The other night Teen Angel and I were sitting on the sofa talking, and somehow we got around to the subject of how I used to read to her every night when she was young. In fact, it was something I started before she left the womb and continued until sometime in her fourth grade school year. The last books we read together were Harry Potter books, and over the years our favorites included the Berenstein Bears, Corduroy the Bear, Little Critter, The Velveteen Rabbit and the hilarious Junie B. Jones. Reading a story every night was mandatory, and when she was little, if you were tired and tried to skip a few words to get through it quickly, she would say, “No,” and turn back the page insisting I read it the right way. Even though she couldn’t read, she had those books memorized and knew if you missed one little word. She loved those books, and that time together each night was one of my favorite parts of being a mother.
As we reminisced the other night, she jumped up, ran to her room and pulled out one of her old books, The Spooky Little Ghost. She read parts of it to me, laughing and imitating the way I used to read to her. I was always a bit dramatic, you see. “Here’s the part where you’d get all excited,” she said, raising her voice, and as she read and giggled I got a bit lost in the moment. I was listening to her, but my mind was running down memory lane. I thought about all those nights we read and chatted, and how fast those years flew. I thought about how grateful I am that she and I are close enough that we can sit and talk and giggle like we did back then over the same books. And those memories brought me great joy.
It was also a reminder to focus more on the day to day joys of life. I supposed the grief I’ve been dealing with lately has left me dwelling on the not so fun parts of life. In the midst of mailing death certificates, writing thank you notes for funeral flowers and fixing broken radiator hoses (again) it’s been easy to get mired down in difficulties and challenges. I have forgotten how blessed I am and how much joy is actually in my life. Long after Teen Angel got up off the couch and went about her business, I sat there and forced myself to count my blessings. There were many. We are all healthy, we’re financially stable, Teen Angel is doing fine in college and Papa T. is adjusting okay to living without Mama J. I told myself that I should make a list more often of the things that bring me joy. Even the small things. Today’s list?
-Hubby loaded up Papa T. and an old buddy of Papa T.’s and took them to one of their favorite restaurants for some lunch together and storytelling about old times. His buddy doesn’t see well enough to drive, so Hubby had to chauffer. Papa T. seems to want to have more of a social life, and that’s exciting.
-Mama and Daddy are headed to a bluegrass festival for a little weekend trip together, and I love that they enjoy each other as much as they when they got married. They especially enjoy music together, and daddy plays guitar with a band at the local veteran’s hospital and senior centers. They are happy, and I like that.
-After a meeting at church last night, I was reminded yet again of how caring and dedicated my church family is.
-My brothers are especially happy in their personal lives right now. (Maybe more details on that later.)
-This song makes me dance in the kitchen:
-And the blooms on the sunflowers just up the road are hangin’ in there.
Perhaps, I should make it a habit to write this stuff down every day. And read that before I go to bed.
One of these days, I’ll get those sunflower pictures posted, but it won’t be today. And it probably won’t be tomorrow. No siree. Nor was it yesterday nor the day before nor the day before that because I’m in the midst of a computer change out that involves moving some massive files from one unit to another and changing my PhotoShop and Lightroom registrations from one computer to another. There’s the slight issue of being unable to find an important software registration number and the need to get some external hard drive set up and oy vey, there I am with my picture files scattered between a desk top and a laptop until I get it all sorted out. Of course, this likely wouldn’t be an issue if I didn’t have 9,598 pictures. And I did not make up that number. So for today, you’ll have to settle for a post with no pictures, only words, because it’s been five days since I’ve posted and if I don’t get something up soon, my aunt M. in northern Illinois will be calling to find out if I’m sick.
The Hula-gen’s are bumping along at what could be deemed an acceptable pace. We are all healthy and walking upright today, so that’s considered great success around our house on an average day. Papa T. is doing okay. He is able to stay by himself with lots of help. We have settled into a routine of Hubby waking him up around 7am, getting his breakfast and making sure he’s up and about. Then Hubby checks in with him by phone throughout the day with visits to the house around noon and three o’clock. One of us takes Papa T. dinner around 6pm and Hubby goes back to tuck him in at 10pm. People keep commenting on how much work that is and asking us how we do it. (Or why we do it, which I don’t even bother to answer.) All I can say is that if you’ve ever been involved in elder care, you understand. You just do what you gotta do until you can’t do anymore. For now, that’s working, and we’ll go with that plan until we need to do something else. We’ve learned not to plan too far in advance.
On my side of the family, we buried my uncle last week, which really hurt, mostly because I loved him so dearly but also because I realized how much more of that there is to come in the next few years. I have another elderly aunt who is not doing well and an uncle whose time is very limited. I like this time in my life because I’m comfortable with who I am and where I’m headed, but I don’t like saying goodbye to the people who nurtured me in my childhood. It’s funny how naïve and rosy your outlook on life is when you’re young. You just don’t fully realize that one day you will look up and will have become the older generation.
Speaking of older, mama has a big birthday coming up in a couple of weeks. Big. Really big. I can’t tell you which one ‘cause she’d thump me up the side the head if I put it on the internet, but let’s just say she’s only two years older than Keith Richards but looks a heck of a lot better. I’m sure we’ll have a good time celebrating, but I’m curious if she remembers which birthday this is. Ever since I was eight years old I’ve been asking her how old she is only to have to wait on her to figure it up. She doesn’t keep track of that kind of thing, and as I get closer to fifty I’m starting to understand why. First of all, you don’t like to admit your age, and second, you can’t always remember it. Hand to God, someone asked me the other day how old I was and I automatically spit out a number three years lower than the real thing. I really wasn’t trying to lie. I immediately corrected myself but felt like an idiot ‘cause I looked like I was trying to shave some years off my age. Nope. My age was just temporarily lost in my head somewhere between sixteen computer passwords and last week’s grocery list.
I felt really old when I ran today. My running schedule has been in a shambles for about a month and a half thanks to the trip, jet lag, Mama J.’s death and an especially busy work schedule. I’ve really had to focus on family matters since Mama J. died, so exercise has taken less priority, and boy, did I pay for it. I got back on the wagon today with a three mile run that I felt in every muscle fiber I have. It just confirms that this running business is never going to be easy for me. However, I shall continue slugging away at it as I’m not ready to give up dessert, and my metabolism gave up on me about three years ago. About the only good thing I can say about today’s run is that the weather was nice. It really was beautiful and just slightly cool.
The weather has started to change around here. While we’re still having some warm days, cooler temperatures are slipping into our nights, the mornings are a bit foggy and wearing flip flops can be a tricky choice, depending on the time of day. I have so many friends who love autumn, and they encourage me to embrace it, but I do so grudgingly. All I can see is winter around the corner. I hate wearing layers of clothing. I hate wearing socks, and I especially hate the gloomy skies. I’m not making any promises, but I’m going to do my best to enjoy the colorful foliage and the bright blue skies. They do make for pretty pictures. In fact, I did a bridal shoot at the sunflower fields last week, and it was wonderful. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing. We had planned to do the shoot early next month at a different location, but when I was standing among all of those bright yellow flowers last week, I couldn’t resist calling her and pitching the sunflower idea. So there we were three days later in the middle of thousands of blooms with a big old wedding dress, a veil and an upholstered chair from my bedroom. Oh, and my red cowboy boots and her granny’s red tennis shoes. And a very nervous mother who worked really hard to keep that beautiful dress from getting dirty. God bless her. Never mind the small crowd milling around taking their own pictures. The golden sunlight was lovely, the bride was a fantastic model, and we came away with some great shots. I’d show you some pictures, but we’re keeping them hidden from the groom. And I have to figure out how to get them out of my computer.
About a mile from my house are three sunflower fields, and when I say fields, I mean FIELDS. Not small patches, but big spreads. There are acres and acres of sunflowers planted in a wildlife refuge in three separate plots. They stretch as far as the eye can see in one direction and farther than you want to walk in another direction. They are just stunning. I first found those fields two years ago. I stumbled upon them when the flowers were in bloom and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. They were so gorgeous I literally lay on the ground beneath them and giggled at their shiny yellow faces. Last year, I anxiously waited all summer for those flowers, and drove out there in August to find....corn. Corn. Tall stalks of plain old corn. I’ve never been so disappointed in all my life.
Last Saturday I saw a post on Facebook that they were in bloom again, and I nearly broke my neck trying to get there. As I rounded the curve right at the first field and saw those thousands of golden blooms, I hollered, “Woo hoo!” out loud. Honestly, nothing makes a photographer happier than a big old field of sunflowers. I spent an hour shooting pictures and went back Sunday for more. And I called a bride that I’m shooting pictures for in October and November and told her to grab her dress and head my way this week so we can take bridal pictures in those fields. Won’t that be fun? I ran into several photographer friends at the fields this weekend, and several other people stopped their cars long enough to snap a picture or two while I was out there. It’s quite a popular place right now.
I’ll be sharing pictures of the flowers with you this week, but in the meantime I’m showing you the self portraits I took there Sunday. They were simply to express the joy I get from that place. Good thing I was by myself. They might have hauled me off to the nuthouse if I’d been caught jumping up and down in the field all by myself.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on our trip to Europe and what I learned from that adventure. Plenty I would say. Since I’ve come home I’ve tried to expand on all that wonderful French and British history I soaked up across the pond. I realized I have so much to learn! There isn’t enough time to squeeze it all in. I can be on the phone on hold and will Google something I saw on the trip and read more about it. I can’t get enough. The Tower of London, Hotel de Ville, Moliere, Napoleon, Marie Antoinette…and the list goes on and on. Fascinating. My high school history teacher would be so proud. Finally.
But that trip taught me a lot about myself. Travel does that. It helps you to find your strengths (boldness) and your weaknesses (foreign language) and shows you how self sufficient and resourceful you can be. It was one of the big reasons I wanted Teen Angel to take this trip. I wanted her to see just how capable she is. She is a quick thinker and can adapt as circumstances dictate. I like that. And I think she began to understand that just a few days into the trip. I was rather proud of the way she handled herself on the trip.
The most important thing I learned about myself though, was that I like home. Don’t get me wrong. I love traveling, and I can’t wait for the day I’ve saved enough money for a tour of Italy (I’m looking at you 2015). I definitely think I could be the backpack across Europe type of gal. I don’t need much clothing or fancy hotel rooms, and I could go for days with a Eur-Rail pass and good shoes, but it did feel good to get back home.
Home. Where iced tea comes in bucket sized glasses and I can drive anywhere I want to go. Where biscuits and jelly come with a chicken dinner and people speak to strangers like they’re old friends. But most of all, it’s where my family is.
All my life I’ve lived in the same basic area. I bounced across the Ohio River after college, but aside from college, I have always lived within thirty minutes of my parents, brothers and various assorted relatives. When I first graduated from college, I had dreams of moving to another city, but my career started here, and stayed here. Over the years, I had job offers in Nashville, Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis, but by then I was married and had made a deal with Hubby that we would stay here to take care of his parents when they got old. Sometimes, I felt a tug of regret when I turned down those jobs, but over the years I’ve come to realize that was a blessing. I ended up in a great job where my stress level is much lower than it used to be, I’ve stayed close to many family members and Teen Angel got to have a close relationship with all four of her grandparents.
She never had to go to daycare. When she was little she spent her days at Mama J.’s and Papa T.’s and really felt like that was her second home. When Mama J. passed away, I was glad Teen Angel had gotten to enjoy her grandmother so much over the years. It certainly made up for any bumps I had along the way by living next door to my mother in law.
I realized today that I was fortunate to live so close to my many cousins, aunts and uncles. I said goodbye this afternoon to one of my favorite uncles who was not expected to live through the rest of the day. For years, he and his family lived near Chicago, but they moved back home after retirement, and I’ve been able to see them regularly for years now. I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but I have many favorites, and he’s one of them. Such a nice, sweet man with a patient loving heart and a quick wit. I love him dearly, and his death is a bit sudden. It comes during a rough month for us, and frankly, I’m tired of burying people.
As I drove away from the hospital, I thought about the cousins I have who live away from here and how that distance limited the time they could spend with certain family members, including my grandparents, and how they have fewer memories of those folks. I am lucky. I was here to see my grandpa tend to his strawberries. To watch grandma make biscuits and tend to her flowers and to have my granny at my college graduation. I was here to laugh and joke with Uncle P. at family dinners. My life is richer for those experiences, and I am glad for that. For me, home truly is where the heart is, and it feels good to be home. I can’t wait for future travels and adventures abroad, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but here.
There are a handful of things that have made me feel less than youthful in the past 24 hours. First, I found the cordless phone in my purse yesterday morning, where I had apparently placed it when I went to bed the night before. I’d like to blame that little mishap on stress, but frankly I just had a brain fart. All of my FaceBook friends over the age of fifty recognized themselves in that incident, so I’m assuming it was an age thing. And truth be told it’s not the first time I’ve done something like that. Just for the record, aiming the cell phone at the TV and punching the talk button will not change the channels on the TV. Also, pointing the cell phone at the car door will not open the door, unless you have the appropriate phone ap. AND pointing the cell phone at the garage door does not shut said door. Or so I’ve heard.
I read yesterday that Stevie Nicks, who has a new album out (did I just say “album”?) is 63 years old. 63!? How is that possible? Just goes to show what hair color can do for you.
Then I heard on the radio that they are remaking the movie Footloose, the movie of my freshman year in college. The movie with the soundtrack that kept me dancing for hours at fraternity parties. The movie that caused my friend B. to bust a stereo speaker. Or was that Purple Rain?
I’ve always heard that if a fashion trend comes around a second time in your life, you are too old to wear that trend. I think the same can apply to movies. I can’t do Footloose a second time. I might throw out my back.
And THEN, on my way to a work related event this morning I heard Culture Club on the radio and for some reason that really had me rolling down memory lane. Perhaps, because the event I was headed to was at the college I attended, and I sure did loves me some Boy George when I was in college. I sang Karma Chameleon down the parkway and had lots of happy thoughts about those years. Until I counted up exactly how long ago that had been. I had to count twice to make sure I had the right number.
After the event, I tortured myself by driving around campus to see how much things had changed. Half of the campus seemed new, the highway through town is twice as wide as it used to be and the Delta Sig house is just a memory. Ouch. Getting older was supposed to happen to OTHER people.
Further proof that it’s happening to me is right here.
I came across this picture last week. It’s from my senior year in college, the day before graduation. It was taken at the honors ceremony for the journalism department, and my parents, Handy Man (look how cute he is in his little deck shoes) and my grandma were there. It reminds me of how life renews itself. I was so proud my grandma got to see me graduate from college. It was a big deal to her, and she died a couple of years after that. My mother looks so young in that picture, and yet, she seemed so much older to me at the time. And I am now exactly in the same spot she was then. Teen Angel will likely transfer to that same college in another year, and I will be approximately the same age as my mother in this picture. How is that possible? I think of myself as so much younger at this age than I thought she was then. I’m sure Teen Angel thinks the same way. Next thing you know, she’ll be buying me a Jitterbug phone so I can keep track of it. And a mu mu like Boy George's.
Y'all, this is the kind of silliness that goes on at my house when I'm at work all day.
Apparantly, KOA Campgrounds set up some kind of facility for dogs. In our living room. Wi fi and electrical hook-ups not included. Don't ask me what Hubby is doing. I have no idea. And neither did Teen Angel when she texted this picture to me.
Y’all, the world has spun so fast and so far in the past few weeks that I don’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt. I feel like a pancake in the road, run over by life’s madness. It’s a bit like a Road Runner cartoon, only I’ve discovered it’s not so funny to be the coyote. Interesting, but not necessarily funny to be the one peeled off the pavement between every act. It makes me wonder why the coyote didn’t just shoot that damn road runner after about the second round of dynamite. Anyhoo, despite the madness, things are settling back into a routine around here, and hopefully, things will be calmer in the weeks to come.
Papa T. is doing fine. He is lonely at times, but his spirits are good, and he’s determined to do as much for himself as possible. Except for the dinner thing. He’s not willing to give up my cooking, which is fine by me. I don’t mind cooking for someone who raves over everything that’s put before him. Besides, he would survive on Coke Zero and peanut butter crackers if left to his own devices, so we’ll keep wheelin’ the meals up the street. In my quest to make sure he gets the appropriate amount of green vegetables and fiber, I have introduced him to dishes he’s never eaten before, and it’s very fun to watch him sample each night’s entree, unless of course, I’ve phoned it in and presented him with a tuna salad sandwich. NO ONE around this place gets excited about tuna salad. Except the cat, which is a good thing because Mama J. left us with eight cans of tuna and twelve cans of chicken.
Mama J. also had thirty cans of green beans and thirteen cans of asparagus in her kitchen cabinets. We have no idea why. She didn’t cook. I continue to be amazed at the things people leave behind when they die. Take it from someone who has cleaned up after two dead folks, if there’s something you don’t want someone to know about you, get rid of it NOW. Somebody will find that mess when you die. If you’re lucky, it’s just green beans and asparagus. If you’re not, you may leave your relatives wondering why you needed so many Fleet enemas. And you know they’ll talk about THAT at family get-togethers for years.
Papa T.’s birthday is Friday, and all he wants it to go out to eat, so we will oblige him with a trip to Cracker Barrel, his favorite restaurant. A restaurant isn’t even on his radar if it doesn’t serve cornbread, so Cracker Barrel it is! I predict he will not order anything that involves green beans, asparagus or tuna. I also predict he will have two slices of cake. I just a man who embraces cake.
The rest of us are back to our normal routine of school and work. The busy season at work is upon me, so I suspect January will be smacking me in the face before I know it. In the meantime, I’m holding on to summer as long as I can. She’s slipping through my fingers, though. We’ve had cooler weather lately, and people have been talking about how nice it is that fall is just around the corner. I’m trying not to panic, but you autumn lovers just don’t understand how hard it is for us summer babies to let go of the shorts and flip flops. It’s not that I don’t WANT to like autumn. It’s just that it reminds me of how soon winter will be here, and THAT my friends, is downright depressing. There’s nothing that ticks me off faster than having to wear a coat, so I’m dragging my feet into September and refusing to give up my sandals or put the cover on the pool until there is frost. I’m also avoiding Hobby Lobby and places that I know are covered in autumn leaves or cheery turkeys. And lest I need any reminders that technically there are still a couple of weeks left in summer, I just have to reach around and scratch the six mosquito bites on the bottom of my left butt cheek that I earned at the softball park Saturday night.
On a positive note, I learned Friday that I’m a finalist for the city’s Business Woman of the Year Award, so you know what that means. I get to shop for a new suit! We have a luncheon next month, and it is truly an honor to be lumped in the same category with fifteen women who are remarkable, so I will actually need to polish my shoes for this event. The jury’s still out on wearing hose though, especially if they’re from the ACME Company. I don’t need any explosions that involve nylon and my nether regions.
Sometimes it seems like everything goes to pot at the same time. That’s not really true, but it sure seems that way whenever several bad things combine to overshadow the good that’s going on. I really am trying to stay positive right now, but health issues among friends and loved ones has me concerned for several folks. The prayer list at church is a mile long, and so many of my friends are dealing with death. It’s been a rough couple of months for many folks that I know. Janjanmom unexpectedly lost her father in law about a week after we lost Mama J. A well known member of our community died suddenly of a massive stroke even though he wasn’t even fifty years old, and the obituary section of the local newspaper has a familiar name in it every day. It’s just crazy.
Some of my current worries involve daddy’s brother who fell more than a week ago. He needed to have surgery to repair his arm, and now he’s in ICU because his kidneys just aren’t waking up from the surgery, and he has pneumonia. He should already be in the midst of physical therapy. Daddy’s sister, who suffers from dementia, is not eating and frankly, is just not doing well. I’ve gotten reluctant to answer the phone ‘cause I just don’t want to hear any more bad news. My stomach truly clenches each time it rings and I see Mama’s name or Hubby’s name on the caller ID. And while these folks are my biggest worries, there is another member of our family who is ailing too, and I have yet to share that with you.
Our ten year old miniature schnauzer, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, has been very sick for several weeks.
In fact, he almost died on us a couple of times, once while Teen Angel and I were in Europe. He was diagnosed with diabetes about two months ago, and we are still trying to get his blood sugar regulated. About the time we think we have it figured out, his sugar bottoms out and we have to reconfigure his insulin. He requires two shots a day, one in the morning and another in the evening. Now, I know some folks wouldn’t go to that much trouble for a dog, but we are crazy dog people. Jack is family. We share every part of our home with him, and while we don’t treat him like a child, he is a treasured member of our family, and we make no excuses for that. Jack loves his peeps, and we love him. He bonded with us from the day we got him, and he has brought us much joy. I’ve had dogs all my life, and I’ve never had a dog that tried as hard as he does to communicate with me or be so close to me. It is not uncommon for Hubby to wake up and find Jack spooned up against me with his little head on my pillow. We are all very attached to that dog.
One of the hardest parts about all of this is that the diabetes took his vision. Quickly. It was gone within a couple of weeks. He could see fairly well when Teen Angel and I left for London and was completely blind by the time we came home. It was quite a shock to come home to his weakened condition. While the vet tells us that blind dogs adjust very well, it is painful to watch him wander around the house and bump into things. Everything that I read on the internet tells me that it’s usually harder for the owner to accept a pet’s blindness than it is for the dog, and I believe that. If we could find him a helmet to protect his little noggin’ we would. He does seem to be adjusting to his surroundings. He loves being outside because he has room to romp and run without running into stuff, as long as we keep him on a leash and watch out for him.
In fact, he likes to go for walks more than ever now. He finds his way into the concrete curb along our street and trots fast enough to take your breath away.
The vet says he could live for two or three more years IF we can get his blood sugar stabilized. That’s a bit of a big if right now, but we are getting closer. I hope we can. We’d love to have him around for a little while longer. And honestly, I just can’t bear the thought of losing another loved one right now. Besides, who will keep my feet warm this winter if Jack isn’t around?