March 30, 2014

I drove by Nottoway Park today and saw a banner advertising an Easter Egg Hunt coming up.  My mind immediately went to an Easter season around 1985.  I took my 4 children to the Easter Egg Hunt at Nottoway and arrived just a few minutes after the advertised start time.  I was shocked when we were turned away and told that all the candy was gone.  

“Why did they not plan better?” I thought. There were my 4 young ones with empty baskets and very sad faces. I tried to use consoling words as I drove home, but inside I was angry at the event planners.  My anger was fueled by feelings beyond the moment.  I didn’t understand why things couldn’t be carefree for once.    

At some point during the day, my Dad called.  When I told him what had happened, he said, “Give me an hour and then bring the kids over.”  It was around 5:00 p.m. when we arrived at my parent’s apartment. I hadn’t said anything to lead them to believe this was anything other than a usual visit.  We lived close by and stopped in often.  

My dad had a twinkle in his eye.  He loved surprises.  He could barely contain his excitement.  We sat down and began to visit as usual.  Then he suggested that Danny might want to look around a bit in the living room.  Something might be different.  Then he said he wondered if they should check other rooms in the apartment, too.  Slowly, the kids began walk around.  Nothing looked changed.  It was a small apartment and they had been here many times.  My dad gently encouraged more investigating. Soon, they discovered candy under chairs, on shelves, in drawers, or on the piano keyboard. The search gradually sped up and squeals of happiness filled the room.  I now had 4 very happy kids.  

It was fun to watch my kids search and find the treats, but it was even more beautiful to see how happy it made my dad.  He derived his own happiness by making others happy.  I love that about my dad and miss his huge capacity to nurture, love, and care.    

March 29, 2014

Right now, I’m . . .

     :: trying out this new form of writing

     :: listening to my daughters talk on the phone

     :: feeling grateful for generations of mothers and daughters

     :: thinking of this satisfying Saturday spent with my sisters

     :: planning to do dishes

     :: wishing the fairies would come to do them

     :: chewing on a cherry Twizzler

     :: ready to call it a day.

March 28, 2014

A spring peeper choir–

Sweet promise of warmer days.

Swamp-joy at evening.


Did you know that spring peepers can be heard up to 2 1/2 miles away?  I heard them this evening on my way home and was glad.

March 27, 2014

This short description is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

The Brown Pelican is a comically elegant bird with an oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Squadrons glide above the surf along southern and western coasts, rising and falling in a graceful echo of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up. They are fairly common today—an excellent example of a species’ recovery from pesticide pollution that once placed them at the brink of extinction.

Pelican-watching is one of my favorite things to do at the beach.  I watch as they flap and glide in odd-numbered patterns:  flap, flap, flap, flap, G-L-I-D-E.  They fly in synchronous rhythms without rush or panic. It calms me to follow their journey over the breaking waves.  If I look further out to sea, I often see the brown pelican making its unique head-first dive into the water.  It seems to stop mid-air, turn 90 degrees to the ocean floor, and plunge to catch a fish.  The splash is a clean entry that any diving coach would be proud of.  Sometimes it makes me laugh.

It was while watching brown pelicans off the Outer Banks of North Carolina that an impression came which saved my family.  At least saved us from one kind of pain. The impression was simple, “Don’t leave.” The kids played in the waves and sand.  My husband and son played paddleball.  I watched and knew I had been given a gift, an answer.  We would stay together.

Now, thirty years later, I still remember that day, that decision, made while watching pelicans.  

March 26, 2014

When five young cousins sleep over in a small living room, sleep isn’t usually on their minds.  One particular night, Jeff, Dan, Tim, Katy, and Mark were supposed to be getting settled down for the night.  Sleeping bags and blankets covered the floor as they claimed their territory.  Teeth were brushed and jammies on.  I turned off the main lights, “Goodnight, everybody.”

It was calm for a few minutes.  Then I heard, “Steamroller!”  Jeff began the game they had made up which basically had no rules except that the one who yelled, “Steamroller” got to roll over everyone else on the floor.  Arms and legs flailed amid giggles and occasional “Ouch!”  Soon everyone was on top of everyone else with blankets tangled up like spaghetti.  “Go to sleep!” I hollered from the basement.

Quiet again, I think.  I breathe and listen.  The rowdy sounds slowly start to grow again – then bedlam!  Who had called “Steamroller” this time?  I marched up the stairs, ready to read the riot act.

“Listen, you guys, it’s time to go to sleep and I don’t want to hear a peep out of you.”

“Peep,” said Tim.

I gave up and suppressed my own giggle all the way downstairs.

March 25, 2014

My son, Tim, makes me happy.  Today he turned 34. He has a beautiful, kind wife and a wonderful 9-month old son.

Tim achieved recognition before he was even born when the nurses saw that his hair was going to be white blonde. I remember the nurse went to get the other nurses to come see the white hair.  It was as soft as baby duck down. Tim was a very upright baby; he didn’t cuddle much except with my mother.  She liked to say, “He’s my boy.”  

From a very early age, Tim loved baseball and has an incredible memory for sports facts and statistics.  He was an avid collector of baseball cards.  In fact, his only real reading for years was the sports page in the paper, Sports Illustrated, and the backs of baseball cards.  His writing was mostly lists of players, line-ups, statistics, and his predictions about the World Series.

Tim’s tender side wasn’t widely known, but I knew that he grieved when his tadpole died, just before it was fully a frog.  We buried it in the vegetable garden.  I knew he was sad when his asthma made it impossible for us to keep Snowy, his guinea pig.  One day, Snowy got loose in the house and ended up under my bed.  I had to shut the door and wait for Tim to get home from school.  He was the only one who could get Snowy to come out.  He had a sweet relationship with Snowy – even when Snowy made his eyes water and his nose stuffy.

Perhaps Tim’s tender side wasn’t as visible because he also had a bit of a temper.  It was a justifiable temper in reaction to difficulties in some family relationships, but I think he also got a bad rap sometimes.  I didn’t realize until my older son went on a trip one summer that perhaps Tim was getting the blame for things that his brother may have provoked.  

One hot, humid Virginia summer day, I was driving my four kids in our Chevy Celebrity station wagon.  It was more than hot.  The kids were tired from doing errands with me.  Tim was sitting in the front seat with me.  He really wanted a Slurpee.  In an arbitrary moment of parental control, I said, “No.”  Actually, I think that I was afraid that if I took all the kids to get a Slurpee, my husband would have been angry at the “waste” of money.  Tim asked again, and protested when I said, “No.”  We argued back and forth and then, in frustration, he kicked the windshield.  The windshield had already been pitted by a rock a few weeks earlier.  Tim happened to connect with the weak spot. The windshield was suddenly a spider web of cracked glass.  He sucked in his breath.  He was sure his life was over.  I tried to assure him that the windshield was already cracked, but we were all afraid to go home to dad’s potential wrath.

So we went to see Grandma and Pappy.  We had Grandma’s homemade cookies and Pepsi as we cooled off.  I decided to call dad and prepare him for the state of the windshield. Thankfully, we all lived through that one.  Happy Birthday, Tim.

I’ll share my favorite Tim story in tomorrow’s slice.      

March 24, 2014

“Stepping into our authenticity is stepping into our real power.”

This quote on the “Slice of Life” page caused my mind, heart, and hands to stop in their tracks, sit up, and pay attention.  I think I know what it means, but do I act like I know what it means?  I wonder about the relationship of authenticity and perfection; authenticity and imperfection.  Ahh. . .but there I’ve done it again.  I’ve set up an “either/or” condition that is not based in truth.  Authenticity must be about being perfect and imperfect at the same moment.  

As I’ve written my slice of life stories this month, I know I’ve carefully chosen what I’m willing to share in this format. Perhaps I have limited my power by the choices I’ve made. I guess that’s why I was so moved by the bravery of Priscilla Thomas in her writing, “Learned Behavior.” She faced a memory head-on and her writing had power. I realize that our joys are as authentic as our sorrows and pain. But I wonder if I am willing to step into “my authenticity” and fully write with the honesty needed to give me power.


March 23, 2014

I’m reading a book called, What Makes Olga Run?, which is about a woman who started competitive track and field events at age 77. At age 90 she had no more female peers to compete against, so she now competes with the 90-year old men.  The book is exploring research around Olga’s aging process. Scientists are trying to determine what factors in her earlier habits of life might have contributed to her having slowed-down the natural decline of the body.  She can sprint and throw a javelin at age 90.  She considered pole vault, but then decided not to take the risk.

I’m inspired by Olga.  She was a teacher for 34 years.  That inspires me, too.






March 22, 2014

My mother always talked about the winter it snowed every Thursday.  She compared every winter to that winter.  Now I wonder if that winter had more meaning for her than just snow every Thursday.  This winter may be one that becomes the measure against which all future winters will be compared.  Perhaps like my mother, this winter has meaning for me beyond frequent snows.  As I reflect on the events of the past few months, I realize that I need to focus more on this moment in the journey.  

Last fall, I let everyone know that I really wanted a blizzard this winter.  My December was going to be packed with Christmas, my baby Jill’s wedding (How was that possible?), and my 6th grandbaby (Yes, 6th!).  All good things, but all in 2 weeks?  I felt that in January I deserved a blizzard for a much needed rest.  We got the snow.  I got some rest, but I also got the stomach flu–several days of it, in fact.  In all the wedding preparations, I didn’t have time to realize how much it would stretch my heartstrings to give my daughter to her husband, no matter that he’s adorable and a very good person.

When I returned to school after wedding, baby, and holiday celebrations, I found we had had a flood from the ceiling in the bookroom. I had to face sorting damaged books, mold, and filling out reports for insurance.  What a mess.  Then more snow.  

In February, I nearly lost my older daughter to Dengue Fever which she contracted from a mosquito bite while serving in Honduras with a group of doctors and nurses on a surgical mission.  It seemed so unfair for her to get so sick while trying to do good in this world.  Then more snow.

I was getting discouraged because it seemed we were never in school enough days in a row to be able to see measurable progress with students.  Start and stop. “Where was I?  What day is it?  The test is when?”  Then more snow. 

My energy has been very low this winter.  Hibernation seemed like the best alternative, though not possible.  In looking back, I realize that a blizzard wasn’t the answer to the replenishing my spirit needed.  Snow days didn’t fill my cup.

Today, however, I took a walk outside.  The crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils were blooming.  The willow branches were slightly yellow green.  They say more snow Tuesday.  I don’t really care anymore.

In Chinese medicine this season is described as the time when water gives way to wood.  Wood (all vegetation) must work very hard to push against water – to put down new roots, to shoot up new stalks, to open buds, and to leaf.  I have to push hard for my spirit to blossom, too.

March 21, 2014

Samantha is my nine-year old granddaughter and the first of my grandchildren. She has a talent for drawing and is already able to draw with proportion and perspective.  She has a good eye and can copy what she sees.  I admire this ability and try to imagine what it would be like to have that kind of eye-to-hand connection. 

I took her to the National Gallery of Art one afternoon recently.  It was just the two of us.  Since her mother has been careful to teach her about modesty, we had a little conversation about the human body being the subject of art as a thing of beauty.  I told her that in art the human body, with or without clothing, is often the subject of paintings and sculpture.  We walked into the gallery and immediately she stood a little taller, became a young student, and had many comments about the art she saw.   

“Grandma, I can imagine the story of this painting.  Here is the. . . .and here is the. . .”  She was so enthralled with the colors and shapes of a piece of modern art.

Later, a different artist did not impress her much.  It was an abstract seascape, but looked a bit like a young child’s work.  Samantha said, “Grandma, how did this get in the art gallery?”  We laughed together.

I loved showing her the paintings that I had fallen in love with when I was nine.  Fragonard, Renoir, Degas, and Monet were among my most favorite painters. I liked to imagine that I was in the big garden swing of Fragonard, or the girl in the garden with the watering can.  It all seemed so wonderful and magical. Samantha paused and took them in, but she didn’t react with the things I imagined.  She seemed especially interested in the Dutch painters and their techniques that made fabric look like you could touch it or flowers so real, you might catch their scent.

The final room we went in was the sculpture of Rodin.  I had forgotten his beautiful study of horses.  Samantha also spent a long time studying each piece and asked a lot of questions about how the work was done.  I shared what little I knew and wished I knew more.  It was a wonderful two hours, followed by hot chocolate at a nearby restaurant.  It made me happy to be the grandmother I want to be for a few hours.