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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Becoming A Marshmallow

I do not think I have very many pet peeves.  I cannot STAND price tags on ANYTHING — including cleaning supplies under the sink, and, as I have previously and recently mentioned, people who start holiday seasons too early.  Despite its origins, I love Thanksgiving.  With each year that passes it seems to diminish under the weight of skeletons and Christmas trees.  It was a chilly night this Thanksgiving and I love a nice fire; particularly a piñon one because of its heavenly scent.  It transports me straight to Santa Fe.  I had a fire blazing and had given in earlier and bought marshmallows for my little one, particularly since they’re gluten free.  So, when she asked if she could have some, I thought why not roast them in the fire?  I got a long stick and wet it before placing the giant, spongy confection of sugar on the end of it and holding it above the flames.  My little one was in awe.  I never got to be a Girl Scout and I only went camping a few times in the summer with my church youth group.  So essentially I had no prior marshmallow roasting memories, having grown up without a fireplace.  The result was an unexpected culinary delight, and I was immediately asked to make more.  The next thing I knew my little one wanted me to sing Christmas carols.  We were all still digesting my gluten free pecan pie and already I was pressed into singing my favorite hymns.  “Once In David’s Royal City” melded into “What Child Is This” (my two favorites) and then I found myself being requested to sing every Christmas song I ever knew.  No “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” though.  I do enjoy some secular songs but for Christians it is a sacred time leading up to and commemorating the birth of Christ.  On the secular side, however, my little one began wondering when her scout elf from Santa (Noel Magique) and her reindeer Chestnut Jingles would arrive.  (Yes, I named them and yes, I snicker a little every time I use Chestnut’s full name.)  I had already decided they were not going to be returning to our home until December 1st.  (I cannot possibly maintain that Martha Stewart level of creativity past 24 days.)  However, I had just broken down and bought us a new tree this year after a decade of our rotten cats housing themselves in our old one.  By the end of last season it stood drunkenly and swayed violently — plus the bottom half of the pre-lit lights decided to just give up about three years ago.  I looked for a new one online early; just checking to see if there were any good deals.  Turns out there were and we got a lovely tree that looks like our old one (silver and pre-lit with white lights) for half price plus no tax and free shipping!  Woo hoo!  So there I was, looking down into the fathomless, deep brown eyes of my only child, so much like my beloved’s, and I thought about the magic of Christmas.  It is one of the few times as an adult I still feel the giddiness and wonder of childhood.  The American actor Edward Norton said, “The more you can create that magic bubble, that suspension of disbelief, for a while, the better.”  In that moment I decided we could all use a little more magic and so we put up the new tree early — amid glass-breaking screams of excitement from our little one.  The Holy Family is not going outside though until the start of advent; I’m not becoming a marshmallow.

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Nature’s Heart

I believe I have mentioned my little one has gotten big enough to go on longer walks with us now.  We talk, and for once I’m not staring into my iPhone.  Around a creek we make a circuit, simply enjoying nature, as we delight in her mysterious, fresh, earthy smells.  Right now is a very precious time because autumn in Dallas is such a fleeting season.  The leaves on our many trees are turning red, orange, and yellow.  As we walk, the wind will gently blow a few down to earth in front of us, laying them at our feet like precious gems.  We have found acorns, pecans, and different types of seeds and pods from trees which I lament I do not know.  There is a little bridge we cross over where we like to pause and reflect.  I told my little one that creeks were the highways for wildlife, and she was fascinated as I explained to her that they used them to traverse the city, seek shelter, and to eat and drink.  I have seen coyotes, owls, raccoons, turtles, songbirds, possums, armadillos, hawks, and tree rats — which frankly are adorable.  We have heard the rustle of frisky squirrels chasing each other around the barks of large trees, and have witnessed the majestic sight of a predator bird’s broad wings spread gracefully in ascent.  When the creek is high we have heard ducks quacking, and this time of year we have seen the V-shaped flight of wild geese silhouetted against the sunset.  Having a child has helped me rediscover slowing down and savoring time … especially outside.  We have examined rocks and felt the first chill of fall in the air.  It’s a time to tune out and tune in, to feel alive and savor the wonders of Mother Earth.  My little one found this leaf on the ground and handed it to me exclaiming, “Mama, look!  A heart!  I want you to have it.”  “Thank you so much!” I said, thinking she already had mine the moment I knew I was carrying her.  John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States once said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  I hope we all remain close to nature’s heart.

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A Whole New World

I have always loved libraries.  In college I relished the feel of being surrounded by the hush and the smell of old tomes.  One of my earliest memories is in elementary school when we were ushered into our library and introduced to the awe-inspiring card catalog.  For those of you too young to know what that is it was back in the days before computers were prevalent in our every day lives.  I can almost hear an audible gasp from somewhere.  Anyway, it was this massive piece of furniture with tons of little square drawers.  Inside the drawers were cards containing bibliographic information, including the title of the book, the author’s name, and approximate location on the library shelf.  I did some research and discovered that around 1789 the French began collecting books from churches and decided to use them to build a system of public libraries, including creating an inventory of all books.  The backs of playing cards were used to write each book’s information.  Leave it to my beloved France!  Around the mid-1800’s Melvil Dewey and other American librarians began to champion the card catalog because of its great expandability.  In some libraries books were based on size or the author’s name.  Dewy devised a decimal system where books were organized by subject and then alphabetized by the author’s name.  Each book had a “call number” which identified the subject and the location.  The decimal points divided different sections of the call number, which matched a number written on the spine of each book.  I can remember the librarian telling us we would need to know this our entire lives.  Since telling my six year old about it she has begun referring to everything in my childhood as “the olden days.”  (I predict her mind will explode when I explain to her about corded phones.)  Of course now libraries have replaced card catalogs with online public access which is digital.  My shock came when the hubs and I attended our little one’s book fair at her school and I could not find a laptop or a desktop anywhere.  Gaping like a slack jawed yokel, I stumbled into my discovery:  iPads were affixed conveniently on pillars around the library.  It is the first time I have actually felt old.  Like a cat staring at a shiny object, I felt compelled to take this picture.  I never could have forseen this day as I stood on that shag carpeting with my bell bottom jeans all those years ago.  I can still remember the feel of back-breaking weight of all those heavy books crammed into my backpack.  Now each child at her school has an iPad which contains them all.  The Norwegian historian Christian Lous Lange once said, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.”  I hope we never stop using actual books.  It’s more than the rustle of a page or the creak of a spine but I cannot precisely put it into words.  However I also love to read digitally and it is much better for the environment.  It is also very convenient.  At least people are still continuing to read; now it’s just a whole new world.

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A Cut Above

My husband really needs for his hair to be clean-cut at all times.  Fortunately he does not insist upon a buzz cut, but he will freak out if one curl starts to form at the base of his neck.  I say this without bias:  my husband has hair most men would kill for.  He is 44 and it’s still not grey, it’s not receding or thinning, and it is incredibly thick, dark brown, and with a slight wave.  For years I have begged him not to cut it every two weeks.  Hair does not even grow that fast!  It has taken an entire decade, but I have gotten him to go from two weeks to three and now (drumroll) to four!  His bangs no longer look like “Dumb and Dumber” since I’ve convinced him to stop going to cheap, walk-in places where he did not get the same stylist twice.  I have forbidden the use of clippers on his glorious hair and I have actually gone down to police whatever girl was making the back of his head look cheese shaped.  The trouble is, by the time he got an actual trained stylist, in my opinion it was way too much for us to be spending.  I knew how important his hair is to him so I’ve just tried to budget for it.  He never loved the place but at least he also never came out butchered.  (Cue the sound of angels singing.)  And then I discovered an “upscale barbershop.”  They’ve got old white guys, younger black men, clients with beards, no beards; you name it.  We decided to give it a try and I fell in love.  All the place needed was cigars!  Our little one did not have school that day and the receptionist, who was beautiful and sweet, led our six year old into a lounge/TV room and proceeded to put on My Little Ponies.  “May I get you something to drink?” she asked as I felt my eyes widen when I noticed the bar.  I whispered to my husband that men had finally cracked the code.  It’s the go-to-the-salon-and-have-a-glass-of-wine-so-you-can-relax-secret.  Only they had my kind of drinks — vodka, whiskey and gin that I noticed.  Burk had a gin and tonic (I call it the anorexic white ladies’ drink) and I had a whiskey with 7up.  They even had an orange juice for our little one.  Lounging in the big, leather recliner my little one peeled her eyes away from the television long enough to remark, “Now THIS is the life!”  “Kiddo, you have no idea,” I said, thinking of the special mother/daughter spa days we would have when she is older.  I knew I liked my husband’s stylist instantly.  She was sharp and I had no doubt he was in great hands.  When I booked his appointment the receptionist had actually taken notes!  Now that’s impressive.  Back in the TV room my little one remarked, “Mama they have massages here,” and I explained they were only for men.  I felt so comfortable sitting there, drink in hand, inhaling the gentle aroma of sandalwood.  It reminded me of my Daddy.  And I was so thrilled they let us stay!  As he was being shampooed my husband was treated to a steaming hot towel wrapped around his clean-shaven face.  I watched him visibly slump in the chair.  That is really saying something, because he doesn’t unwind very easily.  Other than his hair, he is highly concerned about his shoes looking nice.  Imagine our surprise when we discovered members can sign up and have their shoes shined for free at any time!  “He’d like to sign up for the year” I proclaimed as I watched my husband emerge actually relaxed and happy.  And here’s the kicker:  it is HALF the price of the salon he used to go to!!!  I appreciate the details and this place had it in spades.  Most importantly, his hair turned out great.  I think the American writer Greg Behrendt was on to something when he said:

“I do think that you can dress yourself out of a problem.  The way that a haircut and a new pair of pants can make you feel is better than any therapist, because when you look in the mirror, you see a different person – you are a different person.  It’s superficial change that can lead to real change.”

His two best girls were proud to see him looking so confident and handsome.  I have decided to go with him from now on … not because his stylist needs any supervision; I just want to relax and enjoy a drink!  This place is definitely a cut above.

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A Change

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “There is nothing permanent except change.”  I have always tended to be a feast or famine type of person.  If I’m in I’m all in.  For almost two years I have tried to post daily.  When I started, my little one was four.  She is now six.  I feel I need to be spending more quality time with my family, more time purging things we no longer need in our house, and cooking more meals.  Between those things, my business, and blogging every day I have neglected myself by not exercising.  I strive to be better and, I hope that will come through in my writing as well.  Beginning today I will be posting once weekly on Sundays.  I hope everyone will enjoy reading a little less of me for a change.  😉

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