Happy Aaron Day!

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI miss birthday parties.  Now that my children are grown, there are no more themed celebrations with cake, ice cream, and favors.  No more little voices screaming, laughing, and playing.  I remember the exhaustion at the end of the day after planning and pulling off a party.  I remember doing four of them a year.  Now, on birthdays it is quiet here.  They don’t live here anymore, and though sometimes that makes me melancholy, it is as it should be.  I take a moment to look back at their lives through pictures to celebrate their amazing births and their growth over the years.

IMG_0363Today is Aaron’s Day.  I look at the pictures of his birth and remember the trauma for both of us.  It was a difficult delivery due to his 10lbs. 5 oz. self.  We worked together, even back then to make it to his first breath.  In the pictures we both look exhausted, but content to have completed our first mission together.  In his first birthday pictures, there is a scab on his nose from learning to walk.  I remember thinking I might be tagged for child abuse with as many bumps and bruises as he had.  On his 9th birthday he had 36 some odd stitches in his face from running into a brick column.  There are other memories from the time he got into a yellow jackets nest and was stung over 56 times.  When I consider these snippets of his life, I wonder how he has made it to 26!

IMG_0348Not all the pictures are of near death experiences.  There are swim parties with lots of smiles and watermelon.  The dinosaur party, where having a dinosaur egg hunt was a huge hit.  A cookout at the lake, a trip to the space center, and looking for alligators in the Okefenokee Swamp are in the scrapbook as well. Dressing as Bill Nye and having a science party where experiments were in abundance is in there too. (Will the items sink or float?)  Adventure.  Curiosity.  Experiments.  Those have always been a part of Aaron.  I might not get to see him this year on his birthday since he is on a cross country adventure, but I celebrate him anyway.  I am always looking both behind and ahead to know that God has a plan for my son…has always had one.  I am glad I was chosen as his mom to be a part of it.  Happy Birthday Aaron!

Wedding Preparations

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI am at wedding central. My lovely niece Sarah marries the love of her life on Saturday, so the army of helping hands has been called in.  I arrive at the house to buckets of flowers and the smell of a florist shop. There are Rubbermaid tubs stacked all around, with labels like “cake table,” “bride’s room”, and “reception” on them.  The counter is covered with a maze of Post-it-note lists. In moments, we have created a cookie-bag-stuffing assembly line, and in short order conversation fills the air of hope and the future.  There is just something uplifting about the new beginnings that weddings bring. Checking things off each different list continues. Table layouts are next up with each one discussed and packed, in even more labeled boxes.

The main event of this day begins slowly at first, but with the arrival of the grandmas, grandpas, and aunt, floral arrangements begin to multiply like rabbits.  Starting as buckets full of flowers, each stem is carefully chosen, cut, and placed with loving care into an arrangement.  Three generations of family are humming around like bees in a hive.  As we work, three generations of wedding stories are told.

The bride, who is wise beyond her years, states, “I think I will appreciate and enjoy these flowers more since I helped make them.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t care as much because someone else would have just brought them in and set them up.”

A discussion follows of how weddings used to be events which involved family and friends all coming together to help the couple get a good start. There is much laughter and picture taking as the table fills up with each new floral creation. An atmosphere of love and warmth, permeates the room.  Everyone has a job and in no time, all of them are complete. Boxes are loaded into a plethora of cars going to a plethora of places, and whisked away to await the big day.  I am taken by the ease with which it all comes together.  The old proverb that ‘many hands make light work’ is proven true on this day, but it should also say many hands make ‘fun’ work, as well.

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Preparation for a wedding has gone to a whole new level since my day.  It has become a billion-dollar industry that leaves pockets empty as it promises a fairy tale ending.  The wedding itself is seen as the goal, without much thought to the marriage.  It is refreshing to see my niece and her fiancé have not taken the bait of “the bigger the better,” but have opted for simple elegance.  So many of these events are over the top, which leaves couples in debt and wondering what to do once the wedding is over.  It starts things off in an unhealthy way from the beginning, because the focus is in the wrong place.  The alternative is to cohabitate rather than to marry.  It is cheaper and more practical, and not nearly as permanent.  I totally understand why many couples are choosing that route, because after all, ‘it is just a piece of paper.’ Weddings are not thought of as sacred much these days. They are more of a cultural tradition, or a requirement to get a legal status.

Call me old fashioned, but there is something about a wedding that is more than just a ceremony. It is the joining of hearts with love and commitment; taking vows before friends, family, and God.  It is a sacred act, and the foundation of relationship.  It is a joyful occasion worth celebrating.  The birth of hope, which then grows into trust, which results in being fully known just as you are.  You can’t get that with just a piece of paper, or with a venue full of flowers.  It requires a supernatural intervention that comes when invited, and stays long after the I-dos are said. The wedding is the beginning of an adventure, not the end.

sarahs flowersI don’t think it is trivial that the gospel is compared to a wedding.  The bride of Christ is pursued, chosen, and invited into the mystery of supernatural love. She is adored by her groom.  She does not need the perfect venue or flowers. She doesn’t need a cathedral.  She rests in the simplicity of his love for her.  She gazes into his eyes and she has no doubt that she will be loved forever.  He assures her of that by his sacrifice.  He is unwavering.  He is steadfast.  All that is required is the union.  The scared vows.  The commitment to trust. The love to be received.  There is a wedding feast scheduled.  It is the beginning of a great adventure.  It is the fullness of joy.

Our weddings are but mirrors of the spiritual truth.  It is why we come together as family to create floral arrangements.  It is why we fly across the country to attend weddings in the first place.  We make the trip to bear witness to the union. To see hope born.  We are drawn to it, because we long for it. This joining of souls is a sacred act of love on which relationship and belonging are built.  The preparations are meaningful and fun, because they set the stage for deep love to be on display.  The intertwining of two lives becoming one can only be accomplished with supernatural joining the two strand cord and making it three.  The preparation is complete.  The waiting time is here.  Tomorrow is the day for love to be made known.

Happy Wedding Day Sarah and Ryan!

True Love

love.jpgLove does not always look like roses, chocolates, and candlelight.  It is deeper than that.  In fact, until the storms of life come along, I would say that love isn’t tested.  New love is more infatuation than sacrifice.  Do not get me wrong, there is a glorious awakening of the heart when new love blooms.  It is why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, why we write songs, poems, and stories about it. It is the feeling which movies portray as “the real thing.” All of us who are romantics, rush to watch lighthearted love play out on the screen. We go to weddings and smile as big as the groom does when the bride walks down the aisle.  We see young lovers who glow while gazing into one another’s eyes, and we remember our own whirlwinds of the heart. It warms and fills us with good feelings.  Yet, this type of affection is a beginning…a glorious one…a fun one…but still only a beginning.

Anyone who has been married for any length of time can tell you that the romance fades if you don’t stoke the fire.  Even with intentional effort it is sometimes difficult, simply because life gets busy. Careers, kids, and all kinds of activities fill up the spaces that used to be reserved for only the two of you.  Still, love grows.  The pace slows down, but the roots begin to spread out and encompass more ground.  This expansion enlarges the heart.  If caution is observed not to spread too thin, the busy seasons create a love that appreciates the little things.  Things like quiet.  And sleep.  And Saturday morning pancakes.

Then hardships come along.  If love is to survive, the roots have to go deep. This is where you learn that true love = sacrifice.  Hardship in a marriage is the crucible of fire that burns away the dross and purifies the love.  It is not easy, nor is it pretty.  It doesn’t usually come with warm fuzzy feelings, but it is real just the same.  Not every love survives the fire, because it takes two people willing to surrender.   It is beyond personalities and common interests.  It is spirit to spirit contact where hanging on to one another is the only way to make it through.  This results in a bond that is too deep for words to explain.  This kind of love hurts.  It is an ongoing choice, which is worth all the effort and heartache.  It may not sound too desirable, and you won’t find to many people lining up to be included in the hardship line, but the result is a love story of epic proportions…the kind of love that endures. It is not blown around by the winds.  It does not crumble with changes.  It is steadfast.  It is true.  It is more romantic than a card or a fancy dinner.  It is a deep love, with roots that hold it steady in the storms.  It is a gift, for which I am grateful every day.

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Heart Friends

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Sometimes you just need time with your heart friends.  I have been blessed beyond measure in the heart friend department.  Every season of my life has its own set of people who live in my soul.  They know me.  They get me. I have found that when things seem upside down in life, heart friends can set things right again.  Yesterday, we had a 2-hour-lunch-turned-6-hour-visit with some of our tribe from college.  There was laughter.  There were stories.  Memories were in abundance.  Updates were shared all around.  It was like a shot in the arm.  It boosted our spirits, and bolstered our courage.  It reminded us all of who we are, and where we came from.

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These are the kind of relationships that pick up as if no time has passed, though to see us, you can definitely tell that it has.  Our hair has grayed, or disappeared altogether.  We’ve added wrinkles and pounds, but the spark that bonded us all those years ago still resides within our eyes and smiles when we are together.  The joy of sitting and spending time together is nourishment for our spirits.  Berry College has always been its own little world; we even call it the Berry Bubble.  But its uniqueness wasn’t just the beautiful campus, it was the people who shaped our lives while we were there, from professors, to work supervisors, to the other students all around us.  It was a formative time in our lives filled with the adventure of spreading our wings for the first time.

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Now, we exchange aging parent stories, plan the upcoming weddings of our children, and discuss possible career changes in our 50’s.  We go back to our core beliefs and question what following God looks like at this stage of life, and in this cultural climate so different from the years that have passed.  We laugh at not understanding Netflix or participating in social media, because we realize we sound like our own parents.  We find that we care less about so much of what we thought was important back then. We swap life changing moments, be they health related or otherwise, that have allowed us eyes to see in new ways.  A theme arises that freedom comes when you learn to let things go.  We are wiser now, but still in need of people in our lives who remember us from the beginning, before careers, before children, before marriage even.  Back to when we were hashing out our belief systems, discovering our values, and pursuing education in our prospective fields of study. Back to days of ultimate Frisbee, air bands, saunas, antique grandfather clocks, catacombs, broken jaws, kidnappings, and reflection pools.  Back to when we prayed together, studied the Bible, and worshiped fully, under the arch, until the presence of God was so strong it was tangible in our midst. Full hearts. Even now, when the time comes to say goodbye and return to our lives, we linger for hours, desiring to bask in the acceptance and soak in the heart connection that comes from souls knitted together by shared experience. When we do finally break the spell, we leave with smiles and a lighter step because we have been with those we love.  Bonds like these cannot be broken.  They stand the test of time… just like heart friends.

Miracle Baby

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It has always been a joke that I get pregnant just changing clothes in the same room as my husband. Fertile Myrtle, as they say.  So I am not sure why I was surprised when I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child.  I knew before the plus sign showed up.  The test was just a formality, any time I was more than a day late, I was pregnant.  Regular as clockwork, any interruption in my cycle was cause to take notice.  Yet, when that test wand changed, my heart did a little leap at the idea of another addition to the family.  A happy leap.

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I went to the doctor for the official blood test.  We were well acquainted by this time, as he had delivered my first three, so when he came into the room the look on his face told me that all was not as it should be.  My counts were too low, he said.  With my previous history of a miscarriage, knots in my stomach formed immediately.  An ultrasound was ordered to detect if there was, as he suspected, a tubal pregnancy. To my great relief there was no evidence of that.  However, the doctor maintained that there was not a viable pregnancy.  He gave us some options.  Go ahead with a DNC.  Wait until I miscarried on my own. Or continue to monitor blood levels.  We chose prayer, and the third option, with great hope that a miracle would occur, but also with great fear that we would once again be miscarrying.

The next few days I had blood work every day to follow my HCG levels, which continued to be lower than is normal.  The doctor scheduled a DNC for the following week, and we were devastated.  We went home that weekend, fully expecting to start miscarriage symptoms before the following week. None came, so we moved forward with the plan.

I went in on the appointed day, Bill by my side as we faced this together.  The doctor did one more blood test, and bounded into the room.  He said, “Stop everything.  We are not doing anything.  Your numbers doubled.  If you were going to lose this pregnancy they would be dropping. You are still way below what you should be to have a viable pregnancy, but I am uncomfortable proceeding if your numbers are going up instead of down. I want to watch the numbers for three more days to see if I can figure out what is going on.”  And so he did.  On the third day, he showed us the graph.  The numbers had continued to climb steadily, and then jumped up high enough that he said it was a viable pregnancy.  He determined that when I came for my initial appointment I must have been only a couple of days pregnant, instead of the 6 weeks we thought. The increase in hormone was low because I was barely pregnant. My cycle somehow shifted from its regimented precise course.  When he adjusted the date the numbers lined up perfectly to the new, earlier timeline. The pregnancy proceeded as normal from that point until the day my 11 lb. baby was delivered…21 years ago today.

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Happy 21st birthday to Peter, the baby who almost wasn’t born. A miracle.  So proud of the young man he is becoming.  Officially, I am the mother of four adults and that too is a miracle.

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Uncle Jim

jim-in-chairSome men leave this life with much fanfare, while others quietly make their exit.  Jim Wages would be the latter, an unpretentious man, who lived his life in the most genuine of ways.  Jim never desired the spotlight, he lived simply, put his hands to hard work, and his heart to family. He was a man who believed actions spoke louder than words…unless there was a Georgia game on, and then his words could be heard ringing out for all to hear! Rather than do a lot of talking, he preferred to be on the move, never sitting still for very long.  His desire to be outside would lead one to believe he was created to live in a tent, and if he could have he would have.  The love for the outdoors, fishing, and camping lit up his face like the sun.  Anyone would tell you that near the end, his fancy outdoor scooter, with what looked like tank treads, extended his life, just by allowing him the ability to get outside again. Even at family gatherings, he was known to visit for the obligatory amount of time and then he was gone.  Sitting around just wasn’t in his nature.

The faith in God that rescued him, was on display for others to see.  He was generous with his love, poured out not only to family, but to the many kids he taught in Sunday school for years. It was an actionable love, that moved not as much with words, but more with doing.  His prayers were more like sermons, and were heartfelt in their desire to make Christ known to all within earshot. He made up for his quiet ways in the prayerful moments, which were the times his words flowed freely. To talk with him about his faith caused him to choke up with gratitude to God, but he would much rather show you than tell you.  He never demanded you notice his actions.  He simply and humbly walked them out without fanfare. Though he wouldn’t want you to know it, there was a tender heart beating within his chest.  He may have seemed tough on the outside, but we all knew differently.

He had a love for kids of all ages.  Whether it was his own two boys traipsing through the woods, his many nieces and nephews and eventually grandchildren going for sleep overs, or his Sunday school kids grabbing for pixie sticks, he had a way with children.  He knew the importance of role models, though he would have never considered himself one.  There was something about showing kids they were valuable that meant the world to him.  He invested his time and it made a difference.

family-thanksgivingThough he was a man of few words, do not think he had none.  His opinions were often voiced…loudly.  And his thoughts were not at all hidden.  He had strong convictions, as well as a wicked sense of humor.  His jovial side came out at family dinners, where there was always a competition between he and his brothers Danny and Tommy, for who could make the most trips through the food line.  He laughed often and the twinkle in his eye was always a signal that he was up to something.  While he and Louise were probably tied in the contest for most spunk, he edged her out in stubbornness. Hard headed does not begin to describe Jim when he sunk his heels in on an issue.  There was no swaying him and it was best not to try.  It is one of the things that made him a successful business owner…not bending on quality.  When wiring houses, drawing a hard line is an important quality to have.

jim-and-brendaNo one knew Jim better than his bride Brenda.  The two of them went together like honey and butter.  She was the sweet to his salty.  She the calm to his storm.  The words he doled out sparingly, she poured out freely.  His strong opinions were softened by her gentleness.  As a couple, they were balanced.  The ups and downs of life did not pass them by, but they always managed to get through because they were together. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Jim’s heart expanded, and with the marriages of his sons he gained the daughters he never had.  The family grew with the addition of two grandchildren, whom he adored.  His care for his family never waned.  Even as his heart was weakening, he continued to desire the best for the rest of us. His presence will be missed and cause a hole around the family table, but just think of the joy in heaven as he and Louise are reunited.  Heaven will never be the same with those two together again!

 

Goodbye Cloudwood

IMG_0167.jpgI have often heard that when a loved one is dying that they sometimes need permission from their loved ones before they breathe their last. Even if they are ready to go, they seem to sense when family members are not yet able to release them.  I had this crazy idea that our family farm, Cloudwood, needed my permission before it could go to another owner, so I wrote a letter.  It sold the next week.  It is significant that our last holiday to celebrate there was Thanksgiving, because we are all ever so thankful for the 40+ years of joy this property has brought our family and friends. We all put on our best brave smiles today and tried to hold back the tears. We were mostly successful, until the final goodbyes. We lost a family member whose lifeblood flows in our veins, and just as with any grief, the sense of loss is tremendous but the memories are sweet.  We spent the day reminiscing and picture taking to capture one last family celebration upon the mountain we have loved since the moment we stepped foot upon it.  In the end, no one wanted to leave, and the last gaze of the view as we drove down the driveway brought the ugly cries up and out.  Weeping for our loved one and all that we will miss, but as with all loss, we know that the price of love is pain.  Great pain, means we have been blessed with great love.    

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Dear Cloudwood Farm,

I have managed to avoid writing this letter for some time now, but it feels as if the tide is shifting and the final goodbye is eminent. There are some things I need to say before that day arrives.

I remember when you first came into our family.  I was 6 years old, and mom stood at a pay phone for what seemed an eternity, because dad called and said, “I bought a mountain.”  From the moment he drove up the driveway, you had whispered to him that this was the place he had been looking for.  It didn’t matter that mom and the kids were out of town, he knew and so he took the leap.  When we returned home, he brought us to see you and we were instantly enamored with your beauty.  The old farm house had such charm, and a rich history to boot.  Of course as a 6-year-old, I didn’t care about such things.  I was more interested in the tree swing, the castle of rhododendron bushes, the donut shrub in the front yard, the pond in the pasture and the endless supply of trees to climb.

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In no time at all you became our family respite. You were our escape from city life. During the week we went 90 to nothing, but on the weekends you welcomed us with open arms.  I remember putting together jigsaw puzzles with Pop, knitting (or trying to) with Betty, and cooking with Memommie.  I remember the little half room upstairs and how I thought it was unfair my little sister got to have it.  I remember being scared of the attic room, and feeling warm and snug in front of the fireplace.  I remember the creaky wooden floors that squeaked and groaned under our feet. I remember the old antique pie safe that held all our homemade wooden toys. I remember there was a bag of birdseed in the basement.

I also remember the night we got the call that the house burned to the ground.  I remember the tears as mom and dad left the city to find nothing left of our mountain place. They told us that it was important to remember things from the house…to tell them everything we could think of.  That is why my memory of that old house is still so vivid after nearly 50 years.  But you may have noticed that none of those memories include stuff.  They are all of people and feelings of the place, not the items within it.  I don’t know that remembering my wooden toys and a bag of birdseed was much help in the rebuilding process, but I am glad I thought so long and hard, because now I can still pull up the images in my mind.

After the fire, we stayed in your caretaker’s house at the bottom of the hill. We still came to see you often as we dug through the rubble from the house trying to salvage any piece of history we could.  To this day I think I love scavenger hunts because of those post-fire weekends.  Melinda and I found items and created a fire museum in the Rhododendron bushes.  Old skeleton keys, pieces of dishes, old timey irons, we laid them out on big rocks as a memorial to the house.  It was our childlike way of processing the loss.

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Though the house was gone, your land was abundant in its welcome of us.  You were always so generous with your caring.  We made trails through the woods.  Dad and I logged all the wildflowers I could find, in my journal…which I still have by the way. We gathered bird nests, only once they were unoccupied of course, for a collection, along with rocks of all shapes and sizes.  There were always adventures to be had and treasures to be found.  Thank you for that.

Once the new house was built, the fun continued.  By this time, we were old enough to bring our friends along in large and small numbers.  We played for hours in the little storage closets in the dormers, creating a play house club.  One for the girls’side and the other for the boys…who were always harassing us.  And oh, the winters!  Everyone else runs from the snow and we run to it…creating snow angels, and snowball fights by the hundreds on your hills and pastures. The gathering of all manner of children to sled with their dads on the driveway, and warm their frozen fingers and toes by the fire.  Warm cocoa, hot cider were always at the ready and the marshmallow jar by the fire with sticks for roasting, was as much a part of the hearth as the log poker.

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In the summer, the nearby rivers made creek-walking adventures, swimming holes, and fishing spots. Super Jeep took us on the highways and byways of all the surrounding area, and a few off-the-beaten-path places. We rafted the waters of nearby rivers.  We trail rode the horses through your forests, beside your bubbling brooks, through the apple trees, and round and round the house.   Friends by the bus load arrived at your wonderland to discover that nature is not at all silent, and that God is closer in the mountains.  There was a spiritual connection to him there, on the front porch.  The stars overhead inspired so many young minds and hearts to look towards the creator.  Your creator.  And ours.  Maybe that is what joined us so.  Our common creator, who formed us, it seems, to enjoy one another so as to bring him pleasure. The rocks and hills and trees will cry out in worship if we do not…and you knew that verse well, because you were always crying out.

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Our own children were the next generation to hear your songs of worship.  They found the love of family on your mountain top.  Falling stars left them in awe…and we smiled at your ability to capture them as well as you had us. Football in the front yard joined cousins’ hearts, as did sledding on bright orange disks that gave them the ability to fly. The Grandkid Olympics each January 1st, was a time for mom and dad to combine their love of place with their love of the next generation…making memories that will last a lifetime. Being together, with you and each other was a marvelous mystery that was passed from generation to generation. A legacy.  Scavenger hunts to the pasture brought forth your hidden treasures that ended up in bedrooms and on walls to remind them of their time with you.  The reading tree became a symbol of all that you represented to them.  A place to put down roots, while still reaching for the sky.  A place of quiet in the midst of a world of noise.  A place to explore other worlds through words, all from the safety of home.  Home in the deepest sense of the word.  Home is where the family is, as well as the heart.  The connection and the love of the land is what made all of that possible.

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I love you Cloudwood.  It is hard for me to imagine you not being a part of our family.  In reality, it is not possible.  You will always be with us in heart and spirit, and we with you.  I release you now, to spread your enchantment to others who need to connect with their creator through you.  Call the ones who are next in your never ending family.  Continue to sing your worship song and cry out your praises.  We will hear it.  We will love you always and will never forget the sacred place that God used to fuse our hearts to his.

Much love,

Michelle

(The star gazing, mountain climbing, tree loving, tomboy of a girl who became who she is because of you.)

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Down in the Valley

michelle-in-front-of-yonahDown in the valley, the wind is carrying the truth with it.  Down in the valley, tragedy and triumph are intertwined like poison ivy on a mighty oak.  Down in the valley, surrounded by glorious color and golden sun, the seasons change. The steadfast mountains remind us that we are but temporary residents, and that they are the long term occupants of the valley.  The momentum of the breeze flows around the foothills.  The circular flow of life is evident, down in the valley.

Two days.  Two celebrations. Cobalt blue sky, white fluffy clouds, foliage of yellow and orange.  White chairs.  Flowers.  Friends.  Family.

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Tragedy forces a celebration of a life lived.  An orchard, bearing the name of its planter, waves as the wind blows the small trees.  They are stretching their arms skyward, as if reaching for him.  The young man will no longer walk among them, but will instead, look down from his place of peace.  On this day the adventurer is celebrated with perfectly spoken words, tears, and heartfelt songs.  Mountains surround those that grieve with an embrace of comfort, in this place he loved so much.  Balloons dance in the current as the grief is released upwards.  Memories are shared in fellowship and laughter around feasting tables and with slides of a life cut short.  Flames lick the night sky with sparks flying high in a familiar tradition on this piece of land, until they burn themselves out and silence floats like ashes to the ground.

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Twenty-four hours pass and romance arrives in the valley.  Another celebration of love in a different form.  Bridesmaids and groomsmen dressed in finery line up to share the whispers of the wind. Friends and family gather on the lawn waiting for love to make its entrance. Breathing in the beauty of the bride, the groom is overwhelmed to tears.  The same mountains that grieved yesterday, caress the tender moment of love’s kiss.  The trees sway to the rhythm of the music played and sung.  Fellowship and laughter around feasting tables and pictures of lives just starting out. Cake is cut. Traditions ensue, until the car disappears down the winding road to new beginnings.

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Two days.  Two very different moments in time.  Down in the valley, all nature bears witness to the ebbs and flows of life. Down in the valley, tears represent both life and death. They are reminders that life is precious and that it must be celebrated…down in the valley.

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Homework Wars

Pointers for Parents are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

cryingWe’ve all had them.  The meltdowns.  The frustrations.  The total breakdowns.  We’ve also tried every possible solution.  Bribery.  Gentleness.  Anger.  Begging.  What is it about homework that brings out the worst in kids?  I believe they think if they work all day, they shouldn’t have to work when they get home, and I must say they kind of have a point.  I mean, I don’t want to come home after working all day and do more work either.  But as much as I don’t like homework, I recognize the need for it.  I am a teacher after all.  It is a time to practice the skills taught.  A time to solidify knowledge. Skipping doing it is not an option.  Here are some tips to help tame homework time. Keep in mind that each child is different and what works for one may not work for another…in other words you may have to try all of these tips until you find one that works!

  • Do homework first thing when you get home. Set the child down at the table with no distractions.  Sit with him/her while they work.  Have them explain what they are working on to you.
  • Hahaha…yeah right! So if the first one doesn’t work try this.  Set a timer.  Make it a game.  How many math problems can you do in 5 minutes? Set it again…can you beat that number in the next 5 minutes?  This kind of timing works especially well for competitive boys.  It turns homework into a race against themselves.
  • Allow them to work on the floor or in a chair, with music in the background. I know it goes against everything in you…but not every person can work sitting at a desk.  Horrors!!  I don’t get it either, but I have found that allowing a child to work in a comfortable way for them gets more done.  The key is they have to be WORKING.  If they start playing, or dozing…to the desk they go. Same if the music starts to distract…it goes off.
  • Chunk it. Many kids struggle with feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work…especially after a long day.  They think they will NEVER finish.  Use a piece of blank paper to cover all but one question.  Sounds crazy, I mean they know there are more under that paper, but the effect is remarkable.  When they can only see one thing their mind doesn’t jump ahead. This works for reading too…use the paper to track each sentence. It rests on what they see and it seems to go by faster
  • Give them a break first. Let them play (preferably outside) or have a snack.  Set a start time and hold them to it.  You have 30 minutes, then we get to the homework.  For some kids this is all they need…a break.  Once again I can’t blame them, I kind of need one too.  However, you have to stick to the time set. Once you let them slide, they will use it against you FOREVER.
  • Last resort.   Hold those video games hostage until the homework is finished.  Hey…sometimes it is all that works.  You have to remember YOU are the parent and you have to act like it.  Just remind yourself that the practice they are getting at home will set them up for success at school the next day when the teacher has to move on to a new concept.
  • The ultimate solution…sign them up for the afterschool program (or a tutor…shameless plug). It costs, but when you pick them up, their homework is FINISHED already. I say that is a worthy investment into your child’s future…and your sanity.

 

Porch Sittin’

IMG_9705Today all my gardening friends are talking about the harvest and putting up food for the winter.  They are reporting how many quarts of berries they have picked, how many jars of tomatoes are being canned, and posting pictures of fresh peach pies.  I found the images familiar in some way, like a long lost memory that hangs around in the cobwebs of my brain.  Once brushed off, they transported me back in time, to the front porch of our mountain home with my grandmother, Floris. Decked out in her floral apron, she assigned me a job so my hands would not be idle. My floating work station was a barn-red porch swing. Hers, a rocking chair with a foot stool.  She had a basket of beans, or peas, or corn and I had a trash sack.  Her apron covered her lap as she snapped the beans deftly and discarded the ends and strings.  When the basket was empty, the apron was full. She gathered it up, still around her waist, and carried the beans inside where they were cooked in a pressure cooker with fatback, a bit of sugar, and salt.

On corn day, we sat together and shucked each ear.  (I always thought the silks at the top looked like hair sticking out and I imagined a face there yelling as I pulled the hair off…ah, a child’s imagination.) To freeze creamed corn, you have to have a lot of ears and therefore, a lot of helpers to shuck. It was a family event where rocking chairs moved to the motion of the easy conversation. There was always a cool breeze blowing wisps of hair around the faces of the women on that porch. Even when the temperature was scorching hot in the garden, the shade on the porch gave some relief.  Sweet iced tea, filled glasses beside each chair so no one would get parched.  The goal was to finish a basket of corn before the men brought the next one.  The porch was like a hen party with clucking and pecking…storytelling, the latest news, opinions on every topic, recipes discussed and exchanged.    On occasion, a summer storm would roll across the distant mountains and we would watch it come.  Chatter silenced so we could hear the thunder, and soon we smelled the rain coming close, as if to listen in for the latest gossip.

corn basketcorn

Peas were handled in the same way as corn…black-eyed peas, purple hull, and English were all on the list to be hulled.  I think hulling peas was my least favorite, too much work for too little reward.  I didn’t even like peas, and the hulls made my hands turn purple and my small fingers hurt.  I feel sure I didn’t do very many of them, but I still remember the day I had some English peas straight from the garden for the first time and being amazed at how those buttery bites seemed to melt in my mouth. It ruined me for eating canned peas ever again. Hulling peas was hard work which I resisted doing, however, the porch-sittin’ was still a reason to at least pretend I was participating in it.  It felt like being a part of something magical and mundane all at once.  The everyday weeding, the bugs, the shucking and shelling transformed into fruitfulness before my very eyes on that porch.

apple trees On jelly day I was responsible to gather “horse apples” which was our name for the apples in the pasture that the horses ate.  The ancient trees were sporadically placed and gnarled into shapes that rivaled pretzels in their twists and turns. The fruit was equally deformed…small and misshapen.  If you had to pick an apple out of a pile the last one you would pick would be a horse apple. However, for jelly making purposes, my grandmother favored these odd fruits instead of the ones from the apple trees in the garden. My dad loaded up the jeep with any helpers willing to go, and off we went to ‘pick’ some apples.  Pick is a misnomer, because at jelly time most of them were on the ground already.  Once the gathering was finished, the jelly making commenced, and because I was too small I was banished from the kitchen so as to not be underfoot.  All I know was it was an enchanted place, the kitchen.  Where nasty old horse apples were changed to transparently pink liquid that was like heaven once it set.  My grandmother’s apple jelly was THE coveted gift on every one’s Christmas list. Christmas was the time the summer Mason jars full of nature’s bounty reappeared, and you were considered rich if your jar contained apple jelly.

veggies I look back at those days with the generations of women from my family with fond memories.  I don’t remember too much about the work, probably because I was too small to do much of it.  What I recall is the feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself…a family. A place where love trumped opinions, though there were many strong ones on every topic. A place where every one of us felt we were an important part of the larger unit…a valued part. Where participating in conversations that were frivolous and meaningful at the same time broadened our world view as much as it helped form our personalities.  Where watching hard work being turned into nourishment brought as much pleasure as consuming the marvelous food itself. Where celebrating the harvest was tempered with planning for the future. Where pantry shelves lined with cans of food brought a sense of pride in a job well done.   It was on the porch we learned to value one another.  It was on the porch that we learned to voice our opinions respectfully.  It was on the porch we learned about hard work.  It was on the porch we learned that nourishment is about more than food…that there is such a thing as nourishment of the soul.  I believe what this world needs is more porch-sittin’ time.