Blackberry Winter

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I stepped out into the cool morning.  “Brrrrr.  It’s chilly this morning.” I said under my breath.

“Blackberry Winter,” came a friend’s reply as she crossed the parking lot.

Two words which, anywhere else but rural Georgia, would need an explanation.  Here, no other words needed to be spoken.  A simple nod of acknowledgement and I was on my way.  As if to confirm the statement, the blackberry bushes along the roads on my way home held their faces up in full bloom. The 50-degree temperature settled in my bones.  Sure ‘nuff it was Blackberry Winter.

In case, you’re not from around here, Blackberry Winter is when spring days, which feel colder than a milkshake, come around just when you think it’s fixin’ to be summer.  For some reason, they sneak up on you like a cat ‘bout to pounce.  You’ve put your sweaters in the cedar chest thinkin’ you’re done with ‘em, when out of nowhere, bam! Winter again.  This happens each year right around the time the blackberries are in bloom.  Hence the term, Blackberry Winter.  Some ol’ timers may tell you that it helps ‘em grow like a weed, however, since they are already weeds it’s hard to tell if the cold snap is the culprit or if they would grow that fast anyway.  All I know is they tend to take over a place if you aren’t tendin’ to ‘em.  Before you know it those bushes will be bendin’ low under the weight of the berries.

When I was a young girl, I ‘member going berry picking in the pasture.  I pulled on my cowboy boots to protect my ankles from real live snakes in the grass.  I braided my hair into two pig tails to keep it from gettin’ tangled in the briars.  Slipping into a long sleeve shirt, I rolled the sleeves all the way down, even though it was hotter than Hades in the summertime.  I grabbed my bucket and off I went.  Startin’ on the outside of the patch and working my way in towards the middle, I grabbed only the sweetest berries.  They had to be plump, and all the way black, any red on them and they would make you pucker up to kiss your grandma.  The best way to find the ripe ones was to put on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth.  If the explosion of sweet juice was like fireworks inside your mouth, it was ready.  If the juice dripped down your chin you knew it would be totally worth the purple fingers and briar scratches that looked like you’d fought with a bobcat.  The gnats you consumed while picking, were an appetizer to the main event, which was blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

As I’m driving down the road in the drizzly cold, a smile like a Cheshire cat creeps onto my face at the thought that all this rain and cold are just getting the berries ready for summer. They say not to count your chickens before they hatch, but no one ever said not to count the blackberries before they ripen!

Atlanta Rises~The Thrill of Victory

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI was born and raised in Atlanta.  It was my home, and as such, it became part of me…even the curse of the Atlanta professional sports teams.  If you think the Atlanta Flames are part of Sherman’s March to the Sea, then you don’t know what I am talking about.  If you don’t know who Chief Noc-a-homa is and why his teepee is linked to losing baseball games, then you are not a diehard fan.  Those of us who have been around know what it means to go to a game to see individual players because the team as a whole stinks. Names like Phil Niekro, Steve Bartkowski, Spud Webb, Hank Aaron, Dominique Wilkins, and Dale Murphy live on in our memories as some of the athletes who loved Atlanta enough to hang in despite our inability to win. Their individual achievements kept the believers among us coming back for more.  However, the illusive championships squeezed the heart out of even the most dedicated fans, who arrived as bag-heads, too embarrassed to show their faces.   Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was said to be cursed, and so we built a new one.  We all went on some hope-filled wild rides together only to be disappointed again and again.  And we all know, hope deferred makes the heart sick.

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Then the Braves’ worst to first season happened. The unexpectedness of that season sent us all into a tizzy of excitement. We began to believe again.  The come-back kids, who beat the odds, were a perfect representation of all the years of inconsistency, unpredictability, and instability finding expectation again. Sid Bream’s unlikely slide into home plate, buried him in our hopes. We fell in love with that team.  We knew them all.  We followed every game.  We watched that World Series until the wee hours of the morning and arrived bleary-eyed to work the next morning to gather around and discuss every nuance of the game from the night before.  It felt like glory had finally arrived, but the key to that season wasn’t talent or strength, it was heart. The sheer determination and the belief of those guys that they were going to do it resulted in it actually happening.

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I realize that the Falcons have not yet made it to the Super bowl, and so this blog may seem a bit premature to some.  But to the true, long-time fans…we recognize heart when we see it.  We see the determination in combination with the talent and the hunger for redemption, and we know what the results of those factors are.  We are waiting on the edge of our seats.  During the game last night, we saw a spark of hope ignite into full flame. Our hearts beat faster and we had trouble sleeping for the anticipation rising up. Could it be?  Dare we hope again?  The giddiness arrived and reminded us of the thrill of victory, after so many years of the agony of defeat.

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Do not mistake this team for a point scoring machine. Do not think that the precision with which they produce is why they have risen to the top.  Certainly having the talent they do is critical to their success this season, however, we longtime fans are witnesses to talented teams who could not accomplish their dreams.  We have watched clubs crash and burn, who talent-wise should have won it all.  No… talent is only one piece of the puzzle.  The real key is heart and this team has it in abundance. It is the factor that no commentator can predict.  It is the factor that cannot be measured in yards, or plays, or points.  It is the connection that bonds players into brothers.  It is the relationship that turns fans into followers. It is grit, determination, and hope all rolled into one.  Heart is what makes believers out of us all. There are more games to play before it will be known how this will go, but for Atlanta fans the thrill of victory has infused us with heart once again.  Here’s to hope…can you feel it?

Working With the Littles

michelle-yonah-33-of-33I started working with kids when I was in high school.  In fact, one of my first jobs was working with preschoolers at Kindercare.  Later on, armed with my degree and my extensive experience as a 20-year-old, I took on a first grade classroom.  That was before I moved on to the intermediate level (grades 3, 4, and 5) for the next 18 years.  My heart has always loved the wonder of young children.  Not to mention, they are so stinking cute!

This year, when my friend Libby went back into the classroom after a couple year absence, I volunteered to come in one day a week to help out and dragged my business partner Mary along with me.  The first day with those kindergarteners was the most fun I have had in a long time. I had forgotten how adorable the Littles are.  Now, it is a bright spot in my week.

cupcakes.jpgYesterday, they had picture day, Hispanic Heritage Day, and curriculum night.  Yes.  All three on the same day. (I bow to all the teachers.)  Mary had another engagement, so I went on my own to help in whatever way I could.  Being in south Hall, the school has a high population of Hispanic students therefore, Hispanic Heritage Day is very well attended.  The students were gone for pictures when I got to the classroom, but the families and food were arriving steadily…flan, rice pudding, cake, and mountains of jello.  I never knew jello (they call it jelly) was a Hispanic food, but it came in all kinds of festive shapes and colors. Rainbow layers.  Cubes.  Stars. It was a whole level of jello preparation that I had not seen before.  It was impressive.  Not even kidding.

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The tables were already set up so I jumped right in with putting the homemade treats out.  When Libby got to the room she said I could help serve plates.  No problem.  I have done at least 1 million class parties in my lifetime, this would be a piece-of-cake…literally.  That was before I found out there was a rotation schedule, and there were actually 6 classrooms of kids that would be coming through, with their parents and siblings as well.  Quickly, I amended my original class-party-expert assessment of the situation from piece-of-cake to Code Red.

Each group had what felt like 5 minutes to come in, sit down, be served, eat, clean up, and get out the door. Any teacher of Littles can tell you that allowing them to serve themselves is your worst nightmare, especially when there are two tables of food, so I dawned some rubber gloves and got to work making plates as fast as possible.  The first group was there before you could count to 3.  Libby was madly handing out the drinks as I threw food on plates.  Once they were all served I began to make plates for the next group, at the same time the parents and siblings were coming through the line. I tried not to reach over, or cut anyone off but I was in my serious get-it-done mode.  The noise level was rising and Libby, being the fabulous teacher she is, put on some quiet Hispanic guitar music (Am I allowed to use quiet and Hispanic music in the same sentence?) and asked the kids if they could hear the music.  They stopped talking to listen.  She is brilliant.  One boy even said, “That is fancy music.” I think maybe classical guitar isn’t something he hears every day.

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By the time the next group came, there were pre-made plates for everyone. I could spend the rest of the allotted time making more for the next group.  It actually felt as if we were getting ahead.  As serving plates emptied, I refilled them with extra dishes that didn’t make the already full table before.  The kids didn’t complain about the fact that everyone had different items on their plates. I knew that as long as there were cupcakes things would be smooth.  Cupcakes solve all the problems.  Licking mounds of icing translates to every culture.

flanThe food held out, which was questionable in the beginning. Though what remained was mostly jello, every student, parent, and sibling got to eat.  The cupcakes disappeared after the fourth group, but the fifth and sixth were unaware, so there was no uprising.  When the last group was complete and I was feeling quite accomplished, I finally looked up from my task.  It looked as if a bomb had gone off in the room.  There was jello of every color on almost every surface.  There was chocolate cake ground into the floor.  Icing everywhere.  Then I remembered.  The Littles…they are messy. By this time, Libby was as frazzled as I was, but with her kindergarten teacher smile you would never know it.  However, all teachers speak frazzled-teacher body language, so I sent her outside to recess so they could run off their sugar…before lunch.

jelloDid I say jello was everywhere?  Did you know that if you try to sweep jello it actually rolls across the floor leaving a sticky slug-like trail behind it?  Did you know that when it rolls it picks up all the sand and dirt on the floor?  Did you know that chocolate cake smooshed and smeared into the floor doesn’t look like chocolate cake?  Did you know that cupcake icing sticks to tables like dried playdough?  Or maybe that WAS dried play dough…I’m not sure. Needless to say the clean-up of little tables and chairs took as much energy as serving food to the Littles.  When I finally arrived at my car, I basked in the quiet for a moment and as I looked in the rearview mirror I noticed orange and purple icing all over my face.  I wondered how long it had been there and why no one had told me it as there, but then I thought probably no one even noticed in the frantic pace of the morning.  I didn’t even care because I was sitting down for the first time in hours.  `

Today, I have taken Advil to ease the pain.  I am babying my body because it isn’t as young as it used to be.  Bending over tables for hours at a time isn’t something I do anymore.  I have an ice pack on my back and my feet are elevated so the swelling in my knee will go down.  As I refill my ice pack, I pray for all the teachers of the Littles.  That God would bless them greatly for their hard work.  That he would strengthen them so they could work those 3-special-events-in-one-day days.  That he would surround them with people who will support them in all that they do…because they do so very much.  That they will know how amazing they are.  That they will feel hope and encouragement. That they would get the respect they deserve.  That they will know how important they are.  And that they will get some much needed rest and that their bodies would be strong, because one day for a couple of hours about did me in!

Summer Flashback

IMG_9705My lazy day at the pool was interrupted by laughter.  I opened my eyes to see a brother and sister with a friend or two playing in the water.  They were somewhere between 6 and 10, and so full of energy that only a day of pool play would quench it.  And play they did.  Categories was the first game, and while I reached back into my memory banks for the rules of the game, they engaged in the ‘favorite ice cream’ round.  There was some rather loud discussion as to whether Brother was turning prematurely to cheat.  Ultimately, he promised to remain with his back to the pool and the game continued for two more rounds before attention waned and the next game began.

pool picThe cannon balls, pencils, and can openers commenced with a full panel of judges calling out scores for each plunge into the depths.  The esteemed evaluators were dripping wet as they watched and waited for their own turn.  They appeared to be judging on creativity as well as execution and once again, there was loud discussion of each attempt and subsequent addition of total scores to determine the winner.  The game was abandoned when one particular “run-freeze-like-a-statue-then-fall-in-the-water jump was ruled against procedure by the judges but deemed the “best” one by the contestant.

I leaned my head back against my chair, closed my eyes, and traveled back in time just as the first call of “Marco!” rang out.  The corners of my mouth creeped up my cheeks in a smile of remembrance and a bit of mischief. The hours and hours of pool time flooded my mind and I allowed the pictures of my own children to surface from the deep places of my heart.  Little brown bodies and hair of varying shades from white blonde to chestnut brown.   Multi-colored googles, board shorts and bathing suits, an entire rainbow of pool noodles, towels hanging over fences, snorkel gear, and diving coins, sticks, and nerf balls.  My imagination carried me into a poolside sleep and I woke to smooth quiet water, wondering if I had dreamed the whole earlier scene.

pool pic 2Another day, a different pool, same games, different kids…6 of them this time.   Two moms, 3 kids each, poolside, watching every move. I so remember these days.  The kid age range from 4 to 10 or so.  Younger boys beyond excited that they graduated from jumping in at the 4-foot mark to the 5-foot mark.  The youngest one gleefully says, “That is so fun!”  I giggle since the new launch pad is merely inches from the previous one.  His skinny little body shivers in equal amounts of excitement and fear to be in the ‘deep end.’  The first tentative jump gives birth to more and more confidence, until he can jump, turn, and swim back to the ‘shallow end’ without holding onto the side. His brother and friend are right behind him in the jumping game, and while they are not old enough to start scoring one another yet, I know that it will not be long until they make it into a competition. It’s a boy thing.

The girls have left little brothers behind and are making silly hair styles with their wet manes.  Being older, they have the full pool at their fingertips but choose to stay in the deeper waters where younger siblings cannot follow.  Silly faces are made under water which bring giggles above.

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At the other end, a dad hoists his boys into the air high enough they land in cannonballs all around.  This creates gleeful screams and choppy waters.  I hear the familiar refrain, “Again.  Do it again, Daddy!”  I want to tell the dad that his back will be sore tomorrow, but I figure he already knows this. I’m not sure he knows how significant this summer custom of pool-going is.  That there will come a day when the lessons learned in the water will translate into real life. That relationships formed here build trust, teamwork, and toughness.  That a day this exhausting has meaning and provides something more than fun.  He may not know all that now…but there will come a day where he will see it all clearly, from the side of the pool.

I take it all in and once again I flashback to the time when my kiddos were little.  Something about the smell of sunscreen, the sight of freckled noses, and sounds of laughter make my heart somewhere between melancholy and amused.  Melancholy because I miss those days of little poolside footprints.  Amused because I now get to observe without the exhaustion of keeping up.  Still, if there is anything I have learned, it is to cherish the season in which you find yourself, because you will blink and it will be gone.  For all the young moms and dads out there…hats off to you.  I know it is beyond tiring, but this summertime ritual is a wonderful thing.  One day, when they are grown, you will take a well-earned poolside nap, smile, and be tempted to yell, “Polo!” while pretending to be asleep…just for fun. 😉

A Nature Adventure

IMG_9705The day was fading fast.  A slight breeze had the trees a bit restless.  The heat of the afternoon morphed into cool kisses on my cheeks. An invitation to me. Perfect for an evening stroll by the river, and so Bill and I headed out to capture the last of the light.  As we were driving the sky was sliding from blue to pinkish-bluish-gray as only a sunset sky can do. White puffy clouds reflected the colors in 3D.  The walk would have to be a short one.  We went to Smith Gall Woods, making sure to stay within sight of the gate, which closes at sunset. We had no desire to get locked in.  If you haven’t been there in a while, they have updated the trail by the river, added some new picnic tables, updated the bridges, etc…  You should really go sometime and check it out.  It is one of our favorite “talking” places.  We go there for strolling, holding hands, and skipping rocks.  Just to be.  Together.

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As we walked, we decided we really must do a picnic one night soon, amongst the ferns and beside the bubbling creek.  It is a soothing and peaceful place, and on this Memorial Day weekend, those types of places are hard to find in our area as the tourists descend for the first weekend of summer.  We followed the creek to where it feeds into the rushing river and continued down the path.  Bill stepped aside to sit on a picnic table for a moment while I took a phone call.

Once off the phone, I went to join him and arrived just as he yelled, “Ouch!  Something stung me!”

At that same moment I noticed Flying Things all around him…and now me.  I said, “Run! Yellow Jackets!” I raced off just as I was stung.  With the second sting I knew there was a bee inside my shirt, so I ripped it over my head and kept running towards the river.  Bill was just behind me, and I was waving my shirt around my head trying to disperse the swarm. We were both frantically waving our arms around, like crazy people.  One more sting had me screaming and nearly ready to go head first into the river.  I feel sure the woman in the parking lot must’ve been laughing pretty hard to see my dance from a distance.  I am also pretty sure if she had videoed it, it will be one of those that goes viral. (Let me tell you, I will be keeping an eye out on FB the next few days.)

The Flying Things finally, after what seemed like a slow motion eternity, passed us by.  We were laughing in the midst of our throbbing pain, the bites quickly swelling.  Bill, not knowing what to say to me standing there in my bra and shorts, just shook his head and chuckled.

“What?  It was in my shirt…what was I supposed to do?” I smiled in reply to his mischievous grin.

Before putting my shirt back on I shook it out to make sure all signs of the Flying Things were gone. I turned it inside-out just to make sure. Once I was confident it was clear, I pulled it back on.  I quickly realized I must have missed a wrinkle because I was immediately struck with a sharp pain in my arm.  Just as I was about to disrobe again, I saw one Flying Thing wiggle past the sleeve and take flight. A total of five stings for me, and only the original one for Bill. He says they followed me because I am sweeter.  lol

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We quickly made our way down to the river to see if the cold water would alleviate the pain. While we waited for the throbbing to cease, we skipped a few rocks into the rush of the river.  Even in our stung-swelling and now whiny state, it was a peaceful place. We talked about the odd occurrence of yellow jackets swarming like that.  It just didn’t make sense for what we know of them.  Usually they leave you alone unless you disturb their nest, but they build their nests underground in banks…not flat places that are open, like under picnic tables.

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Our curiosity got the better of us, so as we left, we went back by the picnic table to take a look…from the safety of our car.  There, right under where Bill had been sitting, was a hornets’ nest!  That explained everything…no yellow jackets…it was hornets that went on a rampage. It is completely typical for hornets to swarm and follow in a rage.  Honestly, we were lucky to get as few stings as we did. Thank goodness it wasn’t the Japanese Hornets that are so huge. There is a reason for the phrase…Don’t stir up a hornets’ nest. Literally or figuratively, it’s nothing I care to ever do again.  As the sun set, and the light faded from dusk to dark we eventually made our way home…to the Benedryl and deep sleep. This morning the sun is up and the swelling is down. The story is told…another nature adventure in the books.  Haha.

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Testing Tips

IMG_9705Tips for testing…

  • Get out of bed
  • Yes. You have to.
  • Coffee
  • More coffee
  • Deep breaths
  • SERIOUS prayer time
  • Wear your lucky shirt and socks and underwear
  • Hold your head up high
  • Look confident
  • Hope that you pull it off
  • Don’t let them see you sweat
  • Prepare for the test
  • Give blood, and your first born child to receive your testing materials
  • Quiz your students while they are in line for the bathroom
  • Don’t forget to take your testing materials to the bathroom with you
  • They do not like being left alone
  • Remember if you leave them alone you will lose your job
  • Settle kids down
  • Resist the urge to pull out last minute flashcards
  • Begin bribery
  • Promise them candy
  • Promise them extra recess
  • Promise them fun
  • Beg
  • Plead
  • Wring your hands
  • Give inspiring speech
  • Set the timer
  • More SERIOUS prayer time (silently of course)
  • More deep breaths
  • Sit still and do absolutely nothing
  • For 2 hours
  • Really
  • No computer, no papers to grade, no books to read
  • Count the little black holes in the ceiling tiles
  • Twirl your hair  (while you still have some)
  • Plan your family reunion (in your head)
  • Plan a vacation to an exotic tropical location (in your head)
  • Make a grocery list (in your head)
  • Have some SERIOUS prayer time (in your head)
  • Try to keep your coffee-filled body still
  • No fidgeting
  • No wiggling
  • No tapping…feet or pencils
  • Circulate the room to monitor (and to work off coffee jitters)
  • But under no circumstances EVER look at the test
  • Never. Ever.  Look.
  • Your eyes will burn out of your head
  • Your job will be in jeopardy
  • You will be cursed forever
  • It’s not worth it
  • Do not cry when the first kid finishes in 5 minutes
  • Do not break down when the next 6 finish in 10
  • Do not worry
  • All will be well…with your soul
  • Do not beat your head on the desk when some of them raise their hands and ask you what multiplication is
  • And under no circumstances answer them
  • Do not allow the snoring of the first 7 kids that finish to disturb those who actually are trying
  • Give a trashcan to any kid who thinks they are going to throw up
  • Watch your timer closely
  • Stop students when it goes off
  • Try not to cheer out loud that day 1 is over
  • More deep breathing
  • SERIOUS prayer over testing materials before turning them in
  • Practice for following day…all afternoon…ad nauseam
  • Repeat all these steps
  • Plus don’t forget to wash all your lucky clothing for the next day
  • For five days
  • Celebrate big when it is all over
  • Remember you love children
  • Remember you love teaching
  • Say these things over and over again
  • “I love children. I love children. I love children.”
  • “I love teaching. I love teaching. I love teaching.”
  • Hold your breath for 10 days until scores come back
  • Ten days of SERIOUS prayer
  • Remember that no matter what happens…
  • You make a difference
  • Far more than knowledge
  • You impart confidence
  • You impart wisdom
  • You impart determination
  • You impart belief
  • You impart hope
  • You impart courage to try
  • You impart creativity
  • You impart perseverance
  • You impart the ability to THINK
  • Never forget that
  • A test cannot measure that

 

 

 

 

 

The Flood

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Splat! My foot hit the carpet at the bottom of the stairs and was in a puddle. Not the way I wanted to start my day. I was flummoxed. Where does a puddle come from in the MIDDLE of a basement floor? Was it the dogs? The kids? Clean up commenced, and I went about my day. The next day, splat, the puddle was back. Now suspicious, I asked the household what was up, but no one seemed to know.

Bill checked the utility room and found nothing…the first time. The second time he checked a day later, it was filled with water. (Still not sure how he missed it the first time) Having just had three cars repaired in a week, we prayed fervently that it was NOT the hot water heater, but rather something inexpensive that was causing this water to flow from the utility room to the middle of the basement floor. I know… it was a far-fetched prayer, but due to our amazing faith (tongue in cheek, here) God answered! A small leak in the pipe caused the whole mess, but was an easy $100 fix. Whew! We dodged a major bullet. We quickly thanked God for his answer, vacuumed up the water, and left town for the weekend.

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Upon our return on Saturday evening, I was walking through the dining room when, splat! My foot found another middle-of-the-room puddle. I felt my heart sink. I knew it was too good to be true to get out with such a small price. So much for my great faith! Again, the search from dogs to kids. Again, no response on the culprit. This spot was under a place in the ceiling we had had a leak before. So I sent one of my boys to the attic.

“No water, mom! All is dry.” My mind was incredulous. This could not be.

“There has to be water, where else could this be coming from?”

It dawned on me then that maybe it was underneath. A pipe under the floor perhaps? Odd placement, but I guess a pipe could have burst….and water flowed up? Sprayed up, against gravity, maybe?

“That would explain the spot on the ceiling downstairs,” says the son.

“There’s a spot on the ceiling downstairs?” I ask.

“Yep. Right under this.”

“Seriously?”

I called the plumber. We filled the tubs and sinks and turned off the water main…just in time for our houseguest to arrive. Fortunately, she is a world race alumnus and bucket baths are familiar to her, as is flexibility. I was grateful we still had a bed to offer her. Just so happens our plumber is also a preacher and so we had to wait until Monday for him to arrive to rescue us. Two days without water taught me an important lesson…I could never do the World Race, I love showers too much.

pipe spewing

Somehow, even with the water off, the puddle grew. The spot on the ceiling downstairs spread. Water fell into the utility room…again. Once again, fervent prayers went up for an easy fix. Once again, the $100 answer came. A leak in the refrigerator line…fixed in a few minutes. Once again, fans and vacuums. And all seemed well. Then the small gnawing voice in my head that whispered, “You should get that checked to make sure. To prevent mold. To make sure there is no rot.” The voice won and I called the water mitigation company. It’s a good thing I did. The entire subfloor under the flooring was saturated. It spread out throughout the kitchen and into the dining room. The insulation in the ceiling downstairs was saturated as well. So much for an inexpensive fix! Insurance will cover all but $1,000 of it, so at least it will be correctly done before it is all over.

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The water company brought in their fans, dehumidifiers, and air filters just in time for our houseguest, who had left for a week, to return. God bless her…she is a trooper. They pulled up the floor, tore down the ceiling, and peeled back the carpet. Then they sealed off the dining room and kitchen from the rest of the house with plastic that runs from ceiling to floor. It looks like a hazmat area and sounds like a wind tunnel. The basement has the same appearance.

Did I mention that I am doing the Whole 30 diet? Yes, that’s right. The one where you have to make everything you eat, from scratch. All your own condiments, dressings, butter…from scratch. I am on day 10, still in detox stage and these events in my house are NOT HELPING ME!! However, I cannot turn back now, so I bought a cook stove that should get me through until my kitchen is restored. My plans have been interrupted.  Funny how it always  happens that way.  Sometimes unexpected interruptions turn out to be important to your health.

So I have been thinking, as you knew I would. We have been through fire, wind, and now water. I am praying we never have to go through an earthquake. (You can rest easy, if there is one it will be limited to just our house I am pretty sure.) The lesson this time? Things can look pretty good on the outside. It can appear that all is well, but when you peel back the layers and look behind and under there is more than meets the eye. Things that will rot, mold and mildew. Things that you didn’t know where there. Things that can destroy if they are not addressed. You might suspect there was always something not quite right. That there might be an issue that has been there a long, long time. A slow small leak. Something that you are afraid to uncover because of what it will cost you, but it is best to go with the process. It exposes the things that thrive in the dark to the light and breath of God’s love. It is messy to be sure.  It interrupts your plans, takes some time, some rethinking things, and some rearranging, but in the end ALL THINGS ARE NEW. The relief and lightness of restoration, the rest and peace when it is all completed is worth the all the mess and trouble. I can tell you that truthfully. I have done it three times now in the natural on our house… and hundreds of times spiritually. What is coming is so much better than what is hidden behind you, but it takes removal of the damage first. It’s time to call in the professionals.

Weak Moments

IMG_9705They got me at a weak moment. I don’t know if it was the fact that we haven’t had a vacation together in years, or that I was just not thinking clearly…but when the voice on the other end of the phone said, “You qualify for a free trip” I agreed to it. Shortly, after I realized I had just signed up for a sales presentation I called to cancel, only to find it was impossible to cancel unless I was willing to pay for the “free” trip in its entirety. I tried postponing it…for a year, to no avail. I was stuck, and so this past weekend Bill and I embarked upon our journey, repeating to ourselves “no we are not interested in a time share” for the entire ride to Williamsburg, Virginia.

rainy nightI must say we got off to a bumpy start. Leaving well past what we had planned, we ended up hitting 5:00 traffic in Greenville, and race traffic in Charlotte. It was an 8-hour-turned-10-hour kind of a trip. When the rain started I just chalked it up to this is what you get for saying yes to a telemarketer. It was dark, it was wet, it was incredibly late and we were in the Middle of Nowhere Virginia. Joy to the World. It couldn’t get worse, right? Wrong. It seems that when Bill took over the driving from me in Nowhereville, we neglected to check the fuel gage. (I say we, but it really was HE…I’m just trying to be nice so he won’t look bad on my blog site.) So just down the road from Nowhereville, we came across Desolate Place. As we approached this place where we were the only car on the road, in the rain, at midnight, in the dark, our fuel light came on. I was attempting to sleep when I heard Bill say, “Uh-oh.”   This is never a good sound…but on this stretch of road it is a particularly bad way to wake up. Let me explain.

rainy manFlashback to 20 years ago, in about this same spot on the road through Virginia. Only, then I was not the only one sleeping. There are four little ones in the back of our old, beat up van. They are all sleeping when I hear “uh-oh” and we glide to a silent stop on the shoulder. My husband informs me that we are out of gas. It is 3:00 a.m. and there are no such things as cell phones. He locks me and our four children in the van and begins his walk to the nearest pay phone which is a mile or two away at a rest stop. He phones the police who graciously take him to get gas and bring him back to his nearly panicked wife and children. It was a couple of hours of me wondering if my husband had been hit by a car, kidnapped, or gotten lost. I was just wondering if I would have to load the kids up and walk them down the side of the highway in the dark, and if I did what I would tell any person crazy enough to pick up a mom and her 6 month old, 2 year, 4 year and 5 year old, when the police saved the day and brought us gas and my husband.

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Back to my story. So at least this time, there was a fuel light to warn us…and there are such things as cell phones with apps on them that tell where all the closest gas stations are. However, when the car tells you that you have 7 miles till empty and the nearest station is 7 miles away it makes for a stressful ride. Then when you, by some miracle, arrive at said station and it is closed the knot in your stomach grows bigger. One thing about cell phones is that they run on batteries…which have to be charged…by chargers that work. Ours does not. Fortunately we have 7% battery, so we attempt to look for the next closest station to Desolate Place. We find that there is another station a short 3 miles away. We are riding on 0-miles-to-empty. We continue to follow the GPS praying that the phone doesn’t die. The lighted parking lot is like the light at the end of the tunnel pulling us towards it. I say, “Go towards the light!” And so we do. We make it to the pump but not before we notice the only lights on are the parking lot lights. The sign is not lit. The inside of the store is completely dark. We have reached another closed gas station in This-Can’t-Be-Happening Virginia.  Bill makes the understatement of the year when he says, “We are in real trouble now.”   I am in the car praying our phones have signal and enough battery to call in the Cavalry. Bill is close to melt down mode and in his desperation he slides his credit card into the pump.   Unbelievably, it lights up and asks debit or credit. He types in the information and, in faith, puts the pump into the tank. We instantly relate to the old lady in the Bible whose oil never runs out even though her jar is empty. We are dancing in the dark, rainy night as our tank fills up from a dead gas pump. How does that even happen? Who cares how…we just celebrate that it did!! And Bill says to me, “You have to do a blog about this one.” And so I did.

gas station at nightI am happy to report that we filled up and got back on the road where we passed the exact rest stop where he made that call all those years ago. Note to self…when riding in Virginia, make sure you fill up before this stretch of road next time. We made it to our destination, had a lovely free vacation in Williamsburg (probably more blogs to come on that), got our promised $200 cash and voucher for another free night stay. All we had to do was attend a 2 hour sales presentation and say NO for four hours. Piece of cake…because we had 10 hours of practice.

Small Town Phenomena

IMG_9705There is big news in our little town. And when I say big news I mean camp-out-days-before big news.   The last time there was this much ruckus was when Walmart opened a few years ago, or maybe the night the Zaxby’s burned down. Tomorrow, after several delays and promises postponed, Chic-fil-a will finally open its doors. People have had their tents pitched since yesterday. My teacher friends are planning different routes to school for the next few days to avoid the breakfast traffic. Yes. I am serious. Now where you come from a new fast food restaurant is probably not a big deal…but in my little town anytime we get a real bona fide eating establishment, fast food or slow, it is a cause for celebration. To say our choices are limited is an understatement. This kind of excitement is contagious and makes me want to go pick up a chicken sandwich just to be a part of something bigger than myself. It’s a community wide event. It’s in the paper. It’s been talked about for weeks. The crowds are building. How can you not get caught up in the heightened anticipation and sheer magnitude of it all? This monumental occasion has caused me to think about all the small town phenomena that city dwellers miss out on. I decided to make a list for you.

  • Grand openings in which most of the town camps out to be there when the doors open. (Walmart, Chic-fil-a, and probably Taco Bell if the rumors are true.)
  • Christmas and Easter parades that contain more floats with Jesus on them than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.
  • Larger-than-life sized Cabbage Patch kids at every event in town.
  • Announcements in the paper when a baby is born, someone is getting married, anyone gets arrested, or when a child gets his/her first kill of either deer or bear.
  • News that travels faster than any social media via the family trees, in which everyone is related to everyone else in some way.
  • Festivals with local arts and crafts, farmer’s markets with local crops, and fun days with the locals.
  • Customer appreciation day at the bank where everyone gets a tomato plant…better known as Tomato Day.
  • Girl Scout cookie weeks shortly following sales…girl scouts at every entrance around town with tables of cookies.
  • Car washes and church bazaars. Homemade jellies, jams, and afghans.
  • Boy Scout troops doing pinewood derby and community service…everywhere.
  • A cannery that opens to the public every summer so people can “put up” their garden produce for the winter.
  • An annual Cornfield Derby in which wrecked cars race to wreck each other to raise money.
  • Fishing Days at Smithgall Woods where a kid and their grown up can fish for free.
  • Hiking Mt. Yonah…or rappelling Mt. Yonah…or looking at Mt. Yonah.
  • Swimming holes…Dick’s Creek, Waters, Yellow rope, Blue rope, and covered bridge.
  • Getting your name on any of the town marquees on your birthday.
  • Hearing third graders argue over the best ammunition to use in their guns to hunt deer, bear, and hogs.
  • Having third graders write about gutting a hog as an expository writing assignment.
  • Thinking that is normal.
  • Because around here it is.
  • Believing that charm does not have to be created because it resides here.
  • Knowing all the small town phenomena and loving it.

Adventures in Ecuador

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Our trip to Ecuador is likely to lead to several more serious blogs…but first a fun story!

I have heard stories of foreign travel from all my world traveling friends, but now I have my own story. A week of jumping in cabs and catching buses with 37 people seemed relatively normal for being in another country… with 37 other people.  It was when Bill and I decided to take off on our own that we had issues. Maybe our courage was emboldened after a week of hearing Spanish spoken everywhere, or maybe we thought that since we had ridden public transportation with 37 friends it would be a piece of cake to ride with only two of us, or maybe it was the idea of having our own personal adventure that led us to the bus station. Whatever it was, we got there and found that we had learned fewer Spanish words than we thought over the course of the week, and we also realized that having 14 mostly fluent World Racers who had been speaking Spanish for 7 months as part of our 37 made it much easier for us than we knew.

IMG_8373On our own we went from window to window at the bus terminal asking for Mindo, the name of the town we were trying to get to. Each window told us things…only we didn’t understand any of them. Finally one woman stuck her arm out of her little ticket window so she could point to the place to buy our tickets. We smiled and said, “Gracias”…which is one of the only Spanish words we are actually sure of. The woman at the correct window told us the amount while I searched my brain for all those Sesame Street songs that taught how to count to ten. I found none of them in my memory banks at the moment I needed them most. Finally after a game of charades and holding up a variety of fingers, she wrote the amount down…$6.50…which seemed higher than what our contact told us it should be, but in the first 5 minutes of our journey, we were just happy to have found the right ticket window. Now to find the right bus…we tried to ask the woman how to get to the correct place in the terminal of 1,000 buses. She just shook her head, but then pointed to a little girl and said over and over, “Chico.” We took this to mean we were to follow the little girl who seemed anxious for us to trail her. As we wove through the station, the 5 year old seemed proud to be smarter than her followers. She dropped us off at a section of the terminal with 10 bus bays, promptly uttered several sentences and was gone. We tried to figure out the handwriting on our ticket and managed to figure out the time, and the bus number, but not the bay number. Thinking security guard might speak some English, Bill asked him which bay, and he uttered the same sentences as the girl and appeared to be pointing to bay 9. (I made note to write the producers of Sesame Street and complain that Ernie and Bert count too slowly.) So we thought that we were supposed to be at bay 9, though we couldn’t be sure since I couldn’t remember what number comes after siete. After watching buses come and go, and asking each driver if his bus was the correct one for us, we finally found our bus…in bay 9, just as every person we asked had told us. We gathered our things and got in the first seat so as to have room for my leg that doesn’t bend well. We knew if we were on the right bus, the ride would take close to two hours, so we settled in already exhausted from our first 30 minutes of “adventure.”

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About half way, Bill looked down at our feet, where we had place our bags and his hat. (Except for the bag with the passports and money…it was attached to my body with my arms wrapped around it as if it was my only child.) His hat was missing, which was very odd. It was a Panama Hat (which are actually made in Ecuador btw) he had bought at the market, which kind of marked us as tourists. Thinking the hat had slid backwards under the seats as the bus climbed the mountains, Bill started looking behind us for it. Soon a woman notified the driver of the missing sombrero and he stopped the bus in the middle of the road to address the passengers. We had no idea what he was saying, but we did know that we were the subject of his talk. No one came forward with the hat, and so the ride continued. (We never got the hat back.)

We soon realized that one of the advantages to traveling for a week with 37 people is the ability to tell at which bus stop to get off.  The leader yells, “Gringos off!” and we all knew to exit. When it was just two of us there was no one to tell us which stop was ours. Each town we went through we wondered, ‘Should we get off here? Have we missed our stop?’ There was no one to shout to us. At one point, the bus stopped and the boy who earlier took our ticket hurriedly said, “Mindo, Mindo.” We took this to mean it was time for us to exit the bus, so we gathered our things and got off. The bus pulled away leaving us standing in the middle of a road. Not a building in sight. Not a car in sight. Nothing in sight. Just the two of us and a foggy road wondering what in the world have we done, and where in the world are we, and what were we thinking, and what do we do now. A voice from out of the fog reached our ears, “Car coming!!” We couldn’t see any car because the fog was so thick, but the voice was insistent and so we ran to the side of the road just in time. We saw that it had not been the voice of God as we had imagined, but a local man who spoke just enough English to save us from becoming road kill. (Come to think of it maybe it was the voice of God after all.) Finally we saw a sign which directed us to Mindo…in 6 km.

IMG_8586Now I must tell you I am a planner. Before we ever left Quito I had looked up a map of Mindo…found the bus station, the visitor center next door to the bus station, and our Bed and Breakfast. I had a plan. Get off the bus at the station, go next door to get all the information we would need during our stay, and then go check into our room. Nowhere in my plan did I have a 6 km walk, on a foggy road in the cloud forest. I must say I was relieved, if only for a moment, that we were indeed in the right area meaning we had indeed ridden the correct bus. But reality increased my heart rate when I realized we were in for a hike, bags in tow down a deserted road in a foreign country. As we began to walk we heard the voice of God again, “Taxi?” What a sweet word that is. We looked at the man, who was smiling and pointing at a small beat up pick-up truck parked on the side of the road with no driver. Even as we said, “Si” he could see the confusion on our faces. He knocked on the window of the truck and a man who had been napping sat up, rolled down the window and said, “Uno.” As God opened the door for us to get into the backseat, we pulled out our money to pay for our ride. When we were driving away I thought to myself, “I have just done everything I have taught my children never to do. Don’t trust a stranger. Don’t get in a car with someone you do not know. Never get into an unmarked taxi.” I shook my head to find myself in this situation, but decided to see it not as a scary thing, but as an adventure. However, this new thought process did not help my heart rate to decrease one little bit. It was pulling into the town and seeing the Dragonfly Inn that finally calmed my anxious thoughts. You see I picked this inn because trip advisor said the owner spoke four languages, one of which was English. It also mentioned that he could tell us which tours to take and what to avoid. As we paid and thanked our taxi driver, I regained my confidence.

IMG_8661We made our way into the inn only to find that the owner was out of town, or at least that is what we gathered because the man at the desk spoke only Spanish. We pantomimed our way to a room, which was beautiful and overlooked a rushing river. That much at least, was perfect. We decided that in a tourist town that the visitor information center would surely be able to help us. Once again, no one at the center spoke English. We fumbled and pointed at pictures of humming birds and butterflies hoping to express our desire to see the beauty of the forest while we were in the town. The woman smiled and spoke in Spanish that was so fast I couldn’t even pick out uno word.   Just then God showed up again…this time as a man from England. He translated for us and managed to get us a tour of the chocolate factory for that afternoon. While walking to the factory we stopped into what we thought was an art shop only to find that it was a restaurant which was not open for dinner yet. But God answered the door…this time as a woman from France who spoke English. She told us of all the bird tours, waterfall tours, zip lines, cable cars, butterfly houses, and about a secret garden that was not well known, right in town that had 250 species of birds. We tucked the knowledge away and continued on our way.

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The chocolate tour was offered in Spanish and in English. Hurray for some English speaking people! Our tour guide used to live in Savannah, so we were finally able to be understood. The tour was fabulous…it was about chocolate so how could it not be? I mean it ended with a chocolate tasting and God showed up again! This time as two South African women. They were a year or so older than Hannah and were traveling all over South America for the summer. We had dinner together and by the end of the evening had spent 6 hours with them. After such an exciting day, once we were back in our room, sleep came quickly and easily.

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In the morning we went to the secret garden for a couple of hours and were the only ones there…until God showed up…this time in the hundreds of humming birds buzzing like bees. It was an amazing place. We found a butterfly tour after that which took us to the butterfly house just outside of town. Once again, God showed up this time as our taxi-driver turned tour guide and showed us so many beautiful intricate butterflies. We saw at least three births, and fed many different types of these amazing creatures. In the process of our trip we found out that the buses from the Mindo bus station would not take us back to the bus terminal in Quito we needed. We were going to have to find one bus, then transfer to another bus, walk to where we had stored our bags in Quito, then call a cab to get us to the airport. After our adventurous bus ride on the previous day, we decided that there was way too much risk involved in trying to make that many connections. My greatest fear was getting on the wrong bus and missing our flight home. We went to our chocolate tour guide from the previous day and explained the situation. She arranged for us to get a taxi that could take us to pick up our bags and then carry us the rest of the way to the airport. It was much more than $6.50…but worth it to me for peace of mind.

IMG_8654IMG_8679IMG_8717Did I say peace of mind? Well, even though God showed up again…as the taxi driver who would take us to the airport…he had a sense of humor. This driver (turned out to be the same one who took us to the butterfly house) drove us for two hours, up out of a canyon on curvy narrow roads. When we came upon a bus or a truck he just went around. No passing lane needed. No visibility needed. Six slow vehicles in front of us? No problem. Just go around them all, at the same time, on a curve, in the mist, through the rain. Talk about adrenaline rush. I found it is best to close your eyes and pray and pretend you are sleeping. After 3 hours of travel God finally dropped us at the airport and we hugged his neck. He said, “Adios amigos” and we understood him perfectly.

Lesson of the story: God shows up, in many ways, in many forms and he always takes care of us.