I’m Such a Smart Empty-Nester

I’m such a smart empty-nester!

Want me to tell you how much I know about empty nesting? Here’s how smart I am: I know absolutely nothing…nada…diddly. But the fact that I realize I know nothing about it makes me absolutely brilliant.

Remember when your kids were toddlers? You had survived the whole newborn and infancy thing, and so you felt pretty confident going into toddlerhood? And then, BAM…your kid knocked you right back into reality with a tantrum…or climbing up the stairs on the outside of the rail (it happened)…or pushed another kid down…or hurled a plate of food across the room.

Well, empty-nesting is a lot like that. Just when you move your kid into his/her new dorm or apartment, you think, “Wow! I got this! I am a pro! My kid is officially launched into adulthood, and my life is my own!”

Wrong…wrong…wrong.

What they forgot to tell you when you brought that child into the world is that your life will never be your own…never, ever again.

My husband and I were stupid enough to think we would get our daughter moved into college, and everything would be rainbows and confetti afterward. Nope. We could not have been more wrong. Soon after we dropped her off, she developed an infection where she had a heel blister, and because the doctor was afraid it would move into her Achilles’ tendon, she had to get an antibiotic injection, take oral antibiotics, and use a topical gel. Crisis averted. That was our first gut punch letting us know how stupid we are.

Soon thereafter, we went on vacation to the Bahamas thinking everything was great. We came home, and I had gallbladder surgery. I took a week to recover, and then, I went on a cruise with a friend from my college days. We had a great time. And then…the last night of the cruise, I received a call that our daughter had been in a car accident. Everything ended up being fine, but wow! Things were not going as expected.

That was just last weekend.

My husband and I had planned to leave this Tuesday to go to the Bahamas again but canceled the trip when we received a call that the resort restaurants were closed till November 1. At first, I was annoyed, but then it looked like Hurricane Fiona was going to move through the Bahamas this upcoming week, and I was glad we had canceled.

Here is the thing: we thought empty-nesting would be a walk in the park, but every plan we have made has been changed somewhere along the way. So I finally realized something: the only constant is change.

If you want to have a good empty-nesting experience, prepare to be flexible.

If you want to have a good empty-nesting experience, prepare to be flexible. That vacation you have planned? It might not happen, and if it does, you might have to come home early to help your newly launched child with a problem. Sleeping well at night? Don’t expect it to last. You’re likely to get at least one jarring late night call. Think you know where your college-age kid is all the time? Bahahahahaha…think again.

Here is how you will know you are a smart empty nester…

You will know you are a smart empty-nester when you realize and can admit to all your friends that you have no idea what you are doing and you likely won’t ever know. If we could have just admitted this freely when our kids were toddlers, we would be a lot better off. If I could have just said all along that I am learning on the job (as a parent), and I am an absolute novice, I would have looked like the smartest parent in the history of the world.

As it is, I had to learn that I don’t know a damn thing.

If you’re going to be an empty-nester soon, hold onto your hat. Enjoy the ride, because you will never know what is around the corner…just like when your kids were infants, toddlers, elementary school age, middle schoolers, and high school students. Admit it. You were and still are as clueless as I am.

The sooner you can admit it, the smarter you are.

College Students/Adult Decisions

College students/adult decisions.

Oh, it’s the Facebook parent page for my daughter’s university again! A parent posted that her son stopped going to class after his computer broke. They are four weeks into the semester, and she is getting him a new computer, but he seems to have given up. The mom doesn’t know what to do to motivate him, and she wonders if maybe she should just cut the losses and bring him home.

Of course, there were lots of suggestions. Some said, “Rent a laptop from the library.” Others said, “Maybe he’s not really ready for college.” Quite a few said, “Maybe you should encourage him to get back in the game. It’s early.” And then, someone said, “When do we let them start making their own adult decisions on their own?” That one made me think.

When do we let them start making their own adult decisions on their own?

That’s a tough question. Should we allow our college students to make their own adult decisions with no input from us, their parents?

The first thing that came to mind for me was, “I’m paying for it. I’m paying a lot of money for our daughter’s college education, so yes, I have input.“ I can have an opinion, and I can tell her what I expect from her. I make no bones about it. Our daughter is very social, so even before she went to college, I stressed to her that while her social life is very important, she has to take care of business first so she can stay in school to enjoy the social aspects. Does that mean she remembers that conversation? Not necessarily, but I ask regularly, “Are you taking care of business?”

Another thing that came to mind about “allowing her to make her own adult decisions on her own” is that I don’t always make adult decisions on my own…and I’m 55 years old! When I was in college, I regularly got my parents’ input about big decisions. Heck…until my parents were dead, I regularly got their input about adult decisions! And now that I don’t have my parents, I often turn to my spouse, other family members, or friends. I get lots of info and do my research before making big decisions. And you know what? I don’t want my college-age daughter getting all her advice or input from other college-aged people. I have always told her it’s good to get input from friends, but she needs to remember their brains aren’t fully developed either. They don’t have any more life experience than she does! I have stressed that she should come to me for advice, because I have a lot more life experience, and I always have her best interest at heart.

Think about it. What are college students like? There are some who do their schoolwork and work toward an educational goal with no distractions or interference. That’s not my child, and honestly, I don’t want her to be that student. There are college students who quickly find a good balance; they enjoy some social time while working hard in school. There are those who play a lot, and the academic part is secondary. And then there are all kinds of students in between.

My daughter falls somewhere in the balance/having fun category. The first semester of college is quite an adjustment! And since she is at an SEC school, football season is a big deal, and she pledged a sorority, which does take some time. I want her to have fun. That’s why I encouraged her to take the easiest classes she could this first semester, so she can learn to manage her time and become accustomed to college. It can take a while for them to learn how it all works! I remember! By my sophomore year, I knew how college worked, and I had a system for “taking care of business” while still having a good time. I think some kids jump in with the hardest classes they can take freshman year, and for some of them, it causes problems/stress. They need some guidance. Mine’s not taking the hardest classes, and she might not even need my guidance, but I “check in” regularly, and I always remind her that I am always ready to help.

She’s almost 19 years old. That means she has less than one year of adulthood experience. Would you hire a lawyer who had one year of experience and no mentors? No. Would you want a surgeon who had one year of experience and no assistance? No. I’m not expecting my almost-19-yr-old to make all her own decisions. In fact, she’s going to get my input whether she wants it or not right now.

So when will I allow her to make adult decisions on her own? She makes some of them on her own every single day. But the big decisions? Personally, I don’t think she really wants to. As long as my husband and I are on this planet, she can come to us. And if it’s something I know nothing about, I will encourage her to go to someone with more knowledge…no doubt. Will I make all her decisions for her? No way. But if I think she is making a bad decision or needs my help, I will let her know it…even from 450 miles away.

I’ve said it a million times…no matter how old they are, their still our “babies.”

No News is Good News

No news is good news.

I have learned a lot in the past month as an empty-nester, but the biggest lesson I have learned? No news is good news.

We moved our daughter in with a roommate, counseled her through sorority recruitment, cheered her on as she went to her first college classes, and checked in with her several times a day after she had her first college medical emergency. All that has happened in the past month…less than 30 days, actually. There have been some days we have spoken with her several times, but mostly, we receive texts…usually with happy face emojis and lots of exclamation points. We know she is happy when we get those.

But we have learned something else along the way. We have learned there will be days we don’t hear her voice. We might even just get one text with “hi.” But from that, we have learned that the less we hear from her, the happier she is.

There was one day soon after sorority Bid Day that she called me sounding a little down. She sounded like she was doubting herself. She sounded like she was questioning her decision to attend my alma mater. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, the day before classes started. I remember where I was sitting…in a golf cart at a dock in Hope Town, Bahamas, while I waited for a ferry to take us (me and my husband) across the harbor to climb to the top of the lighthouse. We missed the first ferry and the second while I talked with our daughter, listening to what she was saying and offering words of encouragement. I reminded her that I had warned her this would happen. There would be days she would feel a little homesick. I offered some suggestions on things to improve her mood, and soon thereafter, my husband and I were on our way over to the lighthouse. While we enjoyed the view from the top of the lighthouse, we talked about how sad she had sounded. I assured my husband that what our daughter was feeling was completely normal…she would be feeling better soon.

However, I didn’t expect to answer the phone six hours later to hear her happily announcing to me, “I love this place!” She had made it over the hump…and in just six hours, she was happy. We laughed with her over the phone for a few minutes, but after that, she didn’t call us for a couple of days.

At breakfast two days later, my husband asked if I had heard from her. I said, “No.” He replied, “That worries me.” But then I reminded him that she called us when she was feeling down, and I felt sure she would call us again if she needed encouragement. Clearly, the fact that she wasn’t reaching out to us meant she was happy. I resisted the urge to call her to check, and soon thereafter…before lunch…she called and announced how much she loves her sorority, her classes, her roommate, and her friends!

I remembered taking her to two different soccer camps when she was younger. While she was at one camp, I heard from her many times a day…she was very unhappy and wanted to come home, but I suggested she make it through the camp just to prove to herself she could. She did. And then, a year or two later, she wanted to go to a different soccer camp with a different friend. In fact, it was a soccer camp at the University of Alabama, where she is enrolled as a freshman now! While she was in that camp, I went to visit my mother. On the second day, my mother asked if I had heard from her, and when I told her I hadn’t, she said, “Well, that’s good.” My mother, who had far more parenting experience than I did, knew…no news is good news. In fact, when I got there to pick up our daughter at the end of the camp, I could barely drag her away from her friends there!

And now, she’s in college. Yesterday, I texted her and said, “You might need to call your girl to get a hair appointment.” Her reply? “I’m not coming home anytime soon.” And you know what? It was like music to my ears! I knew at that moment that she is truly happy, because she isn’t missing home at all! She’s got this!

No news is good news.

College Move-In

College move-in.

It’s behind us. We got our daughter, a college freshman, moved in 11 days ago. My husband and I loaded all her stuff into two automobiles and drove 450 miles to her college to move her in. One car stayed with her, because the college she is attending allows freshman (almost encourages them) to bring their own cars. The actual move-in wasn’t bad, because the school brings in student groups and hires others to help with the process…lots of helpers. They actually take everything up to the rooms in big bins (see feature photo). It’s amazing! Everything was in the room within minutes. Of course, we had to put everything away.

The day after we moved her in, my husband flew home. I stayed in Alabama (she is going to the University of Alabama) to visit family and friends who feel like family for nine days while our daughter participated in the legendary Alabama sorority rush. Bid Day, when the girls receive their invitations to join sororities, was yesterday. I took some photos of our daughter with her new sorority sisters and scooted out of there…partly because the day is about her, not me…and partly because it was hotter than three blue Hells, and I was melting.

Today I drove the 450 miles home, feeling good about where she is.

At about the 350 mile mark, I received a text from her asking if something looked “concerning.” I was about to stop for gas anyway, so I looked at the photo and didn’t think it looked too bad. It was a photo of her heel, but there was a Band-Aid on it, so I couldn’t really see it very well. Fast forward a little while, and she was calling me to tell me she was going to the doctor. Apparently, she was in a lot of pain…and she has a really high pain threshold. During rush, she had worn some new heeled shoes that rubbed a bad blister on one heel…and then it became infected…and the photo she sent me didn’t do it justice. Ugh. Let me add here that the shoes were new and expensive, and she is telling me she will never wear them again. Maybe she can sell them?!?!

The doctor was pretty alarmed when he saw it and ordered a penicillin shot, an oral antibiotic, and an antibiotic ointment, explaining that there is very little skin tissue in that area, and infection could damage the Achilles tendon! I had never heard that! How many heel blisters have I had in my life?!?! How did I not know that?!?! We are praying it will look better in the morning.

Fortunately, she has a fantastic roommate who has been very supportive and helpful. Plus, she sent me a video of my daughter getting the penicillin shot…her first shot ever in her “fanny.”

Our daughter hasn’t even started classes for her freshman year yet, and she has already had her first medical emergency!

The way I see it, she learned some valuable life information. First, she learned that an infected heel blister can turn into an infected Achilles tendon, which is a bad problem to have. It can even cause sepsis…a serious medical issue. I’m proud she took action and nipped it in the bud before it got worse! Secondly, she learned where to seek medical help in a pinch near her college. Thirdly, she learned another valuable lesson when she texted me asking for my social security number. I texted back, “Why do they need that? I don’t give that out all Willy Nilly.” She texted that the doctor’s office forms ask for a parents’ info, since she is under 19. What?!?! She sent me a picture of the form, and I saw she had already entered her own social security number and was waiting for mine. I said, “Scratch out your social security number so none of it shows. Then walk up to the desk and tell the lady I won’t give you mine.” She did, and the lady told her, “No big deal.” I called her then and explained that doctor’s offices don’t need your social security number. Never give it to anyone except government entities, accountants, the university, or banks. There are some exceptions to that, but not many…and only give it when absolutely necessary.

So she had a day of learning two days before her first college class.

I’m sure she hasn’t thought to look at a map of the university to find the classes she will be attending Wednesday. Maybe she doesn’t need to do that. Maybe GPS will get her there.

And in the very little downtime I have had since I got home nine hours ago, I have answered texts, emails, and phone calls from people checking on me since I’m now an empty nester! Several have asked if I am emotional. No. I’m not emotional, but I think it’s because my brain has been occupied! I’m trying to make sure she is OK, and I’m also preparing to go on vacation! My flight leaves in 30 hours, and I have lots to get done before I leave. One thing I need to do is sleep. But I also need to make sure our daughter is OK before I get on a plane to fly another 800-1000 miles away. I’m already wondering if I need to delay my departure by a day. I will check with her in the morning and make her send me photos of her injury.

While I may be an empty nester, I’m still her mother. I still want to make everything better for her. I still want to make sure she is happy and healthy. But I’m proud that she, with the help of a fabulous roommate, handled this situation. She learned some valuable lessons today, and while I wish she were healthy right now, I’m just glad she was smart enough to take care of business.

To all my fellow mothers taking their kids to college, I say, “They are going to be OK…and we are too!”

***Feature photo from UA News Center, University of Alabama.***

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle.

I just returned from running some errands, and as I approached the back entrance of our neighborhood, I saw the perfectly ripened yellow and white blooms! Honeysuckle! Big bushes of it!

Back when our daughter was a little girl, she and I would watch that area every year, waiting for the honeysuckle to appear. But we didn’t dare approach it too early. From my childhood, I knew we needed to wait until it was just right…wait until it’s bursting with nectar and the fragrance is overwhelming. A few years ago, though, someone mowed down all the honeysuckle, and I haven’t seen it since…until recently. A few weeks ago, I noticed the first sign of it…the yellow buds…and I thought, “Is the honeysuckle really coming back? Just before our daughter goes off to college?” Since then, every time I drive past, I open the car window to look and sniff…and today, after an afternoon shower, it smelled perfect.

I had never really thought to investigate the honeysuckle habitat before today. For some reason, I always thought it was a southern thing, but after a little research, I learned it is definitely not just a southern thing. People all over the world use it for its medicinal purpose, and lots of people make simple syrup from it. I have never done that, but I’m up for the challenge!

When I was growing up in Alabama in the 1970s, we watched for three things as summer approached: lightning bugs (fireflies), backyard or roadside blackberries, and honeysuckle.

We knew summer was almost here when we saw our first lightning bug of the season. To this day, at the ripe age of 54, I still look out into the trees around our house as summer is approaching…watching for the first flash of a lightning bug. I haven’t seen one yet this year, but I’m watching. When I was a little girl, we would catch them and put them in Mason jars…poking holes in the top of the jar so they could get oxygen. We never kept them for longer than an hour or so, and we always released them. It was just fun to see how much they would glow in a jar.

As for the blackberries, at one of our houses, we had a big blackberry bush in the back corner of the yard. We would watch for the blooms and then wait for them to ripen before picking, but I only picked right on the leading edge of the bush. They were full of “stickers” (briars), and there was no way I was inviting that pain…not even for blackberries. I was also under the impression that snakes liked blackberries, so I was afraid of that too. I guess I thought the snakes wouldn’t hang out on the leading edge of the bush. If there were more ripened blackberries on the interior limbs of the bush, they went untouched by me…they likely rotted if no one else picked them, because I wasn’t sticking my arm in there to get them.

And then there was the honeysuckle…a sweet little treat that packed a lot of happiness and sunshine. We would go to the honeysuckle bushes/vines in our neighborhood and search for the ripest blooms. We knew the really ripe ones had the sweetest nectar. We would find the perfect flower and pick it whole…making sure to get the calyx (the little green bud that connects it to the stem). With the flower in one hand, we would pinch just above the calyx…not all the way through…just enough to break the edges. We’d then slowly slide the “style” (female part of the plant) out of the flower by gently pulling. As the end of the style approached, we could see the glorious nectar, or “honey.” Once we saw that little drop, we’d stick it to our tongues and taste the sweetness of summer! And that is the glory of honeysuckle! It’s a childhood treat.

As I mentioned before, when our daughter was a little girl…probably about four years old…I showed her how to get the honey from the honeysuckle, just as I had learned as a little girl. After that, she and I would invite neighborhood friends to walk up to the back entrance with us, sharing the glory of the honeysuckle with those who had never had it before. Hopefully, some of them remember how to do it.

Our daughter is not home tonight, but you can bet tomorrow, after brunch, we will be walking up to the honeysuckle at the back entrance of our neighborhood. It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and I can’t think of a better gift than spending time harvesting honeysuckle with my 18-year-old daughter who is headed off to college 450 miles away in August. I think Mother’s Day is the perfect day to revisit the honeysuckle. For a little while, we will relive some precious moments from her childhood.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lessons from Avocado Toast

Lessons from avocado toast.

We love avocado toast.

For the past few years, we have loved avocado toast at our house.

There are lots of different ways to make it. Some people add a fried egg on top. Some people like tomatoes. Others like to add onions, seeds, nuts, mushrooms, mayo, or cheese…or Sriracha sauce! All that sounds yummy, but that’s not how we make it.

A few years ago, we were dining at a favorite diner in the Los Angeles area, having our daily avocado toast for breakfast, and we finally had the bright idea to ask for their recipe. Surprisingly, they shared it without hesitation! And the rest is history. We have been using their recipe for the past few years. (See the recipe at the end of the post.) I say “we,” but just recently, I realized I have been the one making it. No one else in my house makes it. I do. My 18-year-old daughter eats it, but I make it.

I came to that realization when I walked into the kitchen one afternoon last week and found a mangled lemon on a plate. There were smears of avocado on a towel, and in the sink, I saw the remains of the avocado toast she had made for herself and some friends. I laughed, because it was at that moment that I realized I needed to teach her how to get juice from a lemon without mangling it.

So the next day, I asked her to come down and have some avocado toast with me, and when she got to the kitchen, I showed her how to juice a lemon. I showed her how to roll it on the cutting board to soften it, so it will release the juice more easily. And then I showed her where to cut it (or poke it with a skewer/ice pick) on the non-stem end to get the juice easily without the seeds. She thought I was a genius. I’m not. My mother had to show me how to do it years ago.

Fortunately, she knew how to do the rest of it. She knows how to cut an avocado, mash it, and spread it on the toasted sourdough bread (our bread of choice). She knows how to drizzle the olive oil and spread it evenly. She knows to use the coarse salt and add red pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper) to the top of the mashed avocado. She even knows not to touch her eyes after handling the red pepper flakes. And then…the lemon juice…the seedless lemon juice from a not-mangled lemon…she knows the perfect amount to add to enhance the flavor of her favorite avocado toast.

It was a bonding experience, for sure. It’s the little things like that she will remember forever. The next time she needs to get the juice from a lemon, she will remember exactly how to do it without mangling the lemon. And one day, when she has to show someone else how to do it, she will remember that I showed her how to do it. She will pay it forward…a lesson passed on.

But it has me wondering what other lessons I have forgotten to teach her along the way. She leaves for college in August. She’ll definitely need to know how to juice a lemon, but there are so many other things she needs to know, and I just pray I have remembered most of them. Thinking about it has been driving me crazy, so I’m actually compiling a list of little things I know I need to teach her and wisdom I need to impart on her before she leaves.

I’ll be sharing that list soon, but for now, I’ll just enjoy another serving of avocado toast.

***RECIPE FOR AVOCADO TOAST***

Ingredients: two freshly toasted sourdough bread slices, one avocado, olive oil, coarse salt, red pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper), one lemon or lemon juice.

Cut and mash the avocado before spreading it on the toasted sourdough bread. Drizzle with olive oil and spread the olive oil evenly. Sprinkle with coarse salt and red pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper) to taste. Drizzle lemon juice to taste. Enjoy!

Holiday Gifting (Part 5): Give the Gift of Fun!

Give the gift of fun!

So, we have all been hearing for weeks on end that we need to shop early this year, because the supply chain is messed up. I have seen a few signs that this might be true, so I’m looking to purchase gifts that don’t have to be shipped here from other countries. Near the top of the list? The gift of fun! Someone said to me recently that I remind them of Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Woods. At first, I didn’t understand, so I simply asked, “Tigger?!?” My friend responded with, “Yes, Tigger! You’re always looking for the next fun thing!” Well, I won’t argue with that. And I love to share fun with other people! So why not give the gift of fun?!?!

Here are some ideas:

  • Amusement Park Passes. If you happen to live near a good amusement park and have someone on your list who loves rollercoasters as much as I do, a season pass could make a great gift! We are fortunate in Charlotte to have Carowinds, an amusement park with world-class thrill rides and rollercoasters. I used to be a regular there when our daughter was growing up, but in the last few years, I haven’t even been! I’d love if my husband gifted me with a season pass…it would give me an excuse to go!
  • Movie Passes. Movie theaters are finally open again, and we need to take advantage of it! I haven’t been to a movie since the pandemic began, but I plan to change that this week when I go see High Society (it’s the 65th anniversary) on the big screen! And I hope to continue going to movies! If you have someone on your list who enjoys a good movie, movie passes or a gift card to a local theater could make a great gift! And if they happen to love older movies, you might want to check the schedule for big screen oldies here.
  • Sporting Events. If you have a college or professional team in your area and have a sports fan on your list, tickets to a game could be a fun gift! In Charlotte, we are fortunate to have the NFL Carolina Panthers, the NBA Hornets, the minor league Charlotte Knights baseball team, and even some college teams! Not in Charlotte? Look around for other sporting events: rodeos, track meets, and more! If it’s a female friend, maybe you order an inexpensive stadium-approved clear handbag from Amazon (click here) and put the tickets in that!
  • Concerts. A few years ago, someone gave us tickets to a Sade concert as a Christmas gift. My husband loves Sade, but I was never a big fan…till we went to that show! John Legend opened and put on a fabulous show, making me a big fan, and then Sade was incredible! Wow! The lady is a performer! We had a great time, and I knew then that concert tickets make great gifts. Don’t we all remember concerts we’ve attended? How many gifts of “stuff” do you actually remember?
  • Special events. Maybe a local hotel or restaurant is hosting a wine tasting? Or maybe there’s a local Yoga and Mimosa event? Tickets to any type of special event of interest to the recipient make great gifts. A hotel near us, for example, hosts afternoon tea on weekends. Tickets are not required, but I have a friend who loves the afternoon tea experience at this hotel, so I know I could give her a hotel gift card with a note about the tea, and she would love it.
  • Family experiences. If there’s a family with kids on your list, they might enjoy a night at a Great Wolf Lodge! When our daughter was younger, she absolutely loved our local Great Wolf Lodge…the water slides, the restaurants, the kids club room, the arcade…everything about it. And I loved taking her and a friend, because I could relax while they had all the fun they could stand! Top Golf is another fun family experience…give a gift card for the whole family to spend some time together there! For kids, you might give the gift of art at Small Hands, Big Art, where they have art classes for kids of all ages.
  • Classes. I have a friend who loves taking classes. She just loves trying new things! She has taken cooking classes at Sur la Table. She has taken painting classes. She has taken glass-blowing classes and pottery classes. She loves to learn, so I know I can gift her a class of some type, and she will be thrilled!
  • Thrilling experiences. Have someone on your list who is a bit of a daredevil? Maybe they would like to try skydiving? Check with local companies…they might offer gift cards. Or maybe they would just to do indoor skydiving at iFly Charlotte. That’s an experience I’d love to have myself! Or if NASCAR is their thing, give them the Richard Petty Driving Experience! Into whitewater rafting? We are fortunate to have the US National Whitewater Center right here in Charlotte. It’s worth a trip to Charlotte for all the fun there! Or maybe they just like to watch thrilling experiences…like an air show. Air shows are held all over the country; check your local listings…tickets to an air show could be fun for the thrill enthusiast. Or perhaps flying lessons?

Just consider the recipient and think of something that would be fun for him/her. A cooking class sounds dreadful to some people (me), but lots of other people would co crazy over it!

The gift of an experience is something that will be remembered forever.

So this year, instead of worrying about whether or not the gifts you ordered are on a ship in the Pacific, give the gift of fun!

Choose Joy

Choose joy.

In my collection of hoodies, I now have a tie-dye one that says “choose joy” across the front. I bought it for myself recently, because sometimes I need a reminder to choose joy.

I like to be happy, and most of the time, I choose to be happy. I’ve had sad things happen and my own struggles in life, just like everyone else, but I try to process that sadness and find joy again. Sometimes it take a while, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I do believe we can all make a conscious decision to be joyful. If we try to see a silver lining, we can usually find one.

And in my experience, choosing joy for yourself makes other people joyful. I find that, if I am happy, the people around me tend to become happier…joy is contagious. No doubt. Just like anger and bitterness are contagious. I know that, because sometimes I’m downright angry and bitter. Occasionally, something will get under my skin and stay there. I get angry or upset about something, and it seems I will never shake it. When that happens, I tend to spread that bad mood…till I realize what I’m doing…and then I try to turn it around. I choose joy.

There have been times in my life that I’ve stepped back and realized I’ve been “spitting venom,” and that’s not good. When I’ve realized it, whether someone pointed it out or I realized it myself, I’ve tried to walk it back and change my attitude. When I was a little girl, if I had a bad attitude, my parents would tell me, “You need to put a smile on your face…now.” Sounds silly, right? But here’s what usually happens when you put a smile on your face: you start feeling a little happier. It goes with the old “fake it till you make it” theory…start acting happier, and you will become happier. I learned that valuable lesson in my 20s, and it’s a lesson I’ve always remembered…and one I’ve tried to teach my teenage daughter. I’ve had to force myself to “fake it till I make it” a lot more through the COVID pandemic, because honestly, it’s downright depressing. But if we look around and find joy somewhere, it makes it a little easier.

About a month into the pandemic isolation, I was looking out the window onto my patio when I realized the trees behind our patio were becoming greener…sprouting tiny green leaves. Because we were all searching for things to do during that lockdown, I spent some of my time taking photos of the trees as we moved into spring. Sounds boring, right? I agree, but somehow it was fun at the time…and it brought me joy! I also got my garden started way earlier than usual…finding joy where I could…watching seedlings grow into flowers and vegetables. I chose joy that way.

Did I still have times of sadness? You bet. The pandemic shutdowns and isolation have been hard on me. But I refused to give in. Sure, occasionally, I had a breakdown here or there…or I made a big deal out of something that wasn’t a big deal. But when I realized it, I adjusted my attitude and chose joy.

That “choose joy” hoodie I mentioned earlier? Well, I found it on a website called Elly and Grace. I got one of those Facebook notifications that a college friend “liked” the Facebook page for the company, so I checked it out, and I was glad I did. Elly and Grace is a small company in Missouri whose mission is “to provide the softest, highest quality Christian apparel, designed to uplift, inspire and point others to Jesus.” Indeed, they do! The hoodie I purchased is the softest ever, and it certainly promotes an inspirational message! They have other items that feature other great messages and Bible verses. You can see what they offer here. I will definitely be shopping with them again very soon, and I know I will purchase some Christmas gifts from them too. I love to support small businesses…and this one seems special.

So thank you, Facebook, for leading me to Elly and Grace, and thank you to Elly and Grace for reminding me to “choose joy.” I am trying to make that conscious choice every single day.

Choose joy.

October 2 Has Meaning for Me

October 2 has meaning for me.

Different days have different meanings. To a lot of people, October 2 means nothing different than any other day. To me, it has meaning.

October 2 is the anniversary of a day my life changed forever…the day my Daddy died in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about it before. Today is the 14th anniversary of his passing. While it’s hard to believe it has been 14 years, it also feels like I haven’t seen his face or heard his laugh in forever.

For years, I could only remember him sick. Pancreatic cancer was a cruel disease for him. Frankly, it was cruel for me and the rest of the family too. I had never felt such emotional pain. I thought I would lose my mind with grief. Yes, the disease was terrible, but through those months from diagnosis to his passing, we managed to have some good times. We laughed…a lot. We cried a lot too. We spent a lot of time together. My husband and I moved our little family down to the Alabama Gulf Coast for months, to be closer to Mother and Daddy. We were lucky we had a condo on the bay near their house. Our daughter was about to turn three. It wasn’t easy to uproot the family. We had good support in Charlotte…great friends we had made over the course of our marriage. They called to check on us, and they mailed little treats to our daughter. I called them and cried regularly. We didn’t have a lot of support in Alabama, but I enrolled our daughter in a church preschool…they very graciously took her when they didn’t have to. And I did everything I could to keep my little family happy while trying to help my mother help my daddy. Daddy was so sweet throughout his illness. It was heartbreaking watching him get sicker and sicker…and that was all I could remember for a long time.

But now, I can remember him not sick. I can remember his laugh. I can remember his stories and his wordplay. I can remember watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS with him. I can remember watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN and listening to Harry Caray with him. We loved the early days of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…when Regis hosted. He was into all the same “useless knowledge” I’m into. I remember what a jokester he was. I remember how he carried me to the car when I had a stomach bug at 17…just picked me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to the car to take me to the doctor. I can remember how big his hands looked when I was a little girl. When he was dying, I kept looking at his hands…trying to etch them in my memory. I don’t know why that was so important, but for some reason it was. I think his hands represented his strength to me…his physical strength, but also his emotional strength. He was rock solid to us. He carried the burden of supporting our family, and he didn’t have a financial safety net in the form of parents who could help him in a financial emergency. He gave us that safety net, though.

My brother and I laughed just recently talking about how Daddy always made sure we were taken care of. He provided for us…everything we needed and most of what we wanted…throughout life. And here’s the funny thing…he’s still providing for us, in a way. Just recently, almost three years after my mother died, we discovered they had a life insurance policy he had set up many years ago. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s passing, I deposited the check from that policy into a bank account, and afterward, I sat in the car and thought, “Wow. Fourteen years to the day after he died, and he’s still giving to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mother provided lots for us too…in a different way, but today is about remembering Daddy. I used to dread October 2 every year, because it meant heartache to me, but now I smile. I’m certainly not happy he’s gone, but when October 2 rolls around, I spend the day thinking about Daddy. I’ll look at the moon tonight and remember how he used to call me in Charlotte from his home in Alabama and tell me to go outside and look at the moon when it was particularly spectacular.

Just this weekend, when I was in a store with a friend, someone heard me call her “Miss Merry Sunshine” and asked if that was her name. I explained that I just call my friend that because she’s perpetually happy. And even that made me think of Daddy. When he was sick, I would take our toddler daughter over to visit, and he would sing Good Morning, Merry Sunshine any time she walked into the room. She loved it…and frankly, I did too. In one of his final days, I walked into the room with her, and he had a lot of morphine in his system…his speech wasn’t clear. His smile was clear, but his speech was garbled. He was “singing” but it wasn’t clear. I took that almost-three-yr-old little girl outside, and said, “I wonder what Big Ken was trying to say to you?” She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Good morning, Merry Sunshine!” So yes, I thought of him this past weekend when the woman in the store thought my friend’s name was Merry Sunshine.

Now that little toddler girl is almost 17. In memory of Daddy, before she goes out with her friends tonight, I’ll take her hand and press a crisp $20 bill into it. He used to do that…give me “walking around money,” or WAM, as we started calling it when I was in college.

His passing was difficult. That’s not even a good word for it. It hit me hard. But it also taught me some coping skills…his final lesson to me.

Lots of good memories of Daddy. Thanks, October 2, for making me sit back and think about him. I still miss him, but I have wonderful memories of him.