Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Old Table

Sometime in the mid-eighties, we outgrew our kitchen table. A small walnut table with drop leaf sides that barely fit four dinner plates.

It just so happened that a friend of my sister was moving and offered to give us her dining room table.It was a nice size, oval, with a faux brown marble top made of the ever popular Formica. It had chrome legs, and no chairs, but we took it home and made it part of our lives.

We had that table in our dining room for thirty years. 

Often covered with a nice table cloth, ( and other times strewn with laundry, junk mail, or tools), we never felt the urge to go out and replace it. It  was solid and big and it worked. 

Over the years, I fell in love with it, realizing it made a perfect place to spread out the sewing machine and fabric projects. 
Covered with newspapers, it was ideal for pumpkin carving nights.
On weekends it was the best place for board games. And a deck of cards slid sweetly across its surface when a hand of Spades was being dealt.

That old table knew Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas hams. And birthday cakes that were lopsided but baked with love.
It saw VCR tapes tossed upon it for return, then DVd's , and then the evolution to Blu Ray and an occasional XBox game.

That table was where I sat with my kids and dyed Easter eggs, our fingers turning the gray/blue/black, with spots of glitter and stickers.
And years later, it is the table where my grandchildren colored their Easter eggs, too... their bright faces proud of the multi colored masterpieces that they created.

How many art projects were born at that table? There is still a spot or two of glue, permanent marker, and spray paint as proof that fun was made right there...that scissors and paste and water colors and paper folding was always something that Nana enjoyed sharing at her old table.

That table is where we had our first Karaoke, dozens of guitar medleys, "Dad wants to talk to you " meetings...and where we simply just sat and talked.

That table was a great makeshift bar, holding several types of liquor and soda and glassware for Halloween celebrations and summer theme parties.

It was versatile. One day it might be a buffet, the next night it was a place to crawl under during the tornado watch. 
Some days it was a tent, other times a place for presents and packages and prayers.

There were bar stools and desk chairs and high chairs alike pulled up to this table. And even a plywood addition on sawhorse legs to extend when company came.

 It was a place for family. For life. For things that mattered.

 My husband promised that when we build on next year, he will make me a big harvest table.  He convinced me it was time to pass that old brown table to someone else who needed it. 

So last week we gave it away.

Don't ask me why I cried. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Simple Joy

If anyone would have told me a few years ago that I would give up the salt shaker, I would have laughed in their face while salting my bacon. 

Salt was in my hands at the table as often as my fork -and I used it with total abandon. I carried the salt shaker with me while eating in front of the TV. . I filled it often and kept it on the kitchen counter for quick use. A sprinkle was never enough. And two shakes deserved a third.

Not until my son suggested I get a salt block to set in the chair next to me, did I realize how much I really misused this seasoning. To drive his point even further, he showed up one day with a salt block and presented it to me as a gift.  

"This ought to last you a few weeks," he said.

So, I did something then that I thought I would never do. I gave up the salt shaker. 
Mind you, I didn't go completely crazy and  insist all my canned and prepared and fast food be "salt free", but I did make a major difference in the amount of sodium I was pouring into my body.

It has been over a year.

My salt shaker is empty and tucked into the junk drawer. 

My big Morton box is pushed somewhere on the shelf behind the outdated cans of hominy and generic black eyed peas. And I only dust it off and use it in the case of emergency biscuits or some other recipe that calls for "just a dash".

I've learned to eat things without the added salt and I really don't miss it. Scrambled eggs taste good with chopped peppers. I use onions and mushrooms to give meat more flavor, and I've simply grown accustomed to the true taste of most foods without an added skin of sodium.

However, this is the second summer I have gone without eating one of my favorite garden treats. Tomatoes.

Without salt, they just didn't taste good at all. They lacked zing. They seemed mushy and unattractive and useless.
Every time I plucked one from the vine, I smelled that familiar tomato fragrance that I loved since I was old enough to eat. 
I salivated when serving them to my husband.
I mourned for the taste of them as I lined them up perfectly on the windowsill to further ripen in the sun.

But yesterday, as I held a red warm tomato in my hand, I thought to myself -
" Do I want to go through the rest of my life not enjoying this delicious treat?"

So, I pulled a chair up to the cabinet and reached wayyyyy back to retrieve the salt box.
I cut the tip off a beautiful ripe tomato and sprinkled on a little salt. Then I stood over the sink and sunk my teeth into that tart/sweet/salty flesh like I was a little girl again. 

I let he juice drip down my chin and the seeds plop on my tee shirt and I didn't care.  I even wiped my face with the back of my hand and the hem of my shirt. 

And I didn't feel one single bit of guilt. Only joy.

This is not to say I'm back using salt again. I'm not. I know I am healthier without a shaker attached to my hand.

But I also know that we should never deny ourselves a simple joy every now and then.

That tomato made me smile...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Morning Thoughts

In these early morning hours, the air holds a special sweetness. A rare hint of promise, I think. Our minds are open to possibilities and dreams. We dare to think, create and imagine.

 But it is a sweetness that fades when the sun comes up, the day begins, and we are drawn up into the flow of the world. One must rise early and often to experience this breath of freedom.

There was a time in my life when I thought these early moments of the day were wasted. A waiting game. An act of standing in line, eager for the day to start in full force. An impatient space of quickly sipped coffee, of pacing the floor, of testing the clock every two minutes to make sure time hadn't frozen into a huge tick of heavy limbo. I used to think there was something outside my door that defined me. That leaving the circle of my home was breaking out of a suffocating shell.

Now I know it's quite the opposite.

I think that in the essence of our home there is a unique aura that feeds our souls. It's like getting a transfusion with the right type of blood. That only the familiar air of your nest, the breath of your sleep, the fabric of your leisure can prolong happiness.

You know how it is on days when you sleep through the alarm. 
You stumble to get ready. You curse. You rush around to get out the door on time. And it usually goes downhill from there. All day long you feel as though you've been deprived of something. It's a dull ache of realizing something is out of place.

I think it is because your soul failed to breathe. 
That you didn't take time to sit quietly and rest your mind. That you missed that great open window of freedom and sweetness. That short, fleeting space of time when you are alone with your thoughts and with God.

Maybe some people call it meditation. 
Whatever you want to call it, it is as necessary as oxygen. Without it, our lives are smothered by a monotony of work days. Of mounting responsibilities and complex relationships. Of worries and weariness and doubt.

Take time to indulge in your sweet mornings. Fill your soul up with good thoughts. Realize that your true blessings are within you - and when you slow down enough to see them, your life will flourish.

Breathe. Give thanks. Smile.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leila, The Encourager

According to a Facebook status the other day, my sister in law accompanied a friend to the ER at 1:00 in the morning. Leila had been sleeping, all snugly and dreaming and resting up for the day ahead. But she got up, got dressed, and did what a good friend does.

This made me pause for a moment. It was so like Leila to give of herself unselfishly, to smile and encourage and be the strong shoulder, the kind word...the true friend.

When I look upon my life, I have never been that type of person. I've never been the kind of friend who shares late night coffee, shopping trips, fresh baked bread ( or portions of a good nights sleep.)
I have always been too private, too lazy, and too insecure to be a good friend. At best I am mediocre.

No one calls me at 1:00 am. They know better. They know my shoulder is a bit cold, my words a little shaky, my smile sometimes forced. I'm the kind of friend people call when they need to know about some fancy kind of font, what color I painted my foyer, and how I made that scary pumpkin last Halloween.

Truth be known, I have never had many friends. Maybe it's because I grew up in a large family. Because my brothers and sisters were my world for so many years. And then when I met my husband and got married, I stopped reaching out. I stopped finding time.

And when I did make a new friend, I soon found faults in them. I got bored with our conversations or became too weary to keep up. I didn't want to take the effort to be a good friend. I'm not a leader, a supporter, or like my sister in law Leila, an encourager.

Don't get me wrong. I've always wished I could be (and have) the kind of friend that picks up an extra bottle of nail polish because I know a friend who would love it, who bakes dozen cookies to drop off unexpectedly on their doorstep, who asks their opinions in the dressing room, who shares secrets and dreams ...and doesn't mind when they are woken in the middle of a deep sleep to join someone at the ER.

Lately I have been thinking I've dropped the ball. That God may judge me someday. Ask me why I wasn't the best friend that I could possibly be. Why wasn't I a Good Samaritan, a faithful servant, a unselfish soul? Why wasn't I dependable, reachable, likable? Why wasn't I a needed presence, a helping hand, a treasure to someone? Where was my soft shoulder, my gentle words, my testimony? Why did I stop short of creating solid friendships?

All I know is that friends like Leila are rare and priceless. That if you are -or have- a friend like her, then you are blessed beyond words. Because friendship is something that must be nurtured. Kneaded like bread in order to expand and grow. Tended daily in your heart of hearts.

Thank you, Leila,for being my friend as well as my sister in law. For always having that bright smile, that positive energy, that available shoulder..
And mostly,that gracious love.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


There is no mistaking the sound of rain on a tin roof. You never have to ask, 
"What's that sound?" It's a familiar tune.
It's a song that says slow down.
It's like an unscheduled intermission in life.

This morning the rain is like a lullaby. It rocks me in a cradle of damp greenness. It hums with each pit pat on the roof. How can it be that my morning coffee tastes hotter and richer while listening to the distant thunder?

And why does the rain bring with it such an unmistakable fragrance? It smells like rain. Nothing else can say that. 

Rain slows down the day. Breeds thoughts and dreams like toadstools that pop up without warning. It gives you time to reflect, sort, and take control. 
If only for a little while...

It is still dark here, but I can see the outline of trees- a deep evergreen knot of forest beyond the yard. I never fail to realize how lucky I am to have such a view. To wake up in a playground of pine and oak ...and cedars that whistle in the wind.

It's days like this that make me want to paint. Splash some color here and there with total abandon. To embroider blue thread into the shape of a bird. To draw, color, paste and ponder what has no time on un-rainy days. 

The rain washes away all the person I am not. It reveals my bone. It sees me for who I am.

I suddenly grow aware that the music on the roof slows to a sprinkle, the clouds begin to fade, the light of a pale sky appears beyond the garden. Responsibility and errands come with the sunshine.

So I sip my coffee, say my prayers, and enjoy the last luxurious song of the rain...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

20 Things I've Learned

Now that our big " building a barn" project is all but finished, I've found the luxury in these rainy days to reflect on the whole experience.

A lot of it wasn't easy. Or fun. In fact, to be honest, I've never felt so miserable and sore and tired...

But instead of dwelling on my bug bites, swollen joints, varicose veins, and over active perspiration, I have tried to see the brighter side.

First of all, I got to spend the past three months with the man I love. Every day. Side by side. Morning till night.

He didn't always like the way I held a hammer, carried a ladder, or crawled like Yurtle the Turtle up the scaffold. But I really didn't like the way he worked through ice cream breaks, dropped sweat down from the rafters, and quite often expected me to be tough and strong as the Brawny man. 
Lets just say it was a good thing that no open containers of dynamite, gasoline or highly flammable substances were nearby.
Sparks flew.

Now that they are simmering to nice reasonable coals, I can look back and see the positive side.

Here are some things I have learned:

1.  There are only 72 inches on a stick rule.
2.  When applying metal siding on a building, the rat guard goes on first.
3.  Templates make work easier and faster.
4.  If its not level, make it level.
5.  If its not square, make it square.
6.  If its not right, take it apart,tear it apart and re-do it till it is.
7. Gatorade is just adult kool aid.
8.  You need to keep hydrated, especially on hot days. Drink  plenty of water, followed by an ice cream sandwich.
9.  Wasps, bees, gnats, mosquitoes and spiders are NOT your friends. Neither are snakes. (Right, Karla?)
10. Even though you are dripping sweat, filthy dirty and cursing under your breath, the birds still sing...
11. Music makes a workday seem softer.
12. Rain dances make you look silly and rarely work.
13. God gave you ten fingers so you could afford to smash one or two once in awhile.
14.  Four pound 2x4's weigh 53.8 pounds by the end of the day.
15. When you are out working in the hot sun, you can always think of something better to do.
16. Never stop believing.
17. Fingernails are meant to have dirt under them once in awhile.
18. Saying "12-2 with a ground"  makes you sound smart.
19. Tarps are poor peoples sheds.
20. Never, ever feed the flame.

And I'm sure I'll learn a lot more before its done!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Coloring In The Lines

When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books. I rarely got one, though, except on special occasions like Christmas or my birthday. And sometimes my Aunt Jane would slip one in with gift of white nylon socks or a head scarf.

When I was lucky enough to own a coloring book, it took me a long time to finally put a crayon to its blank pages. It was so crisp and neat and new. For awhile I simply imagined all the spaces filled in with the precision of an artist.

However, it never ended up that way. 

In the beginning I was careful. Staying in the lines, keeping my crayons sharp,highlighting shadows and giving princesses multi- colored hair. I was so happy when I was picking out colors and filling in the lines. 
Then, on bad days, I was reckless and lazy. Princesses had generic yellow hair, the sky was always one shade of blue and I scribbled horribly just to finish what I had started.

Sometimes I feel like my new home is the same way. I waited so long and we planned forever before we started making changes here. It was pure and uncluttered. 
Until we put up a big red barn, two satellite dishes, a giant garden area, cut down several trees, changed the driveway, parked lawn mowers and a tractor and a four wheeler and a flat bed trailer full of stuff in the yard...
There are days I look back and think it is sloppy and unneeded.

But then I realize this is life.

Just like my coloring books. If I had left them empty, there would have been no joy. If I waited for the perfect time, they would have stayed un-colored, hidden in an old drawer with head scarves and white socks.
In the end, my coloring books were full. Dog eared and dirty and well loved. Soft, sweet and complete.

This place is my story. 
I may not always be neat and tidy. I go outside the lines. I get lazy and tired. But when all is said and done, I will have colorful memories here that will never fade. And I can paint them any way I choose.

My new home will always be a coloring book. One that never gets full, but keeps blessing me with new pages every day....

And I like that.

Friday, August 2, 2013

St. John

Sometimes there are days in our lives that we refuse to let go of. Special moments that seep into our brains like liquid memories. They are times we keep going back to in our minds and try to relive, hoping some of that already-spent happiness will escape and fill our hearts once again.

A year ago I was lucky enough to go on the most amazing vacation with my family. Twelve of us boarded that plane to the Virgin Islands with a mixture of excitement and fear. But in my old age I have learned that sometimes you must face a little fear in order to face fabulous.

St. John itself is a patchwork little island with colorful people and open- air restaurants and faded pastel roofs that rise beyond the ocean. It is scattered with old donkeys and wild pigs and chickens that have never found a home. The air there smells of rum and sea water, conch fritters and suntan oil, old-car exhaust and smoky BBQ.
To me, being among all of this felt adventurous, daring, and a little dangerous. But soon even maneuvering the switch backs and curves and wrong-side-of-the-road driving seemed worth the back seat white-knuckles once we reached the beaches.

The beaches of St. John were open and free, not crowded with people or commercial eateries or obnoxious motor boats or cheering volleyball players.
The sand was perfect,almost like a new peach, all soft and pinkish-white. And the water was so clear and blue that there is no Crayola Crayon to describe was translucent, alive, blue-mason-jar-aquamarine-turquoise-tealish-saffire...and breath taking.

It spoke. Begged you to take a plunge to see the ragged coral and tropical fish and glossy shells. Or sometimes it whispered for you to simply splash your toes in the lacy edge where ocean and sand meet in a foamy embrace...

I snorkeled for the first time in my life, simultaneously amazed at the blue fish swimming around me- at the same time wondering if I would drown in this faraway place. In a leopard tankini with no support...

The others spent the afternoons with only the snorkel spout above water, occasionally tossing a flipper or raising their backs to the soft sun - waving proudly that they spotted a lobster or sting ray or a school of yellow fish, bright as lemons.

The sky was always beautiful. Whether it was puffed with cotton clouds threatening rain, or splashed with shadows of lilac and tangerine above a setting sun.

If felt as though this place was the edge of the world...that if you stayed here long enough, you would be young forever...that time would stop and hold you in a perfect halo of happiness...

It felt as though you would never have to go back to responsibility, heavy clothing, or real shoes again.

The house where we stayed was fabulous, thanks to my generous son.
Although many of our favorite moments were days on the beach, the house held its share of good times. Group cooking, card games and swimming...watching the iguanas bask in the tree tops, enjoying rainbows and far off cruise ships and a nap in the big double lounge chair...

One moment that tops off the entire experience is the night we all sat around the outdoor table for home cooked dinner. Blessings were spoken. Candles were lit.  As evening set over us, we all looked at one another with eyes that said " I love you. I thank you. I don't want to go."
Then our laughter spilled out over the balcony, echoed in the valley, and drifted out across the ocean ...forever.