Friday, August 29, 2014

TToT41: A Find

Several years ago, before we had kids, we bought Brian a dresser at a used furniture store near our home. The store was located in a warehouse-like building filled with treasures and junk, and I'd wandered in one day with a dresser in mind. (The store was, a few years later, converted into a church, I think, or perhaps a beauty spa...or both. In that regard, the place was very much a symbol of the "neighborhood in transition" in which we lived. But that's beside the point.)

Fortunately, on that day, I discovered this gem of a dresser. It has four sizeable drawers and one fold-down desk area. The interesting carving on the top drawer (someone ringing a bell in front of a village?) just added to its appeal. I knew at the time that the dresser was in desperate need of stripping and revarnishing, but at that time in my life, I knew I had plenty of time and energy for a project like that.

But the years passed by, and I never did get to that project, overwhelmed by the prospect of all those hinges, drawers, and pigeonholes in the desk area. When we moved to MD, it (along with several other items of furniture) underwent some damage, and the desk drawer never could push in all the way. But the dresser got relegated to the basement guest room so it wasn't something I fretted over very often.

However, about two weeks ago I got one of the flares of passion and energy for a specific project and decided I'd pull out all the drawers to see just what the problem was. To my disappointment, I discovered that the dresser frame was not open and there was no way to see in to the desk compartment from either the drawer above or the drawer below.


Peering upwards in the dim drawer area under the desk, I found this treasure:

Fred and Ruth. So much "scope for the imagination," as Anne Shirley would have said. I guess it seems likely they were married in 1936, were Christian, and one died in 1989. Did they buy the dresser as young couple? Who wrote that inscription? What did he/she envision for it? Was it made in a moment of grief and/or did he/she hope someone like me would find it and wonder about Fred and Ruth and their relationship of the mid-20th century? I suppose Fred or Ruth ended his or her years in Western North Carolina. I suppose a relative or friends donated the dresser, having no use for it.

And as much as there are numerous choose-your-own adventure options within that one tame storyline, that storyline is, indeed, tame. There is so much more to imagine. How far has this dresser travelled? How many people have owned it? What grief and joy has it witnessed (and contained)?

I have spent and will continue to spend hours imagining the lives of Fred and Ruth and all the possible owners who came before or since. Besides the likelihood of the furniture being better made than furniture today, the main reason I love pre-owned furniture is the imaginary possibilities of its past. Worth ten in thankfuls any day.

And, hey, what do you imagine about Fred and Ruth?

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Back To School Bravery

Inspired by Glennon of Momastery (as I so often am), I was moved to write Maggie a letter on the occasion of her first day of Kindergarten. Glennon's letter is beautiful, but I sense her son is a very different person than my daughter, and rather than borrow her letter entirely (as she offered to her readers), I decided to borrow bits and pieces but mostly write my own.

I worked on it off and on the last few days, and then last night after baths and books, I realized I'd never really finished and here was the night before school right upon me. So I rushed upstairs to grab my laptop only to be told, "I don't want you to read the letter, Mama."

So, I didn't. Instead, we talked (and cried) through her sudden realization that Mama and Daddy would not be coming with her on the bus in the morning or accompanying her to her classroom for the day. We talked about how good it is for her to tell us when she's sad and nervous, and we made a plan. But it twists a mama's heart to realize she can't fix the situation; she can only suggest tools for dealing with disappointment and anxiety. And the message I find myself repeating on a regular basis, "You can't be brave if you're not scared first. Brave means being scared and doing the hard thing anyway."

So, since she refused to listen to it, I'll post my letter here. And try again next year.


Tomorrow you start Kindergarten. Tomorrow is the first day of thirteen years of school, the beginning of a grand endeavor.

You are our superbrave girl. In your five years we have watched you learn to do difficult things, things that were scary, that you did not believe you could do. But you have! You climb high on the playground; you talk politely to people you don’t know well; you are developing the skills you need to become someone who “can read the words, not just look at the pictures.”

Learning is exciting. “The world is so full of a number of things,” and school will provide an introduction to so many of them. Sometimes you’ll find it’s easy to learn. School will help you discover your strongest talents, and your work on those talents will always make us proud.

Going to school will also mean you have to do hard things. Everyone finds school hard sometimes. For some people reading is hard; for others, it’s math. Some people don’t like sports, or music, or art, and others find it very difficult to pay attention. When learning is hard, it is important to ask for help. From classmates, or teachers, or us. The bravest people ask for help when they need it, and we know you are brave.

You know what else brave people do? They watch out for others who are finding school hard and help out. Kids who need help might be crying, or alone, or looking like “uncooked spaghetti.” It takes lot of courage, but talking to or playing with a person who needs help is one of the bravest things you can do. Sometimes you can’t help the person by yourself, and you need to tell a teacher. That is not tattling; that is being brave and kind. Especially when no one else is helping.

Every single person in this world struggles at times, and every single person in this world can make a difference through kindness. What we hope for you is that you use your courage to be kind. To yourself and others. Ask for help when you need it, and help others in turn. You can make the world a better place.

We love you to pieces, Sweet Muffin. When you get on the bus tomorrow morning, our hearts will be bursting with pride. You are our WonderGirl! And when the bus brings you home in the afternoon, Mama will be waiting.  


Mama and Daddy

Friday, August 22, 2014

TToT40: Loss

My family lost a good man this week.

There have been events to attend, people to greet, and stories to tell.

Themes have emerged, the finest traits this man possessed: compassion, good humor, intelligence, love of family and friends, and many others.

I only knew this man for ten years. I did not know him as a bright but unengaged student, or as  a man who traveled the country working for political campaigns, or a press secretary to powerful men. I didn't know the details of the bills he helped write, or the work he did spreading democracy worldwide, or the classes he taught in his retirement years. I knew him primarily as a father-in-law and grandfather. And I am thankful for those ten years.

I do not believe my father-in-law ever met a person he could not like. People the rest of his family would avoid, he embraced for the good he found in them. He was an example of how to make the world a better place by spreading kindness. He lived for society, and he found good in every person he ever met. He accepted me into his family without question; I was his daughter, not his daughter-in-law.

He could never stand for someone to be unhappy. If others were putting a person down, he would step up to defend that person. He did this for me once when I was feeling alone and misunderstood. He didn't make a fuss, but in my presence and others', he spoke up for me. One small statement that meant, "I'm with Sarah; if you're against Sarah, you're against me, too." There was more, also, that I didn't know at the time. Emails in which he defended me. He may not have agreed with me 100%, but he was sure going to assume the best about me. I was family.

He did not give limited compliments. If you did something he considered kind or resourceful or admirable, he was unstinting in his praise. You were absolutely the best he'd ever known. Scrambling an egg, oiling a hinge, assembling a piece of furniture--these were absolutely astonishing skills in his mind, and no one else could have done it better.

He loved his grandchildren profoundly. He was devoted to them as babies and would eagerly volunteer to be the walker, until his shirt was soaked with drool and the baby was asleep. Whereas I watched for milestones with some impatience, I believe he witnessed them with some disappointment. Every crawl, climb, or step subtracted a little time from holding and cuddling. Nevertheless, his praise at each milestone was absolute. There was never a  baby more amazing, more impressive, more talented!

As he got older and slower, his pace matched my children's so perfectly. They walked to the park at the same speed and got just as excited as each other at the sight of a squirrel or a leaf blower or their shadows. He would sit and read the same books all the other adults had gotten sick of, and he'd feed spoonful after boring spoonful of puree long after I'd moved to serving small chunks of fruits and vegetables. He was more than happy to make sound effects on demand and flip the light switch over and over and over long after everyone else had left the room in annoyance.

This was a good man. We mourn his absence but celebrate his life.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

TToT39: Guts

I hate this week's guts! That was a thing when I was kid--to hate the guts of whatever or whoever had earned your disdain.

I hate this last week's guts. Literally.

It started out positive enough. We hatched a plan to travel to Williamsburg to stay at my in-laws' time-share that they are unable to use this year. A fun and cheap vacation since we could pack up the contents of our fridge as well as our closets. We arrived without incident and spent one day relaxing, swimming in the pool, etc. and the next touring about. Maggie wanted to climb ladders on ships so we headed to Jamestown (cue photos)

and celebrated escape from those oppressive Brits.
Looking at YOU, Lizzi!

Then rode a ferry

and even ate out. I ordered this quite astonishing fried meal and ate about 1/4 of it (all of the fried okra--because who doesn't love fried okra?).

Definite thankfulness here.

But during the during of all this, I received a solid one-two to the gut with two emails from someone I trusted. I voluntarily showed my underbelly and received punches in return. I was good and winded, let me tell you. But I'll find some thankful. A good life lesson: you cannot expect more than a person is willing to give. You may be willing to give more, and it may be heartbreaking to find the other person is not willing to give the same, but there's nothing to be done about that. It's too bad that's a lesson that doesn't stick. You relearn it in every instance. A little self-pity? Perhaps.

Robin Williams' death. It is clear I am not alone in being surprised by the impact a celebrity's death had on me. And I don't need to go into the reasons because they're the same as everyone else's: we all knew he struggled with depression, his career spanned my life so his movies had an impact on my formative years, the recent disclosure he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's. His death was a heartbreaking shock, but what some people have written about it makes me sick. Literally (the most recent, bogus definition). People who have no expertise or experience with mental illness feel compelled to sit in judgement instead of exercising compassion. But, some really wonderful stuff has been written, too, and for one example, please turn to one of my cohosts, Sandy.

The horror of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. The stark reminder that racial stereotyping and prejudice is real and still exists and results in terrible brutality. A reality, as a white middle-class female, I very rarely have to face. Here's a great article about it with links.

And then, the vomit began. Literally.

It started with poor Leo on Wednesday night, and the amount was truly astonishing from such a small person. We bagged up two enormous garbage bags of linens for the resort's laundry facility. You might think it's better than at home. I don't know. At home and at a timeshare, you have to do the mopping and scrubbing and remaking of beds yourself, but at a timeshare, you don't have access to any of the materials or equipment. You have to call the office and wait for delivery before you get to do it yourself. Over and over. All the while your tiny boy is absolutely miserable, can't seem to stop vomiting long enough to sleep, and is clearly confused as to what he has done to deserve this terrible punishment.

Thankful: sweet photo

That said, he did eventually fall asleep (perpendicular, with me hanging off the bed), and I got my excuse to skip to Busch Gardens and watch a Cary Grant marathon on TCM. See how I turned that frown upside down?

My own stomach bug didn't start until midway home that night (oh, yes, we had to pull over). And Brian's started the next morning. You know what's worse than having a stomach bug? Having to take care of two small, dependent, perfectly well children when you have a stomach bug. Oh, how I wished for my mama because she would have come to get them!

As it was, Brian and I crawled up and down the stairs (literally) when we heard yelling in order to start another movie or prepare food while trying to keep our own bile from rising. We fell into our bed as often as possible (being careful not to touch because it hurt too much).

When we finally got our two whiners into bed for the night (at an obscenely early hour), and settled their whining (no doubt from neglect), the last thing we said to each other was, "If only we can get a full night's sleep. Then we'll feel better."

Maggie started wailing at 1:00 am when the bug hit her. I laid with her in bed with her on old towels until 6:00, dozing between bouts of vomiting and towel changing. You know what's worse than having a stomach bug? Having to take care of a small, dependent child who cannot seem to aim for the bowl. At 6:00, I took her to bed with me and let Brian take morning duty with Leo.

So, how I can turn this horrendous story into thankfulness? We have no more family members to catch it. And it only took three days to sweep through. And, I think everyone has finished spewing. Maggie has managed to finish half a cup of Gatorade will no ill effects, and I am actually starting to feel hunger pangs.

And, I guess I got a headstart on my diet.

How about you? Can you find any thankfulness in your lessons for the week?

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

TToT38: Finding the Grateful

Well, this has been a downer of a week. Sad, unexpected news, gripiness and grumpiness, unnecessary drama, you name it. Plus, for the first time this summer, I came home from a trip and had no other event to look forward to. The summer is winding down. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's been nice to not be under laundry or housecleaning pressure, but it's also been a bit depressing. And going back to nonvacation eating is definitely depressing.

So on to the thankfuls:

To go back a week or two, I have a new computer! It's so pretty and clean and light! That's probably a full ten in itself to be able to type on a laptop that doesn't lose battery power in less than an hour with a mouse pad that is actually functional.

Another free CSA box. No need to say more, huh?

Skip and the chickens sent me cheer-up texts this week! I am honored, let me tell you.

The tomatoes are ripening at a rapid rate. That can actually turn into a burden as I have to spend so much time chopping and freezing, but that's just ungrateful, so I didn't even write it.

I joined Instagram, and I'm really not sure why it's taken me so long. Find me there; I'm amycakedude.

As I posted on Facebook, when an old friend mentions she's heading for DC, I starting hounding said friend until she finds a time for us to meet. Fair warning, Facebook friends! And this visit was super fun because this was an old friend I'd gone to high school and one year of college with but not seen since. I got to spend some time last evening with her and her husband, who was truly hilarious.

We met my daughter's PT at a local shoe store this morning and got the kiddoes each a new pair of sneakers. We're down $250 for the shoes and two pairs of insoles (which are the pricier of the two items) to support their poor, pronated ankles, but I do think it's money well spent. The people we worked with are experts, and I am confident my children are wearing the supportive footwear they need. As a person who gets excited about anything new, this purchase has fed my shopping urge for the time being. And there's not much cuter than tiny sneakers, are there?

Between the new computer and the Swingster strut I learned in high school, I'm pretty sure I can appease the SGV with this list.

How about you? Can you appease them?

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Friday, August 8, 2014

I Can Do Hard Things

The most amazing thing my body has done is…

Well, obvs.  I've twice given birth. I wonder if any participant who has birthed babies will not choose this experience. It's sort of a life-altering one. Certainly body-altering.

Both times, I chose to give birth at home, sans meds. As my sister once asked, with utter mystification, "But why?" I don't have a great answer to that question.

There is a romance to giving birth at home, in a comfortable environment with your husband behind you, providing, with his thighs, just the right spot for you to dig in your elbows with each contraction. I bet I was better able to relax there, in my own bath or my own bed with my own things about me. Our babies arrived in their home, not in an impersonal hospital room. You think of things like that as your prepare for the experience, as you sanitize towels, sheets, and washcloths and seal them in bags, as you buy items like a goldfish net and a large stainless steel bowl (and wonder why).

I am not one of those women who claims childbirth is not actually painful or who manages to make it an orgasmic experience (oh yes, that is what some people claim--I remember the flyers). BullSHIT, I say. Childbirth is horrible, mentally and physically. I remember calling out to my mother and crying to my husband, "I don't think I can do this," while knowing I had no choice, feeling that strange sensation of my body taking over, leaving my brain totally out of control. I remember the midwives reminding me over and over, "Try not to scream; try grunting instead. It will help you keep your energy up." I remember shouting my husband's favorite line from the two experiences, "I think my anus is going to explode!" (To which the midwife replied, "Good, good. That's exactly how it's supposed to feel.") I remember the "ring of fire," a term I learned during my daughter's birth and that really could not be a more apt description of the experience. And I also remember when it was over, it was immediately so.much.better.

I'm also not one of those people who advocate for this choice above others. I don't know what's right for anyone but me, and that means my choice is no better than yours (if yours was different). I don't think epidurals or pitocin are bad things. I think doctors and hospitals are wonderful.

What's more, I never had those horror labors you hear about. Along with the unfortunate traits of asthma, strange toenails, and ready tears, I inherited from my mother the positive trait of relatively short labors. I had six hours of active labor before my daughter was born, and my son appeared three hours after my water dramatically broke (with not a contraction in sight at the time).

(Sorry for the gratuitous boobage and blood.)

I think, in the end, I wanted to see if I could do something truly hard. I think that has been a factor in many of my life choices. Can I follow through on this truly hard thing? Can I really see it all the way? I have, and I have not. But when I have, the outcome is immense personal satisfaction that justifies all the pain and hardship. I find I am not limited to the typical choices. I can rise above pain and perform. I can find my own path and see it through.

And if you ever want to come visit, the bed I birthed my children in is in our guest room. I never fail to remind my guests of this special experience.

with hosts Kristi, Stephanie, Michelle, and Ruchira

Friday, August 1, 2014

TToT: Shaking the Dust of This Town Off My Feet...

I am not home; I am high up in the Appalachians sans cell phone service. I hear the house has wifi, but eh...I have my doubts about its reliability. I've lived in Appalachia, and I know how weak signals can be. We'll see. If I comment on your post over the weekend, you'll know I was proven wrong.


1. I will be spending the weekend with my parents, siblings, and the families we've produced this weekend, and I could not be more excited. We get together in larger family groups with aunts, uncles, and cousins fairly often, and we get together with my parents and one other sibling Pretty regularly too, but the original five of us together in in one place for several days? We haven't done that in years.

2.  I won't have the distraction of my online world of friends, as much as I love it. I won't have to force myself to ignore it because it will simply be inaccessible. I will be able to devote my attention to the people near me.

3. We will eat very, very well. I have been baking the last few days so we'll have breakfast foods and snacks on hand, we're bringing all kinds of delightful junk, and we will eat some really fine and fancy meals, prepared by ourselves and others. Good food gets me excited. I am going to throw all my healthy eating habits out the window and just enjoy. Who am I kidding? I threw my good habits out the window months ago and have the waistline to prove it. But I won't think about adopting them again until next week.

4. We will play many, many games. Some will take them seriously, some will not (that's me). We will laugh and laugh at the same jokes we've been telling for years. Some (I) will laugh to tears. There will be joy and pain in it, and it will be delightful.

5. We will be in my beloved mountains. They will refresh me and fill me up with happiness. We will hike up rocky trails shaded with ancient trees and slide down rocks into freezing rivers. We will get our clothes wet and muddy. It will be cool in the mornings and evenings, and we'll need our sweatshirts.

6. One night only the adults will go out to dinner.

7. Our children will play together. My adult niece will read to her young cousins. My older nephew will direct my daughter in play until she's reached her limit of cooperating. The two youngest will mainly parallel play. There will be plenty of whining and squabbles over toys, but there will be more laughter.

8. We may revert to our old roles. My brother may get bossy and demanding; I may cry because somebody hurt my feelings; and my sister may demand all our attention with her silliness. But then we'll think better of ourselves. We'll laugh about how easy it is to fall back into those roles and know we know better without having to apologize.

9. I won't have to be anyone but myself. I won't have to curb a momentary spark of impatience or keep being social when I just need to replenish myself with some alone time. The others will understand and no one's feelings will get hurt. And I will do the same for everyone else. 

10. But we'll mostly laugh. And it won't be hard because these are the people I love best in all the world.

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