He Gave Us His Heart

As I have often stated I never had the privilege of living in a house until I got married.  One of the things I instantly loved was our big, sliding kitchen window.  Growing up we had a tiny, enclosed galley kitchen.  My mother cooked incredible meals in there made from scratch, but I longed for a kitchen window that looked out upon a yard.  After we bought our house I begged my husband to let us put in a little koi pond, and now every time I am at the sink I have a view of double waterfalls, our five beautiful fish swimming languidly in the water, and often water lilies in bloom.  A great black wolf statue stands majestically at the top of the falls, and to his side is a large white statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology.  He is depicted in such a way that he appears to be smelling the flowers, with his head turned facing Gubbio the wolf.  It is serenity by its very nature and when I open our kitchen window I can hear the soothing sound of water flowing over the huge rocks.  In the mornings I often hear birds singing or the chattering of squirrels.  On summer nights I can hear the rhythmic, deep “brrrraaaaaaap” of toads calling to one another.  And I love to watch dragonflies drinking from the pond.  Before this the only thing back there had been a solitary fig tree.  We built our pond around it and I had the workers use the three massive slabs of leftover stone to make me a bench underneath the branches.  As I name all my trees, he became known as Mr. Figgy.  I spent over a decade watching him bloom and grow.  In the summers I’d watch him become so bushy I learned to prune him.  In the fall the three of us delighted in watching the squirrels gorging themselves on the literal fruits of his labor.  This last spring I taught my child how to climb him.  My daughter has adored Mr. Figgy and I had visions of building a tree house around him.  Then the arborist delivered some devastating news:  Mr. Figgy was getting long in the tooth.  He had already been treated for some type of borer worms.  We thought he was better but then she pronounced he now had mold.  “Oh NO not Mr. Figgy!” my little one cried as I silently echoed her sentiments.  My mind traveled back to that book “The Giving Tree” I’d read so often as a child.  With great sadness, I realized Mr. Figgy did not have much left to give.  And so I gave the order, feeling like a cold-blooded killer assassinating a beloved friend.  I wish I had taken a picture of him.  My little one and I went outside, told him what he’d meant to us, and then said good-bye.  “Can we keep a piece of him?” she asked.  And then we heard the chainsaw roar and could not bear to look.  After it was quiet I got a call from our gardner who said, “he had something for his Princessa” and so I called my little one outside with me.  The picture you see here is what he gave her.  It is literally Mr. Figgy’s heart that was cut from one side of his base.  Manuel said he had done nothing to shape it but when he noticed it was so perfect he wanted us to have it.  I love what Saint Basil, the 4th century Greek bishop of Caesarea, once said:

”A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Mr. Figgy was so much more than a tree; he was a dear friend whom I aspire to be like more.  I am immensely grateful we have something so special to remember him by.  Mr. Figgy gave us all he had:  his buds in the spring, his shade in the summer, his fruits in the fall and, in the winter of his life, he gave us his heart.

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Oh Deer!

Each day I pick my little one up from school and we pass a house on the corner of an intersection which has brought us immense joy.  Situated on the edge is a deer which, to our delight, always seems to be dressed for the occasion.  At Christmas he sported a Santa hat and my little one and I were tickled to see the deer rocking a New Year’s hat for 2018.  What has captured our fancy the most, however, is how you see him pictured here.  Cleary he is between holidays and yet he is wearing a festive scarf and ear muffs.  My six year old and I have HOWLED as we’ve passed by.  Clearly someone cool lives there who is dressing him according to the season.  Recently I decided to ring the doorbell and inquire about the deer on the corner who is so nattily attired.  An 81 year old woman named Nancy responded and informed me that “Bob” the deer had been in her yard since 1990.  She wanted a deer that her first grandchild could ride and he is named after her brother-in-law Bob.  Multiple attempts have been made over the years to steal him, but her husband cleverly placed him in cement and had him rebarred for good measure.  Somewhile ago a heart wreath was placed around his neck for St. Valentine’s.  Another time Nancy came outside to discover dear Bob had been cheerfully festooned with Mardi Gras beads complete with a sequined mask.  She said someone volunteered to outfit him for St. Patrick’s Day this year.  Since no one has claimed the patriotic holidays of Veterans’ Day, the 4th of July, and Memorial Day I have requested them.  Bob has acquired quite the collection over the years.  He already has rabbit ears for Easter, an inflatable raft and sunglasses for the hot summer months, and even a Hawaiin lei.  And the two-leggeds are not the only ones who have noticed.  Nancy says she has gotten to where she can identify a lot of the various dogs who bark at him as they pass by.  “Bob has been to rehab like me,” she said as she told me of the repair she has done to his front and back legs.  She has learned to mix cement to fix his signs of aging and has also painted him several times to keep him looking good.  I greatly admire this widow for staying active and maintaining a playful sense of humor.  Wayne Dyer, the American motivational speaker, once said:

”The child inside of you knows how to take things as they come, how to deal most effectively and happily with everything and everyone it encounters on this planet.  If you can recapture that childlike essence of your being, you can stay ‘forever young at heart.'”

So what adventures are next for Nancy and Bob?  I can only say, “Oh deer!”

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Throw Kindness Like Confetti

I love the school my daughter is lucky enough attend.  I made the most of my public education, and I am thankful for it.  But traversing the colorful, imaginative halls of her world I have found myself wishing I could have been as fortunate.  The school is passionate about children and learning.  It practices our faith; it is cheerful, inclusive, unpretentious, and —- most of all, kind.  I have discovered it is easy to be kind with one’s own social class, or with someone who holds the same beliefs.  More difficult I have found is showing kindness to one who does not like you for whatever reason, or who does not accept you, or who deems themself better than you.  From the time my child could understand I have told her what my father told me:  there will always be someone smarter than you, better looking than you, or greater than you in some skill.  And, should you happen to be the very best in all of those things, there will always be someone younger than you.  My father did not say this to discourage me — rather, he said it to strengthen me.  A highly competitive kid, I made the Honor Roll, won the school Spelling Bee, got every principal’s award, and gold medaled in both statewide singing and writing competitions.  I was also on the drill team, which was a huge deal in high school.  Still all the kids made fun of me for wearing the same clothes, and an adult even once joked about my father’s car in my presence.  I was silently labeled unfair things like being “loose” simply because we lived in an apartment.  It was my father who taught me that I define myself.  I remember asking him once why he wasn’t angry:  angry with the police for continually pulling my dark-skinned father over and always letting him go after “just checking;” angry that we could never seem to get ahead despite all his hard work and integrity; angry that people routinely referred to him as “Chief.”  He turned his piercing dark blue eyes on me and softly told me that no matter what, we could always choose to be kind.  There was no bitterness in him and in that moment I discovered how he had managed to rise above it all.  He chose not to judge and simply to be kind.  I was once hurt very badly by a boy I dated for a summer.  He was from our church and I felt his parents thought I was trying to better myself financially by going out with him.  We lived in an apartment in a very poor part of town and they had a house in the well-to-do part.  I just thought he was impossibly handsome and so good.  I think they politely tolerated me, biding their time until their son was in college.  I had already started community college and knew what my academic goals were; I had known for years actually.  I can still remember the pitying look on their faces when I proudly told them I’d be attending SMU in the future.  Their son was off to an expensive private college in state and it was “suggested” he date sorority girls.  (Translation — girls with money.)  I did not want to believe it and I went with my parents to see him when he was away at university.  It was like he was shocked to see me although he had invited me.  I was absolutely crushed.  What I would learn when I was accepted into SMU, was that in fact is was more often the rich who sought the same for monetary gain, rather than the poor supposedly on the hunt for money.  I know no one will believe this, but a few years later in the same university town where I got my heart broken I noticed a girl who looked so much like me it was quite startling.  She actually approached me and asked if my name was Laura.  It wasn’t a question, really; it was more of a statement.  Surprised, I said yes and we wound up talking for several minutes.  She asked me if I knew this guy (the one from my church) and I replied I did.  She then told me the guy dated her for awhile but that he repeatedly called her by my name.  I went from being instantly jealous to feeling very sorry for her.  I think she felt the same way about me.  So what is kindness, really?  Does it falsely hide under the guise of politeness?  I submit that true kindness does not feign anything.  I met my future husband because he did not know how to change the flat tire on his car.  After I replaced it for him he asked if he could buy me an ice cream cone.  He was the most handsome man I had ever met — but his kindness is what got me.  I have repeatedly told my daughter that kindness is the most important trait one can possess.  Money can come and go, looks may fade; but kindness remains.  This year her school has been practicing kindness.  When I happened upon this shirt I knew it would be perfect for her “free dress” day during kindness week.  Bob Goff is the American author of the New York Times best seller “Love Does.”  He is quoted as having said, “Throw kindness around like confetti.”  Kindness is something that must be practiced; it does not always come easy.  But our world would definitely be better if we all strove to throw kindness like confetti.

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Crazy Cats

Every four-legged in our home has a rescue story behind them.  We have kitties that are sweet, but anyone who has ever owned a cat knows they are also a bit rotten on some level.  I am reminded of the saying that dogs have masters and cats have staff.  The American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once quipped, “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”  I realize that is rather sexist; however I do think there is some truth to that.  Yes they have shredded curtains and scratched the sofa, but they have also comforted me as I have wept into their fur.  Wolves are particularly sensitive and always know when one of our family is upset.  And few things can come close to being snuggled up in bed with a good book and a warm cat.  I have found our kitties hiding in cabinets and blatantly lounging on our clean laundry.  One even unrepentantly ran off with a hunk of the Thanksgiving turkey once.  I took this shot of Blue the other day after discovering he’d gotten himself locked in my husband’s closet.  I knew I heard him but I just couldn’t find him — until I looked up.  This was the adorable view that greeted me.  Whether canine or feline, time spent in their company is never wasted.  Our pets are family and we love them … even the crazy cats.  

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A Break

With the advent of the new year I had been seeing all of these carpe diem slogans, along with vaguely scary admonitions that life can change in the blink of an eye.  Ten days ago, shortly after I’d dropped my little one off at school, I received a call from the nurse telling me I needed to come get my child because her arm was broken.  She wasn’t crying but said that her pain level was at a 10.  By the time I got there she was paler than paste, shivering and huddled under a blanket that had been wrapped carefully around her, and her eyes were rolling intermittently back in their sockets.  In that second I experienced something of what my mother must have felt when I was in kindergarten and came home with a severed finger:  abject terror and complete helplessness.  Emergency x-rays showed her elbow was indeed broken.  She was placed in a temporary cast and sling and she saw a pediatric orthopedist two days later.  Her arm was still incredibly swollen and they put her in another temporary cast to allow for the swelling to subside.  I kept her in her sling except during sleep and felt confident the bone would not move.  After all, there was only a 20 to 30 percent chance that it would; if it did it would require surgery.  I was absolutely stunned when they removed her cast a week later and another x-ray revealed a much bigger gap between her small bones, meaning of course that they’d moved.  I did not write my usual blog on Sunday; instead I elected to play endless rounds of My Little Pony’s Candy Land with my little one and this silly game where a fox puts chickens in his pants.  When his pants finally fall down, the first to get their chickens back to their coop wins.  I read more books with her, played more with her, and made up more stories for her.  I found time slowed, and my father always taught me that time is the one thing that cannot be replaced.  Early this morning my little six year old underwent major surgery and had two steel pins placed through her little bones to hold them properly in place.  Next week her arm will go into a hard cast for at least a month and at some point she will have it removed, along with the pins protruding from her elbow.  The Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer is quoted as having said:

”Sometimes we know the best thing to do, but fail to do it.  New year’s resolutions are often like that.  We make resolutions because we know it would be better for us to lose weight, or get fit, or spend more time with our children.  The problem is that a resolution is generally easier to break than it is to keep.”

Prior to this I’d dusted off last year’s resolutions, which included everything mentioned above and more.  While I was striving to do more, be more, and add more into my life I learned an invaluable lesson from my precious little one … all it took for me to see it was a break.

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Gone Bats In The Caves

After Christmas and before the New Year, my husband, daughter, and I took a little road trip to San Antonio.  Our little girl could not remember her first road trip there and we wanted to go during the holidays because the lights are so magical on the river.  On our return, my husband had the brilliant idea to visit Natural Bridge Caverns.  I had been before with my parents and also once with my husband, but realized our little one had never seen them and six seemed like a good age.  She adores science and we all love geology so we hoped she would love it.  The outside temperature was in the teens, which is cold for the southern part of Texas.  As we waited in line, I felt like all the other tourists that stood there shivering and huddled against each other were questioning my sensibility as a mother.  She and I, both hot natured, stood in only long sleeves with no coat.  After a five minute wait our group began the slow descent into the caves.  Discovered in 1960 by a group of four college students, the natural limestone bridge extends 60 feet.  The average temperature inside is 70 degrees but I would submit it is a great deal warmer with the humidity.  And my little family does not take heat well, the hubs included, despite us all being natural Texans.  The Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest known commercial caverns in Texas, located in the Hill Country.  Turns out the humidity rate is 99 percent and no one seemed to be giving me the side-eye as they all quickly worked to divest themselves of coats, hats, and scarves, which they now would have to carry for the next hour.  The deepest part of our tour was 180 feet below the surface, and our entire journey was paved with the slick, slow trickle of rainwater traveling though layers of rock as it had for millennia.  The water flows and drips, causing the formations to retain a waxy luster which I tried to capture in my pictures.  I explained to my little one about stalactites versus stalagmites, and much of our tour centered around her trying to pronounce the difference as well as to remember them.  I am proud to say by the end she had it somewhat mastered.  I also noted some of the adults had rings of sweat around their shirts as my little one continued comfortably upon her scientific quest.  Before leaving the last “room” in the caverns they had cleverly (and thoughtfully) set up water fountains produced by the cave’s own natural water.  It was wonderful!  The American writer and nauturalist Diane Ackerman said:

“Just as our ancient ancestors drew animals on cave walls and carved animals from wood and bone, we decorate our homes with animal prints and motifs, give our children stuffed animals to clutch, cartoon animals to watch, animal stories to read.”

Our little one was crushed we did not see any bats along our tour but the guides did point out with their flashlights where a bunch of bat dung hung copiously and somewhat gracefully, way up high and far removed from where we were.  She insisted upon taking a plush animal with her and I thought back to how often I had done the same as a child.  I have always connected with animals and I was lucky enough to marry a man who loves them just as much.  We are rearing a child who lives with wolf hybrids, cats, mice, turtles, and koi.  Neither her father nor I were particularly surprised when our little one begged to have a plush bat from their gift shop.  Steering her toward a less expensive mouse, we realized that, like us, she had gone bats in the caves.

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New Year’s Eve

I have always loved to sing and music has invariably been an integral part of my life.  But even as a kid I found the traditional New Year’s Eve song, “Auld Lang Syne” depressing; I may have mentioned this before.  Never having been prone to feeling regularly sad, this is the one day with which I have consistently struggled.  For me there has just been something perpetually bittersweet and melancholy about this time of year, and specifically the last day of the year.  As I grew up I would feel sad if I stayed home.  For years after I was graduated from college if I went out I somehow knew my date would not be “the one” for me and I found that depressing.  Rather than birthdays, I have felt that this was the day for reflection; a litmus of sorts for the way I have spent the past year.  What did I accomplish?  Did I do any good for anyone else?  Am I better off than I was before?  Invariably my mind wanders to my loved ones who have passed on over the years.  How I miss them.  I am usually “the glass is half full” person — so why is THIS the day I incessantly find half empty?  The German-born Canadian author Eckhart Tolle said, “To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”  I have always known myself — but I have not always been true to myself along the way in recent years.  I have tried SO HARD to please others, to prove myself, etc. and I have finally come to understand I can only strive to please God, my husband, our child, my late parents, and ultimately myself.  I was forever taught that I was strong.  A part of me I think died when my father passed and I was 28.  He was my rock and the greatest influence upon my life, along with my mother.  I have been lonely and adrift since my mother passed three years ago.  In the absence of their love and support I have forgotten that I am more than enough.  No one else can define your self worth.  If the British monarchy can truly welcome a divorced American who is half black into the royal family I have hope that my daughter will know she can stand strong and be loved for herself as well.  Past, present, and future — we should remember the past, celebrate the present, and have faith for the future.  So, as 2017 comes to a close, I am trying to reminisce the past without sadness, examine the present with pragmatism, and look toward the future with joy.  With this I am wishing all of you a very blessed 2018.  All God’s blessings to you this New Year’s Eve.

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“The Wolves’ Night Before Christmas”

For the third year running I am continuing my annual tradition.  It is the only blog I have ever repeated.  Whatever race you are, whatever religion you are, wherever you may be — I hope that you are blessed.  And I hope that you care for our wolves who are in peril.  They are our world’s heritage.

Defenders of Wildlife Senior Northwest Representative Suzanne Asha Stone has rewritten what is in my opinion the greatest rendition of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” since its inception.  It will now always be a revered part of our Christmas tradition and I hope perhaps yours as well.  I am grateful for her generosity in allowing me to repost her work.  Happy Howlidays!

The Wolves’ Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the eve before Christmas
And to Santa’s dismay
Came such an icy storm
The reindeer couldn’t budge his sleigh.

As Santa paced and worried
And elves began to scowl
‘Rose a song through the wind:
A wolf pack’s mighty howl.

From the thick of the storm
O’er deep snow on big padded feet
Came eight silvery wolves
Ice and wind could not beat.

Santa’s mouth hung open for a blink
As the wolves lined up in front of his sleigh
Then he sputtered to the elves
“Well… let’s be on our way!”

Santa thanked each wolf
As the elves finished loading the last gift
Then he sprinkled them with fairy dust
Chuckling, “That’ll give you the lift.”

“They won’t believe this in Idaho..”
He laughed, a merry twinkle in his eyes
Then the elves harnessed the wolves
And they took to the skies.

On Lightfoot! On Blacktail! On Windswift! On Howler!
On GreenEyes! On MoonSong! On Hunter! On Prowler!
The wolves’ eyes glowed as they leapt through the storm
Santa wished his own coat could keep him as warm.

That night the wolves even taught Santa to howl
An ancient song filled with hope for Peace and Joy
That this season may bring for all Life on Earth
As they left special gifts for each girl and boy.

‘Twas that eve before Christmas
Santa will always fondly remember
When wolves rescued his mission
That stormy December.

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A Little Robin Might Show Me

My father often said the two saddest words in the English language were, “if only.”  I grew up in a two bedroom apartment for most of my life.  It had one big window in each room and it overlooked a huge field.  We had lovely antique furniture and my mother’s beautiful mahogany baby grand piano, which fit perfectly despite how very small our place was.  Her parents bought it for her when she was ten and my mother studied classically for twenty years.  I would often come home from school to find her playing “Claire de Lune,” which to this day is my favorite piece of music for the piano.  Starting in kindergarten my mother tried to teach me to play.  I loved to sing but never enjoyed learning the piano.  As I look back I realize I just did not appreciate the riches I had in her which were literally at my fingertips.  She tried for years but I fought her tooth and nail.  I did excel in music, but vocally.  And I regret not being able to play the piano well to this day.  Right before my mother died she bought her namesake an electric piano for her third birthday; a smiling cat whose teeth formed the keys.  I know she held a quiet hope that her granddaughter might want to study and play classical piano one day.  Of her own volition, when my little one entered into kindergarten this year she asked if she could take piano.  Looking into the cost, I discussed it with her father.  He agreed and the next week she began taking lessons from a young woman who is in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  I have an upright piano and, as I have sat these past several months with my daughter at the bench, more than anything I wish I could apologize to my mother; if only.  Now I am the teacher and I see the unending patience she had with me.  I also see the same anger and frustration coming out in my daughter that I had as a child when I didn’t get it right.  It’s surreal actually … sitting on both sides.  Apparently she is a very good student for her teacher.  Perhaps that was part of why I didn’t value my lessons, since it was “just” my mother teaching me.  And I honestly do not know how the poor woman survived without wine; I find it fortifying before I sit down to practice with my daughter.  This picture is a still frame from a video I took yesterday at a retirement home, where our six year old played her first recital.  She was not nervous at all and sat straight and tall at the keys; her little hands positioned perfectly.  She played her entire piece without one wrong note.  Her father was grinning ear to ear and I was so proud of her.  It would have meant so much to my mother.  I have often wondered if our loved ones can ever visit us somehow.  I believe God sends us signs, if we only recognize them.  Earlier that morning as my little one played her piece before we left, a robin appeared outside our window.  While they are not uncommon, I have never seen one in our yard or pond.  Suddenly I remembered the first song my mother ever taught me to play on the piano.  It was about a little robin singing from her woodland tree.  I had not thought about it since I was in kindergarten myself.  The American novelist and poet Josiah Gilbert Holland once wrote, “God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest.”  I do not want my daughter to look back one day and say, “if only.”  I suppose only time will tell if she has an inherent love for playing … or maybe, if I am lucky, a little robin might show me.

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The Tooth Fairy

On Thanksgiving morning our little one woke up and declared she had a lose tooth.  Asking me to check, I meticulously went through each tiny one and all seemed firmly in place.  At her insistence I checked again and, upon closer inspection, I thought that maybe one of her bottom middle teeth might be the most infinitesimal bit loose.  Squealing with glee, she skipped off to check in the mirror.  She began wiggling it and I encouraged to her to keep it up during the day.  A little after noon she came up to me and asked me to test it.  Sure enough, her tiny tooth was indeed moving back and forth!  I asked her if I could try and move it and reluctantly she said yes.  I got one good, hard yank in … pulling it down toward the ground.  “OW!” my little one screamed, but I noticed her tiny tooth was surrounded by blood.  After admonishing me not to touch it, I had to endure it protruding out like a jack-o-lantern’s the rest of the day.  Finally, after our meal, I pleaded with her to let me try and move it again.  Following the same thing I did earlier, I got in one good downward pull before I saw her looking at me with complete and utter shock; her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide.  Looking back at her, I was stunned to see the hole that was now in her still open mouth.  “DON’T SWALLOW YOUR TOOTH!” I hollered.  She recovered enough to say indignantly that she did not.  I could still remember being so proud when she got that first tiny little tooth and now I held it in the palm of my hand.  It was another one of motherhood’s bittersweet moments.  HER FIRST BABY TOOTH!  And it came out on Thanksgiving night!  I could not believe it!  Suddenly grinning, my little one shrieked with the unbridled glee and innocence of youth and ran to look in the mirror.  She came back looking somehow older, with a tissue delicately swabbing at the blood, saying, “Mama I cannot believe I lost my first ‘toof!'”  “You sure did,” I said, my heart breaking just a little.  “I have something for you,” I said, going off into another room.  A couple of weeks earlier I discovered they had “tooth fairy pillows” in our church bookstore and I just a feeling.  I knew at some point she’d need it anyway.  “For ME?!” she squealed in delight, clutching the tiny pink pillow.  “No,” I said, “that is for the Tooth Fairy!” looking very serious.  “See?  It has a felt pocket shaped like a tooth.”  “And that’s where I’ll put it for her!” she exclaimed with glittering eyes.  The hardest part was getting up in the middle of the night to gently remove the tiny tooth from her tooth fairy pillow without her waking up.  The tooth fairy paid her a dollar!  When I was a kid it was a quarter.  The next day, as a family, we all proudly went down to the Dollar store where she made her first ever Black Friday purchase.  Her Daddy kicked in the eight cents (which she did not know about) for sales tax.  The American Major League Baseball manager of the championship New York Yankees, Casey Stengel, once said, “The trick is growing up without growing old.”  Both of my folks always maintained a youthful spirit; I believe Burk and I are the same way.  He and I still need childhood magic, but we do not need any more visits from the tooth fairy!

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