25 December 2012

day 12: twenty

{day 12: this concludes my 12 days of christmas writing. this one is a muse to the one i love most.}

we are hopeless him and me. up a creek without a paddle in rough waters. reckless, impetuous. selfish. and that's on a good day.

on december 26, 1992 i kissed the last guy i'll ever kiss{unless he dies and then all bets are off}. twenty years of figuring out how to navigate these tricky waters. wouldn't it be great if we had it figured out? but where's the adventure in that. 

this time of year, when we first fell in love on that fateful december eve-two years later almost to the day, he asked me to marry him by asking leigh ann to wrap him in a box. christmas means more to me every year. maybe it's because pretty soon i will have lived more of my life with him than i have without him. maybe it's because he continues to woo me with his kindness and steadfast sensibilities-his dishwashing skills aren't too shabby either. i have said it before and will say it again, monogamy is sexy great. and i have been enjoying this man's sexy greatness for 20 years. happy christmas to me! meeeow.

{this concludes my 12 days of christmas writings. sure hope you found the pieces amusing. now excuse me while i duck out for a bit. see you in the new year. Hugs-SMACK-}


24 December 2012

day 11: merry kissmas

yesterday the littlest said, "mom, if someone got married on christmas, we could say 'merry kissmas'." it made me think of a couple who got married close to christmas several years ago.
dear me. this is one from the vault.
leigh ann and i met in high school when we were in the same science class. she was smart enough to take a class in a grade above. i was just happy to have mr. steed, a resolutely docile science teacher with the patience of job. leigh ann and i hit it off and became fast friends sharing biology notes and weekend adventures that usually involved a movie with a package of skittles. she was best friends with me and the Mister. when he decided to propose, leigh ann helped. she wrapped him in a box and drove away leaving him on my mother's front porch. and then she phoned to tell me to go outside. it seems trite to say, but i remember that phone call as clear as if it were yesterday. when someone calls you at 2 am, it's memorable. and upon our engagement, i remember overhearing her say, "i don't know if i should be a groomsman or a bridesmaid". she settled on wearing a dress and being a bridesmaid.

this smart, small town girl went on to pharmacy school and lived away from our hometown for many years. but something brought her back. and being back was what led her to meet her future family.

he was a precious widower with a darling daughter. an attorney with stalwart integrity who once chased down a petty criminal and drove him to the police station unbeknownst to this peeping tom. 

as stepmothers go, i do not know of any good ones. it's been my experience that they are all pretty much like the evil ones from the fairy tales. and i've even known one or two who make the ones in fairy tales look tame. but leigh ann is the exception. and let's just go ahead and cut the word stepmother out of the conversation while we are at it. it really isn't a fitting title for this woman who is the only mother a young girl ever really knew.

the couple who married shortly after christmas many, many years ago with a daughter as the flower girl added 3 more little girls to the mix shortly thereafter. we laugh. she has 4 girls. i have 4 boys. 
us all these years later
leigh ann reminds me that sometimes the best parts of life are the ones that come together through incredible circumstances. we cannot always celebrate tragedy. nor should we. but when tragedy gives way to joy, well that is a fairy tale worth believing because it's true, hard, but true.

happy 12th anniversary, dale and lu. we love you lots.


23 December 2012

day 10: lady like

if i had a dollar for every time someone looked at me with all these boys of mine and made a comment like: "no girls? you poor thing" well, i would have a lot of dollars. but the stranger who makes such a quick, misguided assumption has it all wrong.

you see, i do have a lot of girls- in my life. sisters, nieces. women friends. little friends who come to bake with me. darling daughters of friends who now wear my old dance recital costumes. i have grandmother friends. some single girlfriends. the fact is i have oodles and oodles of girls in my life. too many to count really. just none that i gave birth to. 

but here's the thing. having four boys has not stopped me from tea parties, slumber parties, attending the ballet, reading secret love notes and participating in impromptu dance recital sing-alongs. in fact having four boys has only made me crave all things feminine even more.

yesterday i was driving my brood of boys through the mountains of virginia whilst they watched the movie spartacus with their father. i picked up the phone{i know. i know. not safe to talk and drive.} and phoned my most feminine friend, wallis who instantly brought a little lady likeness to my moment. then i promptly took out my de-funk lavender spray and doused the car with a haze of sweetness.

i would be remiss if i did not point out THE most important woman who has taught me most everything i know about being lady like: my sister-best-friend-trailblazer, donna aka thelma {think thelma and louise}. with a quick reminder to "put a little lipstick on". she can say that. she's my sister-and i need the help. 

in honor of all my feminine persuasions, here are a few snapshots of the girls/women/ladies who have kept me sane and silly and so so lady like.

her: "sister, put on some lipstick."  me: only if i can wear that coral shade you got on."

and who knows. maybe someday in the future-like the waaaay distant future-there will be some daughters like 4 to be exact{wink wink}

until then, i will enjoy all these ineffable girls who continue to inspire and enchant me in ways better than i deserve.


22 December 2012

day 9: missing persons

maria and the hungarian we love
my friend maria. she's pretty much why i got out of bed most mornings. we would meet up at the gym to have our arses kicked by a hungarian. we were the ones in the corner dancing instead of sprinting. we were the ones cutting up instead of doing crunches. she was basically the best thing that ever happened to me besides meeting my husband.

for my birthday one year some of my girlfriends met up at the skating rink to relive our youth. dressed in our 80's garb, we donned our rented skates and whirled the night away. maria showed up with her OWN skates and proceeded to school all of us on limbo and skating backwards with the ease of a professional. side note: the culture at the roller skating rink is alive and well and thriving i might add. it was a little shocking to see the older fellows who were still cruising for hook ups-30 years later.

maria is my friend who can turn on her southern middle tennessee dialect whilst quoting g.k. chesterton. she's a pint sized wonder and always surprises me. at first blush you see a petite brown eyed beauty. but this woman is tough as nails and smart as a whip. she's just mighty reticent. 

there are many things that define us, but those things do not make up the entirety of who we are. a year ago, my friend experienced the most unspeakable horror. she buried her first born child. i remember her saying to me, "i am still a mother to four". that resonated so strongly with me as i began to envision all of the friends she would meet in the future who would never know her oldest son gus. they would shake hands, scan her 3 beautiful children and assume this was her family never knowing that for 15 years there was one more who headed the bunch. and he was a lively soul, full of dry wit and honesty that made you blush. 

i see her 3 and ache for the fourth. but knowing her story made me wonder, how many of us are walking around with huge parts of us missing? how often when we meet new people, are only getting a fraction of the whole? how many of us have buried babies or otherwise silent members of our families?
sitting around the table at the puncochar's. pretty much my favorite place.
my friend maria is like a lighthouse to those who know her. she shines brightest in the darkest night and keeps those of us on rough waters safe as we make our way back to shore.


21 December 2012

day 8: traveling mercies

back in college when he went to new york with reformed university fellowship, my Mister phoned from the road to say, "i met this girl named betsy. you would really like her." he knew her from young life where they both served as leaders at different high schools, but still closely acquainted. shortly thereafter i moved to knoxville. he introduced me to her again and again until about the third time when he said, "betsy, have you met my girlfriend?" she and i embraced and said, "yes! we are best friends already!" it seems like a million years ago. all those small meetings that seemed inconsequential then, but now i relish. 
it started with one boy...

right after we became friends, betsy introduced us to her boyfriend, a strapping alabama boy with a passion for music and jesus. pretty soon that same boy ended up spending more than a few weekend nights on the sofa of the bachelor pad where my Mister shared an apartment with 3 other guys. josh would drive in on the weekends to see betsy and crash with the guys. the rest is history. she married him. i married mine all within months of one another. they moved to nashville, we followed a year later. 

we were living in married student housing at vanderbilt. josh and betsy lived around the corner. betsy and i would meet a few times a week on the corner of blakemore and hillsboro road after a work day for a walk and a talk. we would cruise through the serpentine streets of hillsboro village dreaming of houses and families that would fill them. 

there is an irish proverb that says, "a man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest." my friend betsy now has 7 men in her life. one whom she married and 6 to whom she gave birth. all those many years ago, neither of us would have imagined being mothers to all boys: she 6, me 4.

recently her husband graduated with his Ph.D. this is in addition to an M.B.A. and an M.Div. you might say they have lived a lot in the short seventeen years of marriage. and have moved- a lot. i am grateful that there has not been a home of theirs where i haven't visited. if i squint i can see their first apartment in hillsboro village, their married student housing in mississippi, the adorable cottage in clarksdale, their first home in orangeburg, the welcoming porch of their bugalow in louisville and now the magnificent manse of greensboro where we gathered back in july watching all our boys sup and shoot bb guns. 

a couple of weeks ago when she boarded a plane with a newborn and her mother-in-law to celebrate what is the final{?}post graduate degree of her husband, i couldn't help but feel that she too earned that ph.D. she was the one who wrangled boys to the supper table and swept up the crumbs both literally and figuratively. she was the one who kept the home stocked with the midnight oil on hand for those late nights. i am deeply proud of my sweet friend who would be the first to confess she is no saintly pastor's wife. 

over the weekend of her Mister's graduation she texted photographs from his ceremony. i realized so much of our lives as friends have been separated by hundreds of miles. babies born, husbands with career upheavals, deaths. it's hard to believe that the 2 years we spent as neighbors were a flash in the pan compared to the 15 we have kept acquainted despite all the moves and miles. but she has been that faithful friend despite the inconvenience, who managed to drive the detour for a meet up whether it be at the beach, at our family reunion or in our front yard for a quick drive by hug. 

there is another irish blessing that goes: 
May the road rise to meet you, 
May the wind be always at your back, 
  May the sun shine warm upon your face, 
 May the rains fall soft upon your fields, 
And, until we meet again, 
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand

and that is what i wish for my precious friend who i love like a sister and who has sojourned many miles.

...and ended with 10 {baby joseph not pictured}


post script: if you live in the greensboro, alabama area and are looking for a christian fellowship, consider first presbyterian church. more here.

20 December 2012

day 7: jesus saves!

remember when we went cherry picking?

laura called one day last fall and asked, "do you think you could get away to london?" the Mister was lying in bed beside me. he heard her question and answered before i could ask, "go". 

laura is my silly, single friend. she's a genius in the kitchen and game to join in some of my daft antics like when we decided spur of the moment that our wedding toast was going to be a ridiculously choreographed interpretive dance at the rehearsal dinner of our dear friends ryan and gabe. the two of us get along famously and usually find ourselves enjoying a laugh, a scripture, a recipe. often an anecdote. 

growing up in mississippi, she's a southern girl through and through. basically orphaned at age 16. she pronounces monday "mondee" and can tell you stories that would give any piece of new york times best selling fiction a run for it's money only her stories are real.

a quick glance at wikipedia tell me: "In mythology, a phoenix is an immortal bird that, when it dies, bursts into flames and is reborn from its own ashes. 'To rise from the ashes of the phoenix' means to make a miraculous comeback." i know of a lot of people who remind me of the mythical phoenix, but one who stands out most is my friend laura.

i did not know laura before her miraculous comeback, but every once in a while she'll lift the curtain to her past with a narrative that makes me wonder how she's still alive. it's clear. there is a god, and he supernaturally spared her. there is no other explanation. 
when we lived in nashville and worshipped at the local presbyterian parish called city church, laura walked into my life. quick to share a laugh, biting humor or irreverent moments followed with a dose of "hallelujah, jesus saves!" i must tell you this girl continues to challenge me to consider how god mingles with the broken, the lonely, the desperate. 

as a caterer to the stars, she's rubbed elbows with the famous. i would drop names, but that's not the point. the point is, she has dined with kings and have left saddened by their shallow sights. she has called with observations such as, "what benefits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" 

today my friend from afar texted to ask, "would you all please pray for me? i am really sick." the 11 year old asked, "can i stop calling her 'fake aunt laura'? when i pray can i just call her 'laura'?" and there we asked god to be with her in her sickness. to be her comforter. her companion. her father. because he promises to be all of those things to us.

when we moved away, mine and laura's friendship took flight. it was no longer a given we would bump into one another during the week. living far away means making an effort to stay in contact. and we have. and it has been a touchstone in my life. here's why. 

when she asks hard questions and i give hard answers, she accepts that sometimes friendship means being willing to faithfully, honestly peer into one another's life and with grace and delicacy speak truth-hard truth. by the way, that is a two way street. and friendship means hoping and waiting with expectancy that god will answer prayers. to laugh when another one weeps and weep when another one laughs. okay. that's not exactly true. comic relief. but always, always pointing one another back to He who called forth the phoenix.

get well soon, sweet auntie lala. we love you lots.


postscript: due to  family commitments on my part, our trip to london was postponed, but not canceled. looking forward to jet setting soon. 

19 December 2012

day 6: back up

{i made it to day 6. for those of you joining late in the game, let me bring you up to speed. yours truly is taking on the 12 days of christmas to write and muse over a few of the people whom i love.}

i had never taken a long trip without my husband let alone a vacation. business kept him at home. but the beach called and when the beach calls, i always answer-on the first ring. my friend stephie agreed to come along to help with the kids who were 9 and under{the unders were the ones i was most concerned with losing to the waves}.
cookie dough and stephie, 2008

our time could not have been sweeter. stephie figured out how to work the dvd player in the car. she created mind puzzles with the boys to play during our long drive. she navigated our route so that we arrived just in time for sunset. 

my father has a place where we stayed while we did all of the things we love like fighting the waves, swimming from sun up til sun down and walking around seaside. she was the best mother's helper i have ever had-anticipating my needs before they arose. taking charge with ease and confidence. playing, really playing with my children when i had long lost my second wind. she wrangled the boys with great dexterity and enjoyment. at one point i was resting on the balcony when she brought out a fruity drink. "this is from the boys at the bar". i peered through the glass door to find four little boys giggling. 
compliments of the boys at the bar
after an uneventful stay that included all of our favorite rituals including a family photo in the courtyard and trip to sundog, on the last day two were sick which had me running back and forth to the clinic and pharmacy. undeterred, stephie threw together some black bean goat cheese quesadillas to feed the two who had managed to stay well and packed some plain quesadillas for the ones who were en route to see the doctor. i was impressed, but that was nothing.
seaside courtyard: a favorite family photo op

the next day it was time to pack up to head home. with all of the sun-kissed babes in their seats, we pulled out. we were not 2 hours into the ride, when the 5 year old threw up all over himself. without thinking, stephie-the-great jumped over the seat with a container to capture the second round. before we pulled over, she had wiped him down and was pulling a change of clothes out of his suitcase. he opted for his batman jammies. she obliged. and we rode on home without incident. 

that moment of sheer bravery. taking on the puke of another's child will forever remind me that we are indeed called to jump feet first into the lives of one another-mess and all. stephie, a young girl, displayed the most graceful example of joyful servanthood i believe i have ever seen. 

the other day i was thinking about her. she is a mother now to 2 very young ones with one on the way. i was beating myself up because unlike stephie i am not clever and resourceful. i don't invite whimsy and creativity into our home as much as i'd like. when we were at the beach, she found dice and a moleskin pad that she used to make up the most fun math games* for my boys to play. she does stuff like that with ease, it's her nature. she makes handmade napkins and teaches herself how to plumb a bathroom and fashions giraffe murals in the bathtub out of torn paper bags. she is the better version of a martha stewart. when she creates, she doesn't forget the love. 

and i would be remiss if i did not mention her Mister for whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude for the many, many times he has been our eyes and ears on the ground as we attempt to landlord from afar. our renters call with a question, and he has been more than willing to troubleshoot problems we were unable to figure out from 700 miles. 

i have said it a million and one times, community is where it's at. we all need a little back up. we all need someone who we trust who's got our back. and i am forever grateful for this family who never shied away from jumping into the thick of it with us. 


side note: stephie so wooed me with her genius jedi math tricks that she was hired to tutor the two oldest in math. that was a few years ago. now i am their math teacher. i really miss her.

18 December 2012

day 5: an unexpected journey

april 2003: heading to cades cove to start a corner to corner bike ride of the state of tennessee

these three men. three boys who all grew up in the same town. all named michael. they went to high school together. and married fetching girls who happen to be best friends. 

one of the things i miss most from nashville is friday nights. every friday night for about 5 years these three men along with their wives and children, 15 total, gathered for what we very originally dubbed "friday night dinner". the wives organized it of course, but these three men went along, happily. showing up after work at whomever's house we had settled on hosting.tired. but still cheered. the wives buzzing around breaking up fights{usually among siblings}and refilling cocktail glasses. the men sitting on the back porch talking work or whatever movie they were going to meet up to watch later after they had helped their wives bathe and put to bed the babes. their attention usually distracted, sometimes unaware that the children were beating the crap out of one another until one of the wives popped out to say, "honey. would you watch the kids?!!!" 

dirty feet running through the kitchen. chaos. and calm. these men were the calm. and they remain the ones who have steadied the sails that have felt tempest torn. the wives have felt distraught and disjointed whilst these men have set their eyes like flint. i suspect they have felt a sense of foreboding disappointment when friday comes without the plan to meet up for one of mr. jones' famous burgers or a nip of mr. butler's moonshine or another of mr.utley's blazing bonfires. 

i am grateful for these men. all three. and i am grateful for the baggage that comes with them. wives, pets, children whom i love like my own, shortcomings and dazzling talents. 

our last friday night dinner was almost 4 years ago. we stood weeping{the wives, not these three} and vowed we would never forget these sweet years of watching our little ones grow up together and observing the interconnectedness of our lives. and someday i hope we can pick up where we left off...


17 December 2012

day 4: serendipity

when i first met stacey we were interviewing for teaching positions at a start up classical school in a small town outside of nashville. i will never forget that first meeting. she had a rascally way about her that resonated with me. imagine my delight when i learned that not only had i been offered the job, but she would be teaching next door. 

that first year teaching in a charming cottage outfitted with only one bathroom for the entire school{which was only 4 classes, but still!}called on our creativity and flexibility in ways that have since served me well. after that first year, and a very challenging realization that little kids weren't her thing, stacey moved on to teach middle school. i stayed with the littles until i was about to have a little of my own.

stacey had her first child one month before me. then we had our second in tandem. life with two babes each did not deter us from starting a little joint entrepreneurial venture we affectionately named serendipity: fortunate findings by chance
plying our vendors with sugar circa 2002

like our first year teaching, we launched our arts and wares show out of the charming cottage of stacey's aunt. and like that first year teaching, we had to muster all the flexibility and creativity we could manage on a few hours of sleep. 

our little show meant we juried vendors from near and far who sold their one-of-a-kind finds at what became an anticipated gathering of cottage based businesses. and boy did we have fun. did i mention we were both nursing newborns with 2 year olds on our knee? the lack of sleep delirium is probably what led us to make such unsound decisions that turned out to be our own little serendipitous move. had we thought rationally, fear would have stopped us cold.

eventually our arts and wares show grew from just a christmas show to a christmas and mother's day show. and we quickly outgrew the cottage, turning to a renovated industrial warehouse as the site for our show. from renting space heaters, to finding live music, commissioning banners and signage, to compiling mailing lists for postcards, and writing vendor contracts-we were working with social media before there was such a thing as social media. and it was exciting.

eventually stacey and her family of 5{we had our 3rd babes within weeks of one another}moved to chicago. we hung up our venture capitalist aprons. we had no choice but to lay low-there's something about having 3 children who are 4 and under that makes you move a bit slower. 

a year later stacey was back from chicago, with a new baby. i was pregnant with my fourth. she and i dreamed of a time when we could revive our entrepreneurial endeavor. and then we made a move-to maryland. my family moved northward.

this time every year i think back to those two girls, young mothers who craved community and permission to be creative. of course we could never have done any of it without the commitment of our marvelous Misters {literally-we had a lot of babies between us in a short amount of time}. that remains one of best times in my life. 

stacey is still going strong with her business down-to-the wire. she called recently to tell me about this year's yield. her christmas wreaths adorn many a door. she now has those little tykes of hers working alongside tying bows on mailboxes. and she has a team of stay-at-home moms helping decorate the homes of some of the same women who shopped our shows all those years ago. many of our cottage based vendors went on to start successful companies. we like to think that serendipity was their debutant: an introduction to society. a fortunate finding by chance indeed. and from all this, she dubbed me girl friday. and it stuck.


16 December 2012

day 3: memories of christmas past

a celebratory engagement{l+m far right}

december 2002 i was sleeping off a bout of pregnancy-whilst-caring-for-toddlers fatigue. it was a dark and rainy saturday when the phone rang. the Mister handed me the phone. "it's lincoln and melinda. they want to speak with you." the couple i had introduced only 3 months prior were phoning to tell me they were engaged. can it be possible that i am more glad today, ten years later, than i was that day? i am. in a weird way it was a premonition of what it's going to feel like when one of our boys calls to give us the very same news. here's why.

after i had my first boy{and then the next and the next and then the next}, something in me changed. i began to see every boy regardless of his age, as my son. i still do. it's some kind of warped motherly nurturing thing, but i went from somebody's girlfriend to everybody's mother in matter of minutes. it's the way i was made. i cannot explain it, but let me try.

my favorite jane austen quote goes something like this, "a single man in pursuit of a great fortune must be in want of a wife". and once upon a time one of our favorite boys{who was approximately 32 at the time} was single. and open to being in pursuit. so i decided it was about time he met our friend melinda. lincoln was game-and flew himself all the way from south texas to nashville to meet this girl over a labor day weekend.

the rest is history. but i suspect you want a little more detail so here goes. 

many years prior lincoln lived with my husband when they were bachelors. he remains one of the most obscure and surprising fellows i have ever met. he once dug ditches, taught in the south bronx, moved to south texas and went on to become a pastor. i consider him a contemporary huckleberry finn, quirky, brilliant with a mischievous side. 

and then there's melinda, his beloved bride. she's his equal in every way. well read, witty, resourceful and deeply loyal. she was once commissioned by her high school alma mater to write a book about the history of this small, private school in middle tennessee. she would never share that with you so i will. the first word that comes to mind when i think of melinda is thoughtful. the second word is steadfast. i would use the same two words to describe her groom. 

introducing these two remains one of the shining moments in my life. i love sharing in their story. it is my belief they were meant to meet, fall in love and marry. had i not introduced them, i am confident they would have met another way. but boy am i glad it was through me!

today they live amongst the most wonderful fig trees in a tiny, rural town in alabama with their three precocious children. you might say they've been busy over the past 10 years! happy engagement anniversary, lincoln and melinda. may the years continue to bring sweetness and joy.


15 December 2012

day 2: babes in fairyland

the clock read 3:51am. i was awake rehashing the sorrows from the day previous. o, what an unspeakable sorrow we all feel in light of what happened in what i always considered to be a cozy state, connecticut. i read that first responders are receiving grief counseling. but who counsels the grief counselors? i needed to process this with my personal grief counselor so i did the polite thing and sent her an email. a couple hours later she replied. this woman, who has seen a lot of tragedy in her life both personally and professionally, was without words that could make sense of this evil.
aunt jac and our jack circa 1999
my friend jacqueline, whom i have mentioned once or twice is a grief counselor. she's my one friend who has dressed a baby, who never breathed outside her mother's womb, for burial. she's my friend who photographed twins whose smiles their parents will never know. 

but jacqueline is more than a chaplain at a children's hospital. she's a whip smart, kick arse, well dressed southern girl with impeccable taste and a very racy sense of humor. for those reasons she has been my kin for going on 24 years now. 

she hails from miami and once over christmas break from college, i flew down to hang with her and her effervescent mama in the swanky town of coral gables. o, dear me. i do love the lovely, old hollywood  feel of coral gables. that particular year, somehow jac managed to get us tickets to the orange bowl. now let me stop right there. neither of us are football fans. or sports fans of any kind for that matter. and if memory serves, we arrived late and left early. the fun was in the going. doing something unexpected and out of character for both of us. and always ones for an adventure and a laugh, sitting in that stadium fulfilled our spirit. 

a couple of days later we headed down to key west where we found some nice cuban cigars and played tennis at a fabulous resort jac booked for us. if the olympics gave out gold medals for hospitality, this girl would own several.

every december i think about that trip. two young college girls out exploring. laughing. adventuring. pontificating on the sandy shoreline and making the most out of our christmas break from college. i don't think we planned our lives the way they turned out. we were way too naive and hopeful back then. and that's good. often we want that for our children and ourselves. to live in fairyland as long as we can. squeeze out every morsel of whimsy and optimism before the great big world comes to try to swallow all that up. and still today i hold on to a sense of optimism and whimsy. jac taught me that. we can't let the ugly overshadow the beautiful. we can't let the mundane rob us of our spontaneity. 

i hope that in light of all the heart wrenching sorrow that feels like it may swallow us whole, that in some small way, we can remain whole-with the help of a little hope.