Monday, September 28, 2015

Double Digits for Mini-Hooper

Mini-Hooper (or the offspring formerly known as Ninja) turns 10 today.  A decade.  Ten whole years.  3,650 days on this earth.  Amazing.  

His arrival in our lives made He Who Is Now Taller Than I a big brother.  And, I was officially outnumbered, 3 to 1.  Unless you count the cat.  Which I don't.  She was never really much help in the "rally the girls" arena.  But, I digress.

While he rolls his eyes at stories of how my favorite Philosopher and I met--or how we got engaged ("Mom, are you going to tell that story again??"), he still likes to hear about his world premiere (scheduled C-section), who came to see him after Daddy held him (his godparents, my Community Bible Study sisters--Jenny Wilkes, God bless you for that decaf Caramel Machiato), and his first words ("Hey, everybody!  Watch me!").   True to his given name, he brings light.  And life wherever he goes.  And so very much of it.

Much like his Philosopher father, he asks questions and posits theories that often amaze--and confound--us.  I can only imagine what his Sunday School teachers think!  Mr. "Mom, I have an idea", he is never without multiple suggestions about how to do a particular thing.  And, he will lobby for it, energetically and persistently.  He is stubborn and holds fast to an idea, even as it is obviously drowning in an ocean of impossibility.  Yes, in that way, he is his mother's son.  Guilty as charged.

His boundless creativity astounds me.  Seriously. This kid can take a generic LEGO set and build the set, completely and thoroughly.  Within twenty-four hours, he is tweaking, altering, expanding, or disassembling to make a better product.  His eye for detail, in the LEGO world, and his ingenuity to make it happen, wows me.  I'm good for separating pesky little bricks that the tool can't conquer--and I seem to have a God-given ability to attach limbs to mini-figs.  Who knew?  Cool mom points, in his book.

And, he writes.  Currently, he has no less than eight short stories going. Some fan fiction (Harry Potter and Warriors), some featuring animals making around-the-world journeys, led by a squirrel who looks likes a marmot version of C.S. Lewis.  Picture a tweed smoking jacket.  Expressive eyes.  And a pipe.  

If you follow the Mini-Hooper trail around the house, you can capture bits of his personality and preferences.  You will find basketball shoes at the garage door (with socks stuffed inside).  A few steps into the hallway will be his  "Idea Notebook" with his Avengers mechanical pencil set atop.  On the living-room sofa, where he parked after rising groggily from his lower bunk, one finds a Calvin and Hobbes book.  Or Peanuts.  Or both.  From that vantage point, on the coffee table, you might see a LEGO replica of our living room, in progress.  Or our Math-U-See manipulatives, in lovely mosaic form, as giant coasters.  

Mom's musings must cease.  Time to get busy on the birthday menu.  Very specific.  It includes Cranberry-Feta Pinwheels, a yummy grilled Southern Living pizza featuring grilled corn, onions, and smoked sausage (prepared by Dad), and my BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing (lovingly known as the multi-adjectival salad, in our house).

But, the day shall start with a blueberry cake donut and chocolate-glazed confection from our favorite local donut place.  But, don't tell him.

It's a surprise!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Flashback Friday: ONJ

I'm not sure from what location in my cerebral cortex that this random synapse fired.  Perhaps it was a friend's recent excursion to the land Down Under.  Maybe it was a Keith Urban song.  Or this might just be how my mind works. 

Vintage ONJ. Sandra Dee. Or not so much.

Her country album. Yes, those were her roots. Musically speaking. Circa 1974.

But, this is a favorite of mine. Xanadu. Gene Kelly. I just blew your mind.

Happy Friday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Be Strong and Take Heart..."

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  Below is a post from September 2014 about our friends, Kelley and David Mitchell--and their youngest daughter, Belle.  It seems appropriate to share this with you again--as our hearts are still full and our memories are vivid.  Belle went home to be with Jesus, the very best of Physicians, on January 17, 2015.  This post is a tribute to those who continue the fight--on the front-line.  The families, the cancer warriors, and the amazing folks at St. Jude's who are finding cures and saving lives. And for those whose dining room table now has an empty chair.  

Five years ago today, my dear friend of two decades, Kelley and her husband, David, heard two words that would change the course of their lives.  “It’s cancer,” they were told by the doctor.  Belle, the youngest of their four children, was diagnosed with Choroid Plexus Carcinoma, a rare brain tumor.  I still remember getting that phone call from Kelley.  My heart broke with her--and for her family. 

We had just visited with their family in August--a long-overdue visit, I might add.  Belle had broken her finger in a car door and had some trembling in her hand.  Given the trauma to her little hand, this seemed like a normal side-effect.  Other indications that things just weren’t right eventually brought them to a neurologist.  And, the discovery of this tumor.  Brain surgery was immediately scheduled.  And, a treatment plan was prayerfully considered. 

Within a month, Belle and Kelley landed in Memphis, Tennessee to begin treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.  On Kelley’s birthday.   We spent the day at the Zoo--the “smelly zebras” were a favorite--and the next day, she started treatment to battle this unwanted invader.  From the beginning, I was overwhelmed and so thankful for what St. Jude’s could and would provide for Belle and the Mitchell family. 

In 2011, after some conversation (and a challenge from the younger generation!), we decided to form Team Belle--Jackson, Tennessee.  And, let me tell you, this was just the beginning of what I came to call “oh my heart” moments.  Putting aside the fact that I turned forty, lost my non-athletic head, and decided to train for a half-marathon in honor of Belle, I  witnessed countless acts of thoughtfulness and generosity on behalf of the Mitchell family.  In the midst of ashes, there is insurmountable proof of the promised beauty.  Only He could orchestrate such events.  And touch so many hearts.

People joined the Team from Kansas and Mississippi--because they read Belle’s story and had to be a part of this.  Young friends from a local church saved up their allowance and donated it to St. Jude’s in honor of Belle.  They prayed.  Hers was a face that looked like a friend, a younger sister, a neighborhood playmate.  The sweetest place in Jackson--HaliHannigan’s Cupcakery--well-known for their tireless support of our community and warriors in the cancer battle themselves, have been on the front lines of raising awareness and funds by sponsoring Belle Day, giving 10% of all profits since the beginning of our local Team efforts.  Families, unknown to me, giving sacrificially, simply because they were grateful for the health of their own children--and they wanted to help Belle win her battle.   Another sweet young friend makes and sells Band-O-Loom bracelets for Belle.  Oh my heart. 

September is Child Cancer Awareness Month.  These dear friends, and too many others, are more aware of this disease than most of us.  Places like St. Jude, Target House, and Ronald McDonald House provide support, first-class health care, a place to live, and community--at no cost to the families.  Absolutely no cost. 

I can’t even pretend to know what it has been like to walk Kelley and David’s path these last five years.  I do know this one thing--it is their faith in God and the constant prayers of countless people who have sustained the Mitchell family.  Below is an excerpt from Belle's CaringBridge site--straight from Kelley's heart.

“These past 5 years have brought many blessings in many ways to our family.  We have had moments full of joy and laughter and made memories that we will cherish forever, but along with the triumphs, we have also had to live in the face of reality and with the fact that Belle's prognosis is not good.  We were reminded of that once again this past summer when yet another tumor appeared.  So, it's your prayers for strength and trust that mean the most as well as the love that we are shown on a daily basis.  ‘Thank you’ doesn't begin to express the amount of gratitude that we feel.” 

Kelley and I go way back--PBA--1992!

Kelley and Belle at the Memphis Zoo--October 2009

Ain't it the truth? July 2010

Back to school and sassy--September 2014

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” ~ Psalm 31:24

To learn more about Belle's journey, visit her CaringBridge site by clicking the link.
To learn more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, click the link.
To financially support St. Jude's via Team Belle, click here

Friday, September 18, 2015

It's A Top Ten List

David Letterman asked me to continue his time-honored tradition.  Okay, so, he didn't. But, what would life be like without those iconic top ten lists?  As I go about my day, in my Family Manager role (I am so not a fan of the term "stay-at-home mom" because as most moms in this role can attest, we are not always at home), there are certain things, gadgets, or simple pleasures for which I am exceedingly grateful.  And, in some cases, they make life easier.  Or encourage my offspring to rise up and call me blessed.  That's always nice.

So, here is my list, in no particular rank or priority, of the Top Ten Things That Make Life Groovy for Those Of Us Who Work Inside The Home.  Or perhaps, it's just groovy for me.

1.  Flatbread--Yes, I arrived late to this party. But, flatbread is the 21st century equivalent of mini-bagels.  And, their dressed-up cousins, mini-bagel pizzas.  Some flatbread, pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, and pepperoni slices--and poof, a quick snack/lunch/hold-you-over dinner is on the table.

2.  Wrinkle Shield--I am now the proud owner of a dryer which has this delightful setting.  Should a load of clothes finish their stint in the drying unit, and because one is otherwise occupied with other domestic duties (or finally putting on lipstick!), and the clothes are not immediately rescued, this lovely mechanism kicks in.  It tosses your clothes about for another five minutes, seemingly counts to ten or so, and repeats the cycle for a few more rounds. Brilliant!


3.  Spotify--Anything from Zumba to Favorite Soundtrack Songs (hello, Footloose and When Harry Met Sally!) to Miles Davis and Horace Silver.  And some Amazing Grace and Gone Country in between.  The extra bonus is the creativity that one exerts when naming personal playlists.  My favorite?  Poison, Pawprints, and Polo.  

4.  Candles--I just like them.  They smell good.  They look pretty.  That's all.

5.  Library Cards--It all started with Story Time in Fall 2002, when He Is Who Is Now Taller Than I was just a wee lad.  When you're on a first name basis with the librarians and circulation folks, you know you're a library geek.  I embrace it.

6.  Washi Tape--If it weren't for the packing of a care package for a missionary family in South Africa, I would have never learned of this fabulous stuff.  Being the only two-legged female in our household, I was not aware of the benefits of Washi Tape. Until now.  It comes in all colors, patterns, widths, and such.  And it makes simple tea light candles into great party favors for bridal showers.  Whee--and Squee, too!

7.  Yard, Garden, Hammock and/or GreenSpace--Having grown up in apartments or duplexes for most of my life, we never had much of a green space.  Or at least one that was conducive to growing things.  Nor did we really have the time to grow things.  Plants need water to grow--on a regular basis. Yeah.  No matter how big or small your space may be, make it yours.  Grow stuff.  Plant flowers.  If I can do it, anybody can.  

8.  Rotisserie Chicken--Much like ramen noodles, there are so many yummy things one can create with a $5.99 Savory Rotisserie Chicken from Kroger (with your Kroger card, of course).  Chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, and chicken enchiladas.  For a major score, you could combine the aforementioned Flatbread with the Rotisserie Chicken, and make a wrap of any Mediterranean flavor--or a Barbecued Chicken Pizza.  

9.  Sonic Happy Hour--How can you beat this?  All slushes and drinks, half-price, for three whole hours?  Bliss.  Although Taco Bell and a local McDonald's franchise trying to drum up business have jumped on this bandwagon, too.  Sonic Cherry Limeade.  It's the bomb.

10. "Mr. T"--No, it's not the mohawked opponent of Rocky--or burly member of the A-Team.  It's this nifty little guy in which you place loose tea leaves and steep him in your hot water.  It's even more fun when your "sister-from-another-mother" gifts with you such a conversation piece. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Little Way

In 2013, we were gifted with a book entitled "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming" written by Rod Dreher.  My Philosopher began reading it and within two chapters, he was already saying, "You're going to love this book.  YOU are going to love this book.  You are going to LOVE this book."  Alright, already, finish the book so I can fall in love.  With the book, of course.

And, he was right.

For those of you who know me, you are quite familiar with my deep affection for this perspective-changing book.  How does one sum up "Ruthie"?  Much like there were unseen layers of complexity of the book's title character--whose courage in the face of a fatal diagnosis was both exemplar and perplexing--there are many layers to this little gem of a book. On the surface, it is an older brother's homage to his little sister--who was also a cancer patient. We see two radically different souls--born of the same parents into the same small town.  One couldn't ever conceive of leaving.  The other couldn't wait to escape.  It is this tension that propels Rod into the cosmopolitan world of journalism, leaving his fun-loving, deer-gutting feisty Ruthie-girl at home in Starhill, bewildered and betrayed by his departure.  Their love for each other is deep, piercing, and turbulent.  In an achingly beautiful way. A stubborn love, one might say. 

What kept Ruthie in Starhill, Louisiana, in addition to the love of her life, was her relentless allegiance to home and Place.  She lived, worshiped, loved, celebrated, and cared for all who crossed her path--and who entered her kitchen.  A junior high-school teacher, she attracted the outcasts, those labeled as "misfits" or beyond reach with her smile and zest for life.  Ultimately, when that vivacity was checked by a hopeless prognosis, she set her face toward the positive.  She didn't visit WebMD, she didn't Google "lung cancer", and she didn't want to know the latest scan results.  She simply wanted to live.  And that was a gift she gave to those she loved most--her Mike, her girls, and the rest of her family.

I can honestly say the "I want to know it all" in me might have been all over the Web, poring over medical journals, and re-enacting the Inquisition to find out what I wanted to know.  I will confess to getting a wee bit frustrated with her seemingly "purposeful obliviousness" about her disease--as did some in her family.  Then, at some point, I realized that it was simply her Way.  The Way that she needed to travel.  And, I went along.  

One of the most beautiful parts of this story are the introductions of Mam and Paw Dreher, Rod and Ruthie's parents.  Born and raised in this neck of the woods, they knew every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the area.  And their kin.  Ruthie and Mike built their "dream house" 100 yards away from Mam and Paw.  Their girls grew up just a few paces away from their grandparent's front porch.  Yet again, I fell in love with these determined, loyal, and real people.  

This is not a beatification of a Southern family in a picturesque Louisiana enclave.  No application for sainthood.  They struggled.  They cried.  They swore.  They disagreed.  And they loved.  Deeply.  Blindly.  And, they buried their only daughter, their "Brown-Eyed Girl". 

I fell. Hard.  But, wait, there's more to this story.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014.  The very same friend who gifted us with this treasure of a book forwarded us some information about an inaugural Walker Percy weekend in St. Francisville, being organized by Rod and some of his associates.  I will openly admit that I attempted to read some Walker Percy and let's just say, "it's not you, Walker, it's me".  However, to say that I jumped at the chance for a weekend, with my Philosopher, in Ruthie's old stomping grounds, is quite the understatement.  For me, it was the Ruthie Leming Weekend.  That's our little secret.

I packed up my copy of "The Little Way" with a fond hope of getting Rod to sign it, praying for the chance to tell him how much it meant to me.  How it had nurtured my desire to put down roots and make this town my Place.  To travel my own Little Way--with my Philosopher and our boys, of course.  We made reservations at the Shadetree Inn Bed and Breakfast, as recommended by Rod and made our way South.  And West.

Shadetree Inn Bed and Breakfast

The first night of the event, at a Crawfish Boil, we approached Rod.  I, uncharacteristically nervous and shy.  I had left my book at our little cabin.  Big bag of duh.  He was gracious and sincere, thanking us for traveling from the Volunteer State to make this weekend possible.   Then, he asked if we would like to meet Mam and Paw.  Yes, that is what he said.  I nearly fell out of my sandals.  As we nodded, astounded at his offer, we made plans to connect at the next morning's lecture.  And, you can be dad-gum sure that I would have the book with me.

The next morning, Rod made exceptionally good on his offer.  Like "knock me over with a feather" good.  He invited us to join the family, at his house, for lunch.  His sweet wife, Julie (a fellow homeschooling mama--yeah, she rocks!), was making up gobs of gumbo and there was plenty to go around.  We reiterated that we didn't want to impose upon their hospitality or tax the energies of the elder Drehers.  Rod insisted that they would love it and it would encourage their souls to know the impact of Ruthie.  Oh. My. Heart.

As we approached their home in historic St. Francisville, I immediately recognized the front porch.  And, the weather-beaten rocker.  It was the scene on the front cover of the book.  Rod welcomed us, like old friends, and introduced us around to his wife, children, and several other folks he had invited.  Then, he brought us into the sitting room where Mam and Paw were happily ensconced.  Immediately, Mam jumped up from her chair, gave me a big 'ole hug, and made us all feel at ease.  She asked about us, our family, and made us laugh.  She told stories of Ruthie, Rod, and the grandchildren.

"There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of the community.  They didn't have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table."~ Ruthie, p. 15

Paw was especially proud of Hannah, Ruthie and Mike's eldest daughter, who was then backpacking through Europe.  He told me I should look up her blog!  He relaxed in his easy chair, reclined back.  You could tell he had once been an invincible man of the land.  Ruthie's journey had taken its toll on him.  His eyes were bright--but you could see his broken heart in them.  He spoke sweetly, gently, of his girl.  He said that he had read the book--Mam hadn't made her way through as yet.  What struck me is that some of the stories she told of Ruthie--her fishing excursion after her diagnosis, "the halo picture" (those of you have read the book know precisely of what I speak), Rod had shared in "The Little Way".  I listened, often laughing through teary-eyes.  Mam, my friends, is a vibrant woman, full of fun and mischief.  My kind of woman.

We shared bowls of gumbo, styrofoam cups of hospitality, and a heap of gratitude.  We found the chance to tell them just how much this book had meant to us, to the cadre of friends with whom we had shared it (some of whom received it as a graduation gift!), and the impact of Ruthie's life, her Way, had made on folks she never met.  I could barely get the words out--and my dearest Philosopher paused, gathering himself, as he expressed his appreciation.  As Rod helped his daddy out to the front porch (for his "smokes"), Mam said quietly, "Ray isn't meant for this world much longer.  A part of him died with Ruthie.  I just pray that the Lord takes him quickly."

We decided to take our leave, thanking our gracious hosts along the way.  Rod hugged us and thanked us for spending time with his folks.  Absolutely no thanks were necessary.  My goodness.  I was full--of nourishment undefinable.  I asked Mam if we could take a picture on the rocking chair.  And, she said, "Of course, Honey."  She sat, I knelt down beside her, both of us smiling--and "glistening" in the heat of the day.  We hugged, I planted a little smooch on Paw's rugged cheek, squeezed his hand, and thanked him quietly.  So much like my Pop-Pop, ever the gentleman, he thanked us again for coming. And waved from his spot on the porch.  

Oh my heart.

Just a few days ago, on August 25, Raymond "Paw" Dreher went home to be with Ruthie.  In his own home, he was surrounded by his family, with strains of "I'll Fly Away" on his cousin's guitar, and his hand held by the other love of his life.  That's the way to go, I do believe.

I am ever so grateful for those few precious hours we spent with them on a sizzling June day in St. Francisville, Louisiana.  Mike Leming, the man who stole Ruthie's heart when she was barely 15,  said that "Mam and Paw never meet a stranger.  Once they get to know you, you become family right off...whatever's theirs is yours."

Whatever's theirs is yours.

Theirs. Yours. And now, Ours.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Evenin' Hymn Sing: Glorious Is Thy Name

Glorious Is Thy Name

Blessed Savior we adore Thee,
We Thy love and grace proclaim.
Thou art mighty, Thou art holy,
Glorious is Thy matchless name.

Great Redeemer, Lord and Master,
Light of all eternal days.
Let the saints from every nation,
Sing Thy just and endless praise.

Glorious, Glorious,
Glorious is Thy name,
Glorious, Glorious,
Glorious is Thy name oh Lord.

From the throne of heaven's glory
To the cross of sin and shame.
Thou didst come and die a ransom
Guilty sinners to reclaim.

Glorious, Glorious,
Glorious is Thy name,
Glorious, Glorious,
Glorious is Thy name oh Lord.

Come, o come Immortal Savior,
Come and take Thy royal throne,
Come and reign and reign forever,
Be the Kingdom all Your own.

~B.B. McKinney (1942)

Friday, September 4, 2015

History In The Making (or Did I Mention that I'm A Darius Fan?)

My first rock concert experience was in 1986--it was A-Ha.  I was a sophomore in high school and my friend, Nikki, had free tickets.  Score.  The “Hunting High and Low” tour.  Essentially, they were two-hit wonders:  Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines on TV.  They were MTV gods and Tiger Beat centerfold studs, those boys from Norway.  You just thought to yourself, “So, that’s who sang those songs.  A-ha!”.  Yes, you did.  

Interestingly enough, it was country artists that fueled my concert-going adventures in college.  Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and John Michael Montgomery.  Garth did swing out over the audience, likely causing his insurance company to have a seizure and the audience directly below him to get their affairs in order (he was “adorably chubby” in those days).  And, Reba puts on an amazing show.  Complex sets, dynamic lighting, and more costume changes than a high-school darling getting ready for her first date.

I can’t recall what prompted my interest in Darius.  Yes, we’re on a first-name basis.  I get e-mails from him and I’ve invested in two concerts, six CDs, a Wagon Wheel t-shirt, and logged several hundred miles in my Honda to see him.  That puts us on a first-name basis.  

Hootie and the Blowfish was one of those bands of which you knew the songs, you sang along, and possibly turned up the volume when Let Her Cry came on the radio.  Something about his crossover to country--or as he might say--his return to his roots, fueled my “interest”.  Maybe it’s the fact that his voice is like cuddling up in your favorite blanket on a frosty winter's night.  

“Thank God for all I missed, it led me here to this”.  That rings so very true with us, doesn’t it?  His songs tell stories (Live and Learn), remind you of what’s important (Alright), and might even evoke a happy-tears grin (It Won’t Be Like This for Long).  

When I learned that Darius 2012 was coming to town, or would be in the drivable vicinity, it was a no-brainer.  Granted, it had been almost two decades since I bought concert tickets; so, to say that I experienced a bit of sticker shock for those lawn seats would be no understatement.  But, to say that it was worth it, completely worth it, would also be no understatement.  Two of  my fabulous sister-chicks and I made an evening of it.  It was Darius and Lady Antebellum--yes, it was.  I think Thompson Square opened for them.  My apologies to the openers--it’s hard to be y’all.  I may or may not have found my own little space to dance, sing, and get up on my tippy-toes to take fuzzy pictures with my camera.  My taller companions teased me about that.  Just a bit.  

He did all of my favorites.  Thank you, Darius.  And then, the encore.  Darius and Lady A performed a rendition of Purple Rain that would have made the artist formerly known as Prince proud.   Unforgettable. 

It will come as no surprise that when his 2014 Wagon Wheel tour was coming to a city near me, I vowed I would be there.  My “sister-from-another-mother” was my partner-in-bliss.  Lawn seats. Again, he did all of our favorites.  Again, he was better than the studio versions.  He’s the real deal.  We sang along to every last tune.  And, there is something else that I deeply appreciate about Darius.  He never takes his fans for granted. He sincerely thanked the audience, especially those of us in the lawn seats, for spending our hard-earned money to come and hear him sing.  He did that in 2012, too.  Gracious.  Humble. I like that.

There is only one other artist-singer whom I have seen twice in concert--Richard Marx.  Mr. “Should Have Known Better” and “Hold On To The Nights”.  The first time was in 1988 at a local waterpark for $5 and a Pepsi can.  Seriously.  Two years later, having purchased tickets as a Valentine’s Day gift for a “special friend”, I pretended to hold up a lighter and sway to “Right Here Waiting for You”.  Sadly, he had to beg off, last-minute, and my College bestie came along instead.  Honestly, it was one of those “thank God for all I missed” moments.  

Darius knew.  He wrote a song about it.  How nice of him.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hump-Day Hilarity: Veggie Tales

Dance of the Cucumber.  Especially giggle-worthy because He Who Is Now Taller Than I is taking Spanish 1.  Or should I say,
Él está aprendiendo español .