Posted in Family, Relationships

Great Aunt Lena

            My great-aunt Lena, born Karolina Katharina in 1890, was one of nine children born to hard-working dirt farmers in Kansas.  In her youth and early adulthood, she was demurely beautiful, with large brown eyes and long brown hair that went nearly to her waist .  She was a humble soul and quiet by nature. She had the sweetest heart of anyone I have ever known.

            The story goes that in her twenties she married a good-looking man from Chicago.  They lived there, and Lena soon got a job as a seamstress at the Conrad Hilton Hotel.  She made draperies, napkins, and tablecloths for the hotel when she began her life as a city girl.  She was extremely talented and made all of her own clothes, coats, slips, robes, and nightgowns too.  In fact, I only knew her to have two store bought dresses in her lifetime- one for my brother’s wedding and one for mine.

Grandma, me and Aunt Lena

            Aunt Lena had only been married a year or two when that handsome husband went out late one night for the proverbial ‘pack of cigarettes’ and never came back.  Heartbroken and afraid of living in the city by herself, she packed up and moved to Amarillo, Texas to be near her sister, my grandma Martha Margaretha.  It would be years before she would divorce that wayward husband, and somewhere inside, Aunt Lena made a vow to never fall in love again.  She never did.

 She rode the train from Chicago to Amarillo bringing with her a large, black steamer trunk packed full of her belongings.  She also had a small, light brown suitcase with a darker brown stripe woven into the fabric that held her clothes.  Everything she owned came with her on the train, except her faithful, black, push-peddle Singer sewing machine, which would arrive at a later date.

            I remember well the small efficiency apartment she first lived in after arriving in Amarillo.   Lena made do with her tiny apartment complete with a hot plate, and Murphy pull down bed.  Complaining was not in her vocabulary, so Lena settled in, got a job, found the bus route, and waited patiently to move closer to her sister.

            My daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr., was a lot of things, but one of his best qualities was being faithful to visit his parents and Aunt Lena once or twice a week.  He would drink coffee with them before work or stop by with some groceries on his way home from work.  He was loving and faithful for all of their days.

            My Grandma and Grandpa lived in a small duplex, apartment A.  Side B finally became available, and Aunt Lena was given first choice.   When she moved into apartment B, life truly began for Aunt Lena.  Most of her eighty-eight years on this earth were spent in that little, stucco duplex on Hayden Street, twenty-five steps away from her bossy, older sister.  Grandma and Grandpa had only one child, my dad, and Aunt Lena, never having children of her own, loved my dad something fierce.  She adored him, and when my brother and I came along, she adored us as well.

            Aunt Lena never said no to us, but she and grandma would go round and round when Lena would get tired of her bossiness and rules.  If Grandma prepared a Sunday lunch, she would tell Lena what side dish to bring.  If Grandma invited her friends over for Canasta, she would sometimes accuse Aunt Lena of cheating.

            “I see you looking at my cards, Lena!” Grandma would announce.

            “I don’t need to see your cards to win the game.”  Lena returned.

            “Well then, keep your eyes on your own cards.”

            “Same goes for you.”

            And this would go on until one of them either quit the game or Grandma would say lunch was ready.  I’ve been witness to Aunt Lena throwing her cards on the table and stomping off.

            “I’m going home.  I don’t have to put up with your nonsense.”  And she would walk the twenty-five steps home to duplex B.

Aunt Lena bought a television and Grandma had a phone line with an old black rotary phone, so they shared both the TV and the phone for the entirety of their duplex days.  If Aunt Lena needed to use the phone she would have to ask Grandma, and if Grandma wanted to watch one of her ‘programs’, like Lawrence Welk, she would have to ask Aunt Lena.  And I do recall Grandma paid for the newspaper, which Lena could read the next day when Grandma was finished.  The two sisters negotiated their daily life decisions as sisters are prone to do.

            Aunt Lena always let my brother and me have a Coca Cola at her house.  (Those small 6 oz. Coke’s that came in a bottle.)  Jimmy and I would be in her tiny little kitchen shaking up our coke bottles and spraying them into our mouths.  Once, I recall a rather messy incident when one of us, probably my brother, shook his Coke but missed his mouth.

            “Watch this,” he said.  And he stuck his thumb in the coke bottle and began to shake it.

            “I bet you can’t do this,” he taunted me.

            And all of a sudden he missed his mouth spewing the sticky, brown liquid all over Aunt Lena’s kitchen-walls, curtains, ceiling, and floor.  We stood frozen in time with our shoes stuck to the floor when Lena walked into the room. She never told on us, just helped us clean up and  made us promise not to do it again. 

Aunt Lena would patiently let me sit at her treadle sewing machine and sew straight lines on fabric until she taught me how to make skirts and aprons.  I would have to sit up close so my feet could touch the foot pedal giving me the control.  I would watch Aunt Lena take down her hair in the evenings and brush it, then braid it into one long plait down her back.  In the mornings, she would unbraid, brush, then put her hair into a bun at the base of her neck.  Always.  No variations.

            When my brother and I came by for a visit, we were supposed to go to Grandma’s house first.  Grandma would get terribly jealous if we saw Aunt Lena before her.  Aunt Lena would wave at us through her front window curtains as we bounded up the steps to the duplex and wait patiently until Grandma had her fill of us.  This was another of Grandma’s rules:  she wanted her grandkids all to herself at least for a little while.  Aunt Lena never complained, but we knew it seemed unfair.

            Aunt Lena was a sweet and pure soul.  I never knew her to say an unkind word about anyone, not even when she was mad at Grandma.  Her life was small in a lot of ways.  She never drove a car, always depending on the bus, my dad or walking.  On grocery day, she and Grandma would pull a little cart up the sidewalk, three blocks away to the Furr’s Grocery Store.  And after their shopping, they would take turns pulling the loaded cart all the way home.

            My Dad, till the day Aunt Lena died, would slip money into her checking account to supplement her small Social Security stipend.  He wanted her to feel independent.  She and grandma both, as they got older, would hand a blank, signed check to the grocery cashier and let her fill out the check and then they would show Daddy the receipt so he could balance their accounts.

1961 Lake Williams Colorado National Forrest Park

            Daddy was insistent that Grandma and Aunt Lena travel with us on our summer vacations-camping in Colorado.  Although anxious about heights, Lena was a trooper and participated in everything.  Once, we all rode the train from Silverton to Durango Colorado, and Aunt Lena refused to look out over the mountains, praying loudly and repeating, “Oh, the heights, the depths and the altitude!  God help us all.”

            Though Aunt Lena never spent money on herself, she was always generous to my dad, brother, and me.  On our birthdays, she would choose a card from her box of all-occasion cards from Woolworths, and sign it: Love, Aunt Lena, slipping a crisp five-dollar bill inside.

            As Aunt Lena got older, her fear and anxiety took over in ways my father could not understand.  She refused to wear her dentures after going through the painful process of teeth removal.  She refused to get hearing aids although she couldn’t hear what anyone was saying.   And eventually, she refused to eat anything besides what she wanted:  Coca Colas, peppermint candies and Tapioca pudding.  And at eighty-eight, won’t we all have earned the right to eat, live and love exactly as we wish?

            Dear, sweet, great Aunt Lena passed from this earth forty-four years ago.  I have her black, steamer trunk still packed with her sewing shears and threads, lots of old photo albums from my dad and assorted miscellaneous items from my youth.  When I pass by that old trunk, I think about a shy, young woman  riding the train from Chicago to Amarillo.  I think about her bravery to live life when many things seemed so scary.  And I think about the way she loved us with unconditional love and devotion.

Even if our worlds are small, and the ones we love turn out not to love us back; even if we have bossy siblings and no children to care for us in our old age, we can still have kindness and choose to love those close to us.  We can dare to be brave even when it hurts.  We can be generous of spirit and share our worldly belongings, knowing there is always enough for everyone.  Aunt Lena seemed to know all of this intuitively and perhaps that is why she was loved so dearly. 

Deer Hunting in Llano, Texas
Aunt Lena in the front seat

Posted in #Confessions

I’VE NEVER BEEN A GOOD SLEEPER

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

            I’ve never been a good sleeper.  As a baby I’m quite sure I awoke every few hours wanting to be walked and patted, fed and talked to.  As a toddler and up until I went to school, I would lay on my bed at naptime and draw on the wall or wipe my boogers in a design hoping no one would notice.  By the way, they did notice and soon I no longer had to lay there ‘trying’ to go to sleep.

            I’m still not a good napper.  I’ve tried, but it rarely happens for me and when it does, the neighbor’s lawn service pulls up and 3 guys with a mower, weed eater and leaf blower jump out to attack his yard and assault the air waves, leaving me resentful and just a tad grouchy.

            I can’t remember ever sleeping past 6:30 a.m., although I probably did in college. Once on daylight savings time, lightening turned off our electricity, stopping my alarm clock, and I woke up at 8:00, disoriented and late for work.

            I tell myself I’m going to sleep in, and at 5:50 a.m. my eyes pop open and I can’t wait to brew some coffee.  I think I will turn off my alarm and fall back to sleep, but I lay there thinking of all the things I could accomplish if I would just go ahead and get up. I love being up early before anyone else is awake.

            I do have guidelines for myself.  For example, if I wake up at 3:00 a.m., I make myself try to go back to sleep.  If I’m still awake at 4:00, I wait till 4:30 and then get up. 

If I wake up at 4:00 a.m., I make myself lay there until five.  5:00 a.m. is my earliest time to get out of bed, but I have started the coffee pot at 4:30, so basically my guidelines are nil and void.

            The last few years I worked, my school was on the north side of town, meaning I needed to leave my house at 6:45-7 a.m. in order to miss the morning traffic.  I was in bed by 9:00 p.m. and read until 9:30, then lights out.  I jumped out of bed at 4:30 every morning and repeated the cycle.  I have tried to blame my early rising on those last few years, but friends, I’ve been retired since 2010.  Clearly, that is not my problem.

            If we are on vacation, I can never sleep the first night in a strange hotel room. Before I get ready for bed my mind goes toward bed bugs, lumpy pillows and unclean sheets.  Neurotic sounding, isn’t it?  I check the bed, check the air conditioner, check the pillow, make sure I’m on the best side of the bed, and then I can crawl in. 

Hospitals, cars, planes, and trains?  No zzzz’s.

            Hammocks, lounge chairs by the pool, and cruise ships?  Wide awake and rubbernecking, so as not to miss anything.

            I like my own bed.  I have a mental checklist that asks, is it dark enough?  Cool enough?

Do I have something to read?  Ear plugs?  Bite guard?  My mind asks these questions and explores situations, always jabbering away when I should be snoozing.    Shhh, I tell myself, but I’m just not a good sleeper.

            No discussion about sleep would be complete without talk of the dreaded CPAP machine.  Once upon a time, Boo used a CPAP.  If you have ever been near one, you know what I’m about to say is true.  When Boo had it on properly, it was quiet, steady, and reliable.  However, some CPAPS have ‘user error’ when it slips sideways, or there is trouble putting it on in the dark.  When this happens, it is extremely loud.  Loud like a howling wind, tornado, and roaring ocean, all at once.  This occurred more than once and when it did, Boo would use a few choice words, rip it off his face and fall back into a dead sleep.  Meanwhile, I would be shockingly awakened with the roaring sound, curse words and velcro ripping apart. I would sometimes be wide awake until dawn, praying not to smother him in his blissful slumber.

            In my golden years, will I be one of the little old ladies at the home who bothers the night shift or complains that I have been waiting for the cafeteria to open since 4:00 a.m. wanting my coffee?  Maybe they won’t be able to find me a roommate who will adapt to my schedule saying, “She’s a little particular about bedtimes.”  And I surely do not want someone who likes to talk in the mornings, because that is my sittin’ ugly time, and one cannot sit ugly and talk at the same time. 

            All this talk about my future as a nursing home resident may keep me up tonight.  One thing I do know for sure is that no matter what time I go to sleep, I will always wake up between 3 and 6 a.m.  I’m a creature of habit, and I happen to love mornings. But the plain and simple truth is, I’ve never been a good sleeper.

Posted in Family, Grandmother

The Power of Plants

Lee, Grandma, and Courtney (in Grandma’s apron)

            My grandma used to grow zinnias and nasturtiums in a long strip of a garden in her back yard.  As soon as you opened the side door, the colors and fragrance would greet you, instantly brightening the day.  The Amarillo, Texas soil was hard caliche, but Grandma had raked and tilled it in preparation for her flowers, so they would have the best chance to grow.  She cared for them maternally and took great pride in their beauty.  Grandma’s garden was in direct contrast from her years growing up on a dirt farm in Kansas.  The zinnias brought her pure joy.

            Grandma and I would go to the back yard and stand on the walkway surveying her garden.  “I sure wish it would rain,” she’d say. “We really need it.”  She talked a lot about rain, the lack of rain and when it was supposed to rain, and then we would turn on the hose and water her plants by hand.  “Be sure to give each one a good long drink,” she’d say.

            Bending down on her old, arthritic knees, Grandma would pick the weeds that dared to creep into her domain, and as she did, she talked to her zinnia’s as she would a child, “There you go, little girl.  Now you’re safe from those bad weeds.” 

“Help me up,”  she’d say, and I would.  Then we would stand on the sidewalk and just look.  I can see her now, standing tall, with her red and white checked gingham apron on, squinting into the sun, her detachable sunglasses flipped up, admiring her work, feeling satisfied at a job well done.

           “You know you can eat nasturtiums, but they sure are spicy,” she said.

  “Why would you eat a flower?” I asked.

  “I think some fancy people like to do that, but I just like to look at them.  They’re beautiful,” she answered.

            Before my grandpa died, he would let us go out to his vegetable garden and use a hoe or rake. It was a his and hers garden situation.  I don’t remember as much about his garden because Grandma made me help her outside and in the kitchen, her empire.  Not only did she have her flowers, but she also had a peach tree and a pecan tree.  Come June, the peaches would be ready to pick, and Grandma would begin her peachapalooza.  Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream, whole peaches, sliced peaches, poached peaches, canned peaches, peach preserves, and jam.  It was the same with her pecan tree too, as pecan pie was her real specialty, right up there with homemade cinnamon rolls and oatmeal cookies.

            When my girls were little, I had an outside plant or two, and the usual ivy growing in the kitchen window, but I had little time or thought for gardening.  I don’t recall feeling any kind of way about plants except for how much trouble they might be.  My friend, Chrys, used to have her whole patio covered in plants and I was always in awe.  How was she able to do it all with seemingly so little effort and so much joy?

            When I moved to Austin, twenty-three years ago, I fell in love with plants again. Even when Boo and I were dating, we would have competitions on who’s plants would grow the fastest and stay alive.  And although I would never call Boo Mr. Greenjeans,  he has taught me a lot about caring for plants.

            Our backyard and deck are home to thirty plus flowering plants that both give me joy and cause me angst.  Like Grandma, I fuss over watering or when it will rain and why it hasn’t rained.  I pick weeds and prune back.  I cover and uncover in the winter, and I coax the baby sprouts in the spring.  And as Grandma would, I often stand outside and survey my plants, talking sweetly to them as if they could hear me.

            “Will you water my plants in the front yard?” I recently asked Boo.

  “They are ‘our’ plants, you know.  You’re not the only one who takes care of them.”

 So, I corrected my wording to include “our”, but in my heart they are mine.  Mine and Grandma’s.  And when I see my flowers bloom or a tree branch with buds, I smile knowing Grandma would be proud of me. 

            The true meaning of the zinnia plant is affection, everlasting love, and remembrance. The zinnia symbolizes qualities that remind us to never take those we love for granted, and whether Grandma knew that or not, she lived it, wholeheartedly with her garden and with me.

My brother Jimmy, Great Aunt Lena, me, and Grandma under the Pecan Tree

Posted in Boo, Confessions

There’s Nothing Wrong With That

            “Try these,” my husband said.  “Try on the Brooks or Saucony shoes; they’re really good brands.”

            “I  like ASICS,” I said.  “They feel great on my feet, and I don’t have to think about trying on something else.  They always fit.”

“Try something new, for Pete’s sake!  It’s good for you,”  Boo preached.

“Mother, you always get Cajun Shrimp on your toes, every time we get pedicures.  There are hundreds of other colors, and you pick the same one,” my daughters chide me.

            “I like Cajun Shrimp,” I said.  “There are too many choices and besides I know I already like it.  It’s my signature color!”

            When I go to the grocery store, I try to park in the same aisle, in approximately the same place so I’ll always remember where my car is.  I’m a creature of habit and maybe a little OCD, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  I don’t want to be that person searching the parking lot, looking for my black Honda Accord among all the others.

            Once, on a trip home from seeing the grandkids, we stopped at Buc-ee’s for a snack and some gasoline.  We’ve stopped there many times before, so I utilized the pristine restroom and then perused the many aisles of snacks, chips, nuts, candy, sandwiches, and jerky.  Boo waltzed by and called, “I’ll meet you at the car.”

            When I finally paid, walked out to the car, and plopped down in the front seat, I heard him say, “Ah ha!  I knew it!  I knew you would get Chex Mix.”

            I felt a little sheepish, but before I could defend myself, Boo started in, “Every time we stop for a snack, it doesn’t matter where we are, you take forever to look around and then you buy a water and Chex Mix.  I don’t understand you.  Why don’t you just go straight to the Chex Mix?”

            “I might miss something good if I don’t look around.”  

            “If you ask me, you did miss something good, EVERYTHING except Chex Mix.”

            “I didn’t ask you,” I lamely injected.  “But not that it’s any of your business, I did shake it up this time.  I got the Bold flavor.”

            “Oh Boo,” he said with a tsk tsk.

            “Oh, Boo yourself,” I snapped.

            I admit only to you and myself that I am set in my ways.  Life is full of so many decisions, do I really need to add more?  I like what I like.  Does that make me mistaken or worse, boring?  Maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

           In my mind, I am spontaneous and adventurous.  I try new things and live on the edge, but the truth is I appear to be stuck in my ways. Don’t get Boo started on asking me where I want to eat out.  For some reason, I always say I don’t care, but if he mentions a place, I usually don’t like it.  Ugh.    I have my favorites for just every day, and I am pretty set on what I eat at certain places.  Chick-fil-A: Market Salad. Panera: Chicken noodle soup or Strawberry Poppyseed salad. and Luby’s: Roasted chicken or fried fish, broccoli, and cornbread.  Just saying this makes me cringe.

Am I just an old, retired schoolteacher too addled to try something new?  Have I become boring and comfortable like melba toast and an old brown sweater?  I prefer to think of it as ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke,’ but seeing the truth about myself is a hard pill to swallow.

            Not too long ago, we went out to eat at Cheddar’s after church. “What looks good to you, babe?”  I asked. 

 “Oh, I don’t know what I’m hungry for.  What about you?” he asked.

            “You tell me first,” I said.

            “Nope, I want to see if you try something new.”

            “Oh, don’t worry about me, I will!”  I defied him.

I scoured the menu pretending to think about what I might want, but I already knew what I would get.  I ordered a predictable standby: Miso salmon, broccoli, and green beans, while Boo ordered something new.   He made his choice from a separate menu insert labeled “Three NEW Shrimp Feasts.”  And they used words like ‘Ultimate’ and ‘New twist on old favorites.’  His choice was a delicious looking shrimp pasta dish that was absolutely beautiful.

When our lunch came, I was already jealous.  

He looked at my salmon and broccoli and I drooled over his shrimp dish.  

“Can I have a bite?”  I asked.  “I can’t help it.”  

“Oh, Boo,” he tsked.

As of late I have really been trying to shake things up.  I now wear Brooks tennis shoes exclusively and even admitted to Boo that he was right.  I do like them better than ASICS.  I branched out at Panera and got one of their new ‘bowl’ lunches with chicken and quinoa. I’m also thinking about getting something different at Buc-ee’s next time we stop, and I painted my toe nails a Caribbean Blue, even though I felt conspicuous.

 Change is very hard for some of us and although I like the idea of being ‘out there’ to some extent, I am mostly a brown sweater with melba toast kind of girl.  I don’t mind being predictable and safe.  It’s just who I am.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Posted in Contemplations, Dreams

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

            I was talking to Diana, one of my teaching friends, when the bell rang.  “I’ve got to get to the hallway,” I said, and my feet lifted off of the ground.  The next thing I knew, Diana and I were floating above the students, our arms down by our sides, watching the throng of noisy teenagers below us.  Flying felt effortless and while I seemed to be going so fast, I knew subconsciously, I was right on time.  I didn’t say it, but I was thinking how great it was to be able to fly through the hallways.  It seemed so natural.

            When I woke up that morning I was elated!  Finally, I had had a flying dream.  I’ve always heard people say that they flew in their dreams, and now I was one too.  Through the years I have had several life-changing dreams.  Dreams that taught me a lesson, enlightened a dark place, and even a recurring dream that I had for several years.

            Sleep studies show that our brainwaves are most active during the REM sleep cycle.  Dreams occur when there is stimulation to the brain that brings thoughts to our awareness.  But in just the same way I could fly instead of walk, I have had dreams that I was digging my own grave, but the shovel kept breaking.  On the surface, dreams may seem obscure, even outlandish.  But look a little deeper, and there might be a lesson to learn, or an answer to a question.  Sometimes vivid dreams are a result of eating spicy food or binging on too much TV.  Sometimes they are a direct result of stress or anxiety.

            When my mother died in January of 1958, I was four years old.  One of the only memories I have is of her funeral.  My daddy had picked me up to look at her in her casket and then he leaned over and wanted me to kiss her goodbye.  I distinctly remember kicking and crying, trying not to get that close.  I clung to him like a second suit jacket, turning my head away from hers. 

            I am not here to judge my father, for right or wrong, he was doing the best he knew how.  But the trauma of that incident caused me to have a dream that returned often to me over the course of several years. In fact, I still recall it perfectly.

            It was night-time and I stood perfectly still inside my small, drafty, stucco house on Crockett Street.  I could hear the howling winds and the icicles breaking off of the eaves from the roof.  As a little girl of four, I knew I shouldn’t have been alone, but I was.

In the living room, the big picture window began to rattle, and I heard a scratching, clawing sound of something trying to get in.  The scratching and rattling dared me to peek outside, and when I did, a gust of arctic air blew toward the window and froze everything with a sheet of snowy ice.  I couldn’t tell where the ice came from, but it didn’t matter because soon the knocking and scratching was at another window.  Again, and again, at each window I would peer out to find it frozen shut until that last window when I looked out into the face of a stern, frozen Jack Frost.  His face was contorted and iced over, and he appeared angry and grimacing.  His eyes looked right into mine and challenged me to look away first.

I was petrified and barely able to breathe, when suddenly there came a loud knock at the door.  I stood completely still, heart pulsing in my ears, and my feet glued to the floor.  This time someone or something was pounding on the front door.   As if another force was pushing me toward the door, I felt my hand on the knob turning, turning until it opened and standing there was a coffin …open…empty and icy.  It was standing upright, open all the way and although I didn’t see anyone, I knew Jack Frost was near, and I knew who had been in that coffin.

This was the recurring dream that I had over many years after my mother’s death.  The same sequence of events, and the very same dream, year after year.  I’m sure a psychologist would tell me the icy Jack Frost symbolizes the chill of death.  It doesn’t take much to make that correlation, but what I’ve never understood, is why the dream returned to me year after year.  At some point between the end of grade school and puberty, the dream stopped, as suddenly as it began.  Perhaps it took that long for my mind to make sense of my harsh reality.

I have often dreamed of hosting a party at my home and the party gets out of control.  More and more people start arriving, and the music gets too loud.  I usually run out of food, and everyone is asking me questions all at once.  I’m frantic and trying to make things turn out okay, and then a tall, dark, and handsome stranger appears.

Once, after a particularly stressful day at work, I dreamed that a giant Olive Oyl head was talking to me.  (Olive Oyl, the girlfriend from the Popeye cartoons.)  Her huge head was filling up my dream space and she was yelling at me.  “Get a backbone!  Speak up for yourself!  Don’t let them get away with it!”  When I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve a problem with a co-worker.

I count myself blessed and lucky to be able to dream.  I usually try to write them down as soon as I wake up.  I love being able to look back at some of my dreams at certain times of my life.  The more I remember and record my dreams, the more dreams I have.  Silly, scary, frustrating, or fulfilling, my dreams are a window into my mind and soul.  They are an extension of me.

After my father’s death, twelve years ago, I had three very distinct dreams of him.  They were so real that I call them visitations.  In my dreams we would sit very close together and hold hands.  He looked so happy and healthy, a huge difference from his worn and fragile body before he died.  On the first visit/dream, he told me not to worry about him.  “I like it here,” he said.  “I’m doing good.”  That one dream has been a wonderful source of comfort to me. 

I feel such gratitude for the messages, and insights I have received from my dreams, and I wish the same for you.  As Cinderella encouraged her woodland friends, I encourage you to follow your dreams, listen to your dreams and thank yourself for the wisdom that comes from your heart.

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” — Song written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

Posted in Daughters, Relationships

I’m Not Assistant Manager of the Universe

            In much the same way Aretha Franklin sings R E S P E C T, find out what it means to me, I often belt out my favorite tune, C O N T R O L.(what to do… I know quite well)   I want everyone to do what I think is best for them, and I want things to go according to my plan.

            I do know what the right thing to do is in most situations.  I can predict positive outcomes and steer clear of pitfalls, and as a former Girl Scout, I always hold true to the motto, “Be Prepared.”

            Those that love me say, “You have too many rules!”  which is the polite way to say, lighten up!  But I can help you be all you can be, achieve your potential and excel at anything    your heart desires.  I know my way will be the right way to make your life smooth and successful.  I know what’s best, why won’t you listen to me?

            My grown daughters have been the recipients of much of my unsolicited advice, even when I try to sneak it in the backdoor.  In the past, I have offered to make out budgets, suggested career paths and long-term goals that could ‘help’ them be successful, and although my intention was to help, I know it felt intrusive.   As of late, I am doing much better until recently while riding with my daughter in her car:  “Oops, it looks like you’re almost out of gas.”

            “You’re right.  I’ll get some in the morning.  I still have 56 miles.”

            “I’d hate for you to run out while you’re on MoPac.”

            “Me, too.”

            “I always like to be safe and have a full tank.”

            Silence.

            “If you find a filling station, I’d be glad to pay for your gas.”

            “Thanks, Mom, I’ll take care of it.”

            I knew I should have stopped myself, but still I kept on.  I know that a grown woman with a college degree, full-time job, and living on her own can handle filling up the gas tank of a car she owns!  But still….what if?

New calf from Savannah Ranch

Whenever I start to say, “Have you thought about…?” or suggest a plan of action, I am met with “Yes, Mom. I know.”  Which is code for: mind your own business.  It has occurred to me lately that I might not know what everyone else should do.  Maybe they do know what is best for themselves.  Maybe I’m not Assistant Manager of the Universe.

            When I am so fixed on what everyone else is doing, I often neglect my own life.  When I’m stressing out over someone else’s choices, I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and lay there worrying.  What good does it really do?  Nada.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Everyone else happily goes about their  way and I am tired and worn out from useless fretting.  There’s a certain amount of insanity in doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to get a different result.   I can worry all I want to, but it will not change anything.

            Is my worrying and trying to control things giving the wrong message?   Am I telling those I love that I don’t think they are capable of taking care of themselves or worse, am I telling God that I know best?

            In my old age, I am finally learning to just let life happen.  There have been times when I have been fearful and uncomfortable about letting those I love make choices I don’t think are wise.  This anxiety and finagling the situation to follow my plan has sometimes worked out for the worse, and often when I spend too much time catastrophizing about a possible problem in the future, it never happens.   I’m Not Assistant Manager of the Universe, nor am I psychic.

            Once, one of our girls told Boo and me about a trip she was planning to Mexico.  Before she even finished, Boo said, “Are you going to use your sick days for this?  You really should save your sick days.  You might need them.”  Of course, to follow up I asked, “Do you have a passport?  You know you have to have a passport to go to Mexico.”  Friends, this was a forty- something-year-old daughter who works a full-time job with benefits, pays her bills on time, owns her own car and has children.  I’m pretty sure she knows how to navigate her sick days and understands that you have to have a passport to leave the country.  But still…what if?

            I’m Not Assistant Manager of the Universe.

Trying to be in control of my life and everybody else’s is a huge job, and while I might try to do it, this attitude damages relationships and ruins my health.  When I let go of the illusion that I have power over what other people think, do, feel, and say, I live in a more peaceful place.  When I step back and allow others to be in charge of their own lives, I am showing them love and respect, the kind Aretha sang about.

            As hard as it is to let go, I must.  I must do it for myself and for the ones I love the most.  I don’t want my tombstone to read, “She’s Finally Minding Her Own Business.”  I want it to have a sentiment that portrays the love I gave and received.  I want my family to genuinely be sad to see me go, not glad.

            And so, I get up every day, striving to follow the Golden Rule.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  I start fresh to let go and allow others to take care of themselves, giving them the R E S P E C T, they deserve.

            I don’t think God has a “Help Needed” sign hanging on the pearly gates, and if I am truthful, I will admit it is hard enough to control my own life, much less someone else’s.  After all, the birds sing and flowers grow without any help from me.  The world turns and the sun shines without my suggestions and my grown daughters are capable, caring, and wise.  Just for today, I will let go and trust that God is totally in control, and gratefully, I Am Not Assistant Manager of the Universe.

Photographs are my own. Flower pictures are from Wildseed Farm near Fredericksburg, Texas.

Posted in #Confessions

My Adventures with Heidi’s Bier Haus OR How I Won Big with Britney Spears!

Some say I drive too slow and always follow the rules.  I cannot tell a lie and prefer to not jay walk.  I take my vitamins every day, save money every month and recycle.  I got my COVID vaccine and brush my teeth twice a day, but I love to gamble! 

I love the lights, bells, whistles, and smells.  I get invigorated when I hear cards shuffle or someone yells, “Seven-eleven, baby needs shoes!”  And although I do not smoke, I love the casino’s smokey smell and faint mix of cheap liquor and cheaper cologne.

Years ago, when my children were young, I despised gambling and the toll it took on my marriage, at the time.  I prayed for all those people gambling away their grocery money or milk for their babies.  I detested seeing little old ladies being pushed up to a slot machine, cup of nickels in hand, and an oxygen tank attached to their wheelchair.  The whole environment made me feel unsettled and out of control.

But, twenty years ago, when I took a gamble on Boo, everything changed.  I never feared he might bet the deed on our house or sell my wedding ring to pay off a debt.  Boo was disciplined in how much he allowed himself to gamble and when our money was gone, it was time to go home.  Not to the ATM.

We’ve gambled on cruise ships in the Caribbean, in Louisiana, Colorado, Vegas and once in an obscure casino in Montana.  Two years ago, when we went to Niagara Falls, we stayed at the Seneca Casino and Resort which was just blocks from the beautiful falls.

Once, and only once, we stayed at the Isle of Capri in Bossier City, Louisiana, way before their remodel.   Boo was more excited about the buffet than gambling, but “I got us a great room,” he said.  We checked in and when we opened the door to our musty smelling room with bright green carpet, there was a huge hot tub right next to the bed.

“What in the world?” I gasped!

“I thought you’d like it!”

Three years ago, we stayed at the Paris Hotel, in Vegas. Our ‘gambling’ trips to Vegas are really more about people watching, seeing shows and walking the Strip, but one night I stumbled upon a Britney Spears penny slot that was life changing.  For the next two days, I was all Britney, all day!  Every time I hit big, she sang “Baby One More Time” and as I tumbled into extra spins she belted out, “Oops! I Did It Again.”  Even as we ate lunch or walked down the strip, I could hear Britney in my ears,  singing away, coaxing me to come back.  It was “Toxic!”  In two days, Boo and I won $900 and bought a Britney CD.

Just two weeks ago we went to Coushatta, in Kinder, Louisiana, surprisingly, the home of Britney Spears.  We were only staying one night and by 9:30 p.m. I turned to Boo and whined, “I hate this place.  I’ve lost all of my money!  I wanted to play the Heidi’s Bier Haus penny slot, but it’s too crowded and no one will leave.  I’m going to bed.”

Boo leaned over and handed me a twenty spot.  “Here, go see if Heidi’s got an empty seat.”

As luck would have it, I found an empty chair at Heidi’s.  I put my $20 in and I knew, betting sixty cents a pop, I could at least play for fifteen minutes.  The second time I hit PLAY, music started blaring and Heidi popped up, pouring beer, and spinning reels.  Even the guy next to me said, “Oh, you’re going to win big.”

I said, “Thanks, but it’s only $7.50.”

He looked at me, pointed to the screen, and said, “Lady, that’s $750.00!”

I looked around for Boo, needing his validation that this was real, when I suddenly hit on forty extra spins.  End of story, I won $1000.00 with Heidi, betting sixty cents with Boo’s twenty- dollar bill.  There was a small crowd around me and an old man singing the German beer songs right along with Heidi.  Boo videoed the whole thing.

I gave Boo back $30 as interest on his $20.

“I thought we would split the whole winnings, Love Bug.”  He said.

“No way!  I’m saving it for Vegas and your birthday trip to the Venetian.”

I safely hid my thousand dollars in my sock drawer as soon as we got home.

Being such a high roller has not changed me.  I’ll still continue on my Safety Sue lifestyle of driving slowly and flossing my teeth.  I’ll always try to tell the truth and tithe to the church.  But, as long as we’re able, I hope Boo will take me gambling, at least to the Winstar, every year until I’m one hundred years old.  Heck, if I make it to a hundred, maybe I should double down and go twice a year to improve my odds.  Why not?

Seven-eleven…baby needs shoes!

Posted in Aging

Alexa, Remind Me to Remember

I wish I had a dollar for every time I said, “Help me remember that.” or “Let me write that down.”  Other times I get cocky and just know I will remember that we need milk, olive oil and toilet paper.  Usually, obscure bits of information like security codes or an old phone number from our landline remain intact inside my mental steel trap.

The other 99% of the time, Boo will find a scrap of paper I’ve written on and confront my faculties.                                   

“Babe, do you really need to remind yourself to eat lunch?  That worries me.”

“It’s more like a plan for the day, so I can maximize my time,”  I counter.

Lots of people write packing lists before they go on a trip and strangely enough, I do not.  However, I do start packing a week in advance and as I remember things I want to take, I put them in the suitcase.  Very efficient, I think, versus Boo who packs the night before or morning of.  He has left for a week’s vacation with only shorts and no shirts.

My problem is that I frequently write more than one note for the same thing, and because of that, I now make my grocery list on Alexa. 

Boo will sometimes holler from the kitchen, “We need more mayo!” 

“Don’t tell me, tell Alexa,” I say. 

Boo will then holler at Alexa, from the other room, “Alexa, add mayo and cookies to the grocery list.”

“Mycookplease added to grocery.”

“No, Alexa.  Add mayo and chocolate chip cookies to grocery list.” Boo corrects.

I’m sorry.  I didn’t get that.”

“Alexa, add mayo and chocolate chip cookies to grocery.”

“Admochip cookies added to grocery.”

“Oh, good grief!”  I hear from the kitchen.

But Alexa has my lists for the grocery store, Costco, Walgreens and Target and she is amazing as long as I remember to take my phone when I leave the house

As much as Boo makes fun of my post-it notes lists, or scraps of paper reminders, he has at least three spiral notebooks going at all times.  One for things to do, another for the number of miles he walks a week and then one for writing down his checks, like a giant check register. 

YES.   I know what you are thinking.  Y E S  he does.  

“You know you could check your balance online,”  I say.

“I want to subtract it myself,” he says.  “That way there’s no mistake.”

Hmmmmm.

I’m really good at remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and doctor appointments, but my to-do list of lunch, walking and Target sometimes slip my mind.

I can remember vacations we’ve taken, dreams I’ve had, and Bible verses learned in first grade, but song lyrics and directions to Tyler, Texas sometimes throw me for a loop.

My memory is selective, some would say, but I prefer to think I have so many intelligent and important bits of information in my brain, that it is prudent to remind myself of the mundane.

Once, after a weekend with the grandkids, eating cookies, fish sticks, and McDonalds, I wrote a post-it note that said, “EAT HEALTHY.”  It was just my reminder to get back on track and stop sneaking  M&M’s, but Boo saw it stuck on my bathroom mirror and laughed, “I don’t have to remind myself to poop every day!  You’re a hoot!” 

I think he missed the point.

I’ve always had this need to jot things down, or record information, like blood pressure or books I’ve read.  I love making a list of things I want to accomplish for the day and then marking them off one by one.  I’m crazy for note pads, post-it notes, or journals and I have stacks of them to prove it.  I don’t know if there’s a name for that or not, but I’ll just take organized, efficient or conscientious. 

Don’t listen to Boo, I’m not losing it, I’m maximizing it!

Posted in Fathers

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

            As much as my father was a stern, ex-Navy, electrical engineer, rule follower; he had a light, gentle side that was creative and musical.  This lighter side occasionally escaped to participate in artistic activities, but they were short-lived and methodically planned.  Happiness came when he was outdoors, building things with his hands, fishing or traveling.  The rest of his encouragement came from music, specifically jazz.

            When Daddy played his Pete Fountain 33 LP and Just a Closer Walk with Thee came alive, there was a shift in his demeaner.  His feet moved and his face smiled.  He was transported from our little three-bedroom rental, away from the duties of work and caring for two small children without a mother.  He was at peace. 

I am weak, but Thou art strong.  Jesus, keep me from all wrong.

I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

            He would sing and dance around the house while those smooth clarinet sounds came through the speaker.  We only had a turntable that played one album at a time, but we knew Daddy’s albums were sacred.  He wiped them off before and after each use with a special soft, black cloth and when finished, gently slid them into the correct cover jacket.  “There’s only one way to take care of your records and that’s ‘the right way.’”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

When my feeble life is o’er, time for me will be no more.

Guide me gently, safely o’er, to Thy kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore.

            When Daddy passed away in 2009, we opened the white, 3-ring binder that would guide us through his service, burial, insurance, obituary, and anything else we needed to know or do.  We would have expected no less from his take-charge personality, as organization was one of his greatest skills.  He planned for everything from vacations to tornados, so it was only natural that he planned for his death.

            Although most of us considered him tight with his money, he loved to save it, make spread sheets about it, and keep track of every penny.  Thus, his funeral was pre-paid, meticulously planned and organized in that 3-ring binder with homemade dividers.  The dividers were yet another example of his creativity and frugalness.  Why buy something when you could make it yourself?

            Years before his death, he tried to show me his binder every time I came for a visit.

“Everything you need to know will be in here,” he’d say.

            “I know, Daddy.  I just hate to think of you being gone.”

            Still, I would sit beside him and let him go page to page explaining every detail. 

            When Daddy passed, Just A Closer Walk with Thee was played, as he requested, piped in over the mourners.  It was not Pete Fountain, but the good old Methodist hymn played by an organ.  In the end, my father stuck by his rigid, conventional rules for a proper send off.  But I have often wondered if Pete Fountain might have led him with a smile as he reached those kingdom shores.

            I wish Daddy could have stepped out of his fixed way of thinking and had a little piece of himself that might have surprised a few.  Not everyone knew he had a softer side and maybe he liked it that way.  The old hymns were his comfort zone and whether heard from an organ or a smooth clarinet, his funeral was just as he wanted.

            In this fast-paced, all-about-me, live for today world, I fear the pre-planning folks may be few and far between.  Daddy’s propensity to control and prepare gives me pause, as I realize how thoughtful it was in the end, like a gift from beyond.  He saved us from worry, and more stress.  He kept us from having to make decisions on what we ‘thought’ he might want, and mostly he had everything just the way he wanted.

            As for me, I hope to be prepared and pre-paid.  I want an old-fashioned sing-along with hymns and songs that express my sentiment.  I want my girls to know that I’m ok and happily crossing to that kingdom shore, and if Pete Fountain happens to make his way onto the play-list, well, you’ll know I’m dancing on streets of gold.  “This one’s for you, Daddy!”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Posted in Photography

Every Picture Tells a Story

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

Ansel Adams

            When I am behind my camera, I see things that others miss.  I feel new and young and inquisitive.  My world is more interesting, with colors so vivid it is almost too much to bear, and I am able to focus on what really matters, the fine details of the bigger picture.

            When I retired, I upgraded my little Nikon Coolpix to this bad boy, Nikon D3500.  The 3500 came with one lens that was adequate and allowed me to snap pics from 17-55 feet, but as I got used to taking photos and our travels expanded, I soon “needed” a larger lens.  (18-400)

            On a trip to Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George and Martha Washington, I found myself enthralled with the immaculate grounds, gardens, and the Potomac River.  You can actually sit in rocking chairs on the back porch and just stare at the beautiful trees, river, and horizon.  There are probably 40 plus rocking chairs set up just for visitors.

            By now, Boo knows nothing means more to me on vacation than taking photos.  He lets me wander and stop to snap as much as I want.  Sometimes he will call out worthy subjects and point to interesting sights, as he did at Mount Vernon.

            “Babe, look at the cool bird sitting on top of that huge magnolia tree.”

            I love photographing trees and as I was snapping away, I felt something behind me as two rather ‘weathered’ ladies tiptoed up, whispering, “We saw it too. You’ve got quite an eye.”

            I turned smiling, “Thank you.  It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”

            “Have you seen one before?”  they asked, still whispering.

            “Oh sure, lots of times.  We have them in Texas.”  I whispered back.

            “Ohhhhhh my, that’s rare.  They are usually only seen in this region.  Do you use a journal or keep track online?”  One lady asked.

            And that is when I realized that they thought I was a Birder.  Before I had to admit I was talking about the tree, the bird flew off and two more with it that had been hiding in the tree.

Impressively, I snapped photo after photo of the birds in flight and was able to follow the birds across the sky, all the while not having a clue as to what kind of birds they were. 

            The ladies stopped and burst into an applause. Then waved fondly as they moved on down the path.

            “Good luck!”  they called.

There is something about a large camera that makes people think you must be taking important photos and you must know what you are doing.  On my first ever trip to Mardi Gras, I went with my Sittn’ Ugly Sistah, Ginger, to her parents’ home in Eunice, Louisiana.  Our friends, Mary and Cynthia went too and the three of them really schooled me as to Mardi Gras etiquette.  Once we got to downtown Eunice, I was behind my camera soaking up the colors, sights, and action.

 

People would stop and ask, “Will you take our picture?”  They never seemed to worry about seeing the picture or wondering where it would go, they just wanted to be photographed.  Couples would dance by on the street and pose, waiting for me to snap.  I gladly obliged.  I could almost hear the band and smell the gumbo through my lens.

I love photographing pets, and I could make a large coffee table book just on the pictures I have of our cat.  She’s very photogenic, if I do say so myself, and she is a subject that never gets old.

On a beach trip to Galveston, Boo broke speed limits and raced against time to get me to  ‘the best place in Galveston to capture a sunset.’  He googled the location and even carried my tripod, while helping me out onto the pier.   In Maine, he carried my camera backpack all the way on our three-mile hike around the pond. 

In Glacier National Park, he sprinted through the rain with my camera under his shirt just to make sure the camera stayed dry.  At family gatherings, he’s constantly asking, “Did you get that?”  He’s happy to see me happy taking pictures.  Even Uncle B, Boo’s brother, is supportive.  He gave me his tripod and is always sending me photos he knows I would appreciate.

When your heart jumps every time your camera locks focus- You’ve become a photographer.

Mark Denman

My heart jumps when I photograph my grandkids.  In fact, my favorite subjects are the people I love.  My second favorite is nature.  Any raindrop, insect, flower, tree, or animal; all gardens, mountains, oceans, and clouds.  My mind actually sees things within a frame.  It’s as if my vision is a camera lens.

Most of my photography is what the professionals call a “happy accident.”  I accidently get a beautiful shot and I’m not sure how it happened.  I’ve taken classes, yet sometimes I feel intimidated by people with seemingly more knowledge, bigger vocabularies, and fancier equipment.  But, as with writing, there are a lot of people who talk about it, think about it and plan to do it, and there are those of us who do.  I’m taking a chance, embracing imperfection and enjoying my photography more than I could ever explain.  It simply fills my soul, and that’s all I need to know.