A Good Year

Looking back is so easy isn’t it? We definitely have the internal filters to see what is great about a previous year or what is not so great about a previous year. We humans love to organize and categorize events and their implications to suit our own needs. I suppose we do that as a way to survive the world in which we live.

I tend to see things from a brighter perspective than some, but I do have gloomy days as well. I just don’t dwell on the gloomy things as much. I mean, who wants to always remember the yucky parts about life when there is so much good. Life is tough and complex and ever-changing. I prefer to bring forth good memories rather than continue to bash the bad ones. Unfortunately, not all have the same preferences and for some reason the ones who love to pounce on others’ troubles are very vocal.

True, 2017 was filled with many negative events and the naysayers had a ball with each and every event. Doomsday was the lead story on many days throughout the year, while the good and positive news languished in the background. However, there were also many good things to come about during the past year.

Social media continues to be an aggravation in some areas, BUT in the past year I have prayed more or congratulated more because of social media. I got to remember birthdays of folks I had forgotten about. I received notes of encouragement from others through the Messenger system. I kept up with or reconnected with some old friends and I get to see others’ successes on social media.

I don’t read every link that is sent or posted, and I certainly do not believe all that is posted but, for me, the idea that we can now share in a stranger’s grief or joy is absolutely wonderful. When a post comes up about a baby going into surgery or an accident with fatalities, I get to add my two bits to encourage the family if I want to. I received a message from an old acquaintance one day telling how nice my son, a policeman, was to him during a recent accident. That little message made my day. Hopefully my little bits on other’s pages will make their day.

During 2017, I gained the promise of a new daughter-in-law. She is delightful, and I know our oldest son will be blessed with her in his life. We will celebrate their marriage with them in the future. It is good to see young couples committing their lives to each other and making sacrifices to/for each other.

We made some big decisions in 2017 and started up a new business. We have had agonizing days and stressful times, but here we are at the end of the year preparing to go forth into the new year. I am feeling blessed that still in America a couple can decide to start up a new business one day and begin jumping through hoops the next. No one said it would be easy, BUT no one said that it was forbidden either, and for that I am grateful. We can still open a business in America if we have the energy.

Last year, we attended the church of our choice, sent one to college, met with friends at will, and survived knee replacement surgery. We also spent hours on the phone with insurance companies, prayed for family to survive different hurricanes, and watched in horror the reports of various senseless killings. Through tragedies we also saw communities pulling together to rebuild. We saw countless people across the world donating time and money to help strangers. Prayers were sent up for all as we struggled to understand and deal with the realities of being human.

I want to end 2017 in a thankful manner because there was much good that happened in 2017, and I want to say that my hopes for 2018 are for more kindness and grace towards each other. I would also encourage more forgiveness and less selfishness. If we could add in some humility and less offended folks, I would be OK with that as well.

May you remember your last year in a positive manner and may your coming year be filled with opportunities to love others, show forgiveness, and enjoy life.

 

 

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Happy, Sappy, and Glad

Merry Christmas to all! My youtube channel is piping out Christmas songs as I write this. I love to listen to Christmas songs and the first thing I do each day, once my computer is on, is to click on iHeart radio or youtube and find Christmas music to play as I work. At home we have about ten CD’s that we listen to non-stop. Not only do I love the beautiful music and the words, but I also love the hope that Christmas songs bring.

Christmas music brings back memories as well as hope. I tend to faithfully cry through some songs year after year. Some touch me in the heart and I immediately stop and say a little prayer for my blessings. The Christmas band concerts can often be the most difficult to sit through as I think back through the years at the children I have watched clomp on stage in their stiff dress shoes, or new high-heels, and grin out into the audience. Oh, what hope we place on the shoulders of our children.

We hope that they will be able to grow up and learn lessons that we did not learn. We hope that they do not have to face any suffering in this world and we hope that they are happy and successful. We hope that they listen a little and love a lot. We hope that we have done a good parenting job and that loads of grace will back us up when things don’t go as planned. Hope is a great commodity to have at Christmas.

One of the reasons I watch the Hallmark movies – and YES, I know they are all the same – is that each one is filled with hope and goodness. Fake as they are, they pluck my heartstrings and make me try a little harder at Christmas to encourage others. Other Christmas movies are just as good as helping us to see our blessings and not focus on what we don’t have.

In our crazy mixed up world of accusations, allegations, and the systematic dismantling of everything and anything, it is nice to see movies and hear songs that evoke the beliefs of goodness and hope. And the sad thing to me is that nearly everyone, including myself, sees it as fake. Why don’t we go caroling around our neighborhoods anymore? Why don’t we help the stranger new to town? Why don’t we have community events that save a church or other entity? Why do the movies have to be fake?

Seemingly, nothing is sacred anymore and every word or note in every piece of music or movie can be turned into some diatribe against some minority with the author being reviled for having even thought about it in the first place – even if it was nearly a century ago. If you don’t believe me, look up the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie on the Internet or read through comments on articles on the Internet.

Recently, there have been a number of accusations against men for a variety of sexual misconduct behaviors. One celebrity – Matt Damon – spoke out calling for common sense. He states that not all men are sexual predators and that there is a vast difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault but that in the current context ALL misconduct is being treated as assault. He is being vilified by others and is now seen as the bad guy. Without getting into the fray over the harassment charges, isn’t he right? Not all men are bad. Not all women are bad. 

BUT in our politically correct culture seemingly EVERYTHING is bad. Every situation can be deconstructed to the least molecule and something bad can be found. And so the battle lines are drawn between sexes, between races, between religions, and we all live in fear of the other, and goodness goes out the window.

And that is exactly why we need Christmas and Christmas songs and sappy Hallmark movies. Not EVERYTHING is bad or evil. We still have good in this world. We still have hope in this world. We just need to be reminded. We have a choice. 

My choice is to be happy and sappy and glad. And I choose to wish you all a Merry Christmas – even the scrooges. I hope you each get to be with family and friends and eat too much and play games. I hope that Christmas in your house is the REAL Hallmark movie.

 

Merry Christmas!

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Five Years of Stories

Five years ago, I contacted Tammie Toler to see about publishing some family stories. She agreed and in December of 2012 I started publishing stories about family life and life in general. As I begin my sixth year I want to say, “Thank You” to all of you who have written to me or commented either through email or my blog. I also want to say thank you for letting me share the ups and downs of a large family in our crazy, mixed up world.

As most of you know, Tammie is a wonderful person, and I have the privilege of writing to her every week to turn in my story. I couldn’t ask for a better editor or mentor. When I write something less than positive, Tammie writes and commiserates or encourages and always, always makes me feel better.

My column started many years ago when our children were very little. I would write a story during the day and read it aloud at supper to entertain the kids and to make them feel special. They were always eager for the story to be about them. Some of the stories sound fantastic but I have learned over the years that the old adage “Truth is stranger than fiction” is certainly correct in a houseful of children.

There are times I look back and wonder how in the world we all survived. The stories started out as “Six” in the morning because there were six children every morning to dress, feed, and get into the van for school. We have added one to the herd, and for about fourteen years our grandson lived with us, so we count eight. We are down to three in our house BUT have now added GRANDchildren to the mix.

When our kids were little, we started the numbering system. We counted them leaving the house to make sure no one was left behind. We counted them after church to make sure no one was left behind. We did lose one at church once. Everyone was helping us look. Turns out he had gotten into the wrong van and was asleep on their seat! I hate to admit but in those counting years, I also left one at school but was reminded by another astute counter, as I turned into the driveway that I had forgotten someone.

Counting systems also worked when we wanted to discuss someone and not let them know. “Your # 3 got into trouble at school today.” Unfortunately, it didn’t take them too long to figure that one out, so we turned to pig latin for a few years. Once the older ones figured that one out they taught the younger ones and it was no longer effective except to make someone laugh.

And we did laugh over the years. Our holidays are filled with stories of how the old rooster chased # 6 around the house screaming or how # 5 was going to be a sportscaster and practiced on every event in the day. Or how #’s 2,3,4,5, and 6 went out to cut the dead snake to bits to feed the ants way out in the ditch down the road and # 1 danced her way over hot coals in the backyard. ONE time. The others declare that #’s 7 and 8 are totally spoiled and they are – exactly like #’s 1-6 were spoiled.

I have a sign in my kitchen that reads, “Having children is like being pecked to death by a chicken.” I can’t really add to it because it is so true. One either laughs or cries. I have always found it easier to laugh over absurd things that happen in a house full of children. Not that I haven’t cried. I have cried buckets and nearly worn out my knees talking to God.

God is a big part of our lives and my constant source of comfort. The teen years were/are trying but I think we are all going to be fine. # 1 has her own company selling real estate and mothering three of our grandchildren. # 2 is finishing college and engaged to a wonderful girl. # 3 is an amazing mother and photographer. # 4 has returned to us for a short while and is aggravating # 8 for us. # 5 is protecting others in west Texas. I totally support our Policemen. # 6 is in college and blossoming. # 7 is back living with his parents. AND # 8 is keeping us young with his DAILY trombone practice.

Our world is changing, and I don’t always feel as young as I once did. I get discouraged and think all is going to ruin but then, I attend a band concert and see the smiling faces of 53 Jr. High kids blatting and shrieking out their first Christmas concert and I realize that as long as we have family and God, nothing else really matters that much.

Thank you for letting me share our stories with you for the past five years.

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Dumpster Checking

Thanksgiving flew by and now we are waddling towards Christmas. Our visit with our children was great, but as usual we all ate too much. It didn’t help that our oldest son saw a picture on the front of a magazine that showed a pie plate with a different type of pie for each slice. He thought it would be grand to take home a pie just like the magazine cover. We all agreed to help him so on thanksgiving morning we got up early and started making pies.

We made pumpkin and German chocolate pies first because they took the longest to cook, then we slipped a pecan pie in beside them. While I worked on the cornbread dressing he peeled apples for an apple pie. His biggest shock came when I informed him that the recipe for the Wonderful Pumpkin Pie that I make all the time came from the back of the can. As we worked together in the kitchen, we got in each other’s way a bit, and had loads of fun.

I have been cooking and baking for many years, but our son is a TV trained Chef and has pointed out on previous visits that Gordon Ramsay (British celebrity Chef) would do things differently. Of course, when he corrects my cooking techniques he does so in a pompous, dodgy British accent. “Oh, mooothhherrr, Goordddoonn does not whip his eggs with a simple fooorrrkkk.” He sniffs and we all laugh.

At one point I turned to him and said, “Oh, Gordon, do you brush egg and water on the edges of your crust?” To which he replied, “Of course not Mother, Gordon does not concern himself with pie crusts, he is not a pastry maker.” I nodded and said, “Of course, silly me.”

Between our son and his fiancé – she is also TV trained –  I got many words of advice on how to properly bake my pie shells before adding the wet liquid, how to properly add flour to water to make roast gravy, and the pros and cons of every spice in my spice cabinet. At any rate, we all ate too much, and number one son went home with plastic bowls full of food and a round cake pan full of four different kinds of homemade pie.

And because of the plethora of pies over Thanksgiving, we are now waddling towards Christmas. Literally. BUT hubby has reinstated our diet plan. We started this plan back in early October and it has been somewhat helpful.

Our new office complex is a bit out of the way, so a bagged lunch works perfectly into the diet plan. We have three rotating lunch ideas. First, we buy those tiny little packages of tuna which costs about a dollar and contain about a Tablespoon of tuna. He counts out six crackers to accompany the tuna and there are times, I freely admit, that I peel open my tuna packet and lick the inside. The second rotation is a little plastic cup of natural fruit – 100 calories – and about ½ a cup of cottage cheese. And, naturally, six crackers. The third rotation involves stopping at the grocery store on the way to work and getting ONE salad bar salad. We split it. The six crackers add a salty, crunch to the entire effect.

I can’t really say that either one of us are losing a lot of weight and we talk about feeling better and doing what is right for our health and so on, but I must confess that I do sneak a piece or two of the chocolate candy from the reception area while he is busy seeing patients.

And I don’t feel bad about it either because of the exercise portion of our daily routine. When we began working at our new place we parked close to the building and it was easy to carry in our drinks, lunch sack, purse, and other things we needed such as office supplies and so on. BUT in all his brilliance, hubby thought we should get a little further out in the parking lot.

AND so, we did. A little further each day. Now we park next to the dumpsters, out where they make the early morning drug deals. Seven hundred and thirty-two (732) steps to be exact from our spot by the dumpster to our office door. Seven hundred and thirty-two steps at least twice a day and on the days the scale doesn’t agree with him we walk out to the dumpster during lunch to “check on things.”

I bought some soft, squishy shoes just like my mother wears for these walks and I am seriously thinking about adding a headscarf like my grandmother wore if the scale doesn’t change soon.

This might sound bad, but I am truly thankful that the TV chefs will be going elsewhere for the Christmas break and the skinny minnies will be coming home for Christmas because, well, checking on things way out at the dumpster in January really, really pushes the boundaries of a long, safe marriage.

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Chicken Wire to the Rescue

Last week I broke down and decided that I needed to clean up the backyard and get ready for winter. The summer warmth has lingered and lured us into believing that we will never have winter, but I suspect that it will eventually turn cold. We still have inflatable balls scattered about the fence line along with the bits of a remaining pool noodle. My vines are dragging down my nifty metal support cages purchased from Lowes early in the spring.

I worked all morning throwing away and picking up. I could hear the table saw running in the barn and the neighbor’s leaf blower going. I was also determined to get the chicken pens cleaned out. Over the summer we had raccoons and skunks visit and try to make my Rhode Island girls into their dinner, so we created all kinds of extra fences and blockades to keep them out. We had chicken wire tied to about a zillion pieces of board and more chicken wire wrapped around all manner of metal contraptions designed to let the girls bask in the sun during the day BUT keep the predators out at nights.

Once the predators were taken care of, we let our small flock run loose again. However, we still had the contraptions and cages out in the open. I unwound and clipped and yanked chicken wire. I stretched it and cursed it and rewound it into nice bundles. I moved all the bricks into a neat pile and hauled the boards back to the barn. I cleaned out the chicken house, changed the water, and spread new shavings in their nesting boxes. Then I sat down to rest for a minute.

At that point – when I was finished – the kids came out to the yard to join me and we sat on our rickety, webbed lawn chairs to watch the hens peck and scratch. We discussed the raccoons and the skunks and the two deer who come up to the house at nights. Midway through one conversation the youngest looked over and gasped, “Mom! Your arm is bleeding.” I looked down and sure enough there was a line of blood from my elbow nearly to my wrist. I suppose it was from the chicken wire as it wasn’t deep, and it didn’t hurt.

College girl reached over to touch my hand and took on a solemn attitude. “Poor Mom, you have a shooting scar.” We laughed over that and I told them that I thought it was from the chicken wire. I sighed deeply and told the kids that we had some more to do before we could declare the backyard ready. Before I could even finish the thought, they were back inside. I didn’t mind because I liked being outside and I like being alone at times.

I don’t know why but as I worked I began to think of all the things I was grateful for and for how long had I relied on these simple tools to make my life easier. I started, of course, with chicken wire as I was holding a small piece of it. I thought, “It is always nice to have a small roll of chicken wire.” It is easy to work with even though it can scratch and cause one to ahhh, mumble, ahhhh, unsavory words under one’s breath. But all in all, chicken wire comes in handy in so many places and has been helpful over the years.

Years ago, we had a small batch of kittens who crawled their way into the dryer vent and died. We only ever used the dryer in the winter because we dried outside on the clothesline most of the year. It had gotten colder, and the kittens would huddle under the dryer vent to keep warm when momma cat was out and about.

After the episode, dad needed just a small bit of chicken wire to create a barrier, so any future kittens could not crawl up the dryer vent. He turned to our oldest son, then about third grade, and asked him to go get a small piece of chicken wire. He was gone a good little while but when he returned he had the wire cutters in one hand and a square piece of chicken wire in the other. We thanked him and made him feel big for being able to go to the barn and get what we needed.

All was well until I went out to lock up the chickens for the night. Smack in the middle of my chicken pen “wall” was a large square hole. Right about the height of a third grader. It was nicely cut and fairly even on the edges. I had to fix the hole in the pen before I could go after the oldest son. Turns out that we had asked him to get chicken wire but did not tell him where to get it and he thought that it would be FASTER to cut it out of the pen “wall” rather than to go into the barn and find the roll and cut it from there.

Really? I would have never thought cutting a large square out of the MIDDLE of my chicken PEN wall was faster!

Third grader is now a Veteran and as far as I know doesn’t use chicken wire much these days, but I am waiting patiently to teach his children all about the FASTEST way to obtain wire should the occasion ever arise.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all Veterans! Thank you for your Service.

 

 

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The Barfly Mysteries

As most of you know I love to write. I can write nearly as fast as I can talk. The best thing about writing is that I get to go back and edit what I have written and hopefully make things sound just as I have intended. The bad thing about writing is that once it is printed it can be kept forever and there is no opportunity to explain further. The audience gets to interpret and make comments or decisions not only about the content but also about the writer. While a bad conversation can lose significance because there is no proof that it was actually uttered, a badly written document is there seemingly forever.

Most of us talk throughout the day and never think a thing about it but a writer must give some thought to the words that are committed to paper. Let me re-phrase that to say that a writer SHOULD give thought to the words that are committed to paper. Consider the recent news surrounding e-mails. They can be kept and they can be printed and they are waiting to condemn or acquit. Lots of verbosity surrounding the bits of paper but still they remain as part of someone’s story.

Stories are the fabric of life. Some are true, and some are not. Nearly everything that goes through my mind is processed as a story. For instance, when I sit at a stoplight I look around and see people and create mini-stories about them. It does not have to be a stoplight, it can be at a restaurant or church or a ball game. Wild things flit through my mind. I can start a crying jag just fleshing out my setting. Mysterious, fleeting thoughts buzz through all tangled up with hilarious dialogue. For the most part these gems pass right through the memory zone and don’t get recorded on paper.

Now and then an idea sticks and either makes its way to the paper trail or keeps me awake at nights. Lately I have been having a nagging fit to write a story about a Barfly. Not a barfly as in a buzzing, pesky fly that is swatted in a bar but rather the cloak and dagger stuff from yesteryear about the blonde dame who sits at the end of the bar and sees everything through a smoky haze.

Listen for the voice of the guy from the old TV show Dragnet telling the audience about the dame. The Barfly.

I can see her in my mind twizzling her drink and throwing back her head to laugh at something the bar tender says. Sultry is the word that comes to mind and I begin to think of the different ways I can paint her as a sultry dame with a smoky voice, sipping on a cool drink. In a bar of course.

Unfortunately, my personal story hasn’t got much background to inform my new fictional story. It makes sense that a blonde Barfly with a Beehive hairdo would want to sip on a drink. Perhaps something greenish with a twizzle stick of course. I don’t really see her sipping along on a dark brown, carbonated drink through a straw. Although she could lick the Dr. Pepper off the end of the straw now and then. I will have to work on that part of the story.

I don’t have many bar memories to draw from but two distinct bar episodes pop into my mind when I begin to flesh out this story. The first was an old bar out in the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico between Ruidoso and Plains, Texas. We were coming home from a trip to the mountains and I absolutely had to use the bathroom. On the dusty plain amidst the tumbleweeds sat a small shack with several motorcycles in front of it. I think a large yellowish Caterpillar was out to the back and one corner of the tin roof was flapping in the wind.

“There is a place to stop!” I screamed at hubby. He screeched to a halt and I vaulted into the bar. It was small and dark. I scared the guy behind the bar in my rush to find his bathroom. He nodded towards the back and I yanked open the door under the half-lit Coors sign. Relief at last.

The second bar was when we got lost on the way to a wedding up in Michigan. Same story. I had, had, had to go to the bathroom. We were lost on the backside of the wrong kind of neighborhood, but we found an old bar on the corner. We bumped across several potholes getting to the door and I rushed in towards the back, took care of business and rushed right back out, found the wedding, and had a great time.

Drawing on the VAST experience from my own story I offer the first line of a new story:

The honey-blonde batted her green eyes as she patiently waited for her drink. Her polyester Beehive was hanging on valiantly to the back of her upswept “do.” The room was quiet except for the soft scratching of a leather, pointy-toed boot upon a skinny shin bone.  “What’s a dame gotta do to get a Dr. Peppa in a joint like this,” she whispers under her breath.

…To be Continued…

 

 

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Profiling Humanity

I used to be one of six and one of four respectively. I guess, at times, I was really one of eight. I am the youngest of six children. Two boys and four girls. So, eight in our family, six kids, and the youngest of “the girls.” To further classify I was always one of the “little” girls because the two oldest sisters were the “older” girls.

Most of us look very similar and have similar body types. As the youngest of six I was instantly profiled at school. “Oh, you are one of the Dent sisters,” they would say, and then automatically assume that I was going to be exactly like my older sisters and make the same choices that they made.

 

Most of this was OK because I have fun and wonderful sisters, but there were times I just wanted to be myself. I suppose most younger children have the same feelings that I had growing up. I wanted to find my own space and not be constantly compared to others. And yet, I loved having that comfort of knowing that I belonged in a group.

Our sister group was, and still is, tightly knit. Several years ago, I lost my life-long partner in the “little girl” group and I still feel that keenly on some days. Other days I am busy being my unique self. Over the years our groupings have gotten married and created newer groups within our own families.

Nowadays, we are re-profiled as moms and grandmothers. No one knows our given names anymore. And if they called us by our given name they would get into trouble. Not that they haven’t tried it and found out very quickly that only a few are privileged to call me Mom and they better stick with the safe route and call me “Mom” and not “Fawn.” I love my mom profile.

I can be shopping in a large grocery store and when any young voice calls out, “Mom!” I immediately turn and look for the child as do many others in the store. The mom profile is universal and hard to beat. There are times, however, that I step back from the mom profile and shoo them on to someone else – mainly their dad. “YOUR child got in trouble at school today.” He chokes on his supper and says, “Since when did he become MY child? You are the mom go and fix it.”

Our lives are inundated by different groupings, profiles, and other categorizing. Some we tolerate and others we despise. While I like being Spiritual, I don’t really want to be classified as religious. I love being in the mom group, but I am not ready for the AARP group even if they do send me colorful mail almost daily. I prefer being in the healthy group over the sick and needing prayers group.

Some groups we aim for but never quite get into. I am hardly ever classified in the calm and quiet group. Somehow, I end up in the loud and ornery group, but I must say that we usually have fun in that group. And I am never immediately placed in the serious group even though I can be pretty serious about some things.

As I have gotten older I find that I enjoy my groupings more. I know who I am and where I belong. That is comforting for me. No more trying to be someone I am not. No more trying to get others to like me. No more getting upset if someone chooses another path.

Maybe I am just old, but I find the culture we live in to be very sad indeed. Many of the basic groupings have gone virtual. Friendships are maintained online. Neighbors stay indoors. Grocery shopping is going online for Pete’s sake. I love to grocery shop to see all the folks that I haven’t seen in a while. Movies are online. Bill pay online. Recordings. Recordings. Recordings.

The online groups might be faster, and we don’t have to get dressed, but we miss so much humanity along the way. Calling real people for appointments and listening to their encouragement. Handing over a check or cash for a product and chatting it up with the cashier – commiserating that they don’t get Thanksgiving Day off. Hugging another at the park after walking the trails. Looking at the handwriting on a note. Smelling a newborn. Or at least, the Johnson’s baby lotion. I am not ready to give up on the “real” group just yet.

In fact, I am going to take a knee at the next ballgame I attend and protest the use of classifying humans as account numbers. I am not just an online account number.

I am a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a quilter, a spiritual person and I firmly belong into the loud and ornery group. And I might belong in the AARP groups but am protesting that as well. 

 

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