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.

My College Advice to My Daughter

My college advice to my daughter.

It has been a long time since I was in college. In fact, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree 33 years ago…hard to believe! It’s especially hard to believe, because I have so many great memories from college, and when I see friends from college, we fall right in step…as if we have been hanging out together every day for the past 33 years. But I remember…I remember college. And because of that, I have some advice for my daughter, who is leaving for college in five weeks. Yes! Five weeks! My “wisdom” might not be wise…I’m the first to admit that, but I can only base my advice on my own experiences or things I witnessed in college. Here we go:

  • Make your college/university your home. Wait at least six weeks before going home. You might be homesick, but you want to become a part of your college/university community. That won’t happen if you’re running home every weekend. We are encouraging our daughter to stay at her university (450 miles away) until Thanksgiving week. Sure, we will attend some football games and see her then, but she needs to stay there. As long as she has one foot in her hometown, she’ll never become a part of the school community.
  • Butt in seat. First and foremost, go to class. If your butt is in the seat in classes, you are more likely to have success. You can’t succeed if you don’t go to class. It has been proven time and time again. I know I was most successful when I never missed classes.
  • Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket. This is something my husband shared with our daughter recently, and wow…it’s wise. Whether it’s a friend or a love interest, no matter what, do not let your happiness be dependent on another person. You need to make yourself happy. It’s a difficult lesson, but your happiness is your own responsibility. I have told friends and family for years, “You can’t make someone love you.” But you can create your own happiness.
  • Make as many friends as you possibly can. Become friends with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, different geographic areas, and different ethnicities. College is the perfect time to make lifelong friendships. And it’s also important to make at least one friend in each class you take; you never know when y’all will need each other.
  • Attend sporting events, even if they don’t sound interesting at the time. I always went to football games in college, but I didn’t always go to other sporting events. In my junior year, I realized how much fun basketball games and baseball games were at my university. And track meets too! All those sporting events made for some fun memories, and they were great opportunities to make new friends!
  • Keep a planner. Keeping a planner is the easiest way to manage your time. This was something our school taught students starting in third grade. Each year, they learned more organizational skills. Because of all the newfound freedom, time management can be a big problem in college. It’s crucial that students find a way to keep time from getting away from them.
  • Get to know your teachers. I’ve told this story a million times: when I was a second semester freshman in college, I took a math class that was tough for me. I got to know my teacher and met with him two or three times a week to make it through the class. Going into the final, I had a high B or low A, but then I failed the final. The next day, I went to meet with my teacher to find out my grade, and after he told me what I had made on the final, he asked what grade I thought I deserved. I turned it to him and asked the same thing. That’s when he said, in broken English, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” I was grateful. And this is a perfect example of how a teacher who knows you have worked hard might give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Get involved. Find activities you love and try new things. Participate in some leadership opportunities. Enjoy some outdoor activities. Learn a new sport! It will enrich your college experience and your life.
  • Exercise. Always get plenty of exercise for your physical health and for your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, the hormones that relieve stress and create a feeling of well-being. Work out regularly…whether it’s walking, running, playing tennis, rowing, hiking, racquetball…just exercise.
  • Don’t burn bridges. This is crucial life advice. I am a forgiver, so I know the importance of forgiveness. Why do I forgive? Because it’s easier than carrying the burden of a grudge or anger. Plus, it just feels better. My daughter has heard me say it her whole life…don’t burn bridges. You never know when a friendship can be mended, but it will never be mended if you burn the bridge behind you.
  • Do what you need to do so you can do what you want to do. Take care of business…or as I always say to my daughter, “TCB.” When I was in college, I saw lots of people having “too much” fun. Trust me, I liked to have as much fun as the next person, but I knew I had to make my grades to be able to stay there to have the fun. And I did. But I knew people who didn’t, and they failed out of college. Take care of business.
  • Have a budget (or at least be aware of your spending). This is a life skill. Know how much you can/can’t spend on different things. If you know you have $100 to spend on food but spend $120, you’ll need to take that $20 from another part of your budget. Truly…life lessons.
  • Keep the laundry under control. Whether you do your own laundry, have a service, or pay a friend to do it, keep it under control. You don’t want to run out of clean clothes. Make sure it gets done one way or another.
  • Change your sheets once a week. Just do it.
  • No friend left behind. This one is especially important for girls. Going out with friends? Do not let one friend linger alone somewhere (a bar, a party, anywhere) after everyone else leaves. And don’t let your friend leave with someone she doesn’t know. Be a good friend.
  • Be careful where you park. Girls generally know this, but it’s OK to remind them. I also tell my daughter not to use the parking deck alone. If she drives into the parking deck, and it appears there are no other people there, call a friend to meet you…safety in numbers.
  • If you think you need to call 911, you probably do. Dorm living means our kids might witness or have medical situations they have never encountered before…or never had to deal with on their own before: seizures, choking, injuries, illness, etc. It is important that they understand how crucial it is to get medical help. If you think you might need to call 911, go ahead and do it. You won’t regret calling, but you might regret not calling. On a side note, make sure they know not to mix alcohol and acetaminophen/Tylenol, as it can cause liver toxicity. Don’t even take Tylenol the day after drinking. If they’re hungover, the best thing to do is hydrate. Make sure they have plenty of Drip Drop or Liquid IV on hand in their room. You can purchase Drip Drop in your local Walgreen’s, or you can order it here. You can order Liquid IV here. Or you can order from Amazon.
  • Never leave your drink unattended. Why? Because people will drug your drink. They can even do it when you’re holding the drink; and bartenders have been known to do it when preparing drinks. Always watch your drink being prepared. Or better yet, just order beer. But always keep it with you, and don’t make it easily accessible to anyone.
  • Don’t abandon your friends for a boyfriend/girlfriend. I know falling in love is fun. I know people enjoy spending time with their significant others. But if you abandon your friends for a boy/girl, you will regret it, without a doubt. How do I know? Because I have seen it happen time and time again. You need friends. And college is when you want to make lifelong friends. Don’t let having a significant other mess that up for you.
  • Take some classes that will broaden your horizons. When I was in college, I took an art history class. I was majoring in journalism. I didn’t need art history. However, I learned a lot about 19th century art, and that knowledge has been useful for me in lots of conversations in different settings over the years since. I even surprise myself sometimes with my knowledge of 19th century art!
  • Call your parents! We are part of your support system. We always have your best interest at heart. You’re our favorite.

I know I’m leaving out some things, so this piece will likely be fluid and ever-growing. Let’s equip our college students with knowledge and wisdom they need…and send up lots of prayers.

I Can See Clearly Now

***I wrote this in September 2020 but never published it. I was afraid of the backlash, but it makes me a little happier to read it now. It’s a reminder that one reason we are having so much infighting right now is that we have lost our normal “outlets” for stress.***

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day!

-I Can See Clearly Now, Song by Jimmy Cliff

This is how I feel today. I feel like the clouds have been lifted, and I can see the world more clearly than I did before. No, I didn’t have a cataract removed. No, I didn’t get new glasses. I’ve been feelin’ the pandemic blues for quite some time, and it was skewing my view of the world. I think other people are feeling the same thing. I talked to someone today who said he was happy to get to go to a funeral in another city, because it gave him an excuse to get on a plane! I didn’t go to a funeral, but I did get on a plane.

Go ahead. Scold me. Call me selfish. I don’t really care. Yes, I got on a plane, and while some would say it was “unnecessary travel,” I beg to differ. I’m guessing my husband would too, since I came home so much happier. We all make choices. I chose to get on a plane…and go on vacation…during the pandemic. One person on my personal Facebook page said I was “brave” to get on a plane right now. Well, I don’t see it that way. The way I see it…for the past few weeks, people have been brave to approach me, because I’ve been angry. Now, that’s brave. Usually, I’m pretty happy-go-lucky and don’t take myself too seriously, but this whole pandemic thing? Well, it had me downright depressed…and did I mention angry??? You name it, I’ve been angry about it. I knew I needed to get away. I knew what I needed to do to change my mindset, so I did it.

And when I arrived at my hotel, I cried. I promise you, I cried. I was that happy to be there. Make fun. I don’t care. In fact, I told the gentleman at the front desk of the hotel that I could guarantee one thing: no one in that hotel was happier to be there than I was. And I wasn’t kidding. I was on a high for five solid days.

Jennifer met me there. I’ve mentioned her before. Miss Merry Sunshine. Who better to have with you on your vacation during a pandemic than a person who is perpetually happy? She was there for two days, and I was there for five, but we enjoyed the two days we had together. We acted like teenagers…having lunch at a cafe on the beach. When I say it was a cafe on the beach, I mean our toes were in the sand while we ate fish tacos! We took the top off our rented Jeep and drove all through the canyons and took selfies with canyons and selfies with every beautiful vista we could find! We shopped! We laughed. We talked. We ate at a couple of “fancy” restaurants (outdoors, of course)…till we just couldn’t eat more. We drank a lot of champagne. And did I mention we laughed?

After Jennifer left, I dined at a few more “fancy” restaurants…yep, by myself…because I’m cool like that, and because I was just so damn happy to be there, and I was going to take advantage of every moment I had. I ate. I drank. I shopped more. I checked out sights I’d never seen. I met a friend and her new baby for lunch at an outdoor rooftop restaurant. I relished every moment.

When I got home, my husband said he felt like his “old” wife is back. That’s a good thing. That means the “depressed” wife is gone. No joke…staying home all the time was about to make me insane. I was struggling.

I’m putting this out there, because I think we all need to do what we can to become a little happier right now. If you love binge-watching cheesy TV shows, do it. If you like to hike, do it…find somewhere you can hike. If, like me, you need to get on an airplane, well, that’s up to you. I needed to do it. And I can survive on the joy from that trip for a couple of months…till the next time I get on a plane…at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving travel counts as “necessary” travel, right? To me, it does. And I’m taking my daughter with me too. The hubs doesn’t want to travel, and that’s OK. But when we get home, if the school tells my daughter she has to quarantine for two weeks, because they decided to change the “rules” after telling us they wouldn’t police us outside of school…well, so be it. Damn it. She will just go remote for a couple weeks. And frankly, I won’t give a damn…because we need a Thanksgiving break.

If you see me in the airport around Thanksgiving, that means you’re there too. Give me a wave or a thumbs up, and I can promise I will smile at you, because I’ll just be so damn happy to be traveling again.

As for now, I’m still on a “high” from this last trip. I’m smiling again. I’m laughing. I’m making fun of myself. I’m not taking everyone so seriously. I’m back to my old self. And it feels good.

Garage Coffee

Garage coffee.

No, it’s not a brand of coffee. Although, I think it could be a cool name for a brand of coffee.

Over the past couple of weeks, since Thanksgiving, I’ve become much more paranoid about COVID. My behavior reminds me of my junior year in college. Up till my junior year at The University of Alabama, I was willing to go out to bars with a fake ID. Back then, in Alabama, if you were caught by the Alcohol Beverage Control officers (ABC) underage in a bar, you were arrested and taken to jail. When I was a freshman and a sophomore, it was a risk I was willing to take. But when I became a junior, and I was so close to my 21st birthday, it wasn’t worth the risk. I stopped going out to bars. My thinking? “I’m so close to my 21st birthday…I can wait till then, because I’m afraid of getting in trouble…when I can just wait a little longer.” So I waited.

Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and we are being told the vaccine is just around the corner. I know there are lots of people who are not willing to get the vaccine, but I am. I’m ready to start living again, and the vaccine is the only way I know to do that. And we are being told it will be available relatively soon. Just like my junior year and my 21st birthday, I’m afraid to risk getting COVID (I’m over 50) when the vaccine is in sight. Actually, I don’t want to risk getting COVID at all, but especially now. Call me a “sheep” if you want. I don’t care. I’m not staying home because the government is telling me to. I don’t think our government should be telling us what to do. I think it should be our own choice, so I’m not a sheep…I’m making my own decision.

In November, I was not as afraid, and I went on vacation. Yes, I did. I will admit it, but I was as careful as one could possibly be, and frankly, COVID was out there, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. I made my child (who went with me) quarantine for two weeks prior, and I quarantined for two weeks prior as well…no lunches with friends, no coffee with friends in my kitchen…nothing. I didn’t want to get to our destination and get sick while we were there. I don’t want to be hospitalized anywhere…especially in another city. When we went to the airport, we found seats to wait in a secluded area of the American Airlines Admirals Club. We threw up a prayer and wore our masks for the entire flight. We stayed the first few days in a bungalow on the beach and the next few days in a bungalow at a hotel…very little close contact with anyone…and never in a crowd the whole time we were there. We had a rental car, so we never had to use Uber. We went to restaurants, but we always dined outside…never near anyone else. And on the way home, we found seats in a secluded part of the Admirals Club again. We have TSA precheck, so we never stood in a crowded line.

Even with all those precautions, if I had a slight headache or coughed at all during the trip or over the week after we got home, I thought I had COVID, and I was scared. Do I think I would die with it? No. I like to think I’m healthy enough to survive it, but one never knows. I feel sure my teenage daughter would be fine, and I feel like my husband (also over 50) is healthy enough to survive, but do we want to push our luck? That’s a resounding NO.

And right after that Thanksgiving trip, COVID exploded. The number of daily cases is climbing rapidly. I have talked to several doctor friends who tell me it’s “foolish” to gather. So I’m not gathering. I’m barely leaving my house. In fact, last week, I left my house a total of five times. Three times to pick up lunch, once to the grocery store, and once to run in Michael’s Arts and Crafts to quickly grab some yarn to knit Christmas gifts.

I like to be out and about, so that tells you I’m taking this seriously. I’m not staying home because of Governor Roy Cooper’s latest stay-at-home order. I’m staying home, because it’s just not worth it to me to catch COVID now, knowing I will be able to get the vaccine soon. I do not want COVID…it’s as simple as that. Well, that plus the fact that both my grandmothers died on December 26 (different years), and my mother died on December 30, 2017. I don’t want to push my luck.

That brings me back to “garage coffee.” Because I like seeing my friends…and I love laughing with them…I’m now hosting “garage coffee” at my house. I move the cars out of the garage and invite a friend or two (no more than that) over for coffee, which I prepare indoors and bring out to the garage for them. I set up rocking lawn chairs and heaters at our feet (it’s really cold in Charlotte right now), and we chat while social-distancing. It’s not as much fun as going out to lunch, but it’s better than nothing. I’m expecting a friend to come over tomorrow for “garage coffee,” and I’ve decided to add some Christmas music for our visit. I’ll just use my phone and my daughter’s bluetooth speaker to create a Christmas mood. Maybe I’ll set up my lamp from A Christmas Story and some of my light-up Christmas lawn decor in the garage just to make it feel more festive. My husband will think I’m crazy, but that’s nothing new.

If you’d like to have garage coffee with friends at your house and need a good, inexpensive space heater to put at your feet but don’t want to fork out a lot of cash, I purchased two Comfort Zone Energy Save Personal Heater Fans for $24.99 each plus tax and shipping from Target. Shop it here.

That’s how I’m surviving mentally right now…garage coffee. And I thank the Lord that I have friends who are willing to participate. Otherwise, I’d be losing my mind right now.

Come on over for garage coffee!

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.

Ducklings in our Future!

Ducklings in our future!

The world is a crazy place. I don’t have to tell you that. But in the midst of all the craziness this world has to offer, my husband discovered a little gift on our front porch two days ago…two eggs in one of the planters on our front porch. They weren’t tiny, little speckled eggs. They were big white eggs. I decided they were duck eggs. And we discovered today that I was right.

After he found the eggs, we checked many times throughout Sunday and Monday to see if the mama was hanging around. Nothing. That also helped me feel sure they were duck eggs. I did a little research and found that ducks will lay an egg a day, till they have a clutch (usually 8-14 eggs), before they start “brooding,” or sitting on the eggs. Mama doesn’t hang around much till then. After the mama duck starts “brooding,” it’s usually 26-30 days before the eggs start to hatch. I am supposed to be out of town 28 days from today, but if she keeps laying eggs and doesn’t start brooding for another week, I’ll be back in time to see them! My husband will be here the whole time, and he can document it all, but it will be a lot more fun if I’m actually here to see the ducklings hatch!

I also hope I’m in town when they hatch for another reason. The eggs are in a planter that is tall. How is Mama going to get those babies out without breaking their necks? And then there are several steps! She’s going to need some help! Or maybe she’s smarter than I give her credit for, and she already has a plan. I just hope the plan doesn’t include taking the new babies for a swim in our pool, because aside from the mess they create, they will have lots of difficulty getting out. If you ever watched The Sopranos, you likely recall Tony Soprano building a ramp for visiting ducks to use to get out of his pool. My husband’s not going to do that, for sure. In the past, we have had to rescue ducklings from the pool with a net, creating great stress for the mom and for the ducklings. Heck, it was stressful for me. There are two lakes nearby, so we are hoping Mama Duck has those in mind as the places to introduce her babies to water.

A friend/neighbor had ducklings in her pool a few years ago, and we went over to help rescue them. There was a big, loud owl in a nearby tree just waiting to swoop in and carry away one of those babies. We got them out, and I don’t know what ultimately happened to them. I shudder when I think about it, so I try not to think about it.

I’d rather think happier thoughts.

It’s nice having something positive to look forward to every morning! We were so excited when we saw the mama duck this morning, and I’m even more excited thinking we get to watch the eggs add up over the next week or so!

We needed something happy right now. Make way for ducklings!

 

 

Happy-Up the House

Happy-up the house.

Everybody’s sick of being home right now. It’s not just me. It’s not just you. It’s everybody.  I’ve said before that every day, I wake up wondering if this is all a bad dream. It’s not. It’s reality.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be terrible.

I spend a lot of time trying to think of ways to make things a little happier around here. We’re playing music throughout the house on a regular basis. We’re spending a lot of time out in the sun on the patio on warmer days. My daughter and I strung some LED lights around her bedroom doors and windows…she can change the colors with a remote…pink, blue, violet, red…all kinds of colors. We’ve been baking. I’m constantly looking online for different ideas to brighten up things around our house. What can I do to make it seem a little more festive around here?

Last week, it was Krispy Kreme doughnuts all the time. Looking for somewhere…anywhere…to go, I would leave after dark and drive to the nearest Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and my daughter would gladly go with me. The last time we went, we got a dozen of their spring mini doughnuts. Yum. That added a little happiness for a while. I’ve ordered cupcakes, cookies…you name it.

And then, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a picture of someone’s pool, and it had floating light balls in it! Immediately, I knew I had to have them! I went straight to Amazon and typed in “floating light balls.” Wow! There were lots of them to choose from, so I set about reading every review I could possibly read in a reasonable amount of time.

Within an hour or so, I had found the solar-powered color changing floating light balls I wanted, and I placed an order for four. You can order here. What makes a swimming pool more festive at night than color-changing light balls? In placing my order, I also discovered that not only can you use them in the pool, but you can also hang them! Each ball has a loop on top, so you can hang them from trees, eaves, posts…anywhere! I could hardly wait for them to arrive! I knew my husband would think I was absolutely nuts, but when have I ever let that stop me before?

A few days later, they were delivered to our home. The next morning, I woke up, and started opening the box. My husband asked me what it was, and when I said, “You’re going to think I’m crazy. It’s something for the pool.” When I told him the box contained floating light balls,  interestingly, he didn’t think I was crazy at all! He also didn’t help me blow them up. Each one is about 15 inches in diameter, and I blew them up while we watched the morning news. He did look at me several times and say, “You’re going to get a headache.” But I didn’t. Once I had them all inflated, I hurried outside to put them in the pool. Since they are solar powered, I wanted them out there all day to absorb as much sunlight as possible so we could enjoy them in the evening.

And guess what? We’ve sat outside on the patio having cocktails every night since, and those balls of light are glorious! And happy! It adds an element of happiness to our backyard! I’m so glad I ordered them, and secretly, I think my husband is too! Our daughter loves them, and she and I agreed I need to order more to hang from the front eaves of the poolhouse, so I ordered more to hang from the eave. They should arrive in a few days, and they will add a little more happiness. And when summer is over, and we aren’t using the patio as much, maybe I will use them as Christmas decor in the trees in the front yard!

I’m still thinking about other inexpensive ways to brighten things up around here while we’re stuck at home. If you have any ideas, please send them my way!

True Friends Are Like Warm Blankets

True friends are like warm blankets.

This weekend, I spent three days in central Florida with a dear friend from college. We have kept in touch since we were 19 years old and students at the University of Alabama. We’re both 52 now…do the math.

We have shared a lot over the years…secrets, tears, laughs, good times, sadness, hard times…heck, we even have the same wedding anniversary, but she married five years before I did. We are true friends…through thick and thin. Oh, the stories we could tell! Stories of fun nights, bad dates, good parties, bad boyfriends, great experiences, terrible breakups, exciting jobs, sad losses, new babies, teenagers, and some stories of things that could only happen to us…or at least it feels that way. And we have shared some of those stories with our kids. They didn’t really seem to care at the time, though. In fact, they likely rolled their eyes, but one day, they will remember the stories we have told them…and they’ll laugh about some of them, and likely cry about others.

As for this weekend, we didn’t talk about old times a lot. We have covered that many times over the years. Of course, we laughed about some of the funnier things that happened when we were together, but we didn’t rehash it all. We talked about life as we see it now…33 years after becoming friends. We’re middle-aged moms now. We have a different vantage point now than we did at 19. We talked about things we have been through…things we have survived…and we talked about happiness. We talked about how, at 52, we know happiness doesn’t come from having material things. We are very aware that not worrying about how the bills will be paid can contribute to a peaceful, happy existence, but all the extra stuff...not so much. You can have lots of jewelry and fancy cars, but do those material things make you happy? We discussed that what makes us happy is experiencing life with people we love.

We know that for a lot of reasons, but mostly, we know it, because we didn’t sit around talking about material things at all. We didn’t talk about cars, jewelry, handbags, or clothes. We enjoyed talking about interactions with people. We shared stories about life experiences. It wasn’t about bragging rights. It was about sharing life events and how we handled them. We discussed painful experiences and what we learned from them. I’ve lost both parents, and she has lost her dad…we talked and cried about that a lot. And we talked about joyful experiences…things we did together; things our kids have enjoyed; stories of our children’s childhoods and our own childhoods…and more.

Did I mention we laughed a lot?

And while no one can “relive” their youth, we found ourselves absolutely slack-jawed while we watched Endless Love (rent it on Amazon here), a movie we were too young to see when it was a released with an R rating in 1981, but we both watched later on HBO. In fact, it had been so long since either of us had seen it that we forgot Tom Cruise and Jami Gertz had bit parts in the movie. And we had never realized before that a then-unknown Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) was in the movie. We also watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (you can rent both on Amazon.com) and reminisced about seeing those movies as teenagers. And before you even think it…I know Sixteen Candles could never be made today with its sexism, underage/nonconsensual sex, underage drinking, and more…but it’s comedy, people! It’s supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny in 1984, and I still think it’s funny now.

During the day, we drove around the lovely town where she lives. We looked at historic homes, parks, flowers, and trees, and one day, we went tubing with her teenage son at Ichetucknee Springs State Park…quite the adventure! The water was refreshingly cold as we floated down the river…laughing and talking. She laughed at me when I would float off into the grasses on the edge of the river, and I laughed at her when she missed the entrance to the disembarkation ramp. We made new memories we will laugh about for years to come.

But what I enjoyed most was simply being with my friend. She knows who I really am and loves me anyway. Spending time with my friend was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She’s comforting. She has been around for a long time. And she makes me feel secure. I came home feeling rejuvenated. I came home feeling content.

Sure, we are middle-aged moms now, and we have had a lot more life experience than when we became friends. We are, in fact, older than our parents were when we became friends. Wow…we really are middle aged.

She’s a keeper.

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!

 

 

 

School’s Out For the Holidays

Finally. School is out for the holidays. As a mother, I might look forward to it as much as I did when I was a kid.

Yesterday, I went to school to pick up my daughter, who is a freshman in high school. We had been told all students would be released at noon at her K-12 school. The break didn’t exactly get started on the right foot. I arrived early, so I was near the front of the carpool line, waiting for dismissal. I had texted my daughter, telling her to hurry when school got out, because I was near the front of the line. I was looking forward to getting out of there quickly, so I could meet some friends for lunch. I was listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album in my car. I was happily waiting. And then…

At noon, the security officer came over to my car near the front of the line and told me the high school students wouldn’t get out till 12:20, because their testing was taking longer than planned, and he asked me to “park over in the lot or go back around.” You know that record scratch sound? That’s what belongs here.

Well, I got out of line (without grumbling) and drove toward the lot. I didn’t get too aggravated till I realized there were no spots in the parking lot, and I couldn’t possibly go back around to get in line, because the officer who was supposed to be directing traffic outside the school wasn’t there yet. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see, and there was no way I was getting in the middle of that. No, really…there was no way I would have been able to navigate my way back into the line. Cars were bumper to bumper. I took a deep breath. I had made the effort to get there on time…there was no way I was sitting there waiting for someone in that cluster to have mercy on me and let me in.

I took matters into my own hands, and drove around to the other side of the building, where I’m not supposed to go for carpool, and after fighting a little traffic, I parked in one of the student lots…totally against the rules. Just call me a rule breaker…a maverick… a rogue parent.

While I was “going rogue,” my daughter, who had clearly been released at noon, texted me…at 12:05… “Where are you? I thought you were at the front of the line?” Fortunately, I parked in the student lot soon after her text, and I called her, telling her to walk back across campus in the pouring rain to the other side, where I was parked in the student lot. I think she knew not to give me any grief, because she could tell by the tone of my voice that I was not happy.

My daughter and her friend eventually made it to the car…soaking wet…but they seemed happy. I guess the fact that they were getting out for the holiday break totally made up for the fact that they had to double-back in the rain to get to my car.

I still don’t know why the security officer thought the high school students were being released late. There was some sort of miscommunication…not his fault. I feel sure someone somewhere gave him incorrect information, and for about ten minutes, I was really ticked off, because it was going to mess up my lunch plans. And then I realized something…

Getting upset about a little misinformation and a traffic cluster…well, those are first world problems. I also realized I had a cell phone, so I could call my friends and tell them I would likely be late. My daughter and her friend were happy to have school behind them for a couple of weeks, and even though it was raining cats and dogs, today was a good day.

It was a good day, because we all woke up. We have plenty to eat. We have a house that’s warm and dry, and we have cars that are in good working order, so we can get around pretty easily. We have a nice break ahead of us, and we will celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, with our wonderful friends and family.

Sure, life is full of aggravations. Life is full of real problems. But getting re-routed for no reason is not one of those real problems. It was a little hiccup, and I found a way around it…and I still made it to lunch on time!

Now…let’s get this holiday break started!