Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Warm Fuzzies and Iced Coffee

Sometimes it’s the little unexpected gifts that surprise me most. A baby dove cooing on the windowsill or a bunny asleep under our crepe myrtle. I experienced one of those amazing moments today, in fact, but I had to go a bit further than my backyard to find it—or rather, for it to find me.

I’ve taken a break from social media, blogging and a few needless chores to finish my writing project. A thin layer of dust never hurt anyone, and no one cares if the bed’s unmade. But there comes a time when the toilet paper runs low and you’re out of all foods that are actually healthy for your diet. Naturally I didn’t want my husband living off pancake mix or rationing the last of the TP. So, I grabbed my list and headed out for what I thought would be a normal grocery run.

A trip to the store in the middle of a storm paid off in a great parking space, but the clouded sky and rain taps on the windshield lulled me into nap mode. I dragged myself out of the car and joined the rest of the shoppers inside. It was like slow motion in there. Everyone was running on empty. Then I smelled it—that dark bean roast whiff that makes your nose perk up. And I made a beeline for a caffeine fix.

Only one person ahead of me, I thought. Her drink order was almost done, credit card out. I was so close. Then came Betty and John (at least that’s what I’m calling them). Right as a second barista emerged from the back, a couple rounded the other side of the coffee display and rolled their cart up to the counter.

Honestly, I’m short, like, 5’2” in heels short. I knew they didn’t see me over the display, and it really wasn’t a big deal. But when John turned and saw me, he literally blushed.

“Did we . . . cut in line?” John asked.

“It’s fine.” I threw in a shrug, like, seriously, it’s not an issue. Besides, they were older and had just come in out of the rain. Betty was rubbing her arms like she wished she’d grabbed a jacket before they left. 

John tap, tap, tapped on Betty’s shoulder. She turned mid-order and said, “Oh, no. Was she here before us?” 

I repeated my go ahead’s and after an awkward pause, the barista got everyone’s drink order. Like I said, it was fine. I honestly didn’t think anything of it. Until I tried to pay. 

“Yours is covered,” the barista said when I took out my wallet. 

 What? Now I was the one fumbling for what to say to John and Betty, but really all that mattered was, “Thank you.”

We talked until our coffee was ready, wished each other safe travels then parted ways.

Sometimes we forget what it’s like to be on the other end of kindness. To John and Betty, I say thanks for the reminder. I smiled all the way home.

Friday, February 20, 2015

More Than Words

From my Valentine
This Valentine’s Day my husband did something amazing. He’s given me hand-made Valentine’s for several years, so I knew why he was staying late at work a few weeks before the big day. What I didn’t expect was for him to pour his heart and our dreams out on paper. He spent hours hand-cutting iconic landmarks of our dream vacations. It was over-the-top awesome. 

The inside was a simple reminder about where we’ve been and where we’re going. And that got me thinking about how meaningful a few words can be for a relationship. They're a record for the heart, and records can be replayed anytime we need or want to hear them.

I spent part of Valentine’s sifting through a box of old cards and letters I’ve collected from family and friends over the years. Some of them were simple birthday greetings and wishes. Others were more intimate and made me examine who I was and who I was becoming. 

One such letter came from my grandmother more than twenty years ago. Her words were hard to hear at the time, but they needed to be said so I could grow. Another was a brief note from my old boss who encouraged everyone she met to “make a difference” in people's lives. Both women were an inspiration to me.

Then there were the store-bought cards from relatives who were looking for the best way to express their sentiments. I treasured those words as if they were original to the giver. Sure we don’t normally gush like this out loud to each other, but when one of us needs to hear it we don’t hold back.

Typed and hand-written pages from my husband’s father, I love you’s from my parents, notes from my writing partner reminding me not to give up on my goals—I’ve kept them because they remind me that someone took the time to say something they felt was important. And maybe, if I listen to what they have to say, I'd be better off for it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

An Elephant Never Forgets . . . Their Wedding Anniversary

Okay, I know that sounds bad, but the reason I haven’t written in a while is because my husband and I have been through a difficult season. It began this summer with a bit of news about my health, which led to surgery and all the stress that comes with it, followed by another minor surgery for something different. A whole slew of issues arose post-op, but they were eventually resolved. Then my precious grandmother passed away in October, and though she’d had Alzheimer’s for many years, it was hard facing the fact that I wouldn’t be able to drop by and chat with her anymore.

So last night when my mother-in-law called to wish us a happy anniversary while we were cleaning the kitchen, hubs and I gave each other a what-in-the-heck-is-she-talking-about look. Her next words were, “I know it’s a little late . . .” and I glanced at the date lit up on the phone, focusing on the number 23 when it hit me . . .

Christmas Story Oh, Fudge gif photo ohfudgegiftumblr_zps471240c9.gif

Holy crap. It’s our anniversary!

Ryan and I busted out laughing and admitted we had completely lost track of what day it was, so our 12th anniversary will fondly be remembered as the anniversary we, ahem, forgot.

To be fair, at the beginning of November we were so pooped coming out from under everything that had happened over the previous three months, we decided right then to wait and celebrate our anniversary after Thanksgiving. The closer we got to this weekend the better the idea seemed. His co-workers had a gathering Friday night. His sister and her family came in for my niece's birthday on Saturday, leaving Sunday for all the pre-Thanksgiving shopping and laundry. In fact, the weekend was so fulfilling, we didn’t even realize what we were missing.

Maybe it’s because we had spent part of Saturday morning telling each other what we appreciate about the other person (Yes, we do this from time to time and it’s one of my favorite things about our relationship). Or that we talked about our goals and future plans, feeling hopeful for the first time in a while. Whatever it was made the weekend special enough that neither of us felt let down by what happened.

So . . . happy anniversary to my husband and closest friend. He accepts all of my flaws, quirks and smirks. We’ve been through the best, the worst and the crazy difficult over the last 19 years (7 courting, 12 married), and I wouldn’t want to go through any of it without you.

Photo by Clem T. Webb Photography

Monday, March 3, 2014

Late Winter Chills

Bramble rings adorn her toes,
Briarroot and sundried rose.
Ashen eyes with shaded grin,
Twisted roots flow from her skin.

This weekend my husband and I visited a 200-acre preserve. It was a bit of a drive with all of the highway construction, but once we got past the congested traffic the roads were open and quiet. When we reached our destination, parking, or a lack thereof, was a challenge so we circled the lot like sale-seekers on Black Friday. A spot eventually opened up and we got out of the car to stretch our legs.

With the air warm for the first time in months and the sun on our shoulders, we hiked the trails around a creek pressing deep into the forest. Well . . . not really. We only went a few feet off-course to take pictures by the stream. Other families were there too with kids and pets, keeping as close to the main trail as possible.

It was a perfect afternoon, beautiful in all its late winter glory. The rustling leaves and eerie stillness gave me a ton of ideas for my new book. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like to get lost in the woods—splintered limbs and shadows in every direction.

How long would it take for the mind to become dense with fear? Five minutes into your off-path-detour? Perhaps later, when you became disoriented and a rustling vine next to your leg seemed to slither out from the shade.

I hope to hang on every hyper-vigilant sensation—uneasiness oozing onto the page as I craft my new scenes. It’s been difficult to write about a subject with so much retrospection, but it’s a challenge I hope will change my book’s main character as well as myself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Breath of Fresh Air

After a long couple of months of life knocking us about via illness and family in the hospital, my husband and I were thankful to spend a beautiful winter day strolling around my favorite gardens. We walked down the path and stopped to watch a squirrel forage for food. When he plucked up an acorn, his tail twitched in celebration. His teeth hummed like a saw as he sheared the shell from the meat. He didn't flinch when we walked away, and I doubt he noticed my shoulders relax at the sound of his soft crunching.

Our walk snaked through wooded trails and curved around a pond where turtles sunned themselves on stones. We hooked a left into the rose garden where a group of volunteers buzzed around the bushes pruning away expired buds and dead branches. Hidden in the butterfly nook, a painter stood at his easel working away at a beautiful watercolor. It seemed everyone was enjoying the stillness. Then a faint note slid across the breeze, a sound unlike trickling water or paws unearthing treasures. It had a higher pitch and was drawn out and down over the vast lawn, skittering about like dried leaves in the wind.

We set ourselves in a new direction toward the music and discovered a lone violinist tucked among the brush. The closer we got my insides unfolded like a flower reaching for the morning sun. The gentle melody flowed through me, pushing out everything else. When he paused between songs, I asked the musician where he was from and learned he’d stumbled on the gardens the same way we had, unexpectedly.

Our conversation was brief, but it was wonderful to meet someone who loved the city’s green space as much as we did. He went back to his violin, and for a moment I watched him, taking slow breaths in and out with the rhythm, fingers gliding over strings, bow cutting through the air around it. His music layered over the falling water, and I drank it in.

If I close my eyes, I can hear the last song he played. Though it wasn’t for me, I thanked him for his music anyway. He’ll never know how it warmed my heart and how grateful I was he chose that day and that hour to share his gift. It was a breath of fresh air that left me thinking about how we all have something beautiful to give.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Makes a Great Leader?

While thumbing through some of my grandfather’s old military photos, I wondered what it was like for my dad’s father to kiss his family goodbye and board a ship during wartime. Or for my mom’s father to marry the woman of his dreams before he was deployed, his wedding band a reminder of the one waiting for his safe return.

The men my grandfathers served with were so young, so brave—with loved ones of their own. I can only hope they were able to return to their families as my grandfathers did. As I looked at those old pictures, I saw the confident men they were, and I’m grateful for the men they became.

Paw-Paw and Frank

What I remember of my mom’s dad, Paw-Paw, is sitting on his lap by the fire while he taught me to read. Or the mornings we got bacon and cheese croissants for breakfast before heading to my elementary school where he coached the athletics teams. I remember the last big family trip we went on before he passed away. Paw-Paw drove, yes, I said drove the lot of us: granny, their best friends (Frank and Edith), my best friend and me up the east coast and into Canada.

Why would a man who survived a war wish a month-long car ride on himself, especially one with two first graders in tow? Maybe he wanted us to see what he fought for, to see our history and how far we’d come as a country. Maybe he wanted us to touch the Liberty Bell, to play in the ocean, and to see a harbor-side Tea Party that didn’t involve a rainbow-haired doll, a pup from the pound and friends from the cabbage patch.

Paw-Paw let us get away with everything on that trip. We set the alarms off at the Smithsonian, got into trouble at the World Trade Center for running circles in the building, and made faces at a cabbie in New York who flipped us off. (Not sure if I copied that move on the trip, but I’m sure Paw-Paw wouldn’t have tolerated it if I had.) He passed away a few years after that trip, and though I didn’t get to know him as an adult I did find out what a generous person he was in his community.

After his funeral, someone came forward and shared how Paw-Paw had delivered food and gifts to families in need during the holidays. He did this for years, and he did it in secret. No affirmation or applause for him. He just saw a need and met it. In the years that followed, his best friend, Frank, became a grandfather to me, stuffing me with cream filled cookies and bologna sandwiches. Frank picked up right where Paw-Paw left off.

Frank took care of his own family and basically adopted ours. He was the most active, hardworking man I ever met. Frank was also a war veteran and hero who once navigated a convoy of tanks up a mountainside on foot in a warzone. I didn’t know him in those glory days, but I knew him when he carried me on his other hip, opposite his granddaughter. I knew him when he checked on granny and me every night I was there to make sure we didn’t need anything before he and Edith went to bed. If ever there was a mold to break . . . he broke it and left his own legacy.


My dad’s father, Pop, was also a huge part of my life. Pop had served in the military, and when I look at his pictures I see a quiet leadership, something he carried with him onto the biggest battlefield of his life: raising his five children and later babysitting his nine grandchildren. The stories I heard about my dad and his three brothers—firecrackers in toilets, accidentally lighting the back steps on fire (Who would do that on purpose?) . . . it’s a wonder Pop had any energy left for his two eldest, hyperactive, ballet dancing granddaughters.

I think my cousin and I gave him that white hair, and yet he took us to the park every weekend we were in town. He took us trick-or-treating on Halloween and decorated the outside of his house for us every Christmas. He even hand-painted our favorite caring bears on plywood cutouts he’d made and stuck them out on the lawn. And Pop was serious about his yard. He spent hours keeping it clean and made sure no animals, ahem, went on his grass. So for him to stick cartoon characters out there where the whole world could see them—we knew we were special.

He endured every visit and let my cousin and me play hide-and-seek in the closets, jump on the beds, and slide down the stairs on our butts. Did I mention our volume was always set to high? Screams, giggles–it’s why Pop napped with a pillow over his head.

Now our visits with him are a little more . . . calm. He talks for a bit then settles into his red cushion and stares at the TV. Why? All he really wants is for us to sit beside him on the sofa while he watches black-and-white westerns in Spanish. Half the time he falls asleep, but hey, he’ll be 91 next week so I think he’s entitled to doze off whenever he wants.

So, what makes a great leader? Sacrifice. Bravery. Letting difficult situations shape your character and make you a better person. Giving what you can, even if you don’t have much yourself. Being there when it’s important. My grandfathers passed down these values, and I’m grateful for their service not only to our country, but also to my family. Happy Veteran’s Day, Pop. And thank you to all of our service men and women.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Joys of Physical Therapy & Expired Chocolate

This week I began physical therapy for my ankle and foot. I was looking forward to my first visit about as much as I would a trip to the dentist or, oh, I don’t know, slamming my hand in a door on purpose. When I arrived for my appointment, the doctor’s office was filled with grunting, red-faced people who were working various injured limbs on machines. It was less like an edgy gym and more like a car repair shop.

The consultation was more or less torture with a smile. Toes were yanked, popped, twisted and bent in every direction. My foot was next. Then I limped from one office to another where I was stretched out on a table while a therapist wired my foot for electricity.

Me: “What does this do again?”

Therapy Lady: “It runs a current through your ankle and foot.”

Me: *gulp*

Therapy Lady: “I’m going to turn it up now. Can you feel it?”

Me: “Is it supposed to feel weird?”

Therapy Lady: “Like tingles?”

Me: *nods*

Therapy Lady: “Let me know when you feel any pain.”

Me: O_O

Therapy Lady: “We want it up as high as we can go. And if it hurts we bring it back down.” *smiles*

Me: “Um . . .” *ants crawling under my skin* “I think we’re good.”

There wasn’t much to do when she left except stare at the ceiling and wonder how long it’d take to cook my foot like a hotdog. Thankfully someone in the office loved rock music because it helped blur out the curse words coming from the gym floor.

Over the next few visits my mobility improved. They fried my foot again and added some strange exercises for my ankle involving a rubber ball and a wooden board. I got lots of high fives and attagirls and a sticker on my way out.

Not really.

But I did get a nice crisp receipt for my insurance. And there was a bowl of Easter candy on the counter for the taking, in July. Seriously though, the doctor and his staff were super awesome, and they made the hard work of rehabilitating a major body part fun.

One week behind me. Five more to go. Need chocolate. Preferably the kind that’s not expired.