It was a day full of running around. I hadn’t slept much and my little one was in her frog pj’s all day. A friend thought I was clever for putting her in them since this was a leap year. As much as I would like to take credit for being witty, it was just happenstance. Every morning I fill our fountains for the day and, in my haste, I neglected to do so today. Tonight I discovered our pot fountain was dry; there was almost no water left in the reservoir. I hastily filled it to the brim but it seemed too late. Water is supposed to pour from the top vessel to the center one and on to the bottom before returning to the basin to start again. I have spent many years as a caregiver and I am thankful to have a husband and daughter who need me now. But I realize I have neglected myself and in turn I know I will not be able to help them if I get too burned out. As silly as it seems, I stood there with that hose willing my little fountain to work. It is a small thing but it brings me peace and joy. Finally I shut off the hose in resignation. I had neglected it to the point of it just giving out. Then as I was turning to close the gate I started to hear the faint, beginning sounds of water trickling. And I realized, you cannot give from a dry well. It is not selfish to make a little time for one’s self and for some reason I guess I needed to give myself permission to do so. This struggling fountain was a physical reminder that I mustn’t let myself run dry or I will be of no help to my family or others. American author Jim Rohn said, “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” This also served as a reminder to me that, in my arrogance, I need God. I can do nothing without Him. I have everything because of Him. So many references are made in scripture about Christ being the only living water. I need to spend more time at the foot of the fountain that never runs dry.
Looking back I marvel that my mother’s hair remained naturally red into her ’80’s. I cannot imagine the terror I unwittingly put her through all before I was four, about the age I was in this picture, and the age my little girl is now. When I was around two and a half apparently I drank an entire bottle of Avon Skin So Soft and had to have my stomach pumped in the ER. I actually remember the charcoal and that is was HORRIBLE. I recall the feel of the cold metal table and can still see the avocado green dividing curtains in my mind’s eye. Unbeknownst to my poor folks I also drank something at the vet’s office once. It was the ’70’s and, not only were there no childproof caps, stores left bottles of all kinds of stuff right within the reach of little kids. Fortunately nothing happened to me. When I was three I konked my noggin on the corner of my father’s mahogany desk and it burst an artery in my head. I remember blood spurting out in all directions and it getting all over the walls. And then there was my finger. I was playing with my friend and he accidentally slammed my left middle one in his front door. By the time I got it out the top part was literally hanging by a piece of skin. Blood was EVERYWHERE. I kept asking my mother if I was going to die as the huge pool of blood continued to spread centrifugally around me. There were no cell phones then and Daddy was out working. We only had one car and Mama had to track him down and tell him to come home right away. They say I still have my finger because I was so young. I have no scars and I am lucky it grew normally. I did have to wear a cast with a metal splint on top of it for almost a year and I remember crying because we were supposed to go to Six Flags the next day. The crazy thing is I rode roller coasters and every other ride all with a finger that had been completely severed for over four hours not even one day earlier! That was the ’70’s for you. Now they have a jillion warnings about heart conditions and medical issues practically before one can even enter the park. My sweet girl is facing two procedures tomorrow and I would give anything to take her place. I pray with all my heart nothing is wrong or, if there is, that it can be fixed. And then I think of all the parents with children who are in hospitals or who have had far worse scares and I am ashamed I have not remembered them in prayer. I have always thanked God for our own good health but I have failed to pray for the good health of others. That is something I will never neglect again. Mahatma Gandhi said, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” So for anyone who is reading this, thank God for your eyesight. Be thankful for the ability to eat, to get around, and to hear. And while you’re counting your blessings please pray for others to have the same. Achukma hoke.
I realize I have been remiss in not writing about a big part of our family — our cats. All of them have a story. We have a Bengal that wasn’t deemed “good enough” by a breeder (Elgin is marbled; not spotted). Sweetie, the sweetest calico cat ever, someone just gave up but at least to a rescue organization. And then there is Soleil and her kitten Giverny; they were about to be gassed to death in a shelter. Soleil is unusual in that she is orange; statistically only about 20% of females are. I call them collectively the “bad cats” but actually they’re all pretty good and they are super friendly like dogs. I cannot imagine watching TV, reading or sleeping without a kitty by my side. One even likes to “help” me bathe. Years ago I had a girlfriend who didn’t have cats come over to watch mine and my condo while I was away on a trip. She was completely freaked because things were different every time she was there. Cabinets would be open or knickknacks on a table would be in a different place. I laughed and told her it wasn’t a poltergeist; it was just the cats. They get curious, or bored, or playful and move things around. An all-time favorite quote of mine has long been writer Robert Heinlein’s “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” The worst is when I cannot find one of them. They have turned up everywhere from the attic to the linen closet. One time I heard meowing coming from our master bath and the cat had managed to wedge himself in between closed drawers. I kept opening them but could not find anything amiss. Now all their collars have little bells on them so it helps us know where they are. When our daughter was a toddler we had our cabinets “childproofed” (but also really “catproofed”) with a magnetized locking system. There’s a knob and when you place it on the cabinet it opens. I once looked and looked everywhere but could not find the darn knob when I was in the kitchen trying to cook. About to give up, I glanced over and found Sweetie pictured above. Notice anything?? Remember the bells they have? They’re metal. LOOK what I found attached to her — THE BLASTED KNOB!!! She had been calmly watching me the whole time. Then there was the infamous Thanksgiving incident on our formal dining room table. The cat ran down the entire length of it, stepping in my good china, and stole the turkey. I was horrified because it was my first Thanksgiving married but my grandmother-in-law just sat back and laughed. I have a little plaque which reads, “Cats are like potato chips. You can’t have just one.” I know I cannot save them all but at least I saved these. And they saved me right back.
When I was six I remember I got a poster at the mall for the wall in my room. I think it was the first one I ever had. It was of Miss Piggy with long, curly blonde hair and she was holding roses. I’d always assumed she’d won a beauty pageant. I kept that poster up for almost a decade. I loved her strength and confidence and watched “The Muppet Show” faithfully with my folks each week. I still have my silk jacket from the fourth grade that says, “C’est moi!” on the back of it. I also loved that she knew karate but she was still feminine and spoke French. I was too little to see her self centered, egotistical side and just took the traits I admired in her. Today I realize I speak French and have been to Paris, I was in the Miss Texas U.S.A. pageant, I keep my hair longer and curly, and I finally started taking karate. Kind of crazy. This was my first belt testing ceremony. I think I shocked my instructor when he asked what made me want to do martial arts and my answer was “Miss Piggy”. But there you have it. I started something I wanted to do my whole life almost 40 years later. And I am proud to say I was awarded my yellow belt. My husband and my daughter were there watching me and I hope I made them proud. I wish my folks could have been there. I want to set an example my daughter will follow. Never stop learning; never stop trying; never stop aspiring. I do not have a deep, meaningful quote this evening. Rather, I think I will close with the song I associate most with Frank Sinatra:
“Young at Heart”
Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart.
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart.
You can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day.
And love is either in your heart, or on it’s way.
Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.
For as rich as you are, it’s much better by far
To be young at heart.
And if you should survive to 105,
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive!
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart.
As a rule I am very wary of seeing dead things hanging about. Obviously I am not a fan of hunting. But ever since I was little I have admired the beautiful butterflies behind glass that are often sold in mineral shops. I never got one because I figured they were killed to be preserved. To my delight I discovered there is an entomological school in Peru that raises and studies butterflies. When their life has ended they carefully preserve and sell them. The money they generate goes back into the school for research to protect and preserve them for future generations. I have a stunning male Morpho didius and I am able to admire him from both sides because of the way he is mounted between the glass. His underside is brown and he has detailed rings that remind me somewhat of a peacock. Every afternoon for the briefest span of time the light comes in a certain way and his exquisite wings are incandescent under the sun’s radiance. I look forward to seeing it and I am reminded that God always shines His light upon us. The moments of shadow and darkness can never be dimmed by the inevitability that His love remains with us forever.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.” ~ American writer Richard Bach
At the grocery store yesterday I found a freshly made salsa pineapple mango and thought I would try it with dinner tonight. The ingredients are mango, pineapple, onion, cilantro, habanero peppers, jalapeño, salt, lime juice, and lemon. Um, I ate it for breakfast. I just sat there and ate it straight until I looked down in disbelief that it was all gone. It was so delicious and already prepared. I have found it is increasingly difficult to do prep work for dinner. I no longer peel garlic; I just buy the organic minced in a jar. Sometimes the time preparing can mean the difference between having a real dinner and just saying OK everyone has to fend for themselves. My mother cooked every meal from scratch and I remember how much Daddy appreciated it. I think my husband feels the same way; his love language seems to be food. 😉 My daughter likes to set the table and we do not have phones out during dinner. A couple of wolfies under the table and cats eyeing us from the piano maybe but no iPads or newspapers either. Some days though I just can’t swing it and we eat leftovers or get take out. Sometimes our schedules don’t permit and we cannot eat together. I am striving to be better about preparing before hand to maximize our time and also to maintain a better routine. I would much rather be sitting with my family with dinner already done than in the kitchen rushing to finish it.
“In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit. ~ Author Marge Kennedy
So I am going back to the grocery store for more of that fabulous salsa — this time to marinate with chicken breasts. I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight. But I look forward to my four year old saying she can carry the plates by herself and to seeing the gleam in my husband’s eyes when he pronounces it’s delicious even though he will not have even tasted it yet. And hopefully we will add some memories as we savor the time spent in the company of one another.
It has always irked me that people will walk up to a little girl and tell her how pretty she is. And, if she’s not, they’ll say her dress is. But with little boys it’s “You’re so strong!” and almost never about their looks. Participating in the Miss Texas U.S.A. pageant was certainly an experience. Having never even watched a pageant prior to being in one I felt hypocritical. I was baffled that mothers had literally groomed their daughters in the pageant system for their entire lives. One came with professional stylists and another girl had a set of ribs removed so she could look better in a bikini. I am not kidding. The two girls I remember making friends with who were in the pageant with me that year were a barrel racer and a truck driver. I admired them both and they were genuinely friendly and down to earth. Frankly, I think they were as lost as I was in the whole thing. They both came from small Texas towns and if you’ve heard that girls can be mean you have NO IDEA how vicious perceived beauty queens can be. French author Ninon de l’Enclos once said, “Beauty without grace is a hook without a bait.” Unfortunately, I saw a lot of ugliness. At one point in the week we were scheduled to do autograph signings. I remember this little girl coming up to me with stars in her eyes followed by a mother who REALLY did not want to be there. She uncomfortably explained they were vacationing in Padre and had no idea all this was going on. (The pageant took up a large part of the hotel and there were events happening all around between press, dinners, filming, preliminaries, presentations by the mayor, etc.) I guestimated her little girl to be about eight and asked what her favorite subject was in school. She looked momentarily surprised but then eagerly told me it was math and we went on to discuss her favorite books. The last thing I told her was to study and work hard because that was what was most important. She smiled shyly and said she would as she turned and waved good-bye. That mother came back to me later and said I was the only one who did not call her daughter pretty — and she thanked me for it.
When I first moved into our house I truly thought neighbors would greet us with casseroles. I’d always had this vision of what people who lived in houses were like. My father never met a stranger and my mother never really focused on anyone outside of our little family. I suppose I am a mix of both. Whenever we are out walking we always smile and wave at whomever passes; car, bicyclist, and runner alike. It is so nice when someone smiles and waves back. When Maris was born the stork came — literally. I had a yard sign put out with a huge stork holding a baby girl wrapped in a pink blanket bearing her name. In a week or so they came for the stork but we got to keep his delivery. It has hung in her room ever since. I remember being so touched because this woman a couple of streets over saw the sign and hand-crocheted the most exquisite, delicate little pink hat and booties for her that I had ever seen. A woman who had hoped for children of her own but never had any took the time to make something so precious for someone whom she had never even met. I wrote a thank you note telling her we would cherish them always. The other night we were at our favorite local Tex-Mex restaurant and to my delight we saw them. She could not believe our baby was now four and I was so proud Maris said hello and thanked her for the gifts once I’d told her what our neighbor did for her when she was tiny. We had a great talk with the lady and her husband who are both retired and reluctantly went to our table. After dinner we asked for the check and were shocked to find out it had already been paid by our neighbors! It was such a wonderful thing to do, and from people we like so much but never see. I intend to reciprocate and look forward to either having them over for dinner or to taking them out soon.
“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.” ~ Dutch Clergyman Henri Nouwen
I realize I have spent too much time chasing after fantom casseroles when I could have been enjoying much better Tex-Mex all along.
I spent most of my life living in one small apartment but I carry very happy memories of running wild through a huge field, riding my Big Wheel everywhere, and playing on the two playgrounds in our complex. I always dreamt though of not having solid white walls, of wanting a kitchen window, a fireplace, “fancy” sinks, ceiling fans and stairs. And I wanted the house to be on a creek. Imagine my shock when I had just gotten engaged and the five bedroom, three bathroom, two-story house I had loved went up for sale unexpectedly — across from a big creek on a corner filled with trees. Three of the bedrooms and two of the bathrooms are upstairs. There is a white rock rustic fireplace (Austin stone if you want to be pretentious), and three huge skylights I adore plus one in our bathroom. Our home sits perched atop a pretty decent hill given how flat Dallas is. I have the biggest kitchen window you have ever seen and it slides open so I can hear the rushing of the waterfalls from the koi pond we had built right outside. Our child’s room looks like she lives in the woods. Her cottage bed embodies much of what I had always longed for. We have a two car garage that goes right into the kitchen. I can plant; I can paint and I can remodel if I want! All of which I have done. We now have the prettiest screened in porch that over looks the creek and beautiful flagstone in the front with a wrought iron swing. Our house is not huge; nor does it need to be. How much does one need?? It’s stuff and things. I recently explained to my little girl what an apartment was. It was bittersweet describing something so foreign to her that had essentially been part of my entire life. The great thing about growing up poor is that I refuse to fall into the Dallas superficial “better than” trap. I have some really nice things but they do not define me. Nor will my child be defined by what she has or by what her friends have or do not have. I want to instill a strong sense of charity in her and awareness of a whole other world that lives right around her. I love that my husband stays above the fray in the whole “what do you do” (translation: how much money do you make) game. I remember when I was in the Miss Texas U.S.A. pageant our director said the only person we were in competition with was ourselves. Being HIGHLY competitive naturally and carrying a healthy chip on my shoulder from a lifetime of being dubbed “less than” for our financial circumstances, I thought he was really wrong. Now I realize how right he was. I am in a competition with myself each day to be a better person than I was the day before: better for the Lord, better for myself, better for my husband, better for our daughter, and to be better to others. That is all.
“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation. ~ Author Brian Tracy
Sometimes Maris and I treat ourselves to Starbucks. She feels very grown up and I let her have juice as a pick-me-up. Mama gets a mocha frappuchino as her pick-me-up. We share pumpkin seeds and talk about our day. I enjoy my daughter’s company immensely. She calls it “girls’ time”. We have savored our goodies al fresco when the weather has permitted and “our” Starbucks has raised bar stools on one side with booths on the other which we also enjoy. She brings her things to the counter and thanks the barista before going off to procure our spot. I always have my permanent cup in the car in case we decide to stop. We have patted pooches and visited with “neighbors” sitting next to us. They know us now and it reminds me a bit of the lyrics to the old TV show “Cheers”:
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”
I look forward to the next time we sit down and clink our drinks to commence our time together; “Cheers” to many, many more.