Writing My Way Through Tough Times

Writing my way through tough times.

If we live long enough, we all experience heartache at some time or another. It might be in the form of a breakup, or it might be in the loss of a loved one. I experienced a few breakups as I grew up, just like most everyone else, but my first big, real heartache was when my daddy was diagnosed with and eventually died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

He was officially diagnosed in February of that year, and he died on October 2 of the same year. Today is the 16th anniversary of his death…a tough day for me, and a reminder of the heartache I managed to survive. I suffered. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced…losing my daddy. I was the mother of a toddler, but I was afraid I was losing my mind. I made lots of plans, because I thought I needed to stay busy. I ran myself ragged. But I learned.

When my mother fell ill 11 years later, my friend, Angela, who has also lost her father, said, “Get ready. It’s going to be tough when you lose her.” I vividly remember turning to her, saying, “It’s going to be tough, for sure, but I feel like I learned something when Daddy died. I feel like I developed some coping skills.” And after Mother passed, I learned I had, in fact, developed some coping skills. I had learned not to run from it. I had learned from my experience with Daddy’s death that I needed to just drop out of the world for a little while and process it. So that’s what I did after Mother died. I have written about it before. I literally gave myself permission to recover quietly and cancelled all plans and went to bed for a month. Don’t get me wrong. I was functional. But I didn’t feel like being social, so I wasn’t. I did what I needed to do for our daughter, but for the most part, I stayed home. And after a month, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and rejoined the living.

For Christmas that year, I had received a gift from a friend. It was a book called My Future Listography: All I Hope to do in Lists. When I received the gift, I thought it was cool, but when Mother died five days after Christmas, the book took on more meaning. It’s a journal, of sorts, and it’s part of a series of Listography books. Each one contains lists to fill in, and this one is full of lists about the future. Examples of some of the lists: What countries do you want to visit? What films do you want to see? What fictional characters would you like to hang out with? But after Mother died, the book became good therapy for me. Sounds crazy, but it gave me things to think about in the future. It made me see past the state of gloom I was in and look to the future. It really helped me move through the grief. It helped me realize that the act of putting my thoughts out there could help me heal. To order My Future Listography, click here.

And because of that, I started my blog. Writing things down…or typing them, in the case of the blog…was therapeutic! My Future Listography had brought me through the initial trauma of losing my mother, and writing the blog helpted me continue to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Since losing my Mother on December 30, 2017, I have given copies of My Future Listography to lots of friends when they have been going through tough times…breakups, death of a loved one, or even new empty-nesters who are having a hard time. Sometimes, they look at me like it’s a weird gift, and maybe it is…but several times, people have called me later to tell me how much it helped them keep putting one foot in front of the other…keep looking toward the future. We know time helps with heartache, but knowing there is life ahead of the heartache can help too. When someone is in the middle of grief or heartache, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the good things ahead, but this journal can help them see what the future might look like.

I have a friend who went through a terrible breakup two years ago, and I gave her a copy after the relationship ended. There’s something about a relationship ending that can seem particularly dismal. It can feel like everything you believed about someone was wrong…a lie. Later, we realize that’s not always the case; sometimes, there are just extenuating circumstances that cause relationships to end. And as with my friend, sometimes we need to be reminded that there is a bright future ahead. She called me months after the breakup and told me the journal of lists had helped her. Now, I keep a few handy to give as gifts, because you never know when someone you love is going to experience something bad.

Sometimes, we just need a reminder that better things lie ahead.

A Visit.

A Visit.

This past weekend, I took a whirlwind trip to a college football game. When I say whirlwind trip, I mean I barely felt like my feet were on the ground between flights. But we crammed a lot of fun into a short stay. And yes, my team won.

On the return flight, I was the first to board. I always like to board as early as possible. I don’t know why…it’s just who I am. As the plane filled up, I noticed a gentleman boarding who reminded me of my daddy. He was tall with white hair…much like my daddy. I lost my daddy 15 years ago to pancreatic cancer, and on very rare occasions, I “see” him somewhere…I see someone who looks like him walking across a parking lot or in the background of photos. This particular gentleman ended up sitting in the row in front of me on the flight; it’s the first time I’ve been seated behind someone who reminds me of Daddy. If you’ve lost a loved one, you might know it’s interesting to see someone who resembles the person you’ve lost. I found myself looking at the back of his head a lot during the flight. It didn’t make me sad. Quite the opposite…it made me happy…made me feel a little comforted. It made me think Daddy was saying “hi” to me.

The flight was uneventful, and then we landed in Charlotte. As soon as we landed, the gentleman made a phone call. I don’t know if it was his wife or his daughter. I preferred to think it was his daughter, but it was probably his wife. I don’t know what had occurred, but he listened for a minute and then calmly responded with, “OK. You’re fine. Stop worrying about it. It’s over.” He had a calming voice, much like my daddy’s, and his southern accent sounded like Daddy’s too. He responded that way several times, “Let it go. It’s over.” I remember hearing my own dad say those very words to me many times in my life. When I was in college and I finished an exam that I thought didn’t go well, I would call him, and tell him. And he would always respond, very calmly, “Stop worrying about it. It’s over.” Or he might say, “Stop worrying about something you can’t change. It’s over now. You’re wasting your energy.” Even after a car accident, when I was trying to replay the events that led up to it, he would say, “Let it go. It’s over.” Seriously, hearing the gentleman on the phone last night really made me think of Daddy. If I had been worried about something at the time, I’d have thought Daddy was trying to send me a message. Maybe he was sending me a message about a future worry?

The gentleman ended his call with an “I love you,” and soon thereafter, we arrived at our gate. We all stood up to retrieve our carry-on bags from the overhead bins, and I found myself standing directly behind him while we waited to deplane. He and another gentleman started talking, and “the” gentleman revealed that he was traveling to Minneapolis. He said he had started his day in 87-degree weather, and when he arrived in Minneapolis, it would be 27 degrees. He also revealed that he enjoys traveling to Minneapolis and started talking about the food there. I don’t remember the particulars of everything he was saying about the food. I just remember that it reminded me of Daddy. When he traveled, he talked to people and learned about the city he visited. This gentleman was sharing little facts about the Swedish influence in Minneapolis, and he also revealed that everything he eats in Minneapolis is served with wild rice. Apparently, lots of wild rice is grown in the state of Minnesota…something I didn’t know before…and one of those facts Daddy would have picked up in his travels.

As weird as it sounds, I enjoyed the little bit of time that I felt like I was in the presence of my dad. I know it wasn’t Daddy. I’m not crazy. There’s just something a little reassuring about hearing a similar voice saying something Daddy would have said.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re familiar with pancreatic cancer because a family member or friend has it or had it, I’m sorry. It’s a terrible, deadly disease that gets very little research funding. If you’d like to make a donation to an organization that works to support those who have pancreatic cancer and their families, please consider donating to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Thursday, November 18, is World Pancreatic Cancer Day, and the organization will be hosting an online event, sharing the latest information on advances in research and treatment. You can see the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website here. Please consider donating to this worthy cause.

And on November 18, please consider wearing purple in support of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness. I will wear purple in memory of my Daddy.

Messages from Heaven

Messages from Heaven.

I lost my dad in 2006. My mother passed in December 2017. And then, a dear friend left this world in 2018. I remember lots of conversations I had with each of them when they were alive, but I also get “messages” from them now.

Unfortunately, Facebook wasn’t a thing when my daddy was living. If Facebook existed then, I didn’t know it. Daddy would not have been into social media, anyway… but if he had been around for Facebook, he likely would have checked it sometimes, just to see pictures of my growing daughter, since we lived 600 miles away.

But my mother and my friend who passed in 2018…they were into Facebook.

Today, as always, I checked my Facebook “memories,” where I get to take a look at my posts from the same day in different years past. No big deal, right? I usually laugh or smile as I scroll through them, and today was no different.

As I scrolled through my “memories,” I came across a post from this day in 2012. In the post, I asked friends to pray for a friend who was having surgery on that day. I read through the comments, and there, at the bottom of the comments…a comment from my friend who was having surgery…the same friend who passed in 2018. It was just one simple sentence, “Oh, sweet Kelly…always thinking of me.” As I read it, I could hear her saying it, and I got a little emotional. You know how we we think we have moved beyond grief? You know how lots of people don’t understand grief continues for an undefined length of time? Well, this is an example of how grief lingers. Who knew such a simple comment would make me miss her so much 2 1/2 years after her passing?

Once, when that same friend and I were walking to the car after spending the afternoon at the beach in Maine many years ago, we looked up at the sky, and we both had the same reaction. We stopped and gasped. There was a big hole in the clouds…it looked as if God might reach down through that hole and touch the earth. (It’s the feature photo, but the photo doesn’t really do it justice.) We called the scene “the hand of God.” Every time I see a similar scene now, I think of my friend and “the hand of God.”

Occasionally, I see comments from my mother on Facebook, and I have an emotional reaction to those too. It’s different than finding a note or card…maybe because it’s a reactive message? She’s reacting to something I posted on Facebook? It just seems more conversational.

And then there are different kinds of messages…

A few days before Christmas, I got a different kind of message from my mother…in the grocery store, of all places. I was shopping for all the things I would need on Christmas Day when I remembered we would also need bread to make sandwiches after Christmas, so I dashed around to the bread aisle. And that’s when I saw her…my mother…standing in front of the bread…and I stopped in my tracks. I took a deep breath and moved closer. Don’t freak out. It wasn’t a ghost. She wasn’t looking at me. She was trying to pick a loaf of bread, and I stood behind her, waiting patiently…and watching.

No, it wasn’t really my mother. It wasn’t a ghost. It was just a woman who, from behind, looked like my mother. She was short…about my mother’s height. She had her hair brushed in the same way Mother brushed her hair. Her arms looked just like Mother’s. She stood like Mother. She was wearing something Mother would have worn. I never saw her face, but I ended up behind her a couple more times before I left the store…and found myself walking out the door behind her! In fact, I took a photo of her and sent it to my brother, my cousin, and my aunt, all of whom reacted exactly as I did. They were shocked, but they were happy. No, it wasn’t my mother, but I felt like seeing this woman was a message from my mother…just a little “hello” in the grocery store.

A few weeks before that, I was in Michael’s Arts and Crafts when I rounded a corner and gasped audibly. Standing in front of me was a woman who, from behind, looked just like my friend who passed away in 2018. I saw her two more times in the store that day…and then, as I was walking out, I passed a woman who, from behind, looked just like my mother. I have decided she was the same woman who was in the grocery store a few days before Christmas.

I get visits from my daddy too. I’ve seen him walking across a parking lot, and I have seen him in the background of other people’s photos on social media. But usually, he visits in my dreams…always laughing and happy. The first time he ever visited me, I was dreaming I was with my little family at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, watching the parade. Float after float went by, and then suddenly, there was Daddy…waving big and laughing from the float. It’s something Daddy never would have done, but it made me happy that in my dream, I was in “the happiest place on earth,” and he was laughing and waving, letting me know he is happy.

Are these really messages from Heaven? I have no idea, but I choose to believe they are, because they keep my loved ones on my mind…and they make me feel connected to them.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

***This is a repost from November 2019***

All my friends know it, because they’ve heard it from me for years…since 2006…November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. What does that mean? To some folks it means nothing. To me, it means a lot. My daddy died eight months after he was diagnosed with this terrible disease. He had been suffering for months, though, without a diagnosis…I’ll get to that in a minute.

When I was in my thirties, I had heard very little about pancreatic cancer. I knew nothing about it…nothing. In 2006, I had been married for six years, and I had a two-year-old daughter. Life was moving along swimmingly, and then my daddy got sick. And it was bad. He was 67 years old when he was diagnosed on February 9, and he died on October 2, three weeks after his 68th birthday…the birthday he declared his happiest ever, because all his family members were there to celebrate with him.

Without getting into the details of his illness, let me tell you this…it never occurred to us he would get pancreatic cancer. There was no history of it in his family, except one aunt, and she was considerably older when she was diagnosed, so we tend to think “we’re all going to die of something.” But when Daddy was diagnosed, it hit us like a ton of bricks. The survival rate is terrible, and after doing some research, we were fully aware of his prognosis, but like Alex Trebek, we tried to have a positive outlook. Without hope, what do you have?!?

Detecting pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult, and that is, in part, why the survival rate is low. My daddy was having symptoms for some time before he was diagnosed, but sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. When he was finally diagnosed, it was too late to do much about it. I’m hoping research funding will help find better, easier ways of detecting it.

There are two things I want you to take away from this…

  • Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but the funding for its research doesn’t match up. There are lots of ways to help. You can donate directly to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) here. You can host a fundraiser for the organization too. You can walk in a Purple Stride event in your town. You can purchase purple (the color for pancreatic cancer awareness) gear through PanCan here. You can wear purple in memory of someone you know…and tell people why you’re wearing it. You can write to your representatives in Congress, asking them to do more to fund the fight against pancreatic cancer. I recently hosted a fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network on Facebook, and I am grateful to all who donated. I was thrilled that so many people donated, and I was overwhelmed by their generosity.
  • Live your life. We never know what will happen. My daddy was always telling us, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” He encouraged us to live our lives to the fullest…enjoy time with friends and family, see places and things we want to see, give back to the community, etc. Soon after I turned 50, I told my mother (who has since passed away), “I probably only have 20 more years that I can move around really well.” I was looking ahead and thinking it might not be as easy for me to travel when I’m over 70. She looked at me with a sweet smile on her face and said, “When your daddy was your age, he didn’t have that long. [When he was 50, he only had 18 more years ahead of him.] Do the things you want to do.” Perspective. She was right. And so that’s what I’m encouraging you to do. It doesn’t mean you have to go into debt taking a gigantic whirlwind trip, but get busy ticking things off your bucket list.

And while you’re ticking things off your bucket list, wear purple every now and then.

FYI: World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day is November 19, 2020. Please wear purple and support the fight.

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

Saying Goodbye To Celebrities

Yesterday, we got the news that Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame had died after suffering a massive stroke last week. Friends all over Facebook were posting about how sad they are. They were posting about how Dylan McKay, his character on the show, was their “first love.” And I get it…

When the original Beverly Hills, 90210 debuted, I had been out of college for a year. I was working for an airline and living in Atlanta. It premiered on October 4, 1990. I was 23 years old, and life was good! The target audience for the show was teenagers. I was older than most of their viewers, I think, but I loved it! Who didn’t want to live in Beverly Hills then? Heck, I want to live in Beverly Hills now! If you’ve never seen the show, you can start with the pilot on Amazon Prime Video here.

I’m not surprised to see how many people are mourning the loss of Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. It’s sad. He was only 52. And I’ve done it lots of times…felt sadness at the loss of a celebrity. I felt it when Prince died a few years ago…I was having lunch with my friend, Linda, at Fenwick’s in Charlotte, when we heard the news. Sometimes, we remember where we were when we heard the news, because strong emotions lock events into long-term memory. I’ve learned that the hard way; my husband has no short term memory (a tumor and brain surgery to remove it), but he has long-term memory.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve thought about how we mourn celebrities, and I’ve decided that when I’m mourning a celebrity’s death, I’m not really mourning the loss of the individual as much as I’m mourning the loss of a certain time in my life. I didn’t really know the people. I knew how they made me feel. Maybe sometimes, we mourn the fact that we never got to meet the celebrity, but we don’t really know these people. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think, when I mourn a celebrity, it’s because I’m mourning the loss of a time in life, or because I never got to meet the person.

For example, I hadn’t kept up with country singer Roy Clark’s career over the last couple of decades, but when I heard he had died last year, I was sad. Roy Clark was one of the hosts of Hee Haw, a show we watched when I was a little girl. Lots of kids watched Hee Haw in the 70s…maybe it was just southern kids, but people watched it. If, right now, I started singing, “Where, oh where, are you tonight…” people my age would chime in. Someone from my generation would immediately sing, “Why did you leave me here all alone?” We all remember getting excited about that segment of the show… and the raspberry in the song. To see it, click here. Roy Clark, as the Hee Haw host, was part of our childhood.

When Dean Martin died in 1995, I reminisced about his variety show that I loved watching as a child. Of course, watching those episodes as an adult, I realize I probably didn’t get most of the jokes, but I enjoyed the show. And I thought Dean Martin was handsome. In fact, I still swoon when I watch videos of him. His death is one I mourn because I’ll never get to meet him.

Penny Marshall…Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. When I heard she had died this past year, I was transported back to third grade, singing, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…schlemiel! schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” You can see it here. I still make references to Laverne and Shirley regularly. When Penny Marshall died, I lost a piece of childhood.

Marlin Perkins died in 1986. Who is that? If you were born around the same time I was or before, you likely remember him as the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. If his show hadn’t aired right before The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, children likely wouldn’t have known who he was, but when he died in 1986, children who were born in the 60s and early 70s remembered spending Sunday nights in front of the TV, watching Marlin Perkins tell Jim Fowler to approach an animal or two. Mother let us have TV dinners on Sunday nights…and only on Sunday nights…while we watched those two shows. Of course, we had to pick our TV dinners from the grocery store on Saturday, because back then, in Alabama, grocery stores weren’t open on Sundays, due to blue laws.

When Patrick Swayze died, I mourned his death, because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year after my daddy died from the same disease. I didn’t know Patrick Swayze, but when he was diagnosed, I remembered how terrible it felt when Daddy was diagnosed. Obviously, I didn’t relive the pain of my daddy’s diagnosis, but I knew the pain his family was feeling. When I was in college, we loved watching him in Dirty Dancing, and when he died in 2009, on my daddy’s birthday, September 14, it hurt.

So yes, celebrity deaths affect me, but it’s not because I love them like I love my family. No celebrity death could ever carry the same weight as the death of my family members, but they’re memorable…not because I knew the celebrity, but because they represented a time in my life…a time I can’t return to. Or maybe I’m sad because I never got to meet them.

So, Rest In Peace, Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. You created some great memories for us, and you’ll always be a part of my youth. And apparently, lots of my friends considered you their first love…

 

 

 

 

 

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The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

My Nephews Are 21 Today

My nephews are 21 today. Obviously, they are twins, but they are two very different people…more on that later. I simply cannot believe they are 21 today. Come on…21 is an age that is easy for me to remember, even though it was 30 years ago. So it’s very difficult for me to believe these two young gentlemen are full-fledged adults…full-fledged adults.

How did we get here so fast?

I remember when they were born. I remember when they were afraid of Santa…and Cookie Monster. Their mother and I took them to see Cookie Monster when they were about three, and they were so excited on the way to Uptown Charlotte. They were even excited when we got there. But when it was their turn to sit on Cookie Monster’s lap…wow. Just wow. They freaked out. I have a photo somewhere, but I wouldn’t embarrass them by sharing it. You just have to trust me when I say it’s hilarious.

I remember how my brother would call me and tell me about their accomplishments…in fact, he still calls and tells me about their accomplishments. He calls me to tell me about nice things they have done for other people. They’re good boys.

My parents were crazy about them, but my daddy was insane over them. When we were growing up, he traveled with work, and he worked hard, so he wasn’t around as much as he might have liked. But he retired when the boys were little, so he was able to enjoy them. He loved playing ball with them. He loved having Easter egg hunts with them. He loved placing orders with them when they played waiter. He loved how they loved to run to the trunk of his car, because they knew he would have surprises for them. Of course, Mother helped him get the surprises, but he got full credit, and Mother was OK with that. She enjoyed watching him enjoy them. And Daddy always loved leaving them with WAM (walking around money) after visiting with them.

They were crazy over Daddy too. They were heartbroken when he died in 2006. He was larger than life to them, and they knew he loved them dearly. He would be proud of the young men they have become.

One has mad artistic skills. He was blessed with great athletic skill, but that was not what he wanted to do. Now that he is in college, he is pursuing art, and we couldn’t be more proud of him. He is smart. He is handsome. Sure, I wish he would get a haircut, so everybody can see how handsome he is, but I accept the hair (even though, the last time I saw him, I jokingly threatened to cut it in his sleep). And here’s why: he is one of the most genuinely kind people I know. He and a friend were in Charlotte a few months ago, and they were looking to rent some scooters in Uptown. They finally found some, but before they could get to them, a homeless gentleman struck up a conversation with my nephew. Instead of rushing off to the available scooters, he stood and talked with him…and missed out on the scooters. He also “adopted” my mothers’s dog, who loves him dearly. That’s who he is.

As much as that nephew has mad artistic skills, his brother has mad speaking skills and mad writing skills. This nephew has cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t let it stop him from doing what he loves. He’s also handsome and kind. As a little boy, he loved baseball, but he realized his love for baseball would not manifest itself in playing the sport. He knows more about baseball than anyone else I know. I was at a Pittsburgh Pirates/Chicago Cubs game, and I started texting him about the game. He knew about each player, warning me the third baseman for one team would likely make an error soon. And he was right! He took that love for baseball to the press box and earns money announcing baseball and softball games. He writes sports pieces for a local online publication and works in publications for the city. 

I love them them both, and I love the men they are becoming. They survived childhood, the teenage years, and some hiccups along the way, but they’re going to be OK. They’re going to be great. My mother died last December, but she was so proud of them, and she’d be even more proud now. And Daddy…well, he would be bursting with pride.

And he would still be giving them WAM every time he saw them.

Happy Birthday to my nephews…you’re full-fledged adults.

Purple Is My Color: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Purple is my color…in November. Well, except on the Saturday of the Alabama-LSU game (which was this past Saturday). Other than that day, purple is my color in November, because the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has adopted purple as the color for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

My daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February of 2006. He died less than seven months after his diagnosis, on October 2. Our hearts broke when he was diagnosed, continued breaking for seven months, and shattered on October 2. But he was finally at peace, after a lot of suffering.

I remember exactly where I was when my parents told me Daddy had pancreatic cancer. I was driving up Colony Road, near the intersection at Carmel Road, in Charlotte, going to meet my friend, Wendy, for dinner with her, her husband, their son, and my daughter, the night before Wendy was scheduled for a C-section to have her daughter, Madison. I was devastated at the news from my parents, but I didn’t want to ruin the night for Wendy, so I dried up my tears and put on a brave face. Apparently, I was a better actress than I had ever realized, because they suspected nothing over dinner. We celebrated the upcoming birth of Madison (though she didn’t have a name yet, at that point).

I knew the prognosis for pancreatic cancer patients was not good. I knew my time with my daddy was limited, so we tried to make the best of it. We were fortunate to have a condo near my parents’ house in Alabama, so we moved down there for the last couple of months before he died. My brother came down as often as he could, and even though it was bittersweet, we had a lot of quality time together. We made the most of it, but we knew we were losing our daddy.

Daddy was brave. He even maintained his sense of humor. He worried about what would become of us after he was gone. He was sad he wouldn’t see his beloved grandchildren grow up. He encouraged us to stick together. And he often said, “I’ve lived a full life, and now, I’m spending lots of quality time with y’all.”  He was finding the silver lining till the end. Throughout life, he looked for the good. And in his final days, the good was that he had a family who loved him and loved each other. He knew it. We laughed. We cried. And then we laughed some more to keep from crying.

And here’s the thing. In the 12 years since we lost Daddy, not much has changed for pancreatic cancer patients. Most patients don’t survive one year after diagnosis, and very few survive five years…roughly 95 percent of those diagnosed die from it. It’s very difficult to diagnose, and it’s usually too late when it is diagnosed. It is considered by many to be the deadliest cancer, based on the general prognosis, but it gets very little press. Every time a friend calls me and tells me someone they know has been diagnosed, I don’t know what to say. The only thing I can do is offer prayer and refer them to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, also known as PanCan.org. We need more awareness, more funding for research, and we need more trials, and PanCan raises money for those things. They also raise awareness and on behalf of patients and families, contacting Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to support bills that offer funding for research.

So, every year, since 2006, I wear purple in November. It might be just a purple handbag, purple pendant, or purple earrings, but I try to wear a little piece of purple every day…except the day Bama plays LSU…Daddy would understand.

***If you would like to donate to PanCan.org, please go to the website here. Call or write your Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research.***

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Photo: pancan.org

I Want Candy…My Favorites

I love candy. I love chocolate candy and sour candy. I love all kinds of candy…always have. In fact, when I was a kid, I loved candy so much that I actually tried to get the answer to the commercial question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

When I was a kid living in Brewton, Alabama, Daddy took us to the “candy store,” which was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s, every Saturday. He would give us our allowance, and we would go blow it on candy and Icees. I always got a Coke Icee at Murphy’s. We got $5 allowance. Back then, $5 would buy a lot of candy, but I never actually spent my whole allowance. I usually put back a dollar or two, but I could still buy lots of candy and save too. I also stashed candy in hiding places in my room, but my brother usually found it and secretly ate it bit by bit.

Later, after moving to Spanish Fort, we would walk to the TG&Y in the local shopping center to buy candy. Instead of Icees there, we got bottled soda…in real glass bottles. My personal favorites were RC Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Coca-Cola in the little bottle, what we called a “baby Coke.”

I have favorites. As a child, I would always pick some favorites: Tootsie PopsSpree, Pixie Stix, Zotz, Bottle Caps, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Fun Dip, SkyBar, M&Ms, Blow Pops,  and sometimes, a Hershey Bar…without almonds. I also loved Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddy, Necco Wafers and Marathon Bars. (They don’t make Marathon Bars anymore, but Cadbury makes a similar bar of braided caramel covered in chocolate called the Curly Wurly.) Good times. In addition to candy, I would top off my purchase with some Hostess Chocolate Cream-filled Cupcakes. *Necco Wafers and SkyBar were made by New England Confectionery Company, which went bankrupt and is now owned by Spangler Candy Company. The future of some products is unknown. I’m stocking up on SkyBar now.*

Obviously, our candy intake was never restricted. My parents thought candy was one of the small joys in life, and I feel the same way. Before my daughter was born, a neighbor told me the kids she knew who couldn’t have candy at home went crazy eating it at her house, so we always have it, and our daughter doesn’t go crazy over it. We have a designated candy drawer in the kitchen. Need a little pick me up? Grab something from the drawer.

My daughter’s candy intake has never been limited. When we visit different cities, we love to visit any candy store we hear about. Dylan’s Candy Bar is a favorite in various cities. The last two times we’ve gone to LA, we visited Candytopia, a candy museum. It was a temporary popup, but now it’s in New York and San Francisco. As we entered each room, we got different kinds of candy: Pixie Stix, Tootsie Pops, candy necklaces, and more! Plus, there were sculptures and portraits made entirely of candy! My favorite part: a giant marshmallow pit! Great photo ops!

I still love candy.  I now love Snickers bars in addition to all my old favorites. I can’t resist purchasing some of the more rare ones when I see them.

I’m placing an order for some Curly Wurly Bars from Amazon now. All the candies I’ve listed above are available from Amazon.com. I want candy!

***If you were a teen in the 1980s, you probably remember a song called I Want Candy by the group, Bow Wow Wow. It was a remake of a 60s song by The Strangeloves. Bow Wow Wow trivia: Boy George was an early member of the group before forming Culture Club. You can see the Bow Wow Wow video here.***