doing nothing the rest of the time.  I even give it like four months OFF every year.  How happy I’d be if all I had to do is work a couple of hours a week in the warm months.

Julie, who is .05% more mechanical than I am, suggested I check the oil.

I put gas in it, and now, now after only a decade, I have to ALSO check the oil?  I took it to the shop several years ago for a tune up.  It just seems like this mower is expecting a lot considering its output.

I screwed off the oil cap, and it did indeed look a bit dry.  Sort of like my skin in February.

I had oil, so I filled it, screwed the cap back on and again tried to crank.

It did start, but a huge poof of white smoke billowed from its undercarriage.  It looked like a smokestack from a tire manufacturing plant.

I was told by my woman that perhaps I’d overfilled.  That seemed unlikely to me – I just put as much in as the container would allow.

A neighbor walking his dog passed by as the plume wafted away from our drive.  He had a smile on his face.  Julie’s brow was furrowed.  Our neighbor said in a supportive way, “Don’t worry.  He’ll figure it out.”

And I did.  I siphoned ¾ of the liquid out and gave the mower a rest.  Thirty minutes later she was cutting like her typical old self.

Julie thinks we need a new mower.  I think she will make it another year or two.  We have a small yard.

One might think that a guy who couldn’t fix things might be more prone to buying new stuff when in a situation like this.  However, more than my disdain for fixing, is my disdain for spending money. 

Even I can see the contradiction in my philosophies.  And yet, it’s unlikely I’m going to change.  Engrained. 

Dropoff Success

We arrived at Carige Dorm at UNC last Friday at 9:30 AM.  Right on time.  We took two cars.  Stephanie drove her silver Honda Civic.  We couldn’t fit the wares and three humans in one.  Most of Michelle’s belongings were stuffed in my SUV, all seats down. 

It’s sort of amazing how much one can fit in a dorm room.  They ain’t large.  Michelle warned me, she looked up the measurements.  Wall to wall: 12’ x 13”.  Our living room rug is two feet longer and three feet wider than her entire living space – that she shares with another co-ed!  But, she’s young, and it’s nice to be able to high five your roommate without getting out of bed.

My first house had one bathroom.  The ceiling was slanted over the toilet.  You had to lean back if you peed standing up.  It was actually a nice abdomen stretch.

Dropping a kid off at school is sort of like walking to a flogging.  The criminal is dreading it as well as the flogger.   The uncertainty for her, the anxiousness for me.  How could I leave my kid alone in this unfamiliar place?  Michelle decided to ride with Stephanie, fearful of my frame of mind.  Who knew if Butterfly Kisses might cue up on Spotify, a sure tearfest to follow.

God works in mysterious ways.  An August, 100 degree day and a sixth floor dorm room help alleviate emotion.  It felt like we were moving into Satan’s attic.  Any water that might pour out of my tear ducts was redirected to my armpits.

Being your typical dad, I refused to take the elevator.  The staircase was much closer to the car, and I was too impatient to wait my turn.  I had a job to do and nothing would get in my way. 

I heaved the largest Tupperware bins on my shoulders and hiked the flights of stairs to the top floor, young bucks holding doors for me.  In retrospect, maybe I was trying to keep up with them, the handsome young fellas who I used to be – more girth in the shoulders than the waist.  No doubt in my mind that i was a fit a they.

A friend warned me to bring a second t-shirt, he had moved his son in the day before.   I’m not a big sweater” I told him.  I was wrong.

I prayed for strength.  I hoped her mother’s spirit would come out – strength, grit, and courage to fly.  I couldn’t be with her, but Lisa could.

It worked! 

We unloaded, hauled, unpacked and “decorated” like champs.  It was fun!  We enjoyed the time and her roommate’s family.  After lunch we walked back to the dorm.  We hugged in the lobby of Craige.  We both welled up, our masks helpful in hiding our fears – then, Stephanie and I exited quickly.  My middle kid put her hand on my back as we walked down the cement walkway to the parking deck.  We didn’t talk, but she knew. 

I held the emotion until I got back to my car.   It wasn’t pretty.  

 It’s been a transition for me and a transition for her.  But surprising to us both, all is calm.

Next we launch Julie’s two:  Virginia and Scotland.  In September, we rest. 

18 More Nights

My youngest one, Michelle, the one who is headed to college in approximately 18 nights including this one which is about over, and I ate dinner at the Players Retreat tonight over by NC State.  The PR is an old Raleigh haunt – I went there in college.  Great food.  Good service.  Sort of a know you by your name hangout.  The atmosphere makes the summer flies bearable. 

We had a great dinner with an appropriately attentive waitress.  Our conversation ranged from spring rods and curtains for the college dorm “closet” to recanting old day camp cheers that she might be able to recycle tomorrow at work as a youth counselor at the downtown YMCA.

When we got home, I plunked out the melody of a few tunes, and she casually sang along.  She has a beautiful voice.  At one point, I moved to the den to pay the VISA bill, and she practiced a song we’re trying to convince her to sing at our wedding later this year.  I held it together when she walked through the room, but had she checked the credit card statement, it would have been damp.  I sure am going to miss that voice in the house.

I’m not sure which of us has the most angst about her going away, the kid who is headed to UNC or the parent who is watching her grow up.

It seems so surreal.  Poof.  All three of them are grown. 

I saw a commercial yesterday with a father holding his kid on his shoulder.  For some reason the baby’s onesie caught my eye.  I have held that same child, in that same outfit, in that same position, and in my mind not so long ago.

I try to convince myself it won’t be different – she’s only 30 minutes away.  I don’t see her that much when she lives here full time.  Things won’t change.

They will to some extent.  They are supposed to.  They are supposed to for her.  They are supposed to for me.

I am happy in my soul for Michelle.  I am excited for her.  The world is her oyster!  The future is bright for us all.

But for the next three weeks, I think I might just lament a bit.

Ain’t no cobras round here…

My mother called me twice on Tuesday during the workday and called Julie once.  I was in meetings.  I was fearful when I saw the alerts on my iPhone.  I called back quickly.

“Mom, is everything ok?”

This Fayetteville, NC, native (well she’s lived there sixty years anyway) informed me that there was tough news:  “A Zebra Cobra has escaped his owner’s house in Northwest Raleigh.  Are your doors closed?”

Big news indeed.  Especially for a woman who would rather have a lobotomy than run into a garter snake in the yard.

I pondered how a snake might make his way from NW Raleigh to my house in Central Raleigh.  I imagined crossing the I-440 Beltline might be a challenge.  But in her defense, my mom has no sense of direction.  If she was standing on the North Pole she would be pressed to point south.  She once headed from Fayetteville to her parents’ house in Florence, SC, a direct 1.5 hour drive south on I-95.  A trip she had taken hundreds of times before.  Half-way to her destination, she got off at an exit to use the restroom, got back in the car and headed north on I-95 back to Fayetteville.  She realized her mistake AFTER she had passed her hometown.

My mother then gave me every detail she could remember from the news report, and I suspect a little added commentary based on her imagination.  She shared that the cobra would spit poison in my eyes if I ran across him (i.e. keep googles on at all times until capture is announced).  She informed me that the nutcase who owned the cobra also had other venomous snakes that he kept in cardboard boxes about his home.  She told me he had been bitten by his pet Black Mamba but survived. 

Her call did implore me to pull up the news story and watch the squirrely creature slither across my “neighbor’s” deck.  It was disturbing.  And I agree with her that the man must be a nutcase.  I guess we all collect odd things – stamps, old notes, we have an affinity for decorative pigs – but venomous reptiles is a bit extreme. 

On Wednesday after work I rang my mom.  I told her I heard on the news that the Cobra was spotted in Benson, NC, headed south toward Fayetteville.

She hesitated… “I hadn’t heard that.  I’ll have to ask Wayne (my dad) if he’s seen it on the news.”

She was on speaker phone and my soon to be wife, Julie, yelled out to my mom, “He’s a liar!  The snake is NOT headed your way.”  She then told me I should be nice to my mom.

I am, usually, nice to my mom.  But sometimes, I just can’t resist to poke at her a bit.  And sometimes it is very well deserved.

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.

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.

“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!

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.

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