Sunday, June 29, 2014

Keeping it Real: Happy Anniversary to me and my sweet man

Twenty-four years ago, he did this.

Can you read it?
When I read it, I cried. 
Of course, I cried.

He hit it out of the park with that proposal.

That's what we looked like then.

Twenty-three years ago today, we did this.

First came love.
Then came marriage.
Then she came along and needed a baby carriage.

Our first church photo album picture.
(Did you know that some churches make photo albums for their members?)
She has been photogenic right from the start.

On the occasion of our tenth wedding anniversary, 
I got back into my wedding dress and had new photos taken.
The kids were able to keep it a secret.
Steve was very surprised.

Twenty-three years of marriage. Mostly good times. Much laughter and travel and love and joy and fun with each other and our children. No one makes me laugh like my husband.
Some difficult times as well. Tears shed. Misunderstandings. Miscommunication. Lack of communication. The deaths of both of our fathers. Illness. Fear. Loss. No one makes me mad like my husband.

After four and a half years of dating and twenty-three years of marriage, more than half my life, I confess that I still love this man of mine. He still loves me. I still love the life we share - most of the time. (Just keeping it real, people. Keeping it REAL!)
Who knows? We just might last another twenty-three years.

Happy anniversary, my dear Steve. Thank you for everything you have done for me and been with me and given to me. I look forward to everything that is yet to come. I do love you. 
"And I will love you so for always." (This is the song he played when he proposed and was also the song we danced to for our first dance at the wedding reception.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Home Sweet Home!

My daughter and I returned from a two week road trip last night around 7 pm.
Eleven hours of driving from Princeton, New Jersey yesterday.
Great conversation with my dear Kristiana. She asks great questions.
Music. NPR. Books on CD.
Fruit and water and crackers and corn chips.
Confederate flags on motorcycle helmets. Other motorcyclists pulling mini trailers.
Car accident ahead of us. Near standstill traffic for about 15 minutes.
Trucks wandering onto and off the shoulder of the highway.
Traveling mercies up and back and everywhere in between.

The first stop on our journey was after 12 hours of driving from Charlotte towards Massachusetts.
We stopped at one hotel and were told that they had several smoking rooms 
and one non-smoking room, but it had no air-conditioning. No thanks!
We got back into the car and Kristiana called two hotels to see if there was availability.
First one - nope. Second one - incompetent woman on the phone. No luck there.
Next stop - the Hyatt House in Whippany, NJ.
The man at the front desk said they had two room suites available for $199 a night.
Gulp! But I was tired of driving, so we reluctantly said, "Okay."
After a few seconds of staring at his computer monitor, he said they had no more two bedroom suites, but they had one bedroom suites available for $139. Not ideal, but definitely better.
After a few more seconds, he said they had no one bedroom suites, but they did have a two bedroom available after all - and he would only charge us $139. Awesome!

Separate bedrooms and bathrooms - felt like a gracious and spacious apartment.
I love a good deal and a well appointed hotel suite kitchen.

The next day we stopped in Norwalk, CT on our way north.
This is the house we lived in from 1997 until 2002. It's for sale again... 
So many good memories flooded back for me and Kristiana as we walked around and took photos.

One good Norwalk memory was of the year that Steve planted the three trees behind me. 
He strung Christmas lights on them that Christmas and every year thereafter.
When he planted them, they were shorter than us. 
I love seeing these signs and symbols of the passage of time and growth.
Apparently time flies whether or not you're having fun.

In Northampton, Massachusetts, we ate at Hinge, a lovely little restaurant, 
and were taken care of by a delightful waiter named Cobbie.
He was so polite and funny and informative that Kristiana said, "I bet he's from the South."
She was right - he was from Texas and has lived in Georgia and North Carolina for a while.
Hinge makes a fantastic black bean burger.

Kristiana and I travel well together. She's a great conversationalist but doesn't mind silence.
I wonder where she got that from.

Then we went to Amherst, where we met and had a lovely visit with Jena and Mani. 
Here we are sitting at their kitchen table enjoying breakfast and conversation.
I wish we'd had more time with them... someday I think we will.

There will be more stories and photos from this trip to come.
In the meantime, gratitude flows through my heart and mind today.

I drove more than 2,000 miles on this journey - no flat tires, no accidents, no tickets, no dings, no scratches, and no break-ins. 

We took the train from Connecticut into NYC this past Tuesday and had an absolute blast walking and shopping and eating and people watching and eating and walking some more. No losses, no pickpockets, no mishaps at all. 

We spent time in the homes of seven dear friends and family members - all of whom took impeccable care of us, walking with us, talking with us, telling stories and listening to ours. They fed us and ate food we brought. They gave up their bedrooms and couches and towels and sheets and so much food and drink for us and to us. They let us do laundry and raid their refrigerators. They drove us places and allowed us to drive them crazy.

The inspiration for the trip was Raquel and Jay's wedding. She is my niece and the youngest child of my oldest brother. We had a fantastic time celebrating their love and their union last Friday evening. We got to ride in a limo from my brother's house to the venue, thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony (even though the minister forgot to tell the congregation to sit down, so we stood up for the entire thing), ate and drank and danced and then were driven back to my brother's house sometime after midnight. The following morning, my sister-in-law, Joy, made us a fantastic breakfast and sent us merrily and contentedly on to the next stop on our adventure. 

The weather was fantastic the entire fortnight of our journey. We drove through a few light sprinkles on the trip home yesterday and hit torrential downpours when we were a mere ten minutes from home, already on the streets of our beloved home city. 

Thanks, many thanks to all the family and friends who hosted us and fed us and laughed with us, who told us your stories and listened to our stories, who showed us their love and generosity and hospitality. You made it an awesome trip. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Thanks, Jena and Mani
Dinah and Seth,
Kathy and Katie,
Christy and Emma,
Kevin, Karen, Alexa, Brandon, Danielle, and Zoe,
Otis and Joy,
All the family and friends we saw at Raquel and Jay's wedding,
Damele and Carlton,
Bill, Jill, Gemma, and Simon, Gideon, & Lucy (the last three are their THREE great danes!)
Will and Judy,
Susie and Pamela,
Cliffe, Sharon and Stuart,
Val and Sheldon,
and Cathy. 

Thanks be to our trusty Hyundai Sonata - that made the trip flawlessly.
Thanks, Steve, for taking care of the house and the boy and the beast while we were away.

It was great to hit the road and great to get back home.
Home sweet home!

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Determined to stay grateful in a thankless world

Things are getting bad in Iraq... again.
Cops were shot and killed while eating lunch.
Kanswer has attacked the friend of a friend.
The Nigerian girls are still not at home.
Malaysia Air flight 370 has still not been found.
She's still looking for work.
His wife died in a paddle boarding accident.
Marriage is hard, so is parenting.
I recently saw a confederate flag in a place I didn't expect to see one.
Our gutters need to be replaced. (Let's hope they don't find wood rot.)
Wild fires. Mud slides. Tornadoes. Severe storms. Drought. (How do all these things coexist?)

This sad list reminds me of one of my favorite passages in the book of Habbakuk.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my savior.

In a thankless, dangerous, confusing, outrageous, anger-producing, fearful, threatening world, where our children hide from bullies and shooters at school, abusers at home, and predators online, where relationships and people are treated as disposable, where telling the truth about my fears and doubts and questions incites criticism and sarcasm, where one tragedy follows another, one terrible diagnosis follows another, I confess that sometimes I wonder if I am being Pollyanna-ish by maintaining this attitude of gratitude. Then I go back to Habbakuk - in the face of all that is negative, in the midst of all that threatens to break my spirit, in spite of all that moves me to weep, I will rejoice. I will give thanks. I will be joyfull. In this gun-toting, road-raging, heart-breaking world, I am convinced that gratitude is more necessary than ever.

Today I am thankful for -

* dinner with Heather last night, just the two of us
* another week of safety and provision of all of our needs
* discovering again and again that I have everything I need
* my husband and father of my children - we celebrated Father's Day today as we won't be together on Sunday
* the post office
* books on cd from the library
* Rodney Yee and Shiva Rea yoga videos
* Coinstar machines at Harris Teeter
* sewer drains that aren't clogged with leaf debris
* road trips
* friends that let us stay at their houses overnight
* handmade travel journals
* packing cubes to help with packing efficiently and lightly
* cars that drive well and don't break down
* sunglasses and windshield shades
* coolers and those frozen blue things that keep everything cold
* hotels with microwaves and mini fridges in the room
* time with a new friend
* meeting an old friend at Harris Teeter to pick up a few things, to talk, and to give each other a warm hug or two
* the wise writing, creativity, and poignant videos here and here and here and here
* receiving words of thanksgiving
* freshly cut pineapple and watermelon
* the time I spent earlier today looking at photos of past trips overseas
* organic blue chips and mango salsa
* dinner with the entire family at the table
* hope and a future
* life itself - I am grateful to be alive and well.

What are you grateful for?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Keeping it Real - Living thru a "Category 4 Should Storm"

Wanna read some of my thoughts, the roller coaster ride that my mind can get on, the topsy-turvy "should storm" that I spend too much of my day battling through? 

It starts when my phone alarm begins in the morning. The song it plays is sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir - Grace that is greater than all my sin. I love hymns. 

7:00 am - song begins.
I should be getting up earlier than 7 am.
I should stop using my phone as my alarm.
I should walk the dog.
I should go for a walk. 
No, I should do yoga.
Actually, I should do some Bible reading and prayer before anything else.
And I should write as well. 
But I should have something to eat or drink first.
I should have a juice for breakfast.
No, I should have a green smoothie so I can have the fiber as well.
I should eat an egg on whole grain toast so I can get more protein to start the day.
I should have some green tea.
I should make sure Daniel is awake so that he can start his homeschooling.
I should be more proactive in my homeschool planning.
I should back off and let him take more control of his own education.
I should pray with him to start the day.
I should wait for him to ask me to pray with him. 
I should do a load of laundry.
I should drink some water.

And that all happens in my head between 7:00 and 7:05 am.

As it turns out, whatever I'm doing, I think I should be doing something else. 
Here are a few examples - 

When I get dressed and go out for a walk, I think I should be doing yoga.
When I'm doing yoga, I think I should be lifting weights.
When I'm lifting weights, I think I should be jumping on the rebounder.

When I'm inside, I should be outside.
When I'm relaxing, I should be active.
When I'm active, I should be resting.

When I'm angry, I should be happy.
When I'm joyful, I should be serious.
When I'm grieving, I should be grateful.
When I'm afraid, I should be courageous.
When I'm frustrated, I should be satisfied.
When I'm tired, I should conjure up energy to do whatever needs to be done.
When I'm bored, I should be creative and come up with exciting activities.

When I start to journal my morning thoughts, I should be reading the Bible.
When I'm reading the Bible, I should be studying the Bible.
When I'm writing, I should be praying.
When I'm journaling, I should be blogging.
When I'm blogging, I should be working on writing a book.
When I'm writing my story, I should be spending time and energy on other people, not myself.
(In a whining and nagging voice, I hear myself ask, "How self-indulgent is it to be blogging about my life and considering the ridiculous possibility of writing a book about my life? Just how self-centered am I?")

When I'm at home, I should be out in the world helping people.
When I'm out of the house, I should be at home, being a good wife and a doting mother.
When I travel, I should be at home.

When I'm at my church, I should be at a different church, serving needy people.
When I'm serving people in need, I should be doing so with a better attitude.
When I have a good attitude, I should be sensitive to the sadness of people around me.

When I'm doing laundry, I should be vacuuming.
When I'm vacuuming, I should be mopping or sweeping.
When I'm cleaning, I should be cooking.

When I'm making coffee, I should be making green tea.
When I'm drinking green tea, I should be drinking water.
When I'm drinking water, I should be drinking alkaline water.
When I'm eating fruit, I should be eating vegetables.
When I'm eating vegetables, I should be eating organic vegetables.
When I'm eating meat, drinking alcohol, or having dessert, I should be ashamed of myself.

When I watch television, I should be ashamed of myself.
When I am discontented with my life, I should be ashamed of myself.
When I want to run away from home, I should be ashamed of myself.
When I don't want to do what is asked of me, I should be ashamed of myself.
When I make mistakes, I should be ashamed of myself.
When I intentionally decide to not "be good," I should be ashamed of myself.
(The notion of being ashamed of myself and my desires and my needs is a repeated refrain when the should storms are raging.)

When I think about these category 4 should storms, I should remember that I am blessed beyond anything I ever imagined my life could be or would be. I should be grateful. I should remember that no one in my life measures me by what I should be doing. And if they do, I should not let them be part of my life anymore.

I am getting better at asking myself, "What would you do, Gail, how would you live if you dropped all the 'shoulds'?" If I allow myself to relax and breathe deeply, if I pull out my journal and allow myself to compose a list of those things I would do and be and eat and drink and enjoy if "should" were removed from my vocabulary, a lot of the things I've mentioned here float onto the list. But with grace and joy and desire and love as my motivation - and not shame. Not fear of punishment. Not obligation to others. 
And, blessedly, the should storms pass and I am able to find my way back to peaceful thoughts. Thanks be to God.

I should get up and go check on my kids... NOT!

(Am I the only one who thinks this way?)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Five Moments

Last year, a friend sent me a magazine article that contained a variation on keeping a gratitude journal. It suggested the practice of writing down "five moments" for which one is grateful. Situations, encounters, moments when grace showed up, when love showed up, when humor and beauty showed up. So that's what I'm going to do right now - share five moments for which I am grateful.

1. Spending time at the Loaves and Fishes pantry today. Talking and laughing with the clients. Helping them pick out food for their families. One young woman hesitated to take two packs of cheese for her family of three because she didn't want to take away from other people who might be coming after her. Later during our time together, she chose a can of sliced potatoes and said, "I know the rest of my family won't eat this, but I like them, so I'm picking this can for myself." I laughed and said, "It's great that you are thinking about your family, but sometimes you have to think about yourself." Another woman carried a tiny baby in her arms as she walked through with her family. I wanted to hold that little one and catch a whiff of that new baby smell. Such a sweet little guy.

2. Listening to my daughter talk about her first day of babysitting an 11 year old girl. It was a full day of childcare, and the two of them had a great time together. Arts and crafts, reading, games, followed by the 11 year old making lunch for them, and then more games and an hour and a half swimming at the Y. My little girl is growing up to be a responsible young woman. Not long after that, my son told me about his adventures with a tennis playing friend of his. My rap-music-loving son is learning about country music and went fishing for the first time today. Now he wants to buy a fishing pole! I'm so grateful that my children still like to tell me what is going on in their lives.

3. Having a margarita at a local restaurant and then walking five or six doors down and going shopping at Trader Joe's with my husband. That is the perfect date for us. I don't like eating out too often - I hate to spend the same amount of money on two drinks, two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts as we would spend for four or five days of groceries for our family of four. So one drink and a cart full of food is the perfect compromise!

4. A free writing workshop at one of the local libraries on Tuesday evening. My favorite writing teacher, Maureen Ryan Griffin, introduced 15 of us to "the healing power of words." Writing exercises, some of which we read aloud. Poetry. Word lists. Laughter. Tears (mostly mine). Applause. Handouts with prompts, questions, and a bibliography. I left motivated to keep on writing. Not that I was thinking about stopping...

5. A moment yet to come... one of my nieces is on her way here to Charlotte right now with her boyfriend. They will spend the night here and then head off tomorrow to a wedding a couple of hours away. We have never met her beloved Ben, so we are looking forward to that. This I know for sure - he must be pretty awesome because she would not settle for anything less than that.

Speaking of nieces and fine young men, another one of my nieces is getting married two weeks from tomorrow. I'm sure it's gonna be one heckuva party. I can't wait to join the celebration.

Ain't love grand???
Ain't life grand???


I cannot deny that sometimes life isn't so grand for everybody. In the wake of yet another school shooting today, I encourage all of us to be deliberate in loving the ones we love, forgiving those who have done us harm, and to seek and advocate for peace as often as possible. I am determined to be known as a peace-keeping, peace-loving, peacenik.

We live in a dangerous, gun-crazed country, and these tragedies are happening in quick succession these days. Did you know there have been more than 40 school shootings in this country since Sandy Hook in December 2012? And that doesn't include shootings in other public places. When will this madness stop??? Yet another of my nieces wrote this poignant piece about gun violence in this country.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Blog Tour: The Journey to Writing about My Life's Journey

A dear friend, Jena, who I will finally get to meet in person in less than two weeks, invited me to participate in a blog tour. She was invited by someone she knows who was invited by someone else who was invited by someone else... You get the picture.

Writing on the road

The idea is simple: I answer four questions about my writing process and then ask other writers to do the same. I will do the first part, but not the second part. Whenever I get one of those chain letter things - send a recipe or a Bible verse or a favorite quote - I usually send what I am asked to send to the first person on the list, but I never ask my friends to follow suit. Just a personal choice I made years ago. If, however, you are reading this blog and would like to participate in this blog tour, then please feel free to do so. Just answer the same four questions I will answer here, and if you so choose, invite your friends and sister/fellow writers to do the same. Here goes...

Writing with coffee in Rome

* What am I working on?

I am working on writing the story of my life. I am writing my story here on the blog, in my daily journaling practice, in my morning practice of writing letters to my Sweet Momma Jesus, in Sunday School lessons I prepare, and also in a series of essays in response to prompts I glean from several memoir writing books I own. I am writing about myself and my immediate family, my parents and my siblings, my cousins and other relatives. I am writing about how they treated me, how they treat me now, and how I feel about how they treat me. I am writing memories of my time at camp during my childhood and young adulthood, a place called Sunshine Acres. I am writing about boyfriends, lovers, people I had crushes on, and people I wish I had never met. My hope, my dream, my plan is to pull together a pile of these pieces and meld it all into a belt.

Writing at The Sunset Inn, NC

* How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In only one way, my work is different because I am different. I cannot tell anyone's story for them; I can only tell my own. No one else can tell my story from my perspective. Even though I write often about other people, I write about my perspective of my interactions with them. I like what Jena wrote about in her blog tour post - comparing myself with other writers is a waste of time and energy. It serves no one.

Writing in silence in Pennsylvania

* Why do I write what I do?

I write what I write because I don't know what else to write. I dole out my stories, I make gratitude lists, I recount my travels, I shed my tears and share my prayers because writing helps me see my life more clearly. Writing helps me live my life more fully. Writing keeps me from losing hope. Writing restores my strength, my courage, my dignity, and deepens my faith. Writing provides me with a lens through which to examine my life and a channel through which I can gauge the beauty and glory of it. Writing has brought wisdom and insight, understanding and clarity during times of pain, confusion, loneliness, despair, and kept me from committing more than one grave error. Writing has also provided me with the means by which I can evaluate the grave errors I have made and decide whether or not I would commit them again under any circumstances. Writing allows me to fantasize, to romanticize, to analyze, to vandalize and scandalize - all without hurting, insulting, criticizing or damaging anyone or anything apart from the paper and pen or the computer keyboard I am writing on at the time. I write what I do because in my writing, I am most fully myself. I am most joyfully, happily, thankfully alive when I allow my words to flow onto paper and onto the screen. I write what I do because I cannot imagine a single day without writing.

Writing at Susie's house in Connecticut

* How does my writing process work?

Truthfully, I wish I had a stable writing process because I believe, with or without good reason, that "an established writing process" will be better than what I have done for years. I have no such process.

Some days I wake up with an idea of what to write. Some days I need prompts from books. Sometimes I copy an idea from someone else's blog and adapt it for my own. Sometimes I print out people's blog posts, glue them into my journal, and cover them with exclamation points and comments and questions and "yup" and "YES" and "amen." With brightly colored markers. Sometimes I just write what I'm thinking and feeling; sometimes I answer a question that is heavy on my mind. Sometimes I go for a long walk in the morning and stop along the way to type writing ideas and questions into my ever-present cell phone. Often I pray and ask for guidance. Sometimes I watch television or a movie and pause it to jot down lines and words in my journal - and later I expand on those quotes in my writing. I remember song lyrics and am motivated by both new and ancient words. Every now and then, I will pull out my Synonym Finder and get help finding better words than the ones that come to me unbidden.

Once I sit down to write a blog post, I try to simply let the words flow from my mind down through my fingers. You know how sometimes when you have to go to the bathroom really badly, the urge increases ten-fold when you enter the bathroom? Crude example, I know, but that's how I feel when I sit down to write. I procrastinate for as long as possible many days, but once I sit down, the urge to write, to pour out my thoughts, my hopes, my prayers, my questions, my dreams is nearly overwhelming. Sometimes I choose not to write because the feeling is more intense than I am ready to deal with at the moment.

Writing at Christmas time

Most of the time, I feel like I'm taking dictation from someone else, like the words come to me from a Higher Source, Someone who is thinking more clearly than myself, someone who has a story to tell, a message to share with others through me. There have been many times when I have looked back at earlier journals, blog posts, and essays written in earlier years, and I shake my head with gratitude that The Source has seen fit to share so many stories and experiences and insights with me.

I love to write. I love to tell the story, my story. I plan to keep telling this story of mine for as long as I live.

Thanks, Jena, for the invitation to share my writing process - such as it is.