Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December Pleasures

Depending on where you live, it is already or soon will be December – the very last month of the year. It’s hard to imagine that I have been writing about the passing of time and the beauty of each month (especially October) since mid-summer. Time is so fleeting!

What can I say about December that hasn’t already been said? It’s a busy month, to be sure. With Thanksgiving behind them, people are beginning to exhibit their beautiful Christmas lights and other decorations – each trying to outdo the other with the most original display. 

Takes me back to my childhood when a fun-filled evening in December meant riding in the back seat of the family car with my best friend, Carol, while my father drove us around the most affluent neighborhoods in the area so we could Oooo and Ahhh over the lavish decorations and the thousands of colored lights that lit up the vicinity for miles. Then we’d return to our modestly lit home where my mother would make hot chocolate. Carol and I would sit by the Christmas tree sipping the warm, sweet liquid and talk excitedly about our plans for the holiday that was on its way. After my friend went home, my mother would tuck me in for the night. With visions of Christmas pleasures so fixed in my mind, it was hard to sleep, but when I did, the dreams were pleasant. Ah, sweet childhood. No worries. No stress. Only the blissful feeling of being safe and loved.  

Shopping seemed to go on forever. Days on end, it continued while our house became filled with packages to be wrapped. Some were secrets that I wasn’t allowed to see. That added to the excitement. I won’t deny that I did some snooping when my mother wasn’t at home. Once, I begged her to let me open just one gift a few days before Christmas. She kept refusing over and over again... but finally gave in and handed me a beautifully wrapped present saying, “Go ahead.”  It took me by surprise. Holding that gift in my hand, I knew it just wouldn’t be the same if I opened it; it would take away the mystery and surprise that made Christmas morning special. After a few minutes, I handed it back and said, “I changed my mind. I’ll wait.”

My mother was a smart woman who knew exactly what she was doing!  I never pestered her again to open a present early.

So now it begins. With only twenty-five days left until the big day, there is much to be done. The pressure can become great as the "things to do" list grows. The hectic pace is sometimes overwhelming! 

Last week, we feasted and professed heartfelt thankfulness for our many blessings. Now, let us see if we can get through the next three weeks with our gratitude intact.

Good luck and God bless you all!



Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Spirit

A page from my Joy Journal:

This day started out pretty much the same as any other, but changed for the better when our daughter brought her two kids, ages five and one, to stay with us while she went Christmas shopping. With so much to do and very much behind schedule on everything, I was a little nervous about giving up the day to babysitting, but decided there was nothing I could do but make the best of it. I promised myself I’d somehow make up for it later. I’m afraid I’d forgotten that Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time.

For the past several years, the holidays had meant nothing to me but work, worry and rush, rush, rush causing me to lose sight of any happiness to be found in them. Instead, I simply found myself eager to get the whole ordeal behind me as quickly and painlessly as possible!

But this afternoon, I suddenly realized that my heart was overflowing with joy and Christmas spirit! I found myself in the kitchen baking cookies while Christmas carols blared on the CD player. Adding to my happiness was excited chatter coming from the living room where my husband and young grandson were decorating the Christmas tree together.

“This is what it’s all about,” I said; “family, carols playing, the sweet smell of cookies baking and sounds of delight from a grandchild at the decorating of the tree. It’s not about all that other stuff—spending a lot of money trying to get the most expensive and impressive gifts, or working yourself to death to make  a ‘perfect’ Christmas—it’s not that!”

Christmas spirit is not something you find on Christmas Day after you’ve worn yourself to a frazzle getting there! The principle is the same as the one for life: It’s not the destination that’s most important; it’s the journey!  It’s right now! This moment!

When my daughter came home, she found two happy kids with cookie crumbs on their hands and faces, a lit Christmas tree, and a relaxed, smiling mother—very unlike the one she’d left her kids with a few hours earlier.

Isn't it amazing - the influence two small children can have on an adult?

***

Now that the Christmas season is here again, I hope I can remember my own advice when I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Since the kids are much older now and we don’t babysit them much, perhaps I can make a habit of reading this entry in my Joy Journal every day.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Unforgettable Experience

While planning my Thanksgiving menu, the vivid memory of another feast came to mind. This one took place a number of years ago when my husband and I had the good fortune to visit our 50th state.  What a wonderful trip it was! From the moment we stepped off the plane to the lively sound of ukulele music and were greeted by a beautiful young girl who placed leis around our necks, it was sheer pleasure for the next week.

I remember many things about the experience, but one of the most significant memories is that, when we got to our hotel room, we had a very important message waiting. Our first grandchild had been born while we were enroute.

Why did you go on a long trip when you were expecting your first grandchild? You ask. Well, as anyone knows, a long trip like that is usually planned many months in advance. I certainly had second thoughts about going, but it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and our son and daughter-in-law encouraged us to go assuring us that we’d almost certainly be back home before thheree baby was born. But it was not to be. Little Matthew made his appearance as soon as we were out of town. However, once assured that mother and baby were fine, we gave them our love, wished them well and settled in to enjoy ourselves by the deep blue waters of Hawaii.

And enjoy ourselves we did!

We stayed at The Sheraton Waikiki in a beautiful room decorated with cheerful colors and designs, some of which I copied later in my own home decorating. And of course, our balcony overlooked the blue Pacific!

Each night, after a long day of sight-seeing, beach walking and a wonderful meal, stress melted away completely and we drifted off quickly to the sound of foamy waves breaking on the seashore. We slept like babies and awoke to the joyful voices of early risers already on the beach. We felt rested and ready for another busy day.

But first. Breakfast. Like everything else in Hawaii, breakfast was leisurely. With pineapple so plentiful, there was an abundance of it on the buffet table, along with every other fruit you could think of. This was wonderful for a fruit lover like me. After sating ourselves with the sweet, juicy produce, we’d have bacon, eggs, waffles, or whatever else we had a taste for on any given morning. Finishing with plenty of coffee, we were finally ready for another day of sight-seeing.

We saw everything one would expect to see on such a trip: Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and Dole Plantation, to name only a few. Dole Plantation was a haven for Pineapple lovers. The grounds were vast and well manicured, featuring the world’s largest maze. There was also Pineapple ice cream, taffy, jam and clothing and other commodities for the whole family.

And I must not forget the feast I mentioned at the beginning... the Luau!  Such a spread I’d never seen before, or since. There was the customary roast pig, which had been cooked all day in an underground imu which is opened as part of the evening's entertainment. Other traditional foods included poke (raw seasoned seafood), lomilomi salmon (salmon with tomatoes and onions), chicken luau (chicken with spinach, onions and garlic), chicken long rice, sweet potato, haupia (coconut pudding), kulolo (taro pudding) and, poi (made from the pounded root of the taro plant). After dinner, we were mesmerized by dancers and singers performing both traditional and modern Hawaiian songs and hulas. It was an unforgettable evening!

We ate dinner most evenings at restaurants located on the beach. I thought it strange that these restaurants had no walls, which emulated having dinner on the beach. There was only one thing wrong with that: it allowed birds to fly in and out at will. No one else seemed to mind, but I, terrified of birds all my life, was most uncomfortable with this arrangement! However, I managed to overcome it somewhat, and today, when I relive the memory of that trip, birds flying around overhead while I ate is not the first thing that comes to mind. But it’s close.

When it was time to say good-bye to this lovely paradise, there was a little sadness, but I was ready – not because I was tired of being there, but because I couldn’t wait to meet our new grandson!


~~~

You may want to check out another post about Hawaii... here.




Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Night We Missed Out On Fudge

I’ve written a lot about the summers I spent at my grandmother’s when I was very young. There is no end to the wonderful things I remember about those years. My Aunt Betty was only three months older than I was, and my cousin, Sue, was a month younger. The three of us played together constantly. What one didn’t think of, another did. We were always getting into trouble.

On one particular occasion, it was evening... just about dark. Our mothers were in the kitchen talking. My mother was making fudge, a treat we loved. She made such rich, creamy, chocolate fudge, and enhanced its already scrumptious flavor with black walnuts. It was delectable! We could smell the chocolate mixture cooking as we played in an upstairs bedroom where we were told to stay until the fudge was ready. We could hardly wait!

Suddenly, I realized I had to go to the bathroom. That wouldn’t be a problem today, but that many years ago, in that remote coal town, there was no indoor plumbing! So it was necessary for us to go outside and walk several feet to the outhouse.

The power of suggestion being a mighty force - as soon as I announced that I had to “go,” so did Betty and Sue!

But Sue said, “What if a snake or wild animal attacks us on the way to the outhouse?”

“That is a creepy thought!” Betty said, shivering.

Always the creative one, I said, “Alright scaredy-cats! I have an idea. Why don’t we just open the window, sit on the ledge and pee out? Nobody will ever know.”

It seemed like a good idea so we all agreed to do it… but what we didn’t count on was the fact that the kitchen windows were directly below the bedroom we were in. Downstairs, the grown-ups heard strange noises outside and checked to see what was going on.

Suspecting what we'd done, my grandmother rushed upstairs. She was furious! Snakes and wild animals outside no longer seemed as much of a threat as she did. “Don’t you girls know you could have fallen from this window and killed yourselves? Don’t you ever do that again!” She warned us sternly.

The final blow came when she told us we wouldn’t be getting any fudge. She made us get right into bed, she turned out the light and left. The three of us lay there in the dark breathing in the wonderful aroma of the delicious chocolate fudge. We didn’t talk at all. But just when we were about to fall asleep, we heard footsteps. My mother had sneaked up the stairs to surprise us with a small plate of fudge. If my grandmother ever knew, she didn’t let on. We've always referred to that night as, "The night we missed out on fudge." 

Wink-wink!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

It Won't Be Long Now!


Thanksgiving Day is only two weeks away. It’s the official beginning of the holiday season. The time when we start seeing decorations in the department stores and hearing Christmas carols; the time when people start rushing around and talking about getting their shopping done. I especially love the Christmas music! Last year, I remarked over and over again that it’s only the music and the decorations that get me through the hassle of the season.

When we’re young and our parents are responsible for all the shopping, baking, and decorating, it’s easy to love this time of year, but as we get older, everything becomes more difficult. Some grandparents, finding it too exhausting to get out and shop, start giving money in cute little gift cards instead. The tree that once stood tall enough to touch the ceiling in your grandparents’ living room has, in many cases, become only a treasured memory, and a small table tree is now the reality.

Grandma still finds time to bake cookies though!  That’s always one of the nicest treats about Christmas Eve. Kids can usually eat as many cookies as they want without mothers scolding them – unless they’re really going overboard, of course.

As I think back to years past – way back to my childhood – I remember nothing but happy times. I can’t recall even one time that my mother was too tired to fix a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. And I have not one shred of memory of anything but happy times throughout the holiday season!  Nothing but wonderful memories!

Fast forward to the years when our children were small. We did it all, too: the Thanksgiving dinner, the Christmas shopping, decorating, and baking. And we did it with a smile. I like to think our children have the same happy memories of the holidays that I do.

It’s odd, I think – now that we’re in the autumn of our years, we do less and yet, it seems so much more difficult than it used to be. Perhaps it’s supposed to be that way. We had our years of doing for everyone else and now it’s our turn to sit back and enjoy it without having to do all the work.

 I wonder, though... why isn’t it as much fun as it once was?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Memories...

Memories, like dreams, sometimes show up when we least expect them. One came to me tonight while talking with my grandson. It was fun to share it with him and have a few laughs.

A number of years ago, my oldest daughter, Toney, and her family lived in Michigan. Her son, Brent, was about five and her daughter, Jourdan, was two and a half. Mike, her husband, got a job transfer to Louisville, Kentucky. That meant they had to take a trip to Louisville and find a place to live, so my husband and I were asked to come for a visit and stay with the children. Once we were there, we were informed that we’d also be letting a Realtor show their house. That was a lot of responsibility!

To make matters worse, we had to take our little ten-year-old blind Yorkie along because she wouldn’t have survived without me. Caring for her was almost like looking after another child.

The first day went well. Until bedtime. Jourdan missed her mom and refused to sleep in her own bed! No matter how long I rocked or how many stories I read, she’d close her eyes until I tip-toed out of the room and then start screaming. She finally ended up in our bed between my husband and me. That didn’t work out well. She was allowed to have a small bottle of apple juice when she went to bed. Cuddled next to me, she’d suck that bottle dry, fall asleep for a short while, then wake up screaming, “More apple-zooce, Maw-Maw.” I’d hold her, rock her and rub her back but nothing worked, so off to the kitchen I’d go for more apple-zooce. I lost track of how many times this happened throughout the night. Brother Brent slept through it and Paw-Paw finally left us and found another place to sleep. It was just Jourdan and me... and a bottle of apple-zooce. It was a very l  o  n  g night!

The next morning, the Realtor called and asked if he could bring someone by to look at the house. Toney had told us we should leave when that happened, but we didn’t have anywhere to go with two small kids and a blind dog. So I explained to the Realtor and he agreed it would be okay if we stayed in the garage while he showed the house. Surprisingly, the first people who looked bought the house. 

That behind us, we decided to cook some burgers on the grill making things simple for ourselves and fun for the kids. While they played in the big back yard, Paw-Paw prepared the grill and I prepared the food. But a quick check from the kitchen window told me that Brent was playing alone. I couldn’t see Jourdan!  I went outside and asked my husband, “Where’s Jourdan?”  He said, “She’s playing with Brent.”  I said, “No she’s not!”

“Brent! Where’s your sister?” I yelled.  “I don’t know,” he said.

It was panic time! The three of us looked everywhere inside and outside the house, in every corner of the yard, up and down the street, yelling her name as loudly as we could, but there was no sign of Jourdan!

Frantic, I remembered that Toney had left a list of neighbors’ phone numbers in case we needed help with anything. Choosing the first one on the list, I dialed the number. A nice lady answered. I explained who I was and that we were in a panic because we couldn’t find Jourdan. She chuckled and said, “She’s here.” I breathed a sigh of relief but was a little angry, too.  She said, “She plays here a lot. When she came to the door, we thought it was okay to let her in. It’s fine if she stays for a while.” I said, “No, it’s not! My husband will be after her in a minute."

He walked about three houses down the street. The neighbor met him at the door with Jourdan. Taking her hand, he led her toward home. As I watched, I couldn’t help but smile. Appearing so small walking hand in hand with this grown man, she kept looking up at him all the way home, talking constantly. Even at that young age, it was obvious she was using every winsome trick she knew to get out of trouble. And it worked! By the time they got home, Paw-Paw was smiling broadly.

It was a memorable few days, but I won’t deny that we breathed a sigh of relief when Toney and Mike returned. It's so much easier to enjoy your grandchildren when you're not totally responsible for them!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Buying Time


A nurse got my mother up for therapy. She was unable to participate. The next day, the head therapist phoned and asked me to come to his office. When I arrived, he smiled, shook my hand and said, “I’m curious about why Dr. Perry sent your mother here. To stay here, patients must be able to get out of bed, do therapy twice a day, take a bath and eat in the dining room. Your mother can’t do any of these things. What was Dr. Perry thinking?” 

“I promised my mother I’d never put her in a nursing home!” I explained. “Dr. Perry is trying to buy some time until she’s stronger; then I’ll take her home.” The therapist said, “You’re very small. Do you have someone to help you with her?” 

“My husband and children will help, and I’ll take advantage of any available home health care,” I told him. Surprisingly, this strong, young, handsome Greek man wiped tears from his eyes and said, “You’ve restored my faith in human nature; I admire you more than I can express!” I thanked him. He told me to call him any time and he’d stop by and help with Mother. I left convinced there is still some good in the human race.

I stopped by Mother’s room. She was asleep. One glance overwhelmed me with emotion. She was wearing a light blue satin nightgown; her silver hair was brushed forward on her cheeks accentuating flawless, alabaster skin. She looked so peaceful. I stared at her for several minutes wishing I’d brought my camera. I’d never thought of her as a beautiful woman, but now, her delicate beauty was remarkable. This is how I’ll remember her, I thought.

The phone woke me early the next morning. Dr. Perry said, “Your mother has pneumonia. You can either send her to the hospital and start tube feeding or call in Hospice and take her home.” Stunned, I said, “May I think about it?” He said, “Don’t take too long!” I hung up and told my husband, who said, “It’s your decision.”  
   
“I don’t want her kept alive by artificial means,” I said. “But I’m not ready to give her up either…”  She was 85 and very ill. The outcome would be the same either way.  It was up to me to decide whether it happened sooner… or later. 

Shortly, a nurse from Hospice called to ask me to meet him in Mother’s room at two o’clock. We heard Mother’s raspy breathing long before reaching her room. I greeted her cheerfully; she showed little response. When the nurse came, he asked if I wanted to talk somewhere else. I said, “She’s hard of hearing; it doesn’t matter.

He explained how Hospice works and said a hospital bed could be delivered to our home the next day, but I couldn’t bring myself to sign the papers. Tears filled my eyes. He said he’d go for coffee and let us talk. Soon, a stranger entered the room and introduced himself as a Hospice minister. After he prayed with us, Mother smiled sweetly and thanked him for coming.

When I walked out with him, he assured me I was doing the right thing. He said to prolong Mother’s agony would be inhumane. When I returned, my face wet with tears, the decision was clear. I signed the papers. 
    
But fate stepped in. It was as if she knew instinctively (or heard) what was about to happen, and willed it to be different. How like her to take control! Within an hour after arrangements were made, her breathing became raspier; she struggled to breathe. Inside thirty minutes, the first dose of morphine was administered. That was the beginning of the end. Her breathing came easier, but she wasn’t with us. After a couple more doses, her eyes were glassy. It was heartbreaking, but I held onto the hope that I’d be taking her home tomorrow.

I stood at the window. My husband said, “Something’s happening!” I turned to see my mother’s eyes wide open... heard two loud gasps... and it was over. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, but two nurses gently moved me aside. I cried for a long time.

I took one final look at the lovely face, kissed it tenderly, then walked out of the dismal room for the last time. Outside, the evening air was humid. A splash of orange adorned the western sky. Another incredible sunset was finished.



Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where God Is




WHERE GOD IS .....

He was just a little boy, on a week's first day.
He was wandering home from Sunday School,
and dawdling along the way.

He scuffed his shoes into the grass; he found a caterpillar.
He found a fluffy milkweed pod, and blew out all the "filler."

A bird's nest in a tree over head, so wisely placed on high
Was just another wonder that caught his eager eye.

A neighbor watched his zig zag course, and hailed him from the lawn;
Asked him where he'd been that day, and what was going on.

"I've been to Bible School," he said and turned a piece of sod.
He picked up a wiggly worm, replying, "I've learned a lot of God."

"M'm very fine way," the neighbor said, "for a boy to spend his time."
"If you'll tell me where God is, I'll give you a brand new dime."

Quick as a flash the answer came! Nor were his accents faint,
"I'll give you a dollar Mister, if you can tell me where God ain't!"



Friday, November 5, 2010

Good Night God


Good Night, God...

At the end of the day, 
let me not dwell on my failures 
or recount my disappointments.
Let my heart not be heavy over the day's frustrations,
the cold voices, and minor vexations.
Remind me that there's so much more to life than worry,
pain and trivial strife. 


Let me not be blind to each tiny pleasure.
Remind me that each little blessing is something to treasure.
Let me hear children's laughter, the voice of a dear friend;
and let the warm memories revive me... when a long day ends.
And wrap me tight in your arms, once my worries depart;
never let me forget your love, lest I forget my heart.





From positive minds.com

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Truth Or Entertainment?

My grandmother used to sit on the front porch swing on summer evenings with us kids and tell fascinating stories about the family. One story in particular made quite an impact on me and I’ve repeated it many times to my children and grandchildren.

It seems that my great-grandfather, who was an American Indian, was married to a beautiful French woman several years his junior. As the story goes – one night, they were quite late getting home from a social engagement. John went to the living room to have his usual nightcap while wife Rachelle hurried to her bedroom to get ready for bed.

As she faced her dressing table and started taking off her locket, she spotted something unusual in the mirror – a strange object sticking out from under her bed. Startled, she didn’t know what to do, but her intuition told her she might be in danger and she knew it wouldn’t be wise to call out to John. So without making a sound or acting any differently, she walked over to her husband’s bureau, opened the top drawer, pulled out the pistol he kept there, walked back over to the bed, bent down and fired a shot under it.

The noise brought John running to his wife's side. He found her still holding the gun and looking stunned. Blood was running out from under the bed. 

Turned out – a man had escaped from a prison not far from where they lived. It was assumed that he was in the process of robbing them, heard them coming and slid under the bed hurriedly leaving a small corner of his jacket showing at the edge of the bed.

Now... my grandmother had a great imagination and was very good at entertaining kids, so I won’t bet the farm on the veracity of this story, but I do know that there’s a French woman named Rachelle in my family tree. 

I wonder... Why did the young, beautiful Rachelle leave France to marry an older man who lived in the southern United States... especially since his pictures portray him as quite unattractive?



Monday, November 1, 2010

November Treads Softly

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.
                     ~George Eliot                                                              
                                                      
                                                       

I was so enamored with October that November almost slipped in without my notice! It may have except that November 1st is my husband’s birthday. Although letting go of October was difficult, it helped to remind myself that it IS still autumn. We don’t officially move on until the winter solstice, around December 21st. Very few things make me as happy as autumn. I long for it all summer, wait for it, and welcome it with open arms when it arrives! But it is so brief.

The beauty of nature is that everything is cyclical. As surely as summer follows spring, fall follows summer and then come winter and spring again. We can count on it!  Standing under a tree on a windy fall day, I am reminded, as leaves fall down around me that plant life cycles, too. Those leaves began as tiny buds in springtime; some blossomed into fragrant flowers before becoming full-grown leaves; others became leaves right away. Either way, it is a process. The seed germinates into a tiny shoot which grows into a mature plant. The plant produces seeds, which are dispersed. Within each seed is the potential for new life – and the cycle continues.

As we get older, time moves so quickly. It seems we no sooner begin to enjoy one season until another begins. As children, it seemed Christmas would never come, but now, we barely store the tree and its trimmings away and, in no time, we’re taking them out again. One holiday blends into the next – the seasons merge – years hurry by and first thing we know, we're spending our days looking back on the past instead of toward the future.

Life, like nature, is cyclical. This, too, is a process. The old wither away and the young carry on.

And the cycle continues.