Sunday, December 29, 2013

To: Me / From: Me / Re: GRACE


Dear Jennifer,

Here is a gift I thought you could use. While it is belated, I wanted to make sure you received it before this hard year falls behind you, for you will need this present in the new year.

It is not exactly practical.

It did not make any of the "must-have" gift lists.

It is not too big, nor too small. It is one-size-fits-all, though it might take some adjusting on your part.

Of course, you can return it if you don't like it -- only I fervently hope you will choose to keep some of it for yourself.

I am giving you -- or us -- the gift of grace.

The other day, while reading your daily devotion, your eyes quickly scanned the passage that said you should become a "gift of grace" to your family and friends. Well, duh. You have always known that, even if you haven't always succeeded at it.

But then you paused because the devotional went on to say something you had never considered before: become a gift of grace, even to yourself.

Even to yourself.

That is something we are not very good at, are we? We are so unaccustomed to such a gift that we stumbled over that line, questioning if such a thing were even possible.

But it is possible.

And it is a gift you deserve. Stop protesting. Stop telling me you cannot possibly take what I am giving you. Yes, you can.

No matter our stumbles and mistakes, our trespasses and our faults, we all deserve to be gifts of grace to ourselves, too.

How do you receive such a gift?

You decide to accept it.

You slip off the cumbersome, scratchy, woolen cloak of doubts and slip into a fine, silken robe of grace. Yes, you will be naked for a short while when you shed your coat of armor, but do not be afraid to be vulnerable. It is who you were born to be. While our daily armor protects us, it also prevents us from receiving real, true grace.

When you are vulnerable, you must extend to yourself the kindness and forgiveness you have sought from others. Have you forgiven yourself? Have you been kind to you? Do you say nice things about yourself, to yourself?

Please nurture your soul, in the ways only you know best, whether that is through poetry or a porch sit or time with a dear friend.

You already have seen glimpses of the grace I give to you.

Remember how you danced at your high school reunion because, by God, you had lost your mother a few weeks before and you needed to dance, to lose yourself in music? You didn't care who was watching or how ridiculous you might have looked. You danced because you needed to dance. You danced and danced and danced.

That was a form of grace - to yourself - to celebrate your life, which moves forward even as you try to hold onto the past.

Remember how you were hurt by those you love most, but even as you sobbed at the utter unfairness, you knew you loved them still?

That, too, is a form of grace to yourself, allowing yourself to forgive and to love -- and yes, even to hurt.

Tell yourself that you are enough, over and over again, until you believe it, until you can toss the armor aside.

If you want more grace, you must peel yourself open like an onion, layer after layer. If you weep while doing so, all the better. Release whatever has held you back from grace. Peel, peel, and peel, until all the outer layers of you, all those past hurts, mistakes and misgivings, are stripped away - and you are the core of who you are, who you have always been.

Hold this green center in your hand. Clasp your fingers around it. Do you feel that? The pearl of who you are? That child who rode her bike down the street, not a care in the world, happy to feel the wind in her hair, happy to be alive?

This is what grace extended to yourself feels like. It feels like freedom.

It is okay to give this to yourself. I am holding it out to you. To us

Please take it. Accept this small token and allow it to be part of your life in the new year. Allow this seed of grace to grow, to carry us through love and loss, victories and defeats.

I am waiting for you to hold out your hand to yourself.

I love you.

Jennifer

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Gift from Above

I do not know where my family will gather for Christmas Eve this year.

For as long as I can remember, we have celebrated at Mom and Dad's wonderful old Kentucky home, a tradition that became known as "Jenkinsmas".


This is where I fell in love with porch swings.

Every family has their own Christmas traditions. Jenkinsmas is no exception -- only our family traditions are, um, especially unique. Consider Mom's grape tree, for instance:

All it needs is a little love. And some grapes.




Then there was the year Mom suggested we play "Christmas flutes." The egg nog must have been especially noggy that Christmas.



And we can't forget our beloved "Otto", a blue ottoman who became the Jenkins family mascot.



Last year, we celebrated Jenkinsmas in our jammies.

Pajama-mas!

As you can see, we always partied in style. Jenkinsmas is a very classy affair.

Merry Mustache-mas    

No matter our antics, Jenkinsmas has always been the very best kind of Christmas.

Before you read the rest of this post, please take a moment to read this column I wrote for this year's holiday edition of Evansville Woman magazine:

 http://www.courierpress.com/news/2013/nov/18/memories-of-christmas-filled-with-mom/

Then you'll understand why my siblings and I wonder if we can still find the magic of Jenkinsmas without our beloved mother, who died in August from cancer. How can it be Christmas without her?

As it turns out, we aren't without Mom at all. Not really.

Mom had been diagnosed with Stage IV gallbladder cancer in August, 2012 -- and although she was responding beautifully to treatment over the holidays and never once showed her family anything but hope and strength -- she wanted to ensure she was with us this year.

So last January, as she put away decorations, Mom wrote a note to us and placed it in a box, on top of the Christmas lights.

My siblings discovered her letter while helping Dad decorate the massive 10-foot Christmas tree he placed in the living room in honor of Mom.

This, friends, is Mom's gift to us at Christmas -- a gift from above -- left for those she cherished. You see, Christmas for us has never been about things. Not ever. It has always been about family.


Thank you, Mom, for letting us know that you are still with us, even if we are unable to find the strength to gather in that big, old house this year.

You will find us, wherever we are.

Chances are, we will be by your grape tree, tears mixing with laughter, celebrating Jenkinsmas, celebrating you. Just like we Otto.

We will remember the true meaning of Christmas, which began in a manger long ago, and carries over in a mother's note, tucked among strands of lights...

The gift of eternal love.

Merry Christmas, Mom.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

You're so vain, you probably think this journal is about you. Oh, wait. It is.

Flipping through old journal entries in the wee hours of the morning, I found this poem I had quickly written earlier this year, when I was worried about Mom and couldn't sleep. I love it when Past Me writes something for Current Me, and I glean what I need from myself (is that vain? But let's face it. No one else understands me like, well, me).

As one dear friend said, "Funny how we already know exactly what we need. Sometimes it just needs to catch up to us. Or us to it."


Dear Lord,
Please give me strength
When I don't have it.
Give me courage
On days I lack it.
Give me hope
Because I need it,
And give me the faith
required to feed it.

Please help me love
When love is tough.
Give me patience
When I've had enough.
Give me conviction
When mired in doubt,
And be the light
that guides me out.


Amen.

(c) 2013 Penned from the Porch, Jennifer Jenkins McAnulty

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I Hate Coats (and other lessons from grief)

Sorrow makes us all children again. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I recently read Justin Lee's excellent post about grief on his blog, Crumbs from the Communion Table. Like me, Lee lost his mom a few weeks ago. He offered words of wisdom for dealing with those of us in the throes of grief.

His thoughtful advice confirmed what I, too, have learned the last 24 days: grief is a difficult, erratic, unpredictable beast.

For instance, I walked in the park earlier this week as the sun was setting, and I felt perfectly fine. The evening was just cool enough for a long, brisk walk, maybe even a run. My legs felt good and strong, and my pace quickened. Endorphins worked their magic, and I smiled at passersby.

But then the Avett Brothers' song, "Through My Prayers", streamed through my ipod, and I was just as quickly not fine. I had never listened to that particular song, and the heart-twisting lyrics were the poetry of my life. I went from jogging and smiling to stopping cold on the trail from the sudden, crushing blow of grief. I bowed my head to hide my tears from others in the park. I moved off the path and sat on a rock by the pond to weep, question, pray, doubt and hope. Eventually, I wiped my eyes and moved forward again.

This is what you do in the midst of loss. You grieve; you move; you grieve; you move. Life will not pause for you to pause. This is both the beauty and curse of the mourning process.

I finished my walk, at a much slower pace, and I found my favorite tree. I leaned against its curved trunk, and I watched clouds play peek-a-boo with the moon. As I breathed in and out, in and out, the inner storm calmed. Once again, grief s-l-o-w-l-y released its vise.

This fluctuating process is daunting and frustrating, especially for someone like me, who always seeks to be happy, who believes in counting blessings, and who counts on those blessings.

Honestly, I'm not at all sure what to do with this unhappiness. I wear it like an awkward, heavy coat, and I despise coats. I want to toss the damn thing in a closet and be done with it already, but grief is a long, hard winter.

I absolutely did not understand the magnitude of the loss of a parent before I lost my mother. I apologize profusely to my friends who have been on this journey, for failing to understand how incredibly fragile you must have felt - and probably sometimes still feel. As we age, we understand that we will lose our parents eventually. It is the natural order of things. So why does it feel so unnatural when it happens? This is what I never grasped before. Losing a parent is like losing a vital part of your identity. It's an amputation. You suddenly don't know who you are.

Is it strange that I sometimes cry quietly for my "Mama", or have even heard myself whisper "Mommy", though I have not called her anything but "Mom" for decades? In those torrents of grief, which come without warning, I am a lost child frantically searching for my mother. Panic surges when she does not appear. Again and again, I relive that 1:50 a.m. phone call from my dad. Was Mom scared when she died? Was she in pain? Did I suddenly awaken 20 minutes before Dad's call that night because I knew? Was it Mom whispering goodbye that woke me, or just the wind?

My heart pounds-pounds-pounds, as if I am five, not 43.

Three weeks after Mom's death, I still find myself wondering if she and Dad will invite me to lunch, as they periodically did. I realize I am eager to show her my newly decorated family room and imagine her face when she sees it. I want her to come to my son's Saturday football game.

This morning, I reached for my phone to call Mom when I learned my daughter was cast as the lead in the school play.

But I can't call her. I can't go to lunch with her. She will never be in my family room again, and my children won't see her at their school events, graduations, or weddings.

If this is terribly self-indulgent, please understand that I do not think for one second that the world revolves around me and my loss. Oh, goodness no. My mom died of cancer, which claims far too many. Sadly, I am hardly alone on this journey, though grief can make you feel that way.

We all wear the cumbersome coat of grief eventually, and some will bear winters that are harder and longer than mine. Some seasons of grief are downright cruel, and for many of you -- whose losses are confounding, senseless and not the natural order of things -- spring must seem forever away.

I share because writing is my therapy and catharsis -- but also because my heart goes out to anyone who has been on this path, or who loves someone who is on it. Loving someone who is grieving isn't easy, either.

I would be lost without those who love me, especially those who are deeply familiar with my journey the past few years and understand why my grief is amplified and why peace seems elusive. Life does not always wrap itself up in pretty, shiny packages, and death occasionally leaves things undone.

But I loved my mom deeply, and I know she loved me. We had the good sense to tell each other that often, no matter what. The bond between mother and child never breaks completely. Not even death can do that. That will have to be enough for me, though admittedly, there are times it feels like it is not. There are days I am terribly angry and feel cheated in ways I cannot describe. There are things I simply will never understand, and I have to find a way to accept that. So I cling to what I know: faith, hope and family. These will tether me. These will carry me home.

I am forever indebted to those who hold my hand, or gently put a hand on my arm because they understand there is no quick fix to what I feel, no Band-Aid, no magic words.

My husband runs marathons, and he has talked of "hitting the wall." While I'm hardly a distance runner, I think I understand what that feels like now -- how every part of you aches, and it hurts to breathe, but you know the only way to the end of the race is one heavy, tired foot in front of the other. This is the path I am forced to walk, or even crawl, when I desperately want to sprint. I want to cross the finish line; I want to look back and know that I made it.

I do not want to do the work of grief, but I have no choice, because I want to embrace each day and be happy. Life will not tarry. There are children and a husband to love; a job to perform; a house to clean; stories to write.

The following excerpt, from the aforementioned Justin Lee post, gets it just right. I hope he doesn't mind that I share his thoughts here. They spoke to me, and I hope they are helpful to others who are grieving or know someone who is:

"Understand that this is a slow, difficult, often confusing journey. Sometimes, I might seem very inconsistent in what I want. As I write this, I’m feeling fine. That’s no guarantee I’ll be feeling fine ten minutes from now. The day after my mother died, I poured myself into work like nothing was wrong. Today, I’m taking the day off to be alone. Months from now, when you’ve forgotten this post, I may still be grieving and have times when it seems like more than I can bear—but feel awkward bringing it up for fear of being a downer.

Don’t assume everything is fine just because I seem to be my usual cheerful self, and don’t assume I’m not fine if I say I really am. Sometimes, grief comes in waves.

The grieving process is a weird thing. But if you are comfortable enough to let me grieve in my own way, you can make it much easier for me to do what I need to do and keep moving forward. And that is one of the marks of a true friend."


---

Thank you for your patience and understanding, your hand-holding, your compassion and encouragement.

Yesterday, I found a small sign that I loved, so I bought it for my living room, where it sits near a photo of my young, smiling mother. The sign reads, "Find the good." It is my reminder.

Eventually, spring will come again, and though I will never stop missing my mother, I hopefully will trade this heavy coat of grief  for something lighter.

In the meantime, I continue my journey to peace, through my prayers.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Long Way


 
I take the long way.

Walk.
Remember.
Walk.
Remember.

I breathe in the September evening.
I breathe you out into the setting sun.




I pause by the pond
where reflections of trees
shimmer on the surface,
there,
but not there.



I walk past rows of corn
where ears wither on stalks.

I cannot tarry here.





I leave the path for the honeysuckle
that tumbles over the old fence
still lush, still fragrant,
denying fall.

I pluck two blossoms,
inhale their sweetness.



I find myself at this tree
two trees, really,
growing in opposite directions
yet bound by roots.
I touch the earth,
where the two trunks meet.



I breathe you in.

I breathe you out.

Walk.
Remember.
Walk.
Remember.

Walk.






Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Things We Say

People ask, "How is your Mom?"
I say, "She is a warrior!"
Or "Her spirit is incredible!"

In the quiet of the night
As I stand at the kitchen sink, staring at nothing
hands submerged in gray suds
My husband says, "What's wrong?"

"I am tired," I say.
Or I say, "It's nothing. I'm okay."
I am tired.
I am not okay.
It is not nothing when your mother slips from your grasp.

"The cancer has spread," the doctor says.
"I tried to get as much as I could," he says.

Our faces fall.
Our heads bow.
Our bodies bend,
as if carrying bricks on our backs.

Dad puts his face in his hands,
Rubs and rubs and rubs his forehead.
"We will try chemo," the doctor says.

"You are buying us time," I say.
I am the only one who says anything.
"There are miracles sometimes," the doctor says,
as if he is unable to bear my hopelessness.

The doctor's words become the Kool-aid.
We greedily gulp.
Mom acts like she only has a cold.
"Chemo is nice, quiet time to read my book," she says.
"I have this wonderful quilt that was sewn by an inmate in upstate Indiana," she says.
"It could be so much worse," she says.

On the day she learns she will have to wear a pump
for more aggressive chemo, she says,
"It is amazing what you can get used to!"
After 18 sessions of radiation,
she says, "I am just a little tired."

A friend who lost her father hands me prayer beads over breakfast at Denny's.
"Hold onto these," she says.
"Keep them as long as you need them," she says.
I push cold scrambled eggs around my plate.

My siblings and I talk
But don't talk.
"Mom has a great attitude," we say.

No one says
That we fear future Christmases
And graduations
And weddings.
No one says
That we can't look our father in the eye now.

Dad takes Mom to lunch every day.
They take rides on country roads
Count the red-tailed hawks
Eat cheeseburgers by the lake.

Dropping by one day,
I catch them heading out the door.
"Lunch out again?" I say.
"It's a new day, isn't it?" Dad says.

That night,
Standing at my counter,
Peeling potatoes for supper
I slip away...

I find myself in my mother's kitchen,
Where she peels potatoes
And I stand on tip-toes on cold linoleum.
I reach for a slice from the colander.
"Potatoes aren't very good raw," Mom says,
Handing me a slice, anyway.

I bite into the raw potato and grimace.
"Yuck," I say.
She laughs.
"I told you so," she says...

Back in my own kitchen,
Peeling and slicing,
I tell that little girl
That when her mother hands her the slice of raw potato
She is to grip her mother's hand
Hold it tight.
Hold it so tight.

"Don't let go" I say.

Don't let go.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Note from the Murky Gray

This is a far cry from my usual Porch musings, but I'm compelled to share. Please know that wherever you are spiritually, no matter what you believe or dismiss, the Porch welcomes you. I like to think we can learn from each other. If not, we can simply sit quietly, rock and be grateful for one another. That's nice, too.

--

This past Sunday, I attended church physically, but I certainly didn't feel like I was there mentally or spiritually. Troubled and stressed, my heart was guarded as I entered the sanctuary. I could almost feel the weight of the chains wrapped around it.

I stood in the pew, trying to feel something from the contemporary music belted out passionately on stage, but eh. I didn't. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Although the music usually moves me, I was sad and preoccupied and certainly not in church mode.

I chided myself, "You're here, so show up. Get something out of this." Still, I could not focus or feel connected, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how many church members smiled at me and wished me a good morning. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside? Wary. That happens to me sometimes in church. I often don't feel like the other people there seem to feel. A control freak, I have never been one of those people who can throw my hands up in surrender. I am envious of those who can.

Frustrated, I quietly prayed: Hey, Big. G (I call God "Big G", and He is totes cool with that). I am not here today. I know I should be, but frankly, I'm not, and you know me well enough to know all the reasons why. I attended for my kid today, but not for myself. I don't feel like being in this pew today. I don't feel like hearing YOU today. I'm sorry, but I thought you should know the deal. I hope you understand.

As soon as I uttered those words, the ultra-contemporary, rarely-plays-classic-hymns church band began to sing the old hymn, "Crown Him With Many Crowns."

Whooooooaaaaa. Does everyone hear that - or just me?

See, when I was a kid, I attended a sunrise Easter service in our local park with my mom and my grandparents. I remember that cool dawn, the rising sun softly filtering through the trees as the preacher spoke in front of the town fountain. I don't recall the sermon, to be honest. But I know the way I felt when the couple dozen of us who braved the chilly morn sang "Crown Him With Many Crowns." Although I must have been very young, and I didn't understand the Bible yet, that hymn moved me, stirred me  -- so much so that I took the Easter bulletin that featured the hymn's lyrics, folded it, and held it tight in my small hand.

I've never told anyone this, but when I was troubled as a child, I would climb on top of the family carport, lie on the roof, take out that crumpled Easter bulletin and whisper the words of the hymn:

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.

I can't explain why, other than having the faith and trust of a child, but that song brought me peace and comfort. I would stare into the blue sky above and feel connected to its Creator.


When I heard that old hymn in that modern sanctuary this week, I was stunned. Truthfully, I was a little shaken. Really, Big G? You pulled out my childhood hymn to get my attention? What's up with THAT?

Then, as we humans are prone to do, I immediately scoffed at that notion. I mean, talk about delusions of grandeur: You're so vain. You probably think this hymn is about you.

I apologized in prayer again, telling God that it was unbelievably self-centered and egotistical  -- and let's face it,  a tad crazy -- to think that He, with billions of humans to worry about, would send a direct message to insignificant me. Who am I? I'm no one. I'm a speck.

No sooner had I said to myself, "It's crazy to think that the Big G would send a song to me", than the preacher began his sermon.

Among the first words he spoke? I. kid. you. not.

"GOD IS A SENDER."

Whooooooaaaaaaaaa. Did everyone hear that - or just me?

There I was -- as small, mistake-prone and doubtful as ever -- questioning what God sends, when the preacher said, clearly, "God is a sender."

Oh, snap! Big G's got game!

Needless to say, I sat upright in the pew. I tuned in and began to listen with a less-guarded heart.

Hopefully, those of you who visit frequently know that I am not the preachy type or the judge-y type. After all,  you've read my stuff, right? Who am I to judge anyone? I sin and fall short ALL THE TIME. Greedy? Check. Coveting others' lives and things? Check. Lustful? Check. Check. Check. And that's just referring to the Hugh Jackman posts.

Sure, I try to be a good person when it's convenient and I feel like it. Other times, I try less hard and do less than I should.

In other words -- and I hope I don't offend anyone here because you're all mah-va-lous -- I think I'm like most of us.

I guess that's why I'm writing this.

When Big G tapped me on the shoulder Sunday and told me to listen, I heard the pastor say that God sends. He sends to us, but here's the challenging part: He also sends us. We have a purpose (and I do not think it is the same mission for everyone), and we already have everything we need to complete it -- which is far less than we think we need, though I really do love my new open-toe sling backs.

I truly believe God gives us each a gift to use for good (and not to procure rare Hostess Chocodiles, as I've been known to do, but I already said I'm not perfect).

You don't have to go far to use your gifts, either. You can use them wherever you are.

I like to think my particular gift is writing, but we've previously discussed my delusions of grandeur.

What is your gift? Maybe you have a musical gift to bring others joy. Maybe you're an artist or a photographer with a keen eye. Maybe you are a natural teacher, or you have a kind, compassionate heart and are quick to reach out to others. Perhaps you use your fantastic sense of humor to lighten someone's load, or maybe you are good at fixing things for others.

Whatever gift you have, now is the time to send it: to give it away, one imperfect human to another. What are you waiting for? The world needs it, and it needs you -- fantastic, fallible you.

I'm not sure that in our churches, we talk about how fragile and fallible we are enough. From experience, I can tell you that pretending otherwise is intimidating to people new to church, who feel like they are somehow less than those who are in church all the time.

Although I'm a Christian, I don't think faith is all black or white, left or right, Hell or Heaven. If we're honest, most of us fall in that murky gray area in the middle, right? We're all part of one big, messy, dysfunctional family. Thank goodness we share a loving, forgiving, incredibly patient, and hopefully somewhat senile father who knows we're going to screw up, but He still wants us to try to be our best selves. Just keep trying. He's not asking so much.


If you're thinking you're not a church-y person, so you're not really sure you buy any of this, I want you to know that I get that.

I sometimes feel closer to Big G on a porch swing or on an evening stroll than in a church. So pray to that magnificent sunrise or send your best thoughts out into that incredible sunset. Relish your walk in the woods, where you feel peace. Laugh when the baby laughs. Breathe in your child, fresh from the tub. Stretch out with your dog in that sunbeam. And be open.

I'm no preacher, but I think God is wherever you find Him. Or wherever He finds you. He often found me in my youth on my parents' carport roof, where I'd stretch out and look at the endless expanse of blue sky. Big G and I could chat for hours up there. That's a kind of church, too.

Don't misunderstand. I think church is great. It offers fellowship and accountability, which are good things for anyone of faith. I often find comfort in church today. But if I had been raised in a church, I'm honestly not sure I would have such a deeply personal relationship with Big G. I can talk to Big G and His son JC about an-y-thing, and I owe that deep and abiding faith to my mother. She's not a church-y person, either, friends, but she is as closely connected to God as anyone I know.

This is just me, a wanna-be writer, mom, second-time wife, and very imperfect Christian, reaching out to you -- wherever you are on your journey through life -- and cheering you on, one murky gray walker to the next.

In this crazy, hurtful world, when people use religion for everything from politics to weapons, it's easy to doubt. It's easy to lose faith. It's also easy to question God when things are hard, but that's when I grasp most tightly to my faith. Thank goodness it tethers me.

This isn't about religion because I'm not particularly religious.

The most fascinating class I took in college was called "The Bible as Literature." In that class, we read and discussed the Bible like a book. Not like The Book, but like any book. I read every word of the Bible in a new way. Scripture suddenly didn't intimidate me, like it often did in a church setting, because I looked at the text as a student, who was open-minded and eager to learn.

What I took from that class and our many discussions and debates, is that what we get from the Bible depends largely on what we bring to it -- our quirks, our upbringing, our parents' views, all the good and bad stuff that has ever happened to us. I'm not sure it is supposed to work that way, but it does. I once heard a preacher say that if we followed every word in the Bible verbatim, we would never eat bananas. Why? What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder, friends.

Although I begrudgingly accept that others are as firmly entrenched in their beliefs as I am in mine, I get frustrated when people use the Bible to exclude others, when the purpose of the Bible is to reach all of us, every last one of us. I can't imagine the Bible, or the word of God, was ever meant to be a weapon or a message of hurt or exclusion.

I can't speak for Big G, and I won't try to, imperfect and unqualified for that as I am.

All I know for sure is that He is phenomenally cool to meet me where I am, in the murky gray, and love me anyway. Maybe sometimes He even sends me a song in church, to remind me of that, to loosen those chains that guard my heart.

Maybe Sunday's message was a for me to write, to share what I know -- which is soooo very little -- with those who, for whatever reason, feel like they are not good enough to be loved that much. Or sadly, they feel that other people of faith would not love them, would not embrace all those pieces that make them who they are.

From one murky gray, ne'er-do-well to another: You are enough. You are loved. Believe me, I do things that surely make Big G face-palm on a regular basis, but He's there for me, just the same.

Here's the tricky part: Faith is not something we can intellectualize, which makes it tough to accept. Faith isn't rational. It isn't remotely logical. But it is real, and it will give you something to grasp, if you only allow yourself to leap. When you are ready to take a chance on faith, trust that the Big G, or whatever you decide to call Him, will be there for you. Every bit of you.

In the meantime, share your gifts. Love your neighbors, even those who challenge you. Stretch out on the carport roof and know that you are worthy of that beautiful blue sky, that it was created for you as much as it was for anyone.
 
Remember: there's room on that big ol' porch for all of us

For that, for old hymns, for you, for Big G's gentle reminders, for Hugh Jackman (Big G just face-palmed again)...

I am so very grateful for it all.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Magnetic Personality

I've been pondering my writing (non)career lately and trying to decide which direction I should take it.

After a review of my strengths and weaknesses, I have finally discovered my niche.

Is anyone interested in a compilation of magnetic fridge poetry?

Whether I'm sincere:




Or even more sincere:



I totally rock this genre.

I'll be waiting by the phone, publishers.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Story of the Well-Groomed, Rare Evil South American Banana Spider

I discovered a huge spider in the corner behind the toilet, no doubt planning his surprise attack on the the next unfortunate victim to sit there (me).

With horror, I realized my resident spider slayer (a.k.a. reason enough to marry again) had already left for work, so I did what any reasonable person would do when confronting one of those giant spiders with those God-awful bendy spider legs: I cried for a good 15 minutes.

Then, mustering the courage that only comes from someone who has to pee really, really badly, I realized it was him or me. And it wasn't going to be me. Not today.

Unfortunately, I didn't have any bug spray in the bathroom, nor could I reach behind the toilet to adequately swat him with anything I had handy. I wasn't about to leave the restroom to get bug spray and risk him crawling away, as I knew -- KNEW -- he'd find his way to my bed tonight to carry out his evil spider intentions (there are no other kind of spider intentions).


He undoubtedly was a Rare Evil South American spider, inadvertently carried in with his family on some bananas. As soon as I fell asleep, he would bring Mrs. Spider to my bedroom to lay her venomous spider eggs in my cheek.


With adrenaline coursing through my veins (or maybe that was the three cups of coffee I had?), I grabbed the first thing I saw: a can of air freshener. And I began to spray the daylights out of the spider. HA! Take THAT!


You see, I have read enough picture posts from those wonderful organic mamas -- who don't feed their children PopTarts for dinner, like I do -- to know that I was dousing him in dangerous, irritating, carcinogenic chemicals. I sprayed him again.


But I soon realized with dismay -- as the spider raised eight middle fingers in my direction -- that it would take years for those chemicals to do their damage, and my bladder couldn't wait that long. Plus, the toxins probably would only make him grow EXTRA God-awful bendy legs that he would use to carry out his spider revenge. Damn.


Sweat dripping from my brow, I quickly rummaged through the cabinet, anxiously peeking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure the spider couldn't fly.


Aha! I grabbed what I thought was a can of hairspray and ran back to the toilet.
As the spider smirked about his future spider babies in my cheek, I said, "You've got to ask yourself one question. 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"


Then I sprayed. And sprayed some more. And some more.


Only it wasn't hairspray.


It was dry shampoo.


At first, he laughed. I had not only made him smell divine with my aerosol attacks, I had now fluffed his hairy spider legs. He was going to be quite the catch at the Rare Evil South American Banana Spider Party -- to be held later that night on my face.


He turned to face me. We stared at each other, eye to eyes....



He jumped.



I screamed. I prayed. I might have peed my pants.

But then something happened. The dry hairspray was ... drying. He froze in mid-air. It played out like a weird spider version of The Matrix.


Figuring this was my only chance to slay him -- or star in a Matrix film --l I did three slow-motion back flips (in my head) and sprayed him again.


Again. Again. Again.


He dropped to the floor beside the toilet, motionless, and extra coiffed.
 

I wasn't falling for his sneaky spider antics, so I ran back to the cabinet and returned with an arsenal of hairspray, shaving cream, heat protection spray, brown sugar and vanilla body spray... I gave him everything I had. Damn, he smelled wonderful.
 

As he lie on the floor, covered in mousse, I carefully, gingerly, cautiously reached behind the toilet with an entire roll of toilet paper wrapped around my hand.
 

Shuddering, I picked him up -- or rather, he stuck to the toilet paper -- and I dropped it all into the toilet.
Good riddance, Rare Evil South American Banana Spider!
 

I flushed three times. Okay. Five times. Okay. Twenty-seven times.
 

And then I went to another bathroom to pee because I realized that I likely only rinsed the toiletries off of him -- leaving his God-awful bendy leg hair remarkably smooth and shiny -- and making it easier for him to swim.

I will have to duct-tape the lid down on the toilet for a few days (months) before I feel safe. Does anyone know how long Rare Evil South American Banana Spiders can hold their breath?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Porch Prayers

Some mornings
I go to the porch to pray.

Other times
I meet the dawn with poetry
studying the world
from one artist's angle,
and then another.

Occasionally
I pay heed to the bumblebees already at work
their busyness a sharp contrast
to the rabbits nibbling clover,
or the woman sipping coffee.

Then there are the mornings
I close my eyes
shutting out everything
but the sun's warmth on my face,
a golden movie played just for me.

It is tough to say

which of these prayers

draws me closest to God.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Post about the Pickles

Here's what you do, friends.

Buy a regular-sized jar of your favorite dill pickle chips. Then drain off all of the dill juice, reserving about two tablespoons. Mix the reserved dill juice with 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Are you with me so far?

Depending on how hot you like it -- and you like it hot, don't you? -- add to the liquid a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or more, if you're feeling spicy). In my mind, you are especially zesty people.

Pour this hot mess back into the pickle jar with the pickles. Shake it well (uh, shake the jar, too), and refrigerate. If you can resist (you probably can't; we've all been there) give the pickles a couple of days to absorb the new flavors. This is when the magic happens.

Once a month, you will thank me. Oh, yes. You will.

Tossing aside that empty, crumpled bag of mini chocolate donuts, you will head for your fridge and grab the jar of spicy pickles.
 
You will stand at the kitchen counter in your "Honey Badger Don't Care" t-shirt, and you will eat the pickles straight from the jar with a fork -- or maybe your fingers -- because no one would dare correct you this time of month.

Like you, the pickles are a little sweet, a little tart, and just the right amount of spicy.

You might eat 10 pickles. You might eat 58 of them. It doesn't matter. You are zen.

Your children will run into the kitchen to tell you things that children tell you in the loud way that children tell them -- but you will simply raise your pickle-soaked finger and and give them The Look. Because they are bright children who recognize The Look, or because they learned bear safety tips from the Discovery Channel, they will quietly back out of the kitchen and leave you to your pickles.

When your husband spies you at the counter with the jar of pickles, this will be a sign unto him that he is to run far and run fast and not return without a chocolate malt. If he is very, very lucky, you will maybe forget for five or 10 minutes that you hate his face.

Caught up in pickle euphoria, you will not remind him of that thing he did that one time. Or that you know he doesn't watch Giada De Laurentiis for her cooking.

Whatever. Giada can suck it because she never made pickles like this.

Forget that no one else in your house knows how to change a toilet paper roll. Block out the ball game blaring from the TV room. Who cares that your children are blaming each other for eating the last Klondike bar? Laugh quietly to yourself because you ate it. It's okay; you deserved it.

This is your time. These are your pickles. Carpe diem and all that crap.

But where the hell is your husband with that malt? That's just like him, considering he did that one thing that one time. And who left their dirty socks on the kitchen floor? And dammit, are you the ONLY one who knows how to put a dish in the dishwasher?!

Sigh. Thank you, anyway, 58 pickle chips. It was nice while it lasted. Maybe you can lick some of the chocolate from the donut bag.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's Not the Size of Your Branch..Actually, It Is

After a day of spring yard work and tree trimming, my husband asked if I thought our city sanitation department would cart off the bigger branches we now had littering our yard.

I giggled and assured him they would.

"How do you know?" he asked. "And what is so funny about that?"

Turns out, I had called the city about that very issue after a major storm a few years ago. Several large tree limbs were piled at my curb, and I was concerned they were too big for the the city's yard debris services.

"Are they skinny?" the female sanitation worker asked. "Or are they big and fat?"

"Um, long and skinny," I said. "But they are very long."

"Honey, it doesn't matter how long the branches are," she said, "It's the thickness of the branch that really counts. You know what I mean?"

I couldn't see her over the phone, but I am fairly certain she winked at me.

"I think I do," I said.

And now you know. As if you didn't already.

My tree is not amused. I can't wait until he talks to me.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong

Today is my son's last day at his elementary school. Although he won't be dismissed until 3 p.m., and I haven't yet attended his "Fourth Grade Farewell" ceremony, I'm typing this post through tears. Part of that is my 40-something-year-old hormones (I cry a lot. I broke a wine glass the other day and grieved. We had been so close).

But most of the tears today are because my little boy is growing up -- and I will dearly miss those who helped him become the fine young man he is.

We have been fortunate that his (public) school has been such a loving, nurturing, enriching place for my son and other students. He has been blessed by many teachers and staff members who always go above and beyond what is asked of them.

As much as his school staff rocks, though, this is dedicated to someone else -- someone who volunteers his time each and every school day to brighten the lives of children.

Mr. Armstrong is my son's school greeter. He also is my daily inspiration.

He stands in the school's parking lot each day, opening the car door for youngsters and greeting them with a smile, a small pep talk for the day, and a "fist bump." Come rain or shine, Mr. Armstrong is present. It's more than showing up each day for kids. Mr. Armstrong is present in the sense that he is engaged. He is involved. He is committed.

Mr. Armstrong, who has worked for ESPN and others as a monster truck commentator (so the kids already think he is super cool), could easily choose to relax at this station in life. But that isn't who he is. He is a man who must do something, something that matters.

I had the opportunity to speak with him at length one day, and he explained why he volunteers his mornings greeting elementary school students.

He told me it was important to him that children begin the day with a smile and some encouragement.

"I like to think it makes a difference in their days," he said.

Moms and Dads can get in a rush. We might gripe about the milk that was spilled. We might have our minds on that big meeting at work. We might be mad that our child just told us he needs khaki pants that night for the chorus concert he also forgot to mention.

We might forget to let our children know each and every day that they matter.

Mr. Armstrong's gift is that he helps children remember.

Every. Single. Child.

Every. Single. Day.

"Hey, sport!" he'll say, as a student climbs out of the car. "You look sharp today! I hear good things about you from your teachers. Go get 'em today!"

If Mr. Armstrong notices a child who is having a bad morning -- and he does notice -- he often pays a little extra attention to him or her, asking the youngster to hang out for a few minutes and keep him company. He'll tell his trademark funny stories, making sure smiles outshine tears before the child heads into school.

He reminds parents they matter, too.

He often leans into the car, greets any siblings and says to us frazzled, harried parents -- some of whom are still wearing pajama pants and flip flops and just trying to keep it together (er, not that I know anyone like that) -- "You have great kids, you know. Great kids. Super kids."

I nod. I remember. I do have great kids. Super kids. He has reminded me and my son of this every school day for the past five years, and I am thankful.

As I pulled away from the elementary school one last morning, I said to my high school daughter, "I wish I could be more like Mr. Armstrong."

I wish we all could be more like Mr. Armstrong.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Scenes from a Marriage: Send me something sexty next time, k?


The husband sent me some constructive criticism on a Porch post. I told myself to respond maturely.
 
Nailed it.



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Well, I'll Be...

It's official!

As of today, You Are Enough is my most popular post on the Porch. That's probably not saying much -- since most of my regular readers are relatives who only check the Porch to see if I embarrass or slander them (uh, yeah. Why else would I write this?). Still, I am truly grateful to those of  you who read the post, shared it or "liked" the Porch on Facebook. Thank you!

The greatest thing about being a pretend writer is feeling like your words matter to someone. In case you're curious, the second greatest thing about being a pretend writer is saying, "Honey, I can't be pretend Morena Baccarin tonight because I'm being a pretend writer!"

If you are new to the Porch, you might be wondering who I am. I would love to tell you, but I often wonder that myself. The problem with being an overly right-brained creative type (besides not being able to help my kids with math after second grade, first grade, kindergarten) is that it's too easy to imagine myself as someone else.

In kindergarten, I was the weird, quiet kid with imaginary friends. I'm still that kid, but people look at me funny in the grocery when I tell my imaginary friends to stop eating the grapes, so I've toned that down.

The thing is, I never really grew up. Not really. Don't believe the wrinkles because they lie about who I am.

Of course, I act like a Very Responsible Adult when acting like a grown up is required (too damn often, if you ask me), but on the inside, I'm very much the child, sprawled on the cool kitchen linoleum, watching adults hustle and bustle and step over me, wondering why they never slow down and lie on the floor.

That makes being an adult more challenging -- as does finding my bra size in the girls' department, but that's a story for another day.

Sadly, we live in a world that discourages adults from playing Red Rover, but how totally friggin' awesome would it be if you and your colleagues went outside at lunch today and played tag until the boss called you back inside? (When she does, please say, "Just FIVE MORE MINUTES?!").

Like everyone else, I'm doing the best I can -- and that's enough, right? Right!

I'm a work-in-progress mother of two amazing kids, but please don't look for me to be PTO president anytime soon.

I'm on my second (of three. Because Hugh Jackman) husband, which proves I have an amazing sense of humor. He does, too. Plus, he's very secure in his masculinity, since he married the Karate Kid.

I have a real j-o-b, so I have to write in my spare time (hahahahaha. Spare time. Whatever!). I also write a column for an area women's magazine, so it's only a matter of time until Oprah calls. Don't take this dream away from me.

This morning, it took me a good five minutes to deduce that I actually had to plug in the iron before the wrinkles in my shirt would disappear. That's how much I iron.

I also just painted only the toenails that show in my open-toe heels -- while wearing the heels. I am surprisingly good at this.

What else? I love all chips that end in "o"; I cried when Hostess declared bankruptcy; and I have never had anything pierced. Nope. Not even my ears. I don't know why, really. It just never seemed like a good idea to put holes where holes were not.

I believe in God, fear religion and wholeheartedly believe the world would be at peace if everyone had porch swings.

Last but not least, I love to write and am grateful for the opportunity to do it here. Thank you for allowing me to be me, whoever that is.

You are always welcome on my Porch. Just so you know, it will be home base when we play tag at lunch.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

You Are Enough

Today, a dear friend shared three words with me that filled my eyes -- and my heart.

You are enough, she said.

What?

You are enough.

I paused. Am I?

Yes, she said. Yes.

I had no idea how badly I needed to hear those words until someone spoke them to me. Only then did I truly realize how not enough I often feel, how I sometimes cannot see the glass as half-empty or as half-full. I just see that it is half of whatever it is supposed to be.

This is not a pity party. This is womanhood.

Not long ago, a beauty campaign went viral with its "social experiment", an advertisement demonstrating that women are their own harshest critics. What a revelation, huh, ladies?  I mean, it's not like we spend a fortune on makeup, beauty creams, hair color and shoes (though the shoes are totally justified, because, well, shoes).

I almost resented the ad for telling us what women already know: we never feel like we are enough as we are.

We aren't pretty enough, smart enough, successful enough. We aren't working enough. We aren't mothering enough. We aren't reading enough. We aren't exercising enough. We aren't recycling enough. We aren't doing the laundry enough (okay, I really don't do the laundry enough). We aren't having sex enough.

Enough, already!

How did we get this way, we who have so much more than those before us?

Maybe it is because we work hard for a living, and we fear our children are missing out on something.

Or maybe it is because we are home with our children and fear we are missing out on something.

Perhaps it is because we never had children at all.

Perhaps it is because we don't even want to have children, and others insinuate that makes us incomplete.

Maybe it is because we never wrote that novel (raises hand), or we disappointed our parents when we dropped out of school, or we disappointed our spouses when we lost that job.

Perhaps it is because women on magazine covers look nothing like us. Maybe it is because that swimsuit model makes us feel like our boobs are too small or our waists are too big. Maybe it is because the reflection in the mirror doesn't match the image in our minds. Were those lines there yesterday?

Do we feel inadequate because we divorced? Or is it because we never married? Maybe it is because we are gay, and we have to fight so damn hard to be married, to be equal.

Maybe it is because our spouse had affairs, or we had affairs, and our anger or guilt has become attached to us, like limbs.

Maybe we have a child with an illness, disability or disorder, and we fight so hard for their well-being that we forget to be well ourselves.

Or it could be that our house is too small, our kitchen too outdated, our car too old. Are we less because we don't carry that designer handbag that everyone has this year? Is this two-year-old tote from Target a symbol of our inadequacy?

Maybe it is because last year's jeans no longer fit, or we have a father who now struggles to remember our name, or we had that late-in-life baby, and we're tired. God, we're tired.

Then again, maybe it is none of that and all of that. Maybe this is who we are: fragile souls whose well-meaning parents told us we are EVERYTHING! We can do ANYTHING! Yet, we aren't. We can't.

We try, though, don't we? We wear ourselves out with the trying. We have advanced degrees and work out five days a week, and our 40 is certainly not our mothers' 40, is it? We have smart, talented children and never miss a soccer game or a piano recital. Exhausted, we work late nights and weekends to get that promotion. We volunteer at the PTO or the civic club and stayed up past midnight recreating Pinterest treats for the school party. We make kale chips and drink expensive wine with friends.

And in spite of that, we go to bed feeling less than, making mental lists of the ways we will change tomorrow. We will do better tomorrow.

But here's the thing: we are doing the best we can.

We are. I am. You are.

That is enough.

The fact that you go to bed, exhausted, thinking of how you will do better tomorrow? Sister, it's enough.

We need to tell each other that more.

To the worn-out young mom of twins, who can't recall putting on a top not splattered with mashed sweet potatoes, you are enough.

To the teacher who gives everything to her students and fears she has lost patience for her own children, you are enough.

To the woman who ran that first half-marathon and feels like her husband should have been more supportive, you are enough.

To the 60ish-year-old who has so many Facebook friends, but who feels alone, you are enough.

To the woman who fights for equal rights, you are enough.

To the exhausted mother caring for her own mother, you are enough.

To the woman executive who is making less than the male executive, you are enough.

To the woman who appears to have it all: the husband, the career, the amazing house, the perfect kids, and who still feels like no one truly understands her, you are enough.

To the divorcee who wonders if she'll ever meet the right man again, you are enough.

To the single working mom whose child wore the faded t-shirt to school and didn't have a haircut because you forgot it was picture day, you are enough. It's okay. It will probably be your favorite school picture.

To the mom who fed her kids instant oatmeal for dinner because it was a long day at work and you just want to curl up on the couch and watch Netflix, you are enough.

To the teenage girl who didn't get invited to the party, you are enough. 

To the woman crying quietly into her pillow at night, you are enough.

To you, fabulous, imperfect, doing-the-best-I-damn-well-can you, you are enough.

You need to hear this today. Your girlfriend needs to hear this today. Your colleague, and yes, even your boss, needs to hear it. Your sister needs to hear it, and your mother, too. Your daughter needs to hear it from you, over and over again.

Tell them today they are enough. Tell yourself, too.

It's not easy being us. It really isn't. But it is enough.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scenes from a Marriage: Pinterest

Here's how I use Pinterest:



Annnnnd here's how the husband uses Pinterest:


He wins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Dad

Twenty-five years ago today, I climbed out of my friend's car after school to see my mother standing on the front porch. It was unusual for her to be home from work at that hour, and I was immediately nervous. Turns out, I had good reason to be.

"Sweetie," Mom said, "I'm afraid you won't be doing anything with your friends for spring break."

"What?!" I cried. "Why not?"

"It's your Dad," Mom said, fighting back tears. "He's checked himself into the chemical dependency unit at the hospital."

"I really don't understand," I said, "What does that have to do with me?"

"He's admitted he's an alcoholic, honey," Mom said, looking a bit unsure herself. "And we all need... Well, we need to support him."

A self-absorbed, resentful 17-year-old, this was a hell of a pill for me to swallow. I threw myself down on the porch swing, fuming. I didn't feel like my dad had supported me much, but suddenly I was being asked to give up my senior year spring break to do.. to do.. what, exactly?

To get to know my Dad.

That's what I began to do 25 years ago today.

Mom, my little brother and I attended an Al-Anon meeting that night, a support group for families of alcoholics. There, we learned the "twelve steps" -- the process Dad would go through on the arduous journey to sobriety. We heard stories much like -- and some much worse -- than our own. Mom fidgeted with the strap on her purse. My 13-year-old brother largely stared at the floor. I rocked off-rhythm in a chair that had one leg shorter than the others.

I have never wanted out of a place so badly as I did that night. I had never discussed my family problems with anyone, and I certainly didn't want to begin with strangers. Unfortunately, my make-myself-invisible trick didn't work, and the group leader asked me how I felt about my dad.

"I don't know," I told her.

"Just share with us how you feel about your father," she encouraged.

"I just told you," I said through clenched teeth. "I don't know."

It was true. I loved my Dad, but I didn't know him. Not really.

So it was with trepidation that I visited my Dad at rehab for "Family Nights." The man I saw was too close to me in that tiny hospital room, on that institutional twin bed. The setting was too intimate, and the conversations made me long to be home watching "The Cosby Show." I wasn't yet comfortable with the man in front of me, a man who was finally revealing himself as he really was. Gone was the bravado induced by alcohol. In its place was a father who wanted to reach out to me, but didn't seem to know how. Yet, I couldn't miss his message: he was trying.

For 25 years, my dad has tried. It's been a long and admirable quest, his life without crutches.

He has faced numerous moments when his mouth has watered for a swig of beer at the end of the day -- and he has endured incredibly long, hard days. Many times I have heard him say, "I need a drink."

Somehow, he has found the strength and courage to resist.

To his credit, he also has helped others resist. Dad has taken many calls in the middle of the night, nodding knowingly as he listens to whomever is on the other end of the line. Inevitably,  he pulls on his coat to meet the caller wherever they are, physically, but more importantly, emotionally.

If they need to hear his story, he will tell it. If they need to tell him their own, he will listen. And if they need him to sit with them simply to keep them from getting up to get a drink, he will sit.

He is a respected community leader; a loyal friend; a loving, supportive husband; and a doting father and grandfather.

On this silver anniversary, I celebrate my father. I celebrate his courage. I celebrate his conviction. I celebrate his life -- and how he has enriched mine by checking himself into the hospital that spring day many years ago.

As someone who understands now how challenging it is to walk into The Great Unknown, I realize how difficult it must have been for Dad that April day -- standing at that door, wondering if he had the strength to open it and close his old life behind him.

Thank you, Dad, for walking though that door.

Thank you for being brave for 9,125 one-day-at-a-times.

Thank you for forging a new path, and allowing us to walk it with you.

Thank you for having the serenity to accept the things you could not change; the courage to change the things you could; and the wisdom to know the difference.

I love you. And I'm incredibly proud of you today and every day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

When I was eight, my parents, siblings and I were out for a Sunday afternoon drive. Dad, who often had a Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand, always took the country roads and tolerated our backseat whining and squabbling fairly well (see previous note about Pabst Blue Ribbon).

One afternoon, on the way home from an outing at Daisy Mae Lake, he suddenly veered to the side of the road and stopped the car beside a vacant field. Curious about our unexpected layover, we watched him frantically searching under his seat. A moment later, he clasped a pistol and bounded from the car.

My three siblings and I -- now alarmed -- tumbled over each others' legs to get out of the backseat. Why did Daddy have his gun? Was someone following us with the intent to do harm? Had our father spied an escaped felon in the field? How many beers did he drink, anyway?

"What's going on, Daddy?" we cried. "What is it?"

"Shhhhhh," he said, raising the pistol and pointing it toward the field. "You see that? You see that out there?"

We scanned the field. Nothing.

"What?" I said. "I don't see anything."

"That brown bump out there near the cornstalks," Dad said. "It's a big ol' groundhog."

Sure enough, on closer inspection, we spied him. Lawd, he was fat. Crouched on his hind legs and munching on a dried ear of corn, the critter looked at us more out of curiosity than alarm.

"What are you going to do?" my sister asked.

"Shoot that sumbitch!" my Dad replied. "That's one of the biggest damn groundhogs I've ever seen!"

"Yeah, Dad! Let me take the shot!" my older brother said, reaching for the pistol.

Dad shooed my brother out of the way as my sister asked why he was going to shoot the poor thing. He'd hunted his fair share of deer, squirrel and rabbits, but we'd never had groundhog (to our knowledge, but Mom was prone to covering game with gravy and telling us it was chicken).

Dad shrugged. It was clear that he planned to shoot him, well, because he could.

"Noooooooooo!"  I said. "Please, Daddy, no! Don't kill him!"

"Get back in the car with your mother and little brother, Jenny," he ordered.

"Nooooo!" I wailed, tears streaming down my face, refusing to budge. "Daddy, no! Don't shoot him! He didn't do anything to you! Please don't kill him."

My Dad lifted his pistol and once again put the groundhog in his sights.

But I had recently seen Bambi. So with all the bravado an eight-year-old can muster, I tugged on my Dad's sleeve.

"That might be a mama groundhog," I said. "She might have babies waiting for her. What will happen to them if she doesn't come home? Please don't kill it, Daddy. Pleasepleasepleaseplease...."

By now, I was hysterical. My mom stepped from the car, holding my little brother's hand.

"Ron." she said. Never has so much been conveyed in one word. He looked at Mom. He looked at my tear-soaked cheeks.

He took one final glance at the groundhog, then at last, lowered his gun.

"Alright, alright," he said. "Back in the car, kids. Who wants to go to Candy Land?"

We squealed with delight (with the exception of my older brother, who looked extremely disappointed) and scrambled back into the car. The groundhog was saved AND we were going to get chocolate? It was a fine day. Yes, indeed.

The groundhog, oblivious to his narrow escape from death, put down his corn and sauntered lazily across the field. I leaned out the car window and waved to it as Dad pulled away.

"Goodbye, Groundhog!" I yelled, my hair whipping in the wind in those glorious days before seatbelt laws. "I love you! I love you!"

Why do I tell you this story today?

Because it is the first day of March, and in spite of Punxsutawney Phil's Groundhog Day promise of an early spring, it's snowing. It's been a long, dreary, cold winter, and I am beyond ready for daffodils, tulips and lilacs; sandals and sundresses.

Oh, how Phil mocks our hope for sun-drenched days of sweet tea on the porch. Way to repay me for saving your kind, Phil. You bastard.

Sorry, Dad. I should have let you shoot him, cart him home and smother him in gravy. I bet he tastes like chicken.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Yoda Man!

After the husband's amazing Valentine's Day gift, some of you might be wondering what I did for him.

Please, folks, this blog is PG-13. I can't disclose that information.

I'm kidding! This blog is more like PG-40.

Anywho, I can tell you that I gave me him some cologne that I he really love likes. (Trust me: this will benefit me him in the long run).

I also baked him some cookies. But not just any ol' ordinary cookies. I baked these bad boys:

That's "Yoda ONE for me", not "Yoda EYE for me". Painting with toothpicks and food coloring is hard.











This is what happens when geeks fall in love. We talk nerdy to each other.

The best part? I didn't even steal this idea from Pinterest (or as the husband calls it, pin-interest. His new obsession with that site is a post for another day). Nope. This came from my own warped little brain and some super fun Star Wars cookie cutters from Williams-Sonoma.

I also considered "You're the Obi Wan for me" with the X-wing fighter cookie, but those cookies look a bit, umm. Hmm. Well. Like this:


I'm obviously saving those for my birthday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Men, This is How You Do It

Remember when I said the husband owed me the most awesome Valentine's Day gift ever?

He delivered.

Pack up your blood-bank skanks and courvoisier, Leon Phelps. There's a new ladies man in town.

Like most dudes, the husband was stressed about the demands of a highly romantic holiday. Back when we were friends, he would message me on Valentine's Day to tell me how much he hated the unrealistic expectations of a "manufactured, commercial holiday." But now he's married, and his wife loves National Buy Your Woman Candy Day. Plus, I found that mix tape he made for the old girlfriend.

Earlier this week, sweat popping out on his brow, he eventually confided that he had no idea what to get me. He began to suggest some nice, expensive gifts.

"Honey," I said, "You're overthinking it. I want something simple -- something from the heart."

Yeah, I know. I only added more pressure (once again: I found that mix tape). But the good news is that he listened. I love it when men listen. It must be how astronomers feel during those 100-year meteor shower events.

Friends, this is what I discovered on my kitchen counter first thing this morning: A handmade Valentine's Day book. It's perfection. Sweet, smart and funny, it embodies the very traits that drew me to its creator.


Confession: I have this photo framed on my desk.






Twang? Me? Y'all surely don't believe that?



My favorite lingerie is a thick fleece purple robe. Shut up. You're just jealous.


Yes, that's me with a gun. A Republican married a Democrat in an election year. I had to concede something.

Awwwww.


Not that he needs them at this point, but big-time bonus points for the UP ending






Listen up, fellas. This is how you win at Valentine's Day. Hell, this is how you win at LIFE. As if this weren't enough, he also brought me long johns from my favorite bakery this morning. Long johns! And right this minute, he's in the kitchen whipping up homemade lasagna. Sure, he's cussing like a sailor and yelling about measuring cups, but that's not the point.

It might be a manufactured, commercial holiday, but my Valentine did it exactly right. I'm reminded today that I am lucky.

And someone's about to get that way...