Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sweet Summertime

Pictures by friend, T.J. Kopcha

Ah, summertime! Sweet, sweet summertime! I do realize that I sound like lemonade commercial.  But are you feelin’ me?  There is something so nostalgic about summer.  All of my favorite memories are set in summers past. I am not a particularly sentimental girl but it seems that no matter where I am (in the pool) or what I am doing (walking Freddy) the sweetness of a summer moment long past washes over me and I am back in 1987, 1996, 2006, or 2008 (take your pick!) all over again.
Does that ever happen to you?
I may be walking down the street when I catch the scent of honeysuckle and I am transported back to my childhood years in Florida.  Sometimes while slathering on sun block, I can recall summers at the beach house. No matter where we lived, my family has made the trek to Atlantic Beach in North Carolina for a two week vacation every summer. Now a new generation of my family is vacationing there…my kids.  When they squeal with delight and just a bit of terror as a wave hits our intertwined bodies, I remember doing the same thing with my Dad.  Honest to God, I can still remember what his skin smelled like all those years ago. 
While I was stretched out on a lawn chair today, watching my girls play in the water, I felt eighteen again (even if my boobs don’t) and I remembered the delicious days spent in my parents backyard baking in the sun as I leafed through trashy magazines (skin cancer here we come!!). Before I get carried away here, let’s take a look at a few favorites from memory lane.

4.) Picture this: you are 12 and you get to spend two weeks in your favorite, most treasured place in the whole world: Mema’s beach house.  You are surrounded by family; the little boy cousins who beg you to let them play Babies too (they really just want to take Barbie’s clothes off), your Aunt and Uncle, Mom and Dad, little brother, and Mema.  Best of all, your cousin Jamie is staying in her Mema’s house just down the block.  She is who you really want to play with…because she likes to do all the same things: gossip for hours in the ocean, rinse off and put on enough makeup to satisfy Dolly Parton, then sneak off to the carnival down the street.  In this place, there are endless delights for a tween girl.  You are intoxicated by the smell of salt in the air and the flounder and oysters frying in Mema’s kitchen.  This place is where your love affair with the South begins. 

3.) Next memory: you are newly 16 and have just been kissed for the first time.  He is short, blond, moody, and just perfect. Never mind the fact that his idea of a date involves you watching him drink a 12 pack of his old man’s Pabst Blue Ribbon on a baseball field that you had to awkwardly climb a fence to get into!! It’s all in good fun! All that matters is that he drives a car, sometimes returns your calls, and thinks you’re pretty.  What more could a girl want? That summer taught you the meaning of puppy love and it was sweet while it lasted. Sigh. Unfortunately, Liam forgot to mention that he didn’t do long distance (for even a week long vacation).  Oops! Wherever he is today…here’s hoping he made it to rehab.

2.) Moving on…you are one year older and so much wiser in the ways of teenaged boys.  You now have serious game and are working on becoming the heartbreaker rather than the heartbreakee. On a hot summer night, you meet a nice boy who doesn’t talk much but when he does, it is obvious that he is kind.  You don’t know it yet, but you are going to spend the rest of your life with him. He is just as damaged and clueless about relationships as you are, so the two of you are in for a rough ride.  This boy drives a muscle car and drag races for a living (you know, typical high school job).  He also hangs around with all the wrong people.  Considering these qualifications for the job of boyfriend, you decide not to count the “niceness” thing against him and date him anyway.  It is frightening how quickly the two of you fall in love.  With bruised lips you declare that you will always be together…whatever that means!

1.) Fast forward to August of 2006.  You are twenty seven and have just given birth to your first child…a daughter.  She is seven pounds, seven ounces of femininity with the biggest blue eyes and longest eye lashes the nurses have ever seen.  After thirty four hours of agonizing labor, it is now the greatest day of your life.  You realize from the moment she comes kicking and screaming into the world that you would lay down your life for her in an instant.  You and Hubby give her the name that you picked out together when you were eighteen, Savannah.  Even though he has not slept in thirty four hours, Hubby video tapes her and talks to her as she sleeps.  He is smitten, just as he was on that summer night ten years ago.  Waiting for this child, taught you both to trust God like you never had before. 

The pictures at the beginning of this post are from this summer, after our first year of living in Georgia.  As I watch the girls play with their sweet friends in the sun, I wonder what future summers will hold for them.  Surely, they will be full of family, trips to the beach, friendships, summer romance (God forbid!), and heartache.  And Mom will be there through it all to laugh with them, hug them, and pass the tissues. 

What are your favorite summer memories? I would love to hear them! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday Dinner

Since moving to Georgia, we have started a family tradition: Sunday dinners.  My cousin, Annie, and I take turns hosting dinner and picking recipes off of Pinterest that we've never tried before. Each Sunday, we do a little last minute grocery shopping and whip 'em up! Annie's recipes are all colorful and creative and what-not, while mine are the 20 minutes and under recipes for underachievers.  Side-note: I strictly use Pinterest for recipes and it is freaking amazing!  It's like a treasury of recipes for any kind of deliciousness you crave.  Our husbands make fun of our enthusiasm for Pinterest, but you know they love it.  Ain't nobody complaining at dinner time. Especially, since they do absolutely NOTHING to contribute but bring their sweet hinnies to the table. 
The rules for Sunday dinner are as follows:

1.) Rule number one about Sunday dinner is that you DO NOT talk about Sunday dinner. Ha!
2.) Any friend or family member who is visiting one of us on Sunday is automatically invited.
3.) Any friend or family member who is lucky enough to move to our neck of the woods (and I do mean woods) is adopted into Sunday dinner. 
4.) The cooks get to split the left overs at the end of the night.
5.) Dessert is a hard rule!  Do not show up without the dessert. If you do, ya better have some wine!
6.) Children must find a way to entertain themselves after dinner.  If you need something, go ask your father!
7.) Laughter is required by all...funny stories are encouraged!
8.) Cleaning house for Sunday dinner is frowned upon.  After all, it's Sunday, for Pete's sake!

Now, I do realize that millions of people all over the world probably have Sunday dinners with their families, but they are really special to me.  Probably because my happiest childhood memories took place here, in Georgia, with family.  When I was a little girl, we lived in Georgia for a few years, just a short drive away from my father's family, Uncle Frank, Auntie Mary, and cousins, Annie and Kip.  I have so many happy memories tied to our meals, birthday parties, and social gatherings together.  
I remember my Auntie's wonderful Italian cooking. I remember having my hair brushed and my nails painted by Annie. I remember the smell of my Uncle's cigar smoke after dinner and his famous dimpled smile.  I remember the sounds of adult laughter echoing through the house as outrageous stories were told. I remember being tucked into bed for a sleepover with my cousin and looking at her collection of exotic dolls, brought home from her Daddy's travels.  Most of all, I remember being happy and loved.  
So you see, to have this family connection, and to be back on Georgia red clay, is a blessing.  A gift.  Sometimes I think about how I ended up here again, after life took me so far away, and wonder how anyone can deny the existence of God. My hope is that God will bring the rest of our family back into the fold.  One day, I hope to be forced to buy a bigger dining room table, just to squeeze all of the family in.  I might have said that would never happen if you asked me a year ago, but God has made a believer of me.  
This weekend, my parents came for a visit and stayed for Sunday dinner.  It was perfect. My Mom made chicken and dumplings, just like my great aunts used to make in North Carolina for family reunions, and it was heaven.  I made the salad with my Aunt Mary's dressing. We had corn on the cob and sweet corn muffins on the side.  For dessert, my cousin made these adorable lemon filled cupcakes with a perfect meringue topping (show off!) and chocolate cupcakes for the kids.  But best of all was the familiar story telling and laughter of people who have a history together.  Even though Uncle Frank is no longer with us, he is alive and well in the laughter of his brother and his daughter.  
The hardest part about traditions, is getting them started.  When you move around a lot the way I did as a kid, you learn the importance of creating new traditions wherever you make your home.  You don't always get to be with your family; sometimes you have to choose your family.  So if you are not already, go ahead and invest in someone else's life.  Invite them over and order a pizza. Or pull a recipe off of Pinterest, if that's your thing.  Just do it! You won't be sorry.
Here are a few snapshots of the latest and greatest Sunday dinner! Oh, and next time you are in town, feel free to drop in. 

Me and Hubby

The Boys enjoying an after-dinner lollipop.

Marci, our adopted family member.

Dad telling a funny story.

The Girls chatting it up.

My Mom, the cook.

The Storytellers.

A good time was had by all!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Letter to Mom

My Mom. 
I could write a lot about her.  Truthfully, I'm sure I don't say as much as I should.  I have never been as eloquent in person as I am on paper. 
She was off being a good daughter this weekend to her mother, so we did not get to celebrate Mother's Day together.  We will have our mother daughter time together next weekend, planting my first flowers in my first yard together.  
This weekend, I thought I'd write her a letter, since that is what I'm good at.  She would not have wanted a flower arrangement or an expensive present.  We are alike that way.  My mom would say "Thank you!" but she'd be thinking, "Why on earth did you spend money on that?!" Mom likes to know how you feel about her and she treasures the written word.

Dear Mom,
        There are so many gifts you have given me and lessons that I have not forgotten! In fact, I am busy reteaching many of them these days to your granddaughters.  I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you for a few of them.  
        When I was little, you taught me how to love Jesus.  You know, you were quite the walking contradiction: a Southern Baptist, Sunday School teaching, Democratic, Social Working, Bible Reading, Feminist, Homemaker.  But, one of the first things I remember about you, that I loved about you, is your love for God.  We were quite a team, you and I! Me, the tiny person singing "Washed in the Blood of the Lamb" before I could really talk, evangelizing to anyone who would listen, (definitely got the tent revival gene) and you the analytical thinker, trying to keep me from turning into Tammy Faye at the age of 8. Without you to teach me compassion, patience, and humility, I would not have understood what it really means to be a Christian. Thank you.
       For as long as I lived at home, and still now, you teach me how to be a wife and mother.  When I think about all the times when you could have lashed out at Dad or spoken unkindly to your rude children, I am in awe of your patience! You did a great deal of parenting alone, while Dad was out of town on business, and I never remember you complaining about that.  If you were anything less than happy being at home with us, no one knew. I do remember how very happy you were to have him home on the weekends and long kisses in the kitchen after he walked though the door.  You made marriage look so easy! Ha! And, parenting? Whenever I am about to snap and say something unkind to my kids, I think of you and the way you and Dad spoke to me as a child.  Now I understand what self restraint it took for you to be so kind. Thanks for making us feel like we were the most important people in your world. I am a good mother because of you.  
      You taught me how to be a dreamer.  Most people would not guess this about you because you are so responsible and level headed.  But you are the biggest dreamer I know. I love that you are always dreaming about a trip, a weekend, or the farm where you will raise chickens when you retire. No matter how tough things get, you keep calm and carry on.  I love the way that you find joy and gratitude in the midst of a disaster!  You taught me how to be grateful for a book, a meal, a conversation, or a walk.  This has served me better than any lesson I have learned.  Thank you for having such big dreams for me and most importantly, for never being disappointed when I have chosen my own path.  This may be the greatest gift a parent can give her child.  
     I am so proud of the person that you are.  Most of all, I am glad that you are still in the process of becoming.  You never stop growing or become set in your ways.  It is a pleasure to watch you reinvent yourself and take risks, and never, ever stop dreaming.  One day, I hope that my dreams for myself are as big as the dreams you have always had for me.  And I hope that when my daughters are grown, they admire me as much as I do you.  For all this and more, thank you, Mom. 

Happy Mother's Day!



Friday, May 11, 2012

Lessons for My Daughters

Are there lessons that you would like to pass on to your children; things that you've learned along the way? I'm pretty sure all parents (except maybe the sketchy ones at Walmart) wish that their children might have an easier road to travel than they did.  My wish for the little girls you see above, is that their journey to adulthood might be a bit easier, with fewer growing pains, than mine had.  When I think of all the suffering I experienced as a young woman, trying to navigate my way through this life, I am seized with a fear I can only assume is motherly concern for my children and what the future may hold for them.  Life and I did not come to a truce until I was about 27, after my first daughter was born.  Her birth gave me a short reprieve from my growing pains.  I heard someone once say that holding your first born for the first time is like holding your own soul.  That's how I felt.  I know it sounds cliche and not at all feminist, but the truth is I didn't have the first damn clue about who I was until Savannah was born.  My daughters have made me a kinder, less judgmental, more compassionate, and most importantly,  a grateful, human being.  Of course, one would hope that they can figure this stuff out before they have children.  Please, God!!

I have this random collection of quotes that I've jotted down and crammed into a notebook since Savannah was born; things I'd like my kids to remember.  Don't worry! This isn't going to be all Tuesdays with Morrie.  Geesh! I hope I'm not going anywhere until I am old enough to lose all sense of propriety! 

But, you've got to write this stuff down, you know?  I just don't sound nearly as smart in person.   

  The Important Stuff

1. "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." Maya Angelou 
Boy, will this one ever come in handy. Women are such fixer uppers.  We just love a challenge; especially when it comes to men.  But here's the thing.  How much heartache would we save if we just took a person's word for who they are? I wish someone had told me this before I became a target for every loser within a twenty mile radius upon hitting puberty.  Girls, just do yourself a ginormous favor and hold out for the one who doesn't need a personality makeover; it's so much easier on the heart.

2. Surrender your future to God.  His dreams for you are so much bigger than the ones you have for yourselves. "You can do what you can do. Then, you can get out of the way because you're not the one who does the work."
Sadly, I have forgotten where I read this quote, but ain't it the truth?  I spent most of my twenties thinking that if I could just sit God down for a face to face chat, then I could explain why my plan for my life was so much better than His.  And you know what?  That's a bunch of crap.  I could never had dreamed this kind of life for myself.  I just don't dream that big.  And the road here was unbelievably painful, but I'd do it all again to arrive where I am today. 

3. "Don't dress like a commodity or behave like one.  God made you so much more than a body." 
I am paraphrasing here, but this one is from our pastor, Andy Stanley.  What is it about teenage girls that turns them into approval seeking missiles?  It's like this innate desire, fueled by pop culture, to win the attention of a man.  Girls, just remember that you teach people how to treat you.  When you use provocative clothing and behavior to attract a guy, you will attract a guy who is interested in just that; the body you are advertising and not much more.  You are a daughter of God, His own perfect creation, and most importantly, so much more than a body.

4. "Don't expect others to validate you. Show up knowing your own greatness and allow others to celebrate it with you." I read this when I was about 25 in a book by my favorite author, Anne Lamott.  Like a lot of young women, I didn't particularly like myself very much (this is still a work in progress!).  Lamott is this ballsy, courageous woman with an incredible spirit who taught your mother how to love her whole self, warts and all.  If you ever need help remembering how beloved you are (and a good laugh), pick up a copy of Traveling Mercies.

5. "It's not your business what other people think about you." Boy, was I a slow learner with this lesson!  Your Auntie Annie got this nugget of wisdom from a wise friend and kindly shared it with me.  Girls, I spent the better part of my young life worrying about the impression I was making on others.  No more! What a colossal waste of time and energy.  If you are living an honorable life, there is no need to take on other people's issues.  Just be kind, compassionate, and offer your worries to the One who listens.  The rest will take care of itself. 

6. "Hold off on the physical stuff for as long as possible.  Self- control before marriage equals self control after marriage." Andy Stanley
Girls, one day, you will meet someone who sucks all of the air out of the room, and makes you stomach flip flop with just a thought.  You will assume this is love.  Especially after a kiss that literally makes you see stars.  Here's the thing.  This magic is actually called lust, and it can be fleeting.  It makes people crazy and simpleminded (your Dad still has this effect on me).
Real love happens with trust, faithfulness, admiration, patience, kindness, and all of the other virtues you hope to find in a partner.  When you wait to find those things in a person, and THEN you throw lust into the mix...well, damn.  That combination is incredible and SO worth the wait!
Just remember this: you will often meet women who wish that they had waited to have sex with the right kind of man.  But, you will never meet a woman who regrets waiting for him.

7. Always listen to the tiny voice inside you; especially when it says, "Run!" There is a little voice that lives inside you that will guide you in the right direction if you are wise enough to listen to it.  In my experience, when you don't listen to it, the voice gets louder and louder until one day, it just rolls over you like a semi.  Don't wait for the semi! Just listen the first time.
When I was a teenager, I met the wrong kind of boy at a always starts that way. I had no romantic interest in him, but thought we could be friends.  Despite the whisper inside me saying, "He calls too much! He's too touchy feely! He doesn't want to be your friend." I agreed to meet him for lunch at a Burger King near his house.  The energy around him was all wrong.  I still remember those intense blue eyes that could drill a whole though a person.
Your Mom was always a nice girl.  I didn't understand that it was okay to hurt someone's feelings or make them angry if they made you uncomfortable.  This is not because your Grandma didn't teach me any better- I think I just inherited the "nice, southern girl" gene.
Against my better judgement, I gave this boy a ride home.  When I realized that no one else was inside the house, my little voice got shouty and I decided to leave.  By the time I reached the back yard, he was becoming loud, angry, and insisting that I not leave.  When I tried to calm him down and engage in a conversation, he tackled me to the ground.  As I lay in the grass, with him on top of me, my arms pinned down, I was too stunned to move or scream.
* God forbid you find yourself in this situation, your brain will try to rationalize his behavior.  Maybe if you are still, quiet, and "nice" enough, he will realize his mistake and let you go.  This is NOT the case.  Instead, you need to fight like hell: go for the eyes, ears, balls...whatever it takes.
I am convinced to this day, that I was only saved from sexual assault by a little boy and girl who were playing outside in a neighbors yard.  The sounds of their laughter distracted him long enough for me to get away.  As I ran for my car, he followed and I remember shutting the door on his arm as I started the car.
I could tell you other stories.  Every two minutes in the U.S., someone is sexually assaulted. Girls, you don't need to be a "nice" girl.  You parents would rather you be a safe girl who speaks her mind, without reservation. 

8.  "When you know better, you do better." Maya Angelou
Your Grandmother says this a lot and I believe that it is true.  When I was younger, I was a bit too self righteous and judgmental. It is easy, when you are very young to believe that the world is black and white with few shades of gray.  Now that life has knocked me down a few pegs, (totally needed it) I'd like to think that I am a softer, more compassionate person.  People generally do the best they can in this life.  And we screw up.  All the time.  But my faith tells me that it is not by my actions that I am redeemed; instead, it is by my faith alone in God's sacrifice.  When you are tempted to give up on someone or condemn them for their mistakes remember this:

Matthew 7: 1-5 "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

This is a verse that we Christians are great at conveniently forgetting.  Try to focus on this:

John 13: 34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

Because you never know whose shoes you'll be walking in one day! 

Do you have any words of wisdom to pass along?  I'd love to hear about them.   

Friday, May 4, 2012

Maybe Baby


Okay before I launch into this post, I'd like to add a disclaimer:

I am aware that this is entirely hormone induced, caused by my ticking biological clock, and probably not at all responsible or a good idea.

There.  I would like to talk about this phenomenon that hits some women when we are in our mid to late thirties.  It is this hormonal reaction that encourages us to procreate with whoever is willing (even Jorge the roofer who does not speak English) so that we may be fruitful and multiply!  Fortunately we have brains that can override our biological urges.  Brains are supposed to tell us that it is not intelligent or responsible to have another child when your sweet husband is already stressed to the max and you have your hands full with two spirited young ladies and a dog that thinks he is your son.  Brains should stress the wisdom in the decision to have two beautiful children rather than three.  Because these little girls will one day be young ladies who will expect you to gladly pay their college tuition and throw each of them a respectably extravagant wedding if the time comes.  Let's not even mention the gymnastic lessons, dance classes, summer camps, trendy clothes, toys, and trips to Disney world!  Have I made my point?

Two children is quite enough for us. Hell! There was a time when we didn't think we'd be able to have any!

So why? Why do some of us catch the baby fever when we already have a full plate of kiddos?! 

Let's explore what the thirty something female heart says.  The heart wants what it wants, right?  And every month when my ovaries kick it into high gear, my brain gets all juiced up on hormones and takes a back seat to the reproductive organs.  My heart says, "You have such a wonderful husband. You two make such beautiful babies together.  It would be a shame to deny the world such beautifully genetically engineered individuals!" Sneaky bastard!  It conveniently leaves out some of the sketchy genes that might jump in on the action.  
Then the heart says, "Don't you want a son? You know, to pass on the family name, continue the line, and all that stuff? Hey, don't worry about the finances! God will provide. Jesus wants you to have more babies! Oh, and remember how cute your girls were as babies? They were so sweet and well behaved." Ha! My heart forgot that we burned out a brand new vacuum cleaner b/c Savannah was only quiet at night when it was running.

So what to do? Well, right now we have chosen the path of carelessness.  We have not been trying to get pregnant...we're just sort know...practicing.  For fun.  Whenever I see my doctor for lady parts he smiles and says, "Are you using any birth control?" 

Now that's just rude, since he knows full well I am not!

I say, "Nope.  But you know,  I'm not actually all that fertile, so..."

Then he says, "You know what I call people who don't use birth control? Parents!" 

Okay, okay.  So he's got a point.  But creating our children has to be like a science project with all sorts of bells and whistles and a whole lot of Hail Marys. I'm just not that worried.  Never the less, I'm going to pray on it.  As in all departments of my life, Jesus needs to give my heart a little guidance, and I know He will because he's good like that.  I ask and he answers, even if it's not the answer I had in mind.  

Regardless of what the final outcome is, I am grateful for the reasons why my heart wants another child. I count myself truly blessed to still be in love with the same man that I loved when I was sixteen.  I am blessed that we still so much.  And I am grateful that he is such a truly amazing father that I wish I could give him more children.  They would be lucky to have him.  

As am I.