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Truthtellers

May is finally over. For educators, May lasts about 18 weeks. A smart colleague of mine compared it to tax season for accountants. I agree.

It is that time of year when we are saying goodbye. Because our school years have a definite end, often retirements are grouped about this time of year.

Friday it kind of hit me all at once. I had another retirement party and messages of thanks from two incredible educators who are leaving that I had the honor of working with over the years. I was a little teary when my friend Whitten walked into my office to ask me a question about something. I can’t remember what our brief conversation was about now, but the last thing she said as she left has stuck with me. She said something like, “The world needs truthtellers.”

She’s right.

That applies to whatever we were talking about that I can’t remember because, May, and it applies to a lot of other things as well.

It is June now and that means Father’s Day is barreling toward us and I can’t hardly breathe to think about it because it will be the first one without my dad.

I’m going to try to write now about some of the harder moments around my dad passing away. I have always processed by writing, but there are a lot of moments I am still not ready to look at hard yet. I guess I will just take a few at a time.

There are three truthtellers that figure into this part of the story and they all told the truth in different ways.

The first was with chocolate.

There was a minister who visited the ICU waiting room on more than one occasion while we spent time waiting to know if Dad was going to be okay. He had what he referred to as a chocolate ministry. He made this truly incredible homemade chocolate that he brought to people who were waiting. He offered conversation and prayer too- but the chocolate- ghost pepper, raspberry, mint…all kinds… was offered with no expectations. As I took the shiny little blue box from his outstretched hands, he explained that he was there if we needed him. I remember opening that box and being surprised at the chocolate and I thanked him for it. He said that sometimes we needed to be reminded of the goodness and sweetness in life. Or words to that effect. It is a blur in many ways. I do remember telling him that chocolate was also good for keeping dementors away. I appreciated his belly laugh at that. I told him a little about Dad’s condition and he told the truth by what he didn’t say. He didn’t say it would all be okay. He didn’t say I shouldn’t feel sad. He didn’t ask me to examine my faith. He didn’t pretend that the situation didn’t totally suck. I am thankful for that truthtelling… and for the chocolate.

The next truthteller was my brother. My sister is a truthteller too, but I can’t write her part yet. I don’t look too good in that part of the story, and I’m still too tender to share it.

So, my little brother told the truth in many ways. Two of them are burned into my memory. The last time my brother and sister and I were going into the hospital to see Dad, when there was not a lot of hope for recovery, I remember Steven saying, “Today there is going to be a miracle at this hospital. Either Dad is going to be okay, or he is going to go to Heaven. Either way, that is a miracle.” After Dad died, when we were leaving the hospital in the early hours of the morning, my giant little brother, who had been our rock so much of the time, fell to his knees, for just a moment. You know, sometimes great pain is physically overwhelming. I remember thinking how much respect I had for him in that moment. He was not afraid to tell the truth to himself- it hurt so much- and then he got up and carried on. He was not afraid to be human and vulnerable. I knew my kid brother was a great guy. I didn’t know just exactly how strong and wise he was until we went though this experience together.

And finally.

The neurologist.

We listened carefully to what all of the doctors and nurses on Dad’s care team had to say. But, when the neurologist arrived to talk about my Dad’s amazing brain, we dropped- literally- whatever we were doing or eating or saying to run and hear what he was going to tell us. His job could not have been easy, faced with a sleep-deprived, scared family hanging on to what hope he might hold out. He gave us the bad news calmly and clearly, but with human warmth. When we tried to spin it, he didn’t spin. Brene Brown says clear is kind. That neurologist did not say what I wanted him to say, but he did not hold out false hope. He told the truth. He was clear. It was time to say goodbye to our dad.

So that is it. Three truthtellers.

Thank you for taking time to read my self-therapy. I hope you will take time to give thanks for the truthtellers in your life. They are precious, even if the situation is not so dramatic. Can you think of a time someone told you that you had a hair sticking up or broccoli in your teeth in a way that let you know they cared? That is a gift. I am blessed to be surrounded by kind-spirited truthtellers in my life.

We do need truthtellers even when we don’t want to hear what they have to tell us.

Especially when we don’t want to hear.

That’s all I got tonight. It’s messy, but sometimes that is how life is.

Speak the truth in love, and have a sweet Saturday.

Three Of Us

Yesterday we had a retirement party for my friend Julie. (I’m going to miss her so much!) and as I looked at the pictures from the event, there is one I just love of our team together.

In the pic there are 11 of us. Some are missing. One is out because she has a new grandbaby. Some were there but had to leave before the picture was taken. In this picture, we don’t look all that diverse. We are all white (but that is only because everyone isn’t there) and there is only one male (also due to missing members) but let me tell you about my amazing and diverse team:

We are not all alike.

In the picture, four of us are wearing glasses.

One of us is a redhead.

10 of us have dogs.

One of us is losing hair and wearing a hat.

Eight of us are parents.

One of us kicked cancer’s ass.

One of us walked the 3 day.

One of us has bungee jumped in New Zealand.

Three of us have been divorced.

One of us is a grandparent.

Three of us are gay.

Some of us like wine.

Some of us don’t drink.

Some of us are Democrats.

Some of us are Republicans.

Some of us are Independents.

Some of us are native Texans.

Some of us are not.

Some of us have lost parents.

All of us are married.

All. Of. Us. Are. Married.

But… for three of us, marriage was not legal until 2015.
Because three of us are gay.

It doesn’t matter which three. You can’t tell by looking. I mean, I’m not posting a picture, but trust me. You. Can’t. Tell.

Here’s the thing I’m thinking of right now: I’m looking at this picture of people I love…people I have laughed with, cried with, planned with, agonized with, and some of them are gay…and when somebody comes at the rights and dignity of people who are gay (In 2019, good grief) they come at my friends.

And honestly, I hate that. So. Damn. Much.

It has only been four years since my friends have had the same right as me about marrying the person they love.

I almost still can’t get my mind around it.

I look at each face in the picture-

All of us are smart.

All of us have strong opinions.

All of us care deeply about our families.

All of us are dedicated to our profession.

All of us have wonderful, interesting stories to tell.

And all of us are pretty good-looking if I do say so myself. (Some of us are smart-asses… I’ll let you work out that for yourselves.)

All of us deserve to be treated with the same human dignity and rights. All of us in the picture do, and all of us on the planet do.

I would say more, but there is a two year old who doesn’t care one bit about my right to blog.

So until next time.
Happy Friday.
We will miss you Julie!

A Man Named Alex

I just killed a mosquito on my forearm. He landed there while I was contemplating life and not writing. Like, I’ve been staring at a work in progress for 47 minutes and I literally only added a hyphen and then later removed it.

Then the mosquito..uh..distracted me from all the not writing and I smashed it with a little extra vengeance and…this is gross…when I brushed the carcass off my arm, the stinger was still there STUCK IN MY ARM. Blech mosquitoes.

And then, because my brain apparently works like those If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books, that made me think of an encounter I had Friday afternoon. Before I tell the story, I want to be sure to make it clear that I am NOT comparing this guy to a mosquito in any philosophical way. You know – I don’t mean that he was a bloodsucker. I am not making a judgement of the guy at all. It WAS however a very interesting interaction.

Okay, so Friday after work I was stopped at the light at Davis and Division. I was on Davis heading south, so I was facing the railroad tracks. I was the first, and for a time the only, car at the intersection. I was keeping an eye on the railroad crossing because I always seem to get stopped by the train there after work and I really just wanted to get home. I had a terrible splitting headache that had come on suddenly. My ears were ringing and I felt like I had a couple of spikes in my head. I didn’t even have the radio on because of this.

At this intersection to the left there is a little convenience store, and to the right are some apartment/hotel rooms that are … not nice. If you live in my town you know what I mean and if you don’t, well you still know what I mean. They have a reputation for being a place you keep your doors locked around. The convenience store serves as a grocery for some of the people who live in this place. I often see folks carrying food from the store to the apartments because it is in walking distance. There is often at least one person on foot at this intersection.

Friday was no exception.

As I sat watching the train tracks and waiting for the light to change, a flash of neon green from the left caught my attention. A man, I’d say early 20s in age, though who can tell these days, was crossing the street in front of my car. He looked younger than most of my kids. He was wearing a neon green shirt, and jeans that were sagging so low they were barely clinging to his body. I mean, this sag style just defies the laws of physics sometimes! He had a normal build- neither overweight or very thin. He was bald.

He also had a small star-shaped face tattoo.

I know that bit of information because as he crossed the street in front of me, he turned and made eye contact, then changed direction and walked over to my driver side window- which was up- and leaned in to look at me. I felt a little bit like a fish in an aquarium.

He stood close enough to the car that he brushed against it as he moved, which he did constantly. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, bobbing from side to side and somehow up and down. Kinda like… a mosquito. He made quick, jerky movements, flailing his arms a bit and nodding his head up and down and side to side. It just put me in mind of some sort of evasive maneuvers…as if he were trying to avoid unseen swats.

He stood there for a moment, possibly waiting for me to roll down my window. I did not. He leaned in and began talking to me through the glass. “MY NAME IS ALEX!!”

I nodded.
I waved.
Not a wave to indicate he should go away, but a wave to show I had heard him, and I was friendly but I was not going to roll down the window. I know that is asking a lot from a small wave, but I was trying to make sort of a lot of decisions in the moment. I added a smile. Alex began to talk very quickly. I could not understand most of the words because he was mumbling. I heard “Represent and drug and addicts.”

Then, mid-sentence…or possibly mid-word, I couldn’t tell, another car drove up behind me and Alex, jerked toward it with his whole body and then ran away from my car and across the intersection toward the hotel/apartment building.

I watched him go filled with curiosity. A moment ago he had been intent on communicating with me. I felt…unsure of how to feel. The light turned green and I drove off. Now I realize I may have been in some danger, but he didn’t try my door- which was locked, he didn’t hit my window, he didn’t threaten me, and I did not see any sort of weapon. I did see a person, I am sure, who was in some sort of need.

I turned the moments over in my head thinking what I might have done differently. Slip a dollar through a cracked window? Offer to call someone for him? Neither of those seemed too helpful and as much as I want to lend a helping hand, I also want to get my own self home safe.

I was a couple of blocks away when I began to pray for him. I earnestly prayed for Alex and whatever his needs might be the rest of the way home. He may have been a slightly intimidating person, but I had looked into his eyes for several minutes. I felt a connection to him as a human being on the planet. Alex is a child of God, just like me. God loves him, just like me, and God knows his every need…just like He does mine.

And that was the end of it until Alex crossed my mind again today.

I wonder about him and so many other people who are walking through the world with challenges I do not know. Maybe he was put in my path so I would pray for him. Or maybe so he would pray for me. Or maybe both.

Whatever the reason, here I am now, asking you to join me in praying for Alex in whatever way you are led. As always, feel free to throw in a prayer for me as well.

I am comforted that God has us all in the hollow of His hand and that He knows our every need, even when we do not. He knows when we are unsure and He knows our hearts when we do not know what to do. And He is good all the time.

Even though He made mosquitoes.

Now I’m going back to staring at my manuscript. Maybe it does need that hyphen after all…

Happy Sunday.

Ugly Easter Eggs

Ugly Easter Eggs.

Earlier this week I boiled some eggs so Z could dye them for Easter. So yesterday, on Easter, I peeled them to make deviled eggs.

If you have ever made deviled eggs, you know that sometimes the peel comes off effortlessly. It will pull off almost in one piece with the membrane attached and you have a beautiful, smooth boiled egg to use in your dish. A thing of beauty.

And sometimes it does not peel off easily. You crack it and every little piece sticks, or worse digs into the egg. Sometimes you pull a piece of shell off and it takes some of the egg with it, leaving a rough, cracked surface to work with.

Usually with a dozen or so eggs, I have one or maybe two that are difficult like this. Sometimes I can grab the membrane and get it going okay even if it starts badly, but usually, once it starts to go bad, it stays that way.

Most eggs peel nice and easy.

I have heard different tricks about water temperature and method of cracking to make it go smoothly. I have no action research to support these methods as effective.

Sometimes, it's just not a good peel.

Yesterday this happened to me with EVERY. SINGLE. EGG. Every one of them. I ended up with the ugliest batch of deviled eggs I have ever made. Sure they tasted fine, but they looked like I had put them through a cheese grater.

And I was so frustrated while I peeled those eggs.

Since March, it has been one bad peel after another.

My dad died.

I have lost two friends and another friend has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

I jacked up my knee.

I’m fighting with my husband.

My fourteen-year-old is a butt-head.

...Well, actually, that last part isn’t new…

Zoe has been in trouble for cussing at daycare and I’m pretty sure that is my fault.

I feel like I’m walking around with pieces of hard shell sticking out of me.

Are there bright spots? Of COURSE there are. God is good all the time.

But I’m cracked.

My dad is not coming back. Cancer is never not going to suck. Fourteen-year-olds will always be butt-heads. (Fight me on that one…)

I can’t write. Can’t seem to get anything done. Every little thing seems overwhelming. A day has not yet come since March 6, in which I have not, at some point, cried.

What is God doing?

Why am I in this bad egg season?

I don’t know.

And…

it doesn’t matter.

There is a reason. Of that I am sure.

Perhaps it is time for me to grow and stretch.

Perhaps it is time for me to be quiet and listen.

Perhaps there are lessons I need to learn in the small every day moments that I have blown past in a hurry for the last few years of making shit happen in my life.

For example-- last week I had all this stuff for Z’s Easter basket and I kept just looking at the pile of it thinking, “I have GOT to put that basket together!”

It was just one more thing you know?

And I was feeling overwhelmed by it. I WANTED to do it. But it was too much.

Then I saw a post on FB that a friend had made. A picture of the Easter Basket she put together for her new son…a child she and her husband had prayed and waited for for many years. She wrote: Every year for the past decade I’ve dreamed of making this basket for Baby J. Sometimes I still feel like it’s a dream.

How beautiful is that?

I read her words and looked over at Z’s basket and I thought, “I GET to do that.”

God is doing something intentionally for me and I KNOW it is for my good, because I know HIM. And I know He loves me…even with hard, broken bits sticking out all over, He loves me.

That is an amazing gift.

What I want, is to get to the end of this…lesson or what ever it is…and come out wiser and full of grace, and you know…smooth. But I’m not sure it is going to happen like that at all. So. I am giving up my vision of how I think it should be and just… trusting in God.

On Wednesday, I GET to go to Chemo with my friend. I GET to be with her. She has been there for me so many times. I’m thankful for the opportunity to get to show her in some way how much I love her. And I GET to watch her kick cancer’s ass, because I have no doubt she will continue to do that.

So. That’s all I guess. For now.

I’m an ugly Easter egg. But it’s okay.

And the undeniable truth wrapped in that fact, is that Easter happened and, even though this is a messy, confusing chapter, its still part of the story with the same happy ending. The tomb was empty. It was empty for all of us- good, cracked, rough, smooth, whatever.

I can’t wait to see what God does next.
Happy Monday.

Eulogy for my Father

My Dad’s last day on this planet was March 6, 2019. I had him in my life for 55 years. It was a great blessing and it was not long enough. My sister and brother and I spoke at his memorial service on March 16 and I have had some people ask me about my speech. I’m sharing it here for those people, and also because I want the world to understand what an incredible man my father was. This is a big hurt. It is a different grief than I have experienced before, and I have not yet arrived at a new normal. I feel all of the prayers and wishes and am so thankful for my circle of people.

At Dad’s service my brother and sister both told stories about Dad that I had not heard before. They were small moments, that now are big moments. My brother told of a time Dad threw him in the pool and he sank to the bottom- where he kicked off. My sister told of a time Dad was waiting with his hand outstretched to help her. I treasure both of their stories because now I have those memories of Dad to add to the trove of wonderful things I will always remember. Dad really did teach us to kick off when we reached bottom, and he was also there holding out a hand to help.

So here is my eulogy for Dad. For those of you who knew him, I think you will smile at these stories, and for those of you who didn’t, I’m sorry you missed out on knowing such an exceptional human being. Dad really lived, and he taught us to do the same. He did not waste his time here. I do not plan to waste mine.

Eulogy for My Dad

I have so many great memories of Dad. He gave me a lot of good advice over the years. He told me to trust myself. He told me life could be hard but it was worth it. And he told me that if you argue about furniture long enough when you are getting a divorce, that the only person who will be able to afford a new couch will be your lawyer.

No offense to any attorneys present.

Dad also told me that if anyone was ever trying to hurt me, I should do whatever I needed to do to keep myself safe, including running the person over in my big old car.

That car was a 1966 Chevy Bel Aire that we towed home from my grandparent’s barn when I was 16. Dad fixed it, of course, and as he worked on it I stood and watched. He told me, “You know Sherry, this car has air conditioning.” I was shocked because the car didn’t have a radio, or power windows, or seat covers, or even very much paint. So I said, “It does!?” Dad replied, “Yes! It has 460 air conditioning.” I asked excitedly, “What’s 460 air conditioning!?” Dad said, “You roll down all 4 windows, hit 60 miles an hours, BAM, air conditioning.”

Dad taught us to be independent, but he also saved us. I remember him running into the ocean with a sand pail to scoop up a big jellyfish that we thought was a balloon, and then carrying it to the sand where we could study it safely.

Another time when I cut my foot open in a lake, he ran into the water fully clothed, scooped me up and put me in the car to take me to get stitched up.

And when I was little in the hospital and terrified during a procedure I had to be awake for, I screamed so long and loud for my dad, that they let him scrub in and come hold my hand. After that, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I knew I would be safe no matter what because my dad was there.

Full disclosure, I also had to bite one of the doctors, but it was worth it.

Over the years I called Dad with lots of questions- we all did. I remember one time I was watching a baseball game and the catcher made this beautiful throw from home plate, past the pitcher’s mound, all the way to second base. I called Dad and told him about it and then asked, “How far was that Dad?” He said, “Well Sherry, a baseball diamond is a square and it is 90 feet between all the bases- from home to 1st, 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd and 3rd to home.” I waited. You see sometimes when you asked Dad a question, you got bonus information. But he didn’t say anything else so I asked again, “But Dad, what about from home plate to second?” Dad replied, “You already have all the information you need to figure that out.” I thought for a minute and then told him I was going to need a hint. He said, “Home plate, 1st and 2nd are points on a right triangle. You know the length of two of the sides. If you want the third side just use the Pythagorean Theorum!”


So, I did. It’s about 127 feet by the way.

The last time I called Dad was February 9th. I had a question about binary code. That seems fitting because so much of life seems like it is written in code, and Dad helped us figure a lot of that out.

We finished talking and Dad told me he would see me soon.
I am going to have to wait longer than I planned for that meeting, but I know I will see him again. I have so much more I want to talk to him about. But for now, I will just say, I love you Dad. I will miss you every day.

Folding Towels

Folding Towels

Grief is a funny thing and I was reminded this past week just how awful and beautiful it can be. My last blog I wrote about an ordinary Tuesday. I sort of took the day hour by hour and chronicled it. Since then, nothing has been ordinary.

One of the last things I did that day was post the blog and I got ready for an early bedtime. Around 10 or 11 the phone rang and it was my sister. She never calls at that time just to chat. I answered quickly. Our dad had had a heart attack in Austin, Tx and was in an ambulance en route to the hospital. We did not know his condition, but we soon learned it was very serious and my sister, my brother and I began to prepare to drive to Austin.

I remember trying to pack that night and I couldn’t make sense of my stuff. I would put something on my bed, like deodorant or a pair of socks and then just sort of stare at it. Finally, I grabbed a bag and kind of tossed some things in. We got on the road about 2 am and drove though fog and mist straight to the hospital.

When I say we drove, I mean my brother drove us. He is ten years younger than me and if you had told me growing up when we were all kids, and I was the oldest, that my rotten little brother would one day drive me through awful weather in the middle of the night hours from home to anywhere I never would have believed you, but not only did he drive us, I never worried about that once.

The next few days were a blur. We stayed by Dad’s side as much as we could with his wife Barb and other family- our step-brother Brian and his family, and our cousin David who none of us had seen in years. My brother’s wife Amanda drove in the next day and all of us went through these uncertain hours together with a mixture of grace, panic, tears, snot, hope and faith.

One night my brother and sister and I sat in a hotel room and just talked for hours. I heard stories from their lives I had never heard and I felt so grateful for the time with those two amazing people.

We talked to Dad and told him we loved him. We told him all the things we needed to say. We prayed he could hear us. Then with more tests pending we returned home for a day and a half when we had to go back…to say goodbye.

These were the hours and moments I will never forget. I can’t write about them now and I am not sure I ever will be able to. Some of them were horrible. Some were sacred. Some were peaceful. All were sad.

Since then, March 6, when Dad took his last breath in the early hours of the morning, I have been grieving along with the rest of my family. Grief is hard to watch. Some people have turned to look the other way. That’s okay. I know it isn’t pretty. But some people stay right in there with you accepting whatever emotion washes over you. Those people are a true blessing.

I went back to work. Made it to Spring Break and have been busy preparing to go out of town for Dad’s memorial service. I had a full list of things to accomplish today and then- full stop. I sat on a chair unable to move. As an hour dragged by, I began to feel panic. My Dad is never, ever coming back. How can I do all the things? I didn’t even know where or how to start.

I picked up the phone and sent a text to my mom and she prayed for me. I prayed. Then I saw a way.

Towels.

There was a pile of laundry on my bed. I would start there. I approached it…so much laundry! I decided to start with just the towels. Just fold the towels. I folded each one as neatly as I could and then picked one next thing- just one more and slowly, one thing at a time, refusing to think about all the things, I got most of what I needed to do done.

I think part of it is that when your world shifts so suddenly and so hard, it just doesn’t seem like laundry and errands should go on. I’m kinda pissed about that truth be told. I’ve been kinda pissed at God some moments too but I know He can handle my little temper tantrums. And the thing is, one of the last things I said to my Dad was, I don’t want you to go, but it is okay if you do, you taught us well and we will be okay.
So, I have to be okay. And I will be. But life will always be different and somedays I might not do anything but fold some towels.

That’s all I’ve got for today.

Fold one towel.
And breathe.

Thanks for reading and thank you for your prayers.

Tuesday

Tuesday.

People ask me often how I do all the stuff I do. I usually just say something like “I don’t watch TV” which is true, I rarely watch TV…but it’s not really the whole answer. The thing is, I’m not sure people really want to know. But today I woke up to another message asking the same thing and I thought I would keep track of my day. Here is how Tuesday went:

I woke up at 5:25 before my alarm went off. I saw I had slept through some minor problems the night before that I had texts about- I think I fell asleep rather early. I’m not always up at 5:25, but I usually am up before 6. I talked to God, talked to my dog, talked to my husband, checked social media, checked work email, read a chapter in a book I am in a book study for, worked on a manuscript, showered and got ready for work. I left the house at 7:30. During this 2 hour block of time I also drank strong coffee.

I arrived at my first stop- a campus closer than my office- at 7:48. I had 12 minutes of ‘personal time’ before my work day officially started, so I emailed a ms draft to an editor, responded to some work texts, posted a response to my reading from earlier in the online group, and took a phone call from my 3rd child on his way to the passport office asking for his original birth certificate. I explained to him that waiting until nearly 8:00 on the day he needed his birth certificate was akin to being in 4th grade and letting me know at 10:00 pm that he had a diorama due the next day at school. I made a note to look for it later.

At 8:22 I got to see a student use communication technology to request what he wanted for breakfast for the first time…a student who previously had no way to communicate. I teared up at the wonderfulness of the moment and how honored I felt to witness it. Then, I got to work with another student on reading. Happy happy happy.

My next stop was a campus across town to install some math software on a teacher’s computer. In my “mobile office” I then answered emails, drafted a follow up report from my morning visit, took my blood pressure pill and looked for some advil.

I stopped at my mom’s house at lunch. She fed me while I worked on some professional development material prep for a session I am presenting later this week. I make a note to purchase spaghetti noodles and marshmallows for the team building part of that session.

I’m early to my next campus, a staffing around noon. We have difficult discussions and I am again honored to get to work with the wonderful educators I work with.

I have one more campus today. I am tired. On the drive over I turn off the radio and pray for several friends and for myself. At the last minute, this staffing is canceled so I visit with some staff, fill in my mileage report and text with my boss about some things for tomorrow.

After work I pick up Z from the sitter and head home with her. After she eats a snack she is down for a nap. It’s time for school with Gav. I toss some pork chops and potatoes in the oven and start a scarf while we go over his math, history and geography for the day. Z takes a short nap so we head outside to play until dinner. Then it’s books and letters for her and more school for G.

Z didn’t sleep much today so I put her to bed about 8:00, finish the scarf, find Tyler’s birth certificate and text second daughter to let her know her wedding invitations have shipped.

Stacy called and said she is stopping for one errand on her way home from work. She may need help with an income tax issue when she gets here so I am blogging this and waiting for her to get home. It is 9:00.

There is still time to do something else. But I will probably have another early night since I was up so early today.

Sound like a lot?

I bet it isn’t more than anyone else’s day who works and has a family to care for. If you wrote down and typed out everything you did each day, it would be impressive. For the big things- the books for example—it’s just little bites of time that add up.

I did not watch TV. I didn’t spend a lot of time on dinner. I did pick up a few things and run the washing machine (mostly because the dog threw up on a blanket…) but I did not worry about my house being spotless.

I’m not superwoman.

I’m not even close.

I wasn’t even pleasant to my husband when I got home. I was a big old crab in fact.

Tomorrow will be similar in some ways and different in others. I might get more done. I might get less done. Either way it’s okay.

I don’t know what the take away is really except maybe, if you feel you don’t get enough done, take a day and write down what you do. I bet you will be surprised! I think you will find that you are in fact quite amazing. I know this because I have incredible friends.

Happy Tuesday!

The Angel on the Porch

It was a long week, am I right?

On Friday I got in my car at lunch time to run a quick errand. I was so looking forward to the weekend and a little down time. I just had lunch and an afternoon meeting to go.

I am a member of a mom's buy sell trade board on FB and I had to swing by a house and pick up some crayon pieces. The day before, I had posted on the board that I needed some for a project, and another mom I do not know wrote me back and said she had some for me. The mom board is a great place for bargains and for community that way. I was excited, but really I didn't feel like going just then. I was exhausted.

Friday morning I had driven into work praying and thinking about angels. So often in my life I have been graced by people and events I believe to be angels. I know God is always near and I believe He sends us help and comfort in times of need.

But I was feeling sad. I have written before about living with depression. The struggle takes different forms and I heard myself crying out to God to give me a sign that it would be okay.

Now, I am not proud to admit that I do this ALL THE DAMN TIME. I mean, God is always there. He has never deserted me, He has sent me countless signs, miracles and answers to prayer...and yet, like an unsure child I constantly ask for reassurance from Him. I am so very thankful for His patience.

So Friday morning I was doing it again. And I actually asked God to, y'all it sounds so silly... but I asked Him to let me see an angel. I specifically wanted to SEE one and I asked to see it ON FRIDAY.

Why would I do that? Before you read the rest of this story, please understand that I don't believe in making demands of God...and I would still believe He is every bit as real and present if the story had turned out differently... I'm just trying to explain that...I was being weird in my prayer request.

I think I was feeling like, I had not been noticing all the wonders He places in my life. I thought perhaps in my stress and weariness I had forgotten how to see His angels.

Okay so I had prayed to see an angel and now I'm heading to pick up these old crayon pieces at lunch from a lady I have never met. I have never been to her house.

I knew her house was close to my office because I had googled it the night before. I reached for my phone to confirm the address and noticed she had sent me another message that came in earlier- not long after my whole see-an-angel prayer.

She had written, "I'm putting them out now. They will be on the left of the porch behind an angel."

Holy crapballs y'all.

I drove over and walked up to the porch and saw the angel.

I saw an angel.

Now. I know that it would have been there anyway if I hadn't said that prayer. That's not the point. The point is...well okay, one- God has a sense of humor... clearly...and two, He answers prayers all kinds of ways. He knows what we need. I guess I needed a literal, physical angel made of plaster on Friday.

It was beyond perfect.

Once again I am thankful, and humbled by His goodness and care for us.

Happy Sunday. Keep your eyes open for all kinds of angels.

The Baseball in the Attic

Here is my baseball story that I wrote about in the previous blog post. If you want the backstory, you may want to scroll back and peruse that first. Thanks for reading!

The Baseball in the Attic
By Sherry Hall



“Michael, would you please, please put those last three boxes up into the attic before you leave for work today? I tripped over them about a hundred times yesterday. My shins are black and blue!”

I heard my brother’s muffled answer from the kitchen, where he was no doubt devouring at least half a dozen of my homemade cranberry muffins that were supposed to be for my book club meeting tonight.

I was looking forward to book club, but I was so stressed about the state of the house. It had been a very chaotic year.

I lost my mom in January, and though I knew she was out of all the pain and confusion that had come into her life in her last years, and I knew she was happy back with my dad, a part of me felt like my anchor in life had been cut loose.

In February, I moved back into Mom’s home, and my brother, Michael, in the middle of a painful divorce, moved in as well, along with his four dogs, including a Great Dane named Alan. That dog slobbered on everything, and each time I turned around it seemed that I was greeted with a large wall-of-dog. I didn’t want to live with the dog. I didn’t want to fall in love with him, but I did. Then, in March, Alan was diagnosed with bone cancer, and we began hospice care. We lost him in April.

The fastballs were flying.

In June a drunk driver crashed into my car, and I began a long, slow rehab trying to gain back my physical health while dealing with all my emotional aches and pains.

I turned in my keys to the school building where I had taught for twenty-five years. I just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the job.

One more for the loss column.

Suddenly I had way too much free time.

Mom’s house took up much of that time. Michael and I were both dismayed to discover how much repair was needed. Clearly mom had done her best to hide that from us while she was alive. Nearly every day we discovered a DIY “repair” mom had tried to manage on her own.

It broke my heart, really. Mike and I both would have gladly helped her, but Mom had been fiercely independent.

The back upstairs bedroom window had a missing pane that had been covered over with a cookie sheet glued into the frame.

A badly stained section of hardwood flooring in Mom’s bedroom had been covered up with a throw rug she had crocheted out of old t-shirt strips. I recognized some of the material as my old high school band shirt.

In the back yard, in place of the stepping stones that used to lead to a lovely arbor, was a mishmash of various flat-ish items to walk on if one wished to get to the now decrepit bunch of slats and vines that used to be a peaceful, cool, green place to spend a summer day.These substitute stepping stones consisted of the face of an old clock, a Beach Boys LP, a jumble of pieces of wood and brick, and a home plate from a baseball field.

Countless items were held together with duct tape.
Mom had invested in several different colors and patterns of the tape, so the house was colorful. Visually, it was a lot to take in. It gave you the impression of looking over a church rummage sale.

Nothing went together.

Nothing made sense.

It was the perfect place for my mismatched, smushed together life.

Fortunately, my brother was handy and could do much of the work himself as I continued to rehab, but I was worried that the money we would need to get the house fixed would be more than we could manage.

As September drew to a close, we finally welcomed a hint of autumn with October. Our days settled into a comfortable routine. I took a long walk each morning, and then spent the day puttering around the house. My brother would come home from work, inhale whatever supper I had made, and then get started on a fix-it project. The background music of these days was the ever-present sound of a playoff baseball game on TV.
Baseball had always soothed my soul. All my life, the sounds of a game, the smell and electricity in the air, the grace of the players, all seemed to give sense to the universe.

I began to think that not only was my body going to heal, but my soul might find comfort again as well. If I could only find the funds we needed to repair this old house… I was not going to worry about that today though.

I turned my attention again to my book club meeting. I had missed several months, and my book club friends were sisters of the heart. Our meetings were always lively and filled with conversation, laughter, and good food.

They had assured me I should not worry about the state of the house, or about food.

“We will bring all the munchies and wine!” Kristin had promised. “You just get a nap and be ready to catch up!”

Yes. They were good friends. A blessing. They had rallied around me at every low point this year bringing food, and encouragement, and a sense of still belonging.

I felt a yawn take control of my face. I sent one last request about the boxes down the stairs in what I hoped was the general direction of my brother and went off to bed diving into the pillows. As sleep barreled toward me, I wondered where Mom had come across the home plate she was using for stepping stone number seven, and then I was out.

*****

The house was dark and thunder rolled, shaking what was left of the window glass in the house. I woke up disoriented.

Was it night? Had I slept through book club?

I reached for my cell on the bedside table.

Dead.

In my newly cautious way of moving since the wreck, I carefully sat and then stood and began to shuffle to the bathroom in the dark. Through the bathroom window I could see the gray sky punctuated with flashes of lightning. The storm was sitting on top of the house, I guessed. I hoped the duct tape would hold together.

It didn’t look like nighttime, though. Just heavy clouds and rain. And no lights in sight. Storm must have knocked out the whole neighborhood.
With a sigh I rummaged around under the sink and came up with a purple-and-gold candle covered in dust, and a box of matches. I knew they would be there. Mom always insisted on candles and matches in every room of the house.

I lit the candle and carried it as a shield against the darkness into the hallway.

Almost immediately I slammed my shins into something hard. The moving boxes sat stacked in the hall where they had been for the last two weeks.
Cursing under my breath, I made my way to the garage and grabbed the battery-powered camping lantern off of Michael’s workbench.

With an energy I had not felt in weeks, I stomped back up the stairs and yanked open the attic access in the hall. I scurried up the attic stairs, and, one by one, lifted the boxes above me and into the attic. Then I followed, grunting, huffing, puffing and still cussing.
Drops of sweat dripped onto my glasses, and ancient dust I had disturbed assaulted my sinuses.

Hanging the lantern from a rafter nail, I sat heavily on an old wooden trunk I knew to be my mother’s.

As I looked around I began to consider the folly of my actions.
I was a fifty-five-year-old woman, just getting back on her feet, alone at home, and now up in the attic where my body would probably eventually be found.

I heard an otherworldly groaning and creaking, and then, as if it were reading my mind, the set of attic stairs folded up on itself and I watched as the opening from the attic to the house closed up, leaving me sitting on Mom’s trunk with only the light powered by four double A batteries to ward off my descent into madness.



I told myself not to panic. I would eventually be found sooner than later. Michael would be home in a few hours, and my book club would come looking for me tonight. I tried to push away the thoughts of claustrophobia and spiders.

I focused intently on the lantern and tried my best to remember what in the hell I had been thinking hauling those boxes up here by myself. Guess I had some of Mom’s independent nature.

As I sat, the trunk got harder under my rear end. I stood and turned to look more closely at it. What I would have given as a child for a rainy day alone to explore this trunk without Mom running me away from it.
“Now, Maxine,” she would say, “there is not one thing of interest in that old trunk. You go find yourself something else to get in to. This is mine.”

It was probably the only thing Mom ever really kept to herself.
I paused for only a fraction of a second before I reached down to try the clasp.



Locked, of course.

In frustration, I banged my hands on the top of the green painted wood, leaving my handprints in the dust. I collected the lantern and brought it closer. I took off my flannel overshirt and used it to dust down the top. The surface was dented and battered, but held no labels, tags or markings of any sort to give a clue about what was inside.

After the thorough inspection of the lid, I ran my hands down the front and sides. It was unremarkable, as far as I could tell. Reaching around to the back of the trunk I began to slide my hands across the wood. Just about the middle I felt something hard and metallic against my fingertips. The key! It was hanging from a cup hook that was screwed into the wood.

Retrieving it, I sat on the floor and just stared at it for a moment. I imagined I could hear Mom whispering to me that it was alright as I fitted the key into the lock and watched the clasp spring open. The raindrops on the roof sounded like applause. I was twelve years old again with all of the curiosity and desire to look inside.

Taking a deep breath, I lifted the lid and opened the trunk.



Mom’s wedding gown was on top. I lifted the fragile garment that felt like it was made from butterfly wings. I was so surprised at how small it was. It seemed impossible that my larger-than-life mom could be contained in such a tiny, delicate, demure wrapping. Her body, yes, I suppose it did, and probably still would have all her life, with the obvious exception of when she was pregnant with me and Michael. But her personality, no. I shook my head and gently set the dress aside, still in search of my mom.

Under the dress, like a layer of sediment, was the requisite stash of letters and post cards. I glanced at them, but there was no way, even if I pulled the lantern as close as I could, that I could read those yellowed letters with their tiny handwriting in this light, so I stacked them to transport downstairs to read at another time.

Turning my attention again to the contents of the trunk, I now faced a collection of random items. I sifted through layers of dust and time, pulling out a rubber banded set of my old grade school report cards, no doubt laced with comments about how I didn’t apply myself.

I found the pressed carnation that I knew from wedding pictures Mom had worn on her smart, powder blue suit when she and Dad made their departure from reception to honeymoon.

I found a clay handprint with the name “Michael” written under it. Michaels’ baby shoes were there, too, in bronzed glory. I found a locket containing Mom and Dad’s pictures and pocketed that. If I ever did escape from this attic, I would see about having it put on a new chain to wear.

Under a fabric layer that consisted of my christening gown, various crocheted doilies, and quilt pieces, I finally came to the bottom layer of the trunk’s secrets.

I stared, not really understanding what I was seeing.

Everything in the trunk was so like Mom that I felt as if I had seen and touched it all before. Nothing was a surprise…until now.

The bottom of the trunk was covered from one edge to the other with all kinds of baseball stuff.

It made no sense. I had never known Mom to care at all about baseball. Michael had a brief little league career and as far as I could remember Mom never even attended one of his games. She never spoke about baseball in a negative way, but I just always had assumed that for Mom baseball pretty much didn’t exist.

Here before me was evidence to the contrary.

There was a ball and glove, some baseball cards, and even an old trophy inscribed with the name “Tommy.” I pulled out a diary nestled among the sports memorabilia, only to discover that it was filled, not with love notes, dreams of the future, or descriptions of hairstyles, but rather baseball stats.

I really couldn’t make sense of it at all. Had Mom been a closet baseball fan? Why would she keep that such a secret?

One at a time I lifted each item and carefully examined it. Nothing gave up its secrets. I opened the journal again and turned each page. Baseball stats. Page after page until…

Somewhere in the middle of the book, the writing changed. Instead of childish handwriting in pencil it changed to my mother’s perfect penmanship written in ink.

“Dear Maxine…”

My breath caught.

My mother was writing to me.

Pulling the lantern a bit closer, I began to read.

Dear Maxine,

If you are reading this, it most likely means I am either very ill or dead. I have some things I would like to say to you, my daughter. I am addressing this to you instead of Michael because I know if anyone ever gets around to going through this old trunk it will be you and not your brother.

By the way, you will want to get those attic stairs looked at at some point. They very nearly folded up on themselves and trapped me up in the attic on a few occasions.


I chuckled at that useful advice.

No doubt you are wondering about all the baseball stuff.

Well, here’s the deal kiddo. I absolutely loved baseball. So much so that as a kid, I dressed up as a boy so I could join the new Little League team in town. You see, girls weren’t allowed. I went by the name Tommy and no one really ever questioned me. I was really good, too. I even got a trophy. I played for almost two years, from the time I was ten to almost twelve, but then it just got too hard to hide. I didn’t tell anyone, not even Gramma and Grandpa, who certainly would not have approved.

After it was over I really missed it, so I tried hard just to put it out of my mind. When I met your dad a few years later, at some point I discovered that he was on the team we beat for the Little League championship. I wanted to tell him, but I couldn’t figure out how to bring it up in conversation, and then as time went by, it seemed like I had waited too long to bring it up if that makes sense.
Maybe part of me just wanted to keep it for myself.

So, there is your mom’s deep dark secret. I guess it could be worse.
I love you, Maxie, and I hope taking care of this big old house isn’t too much of a chore for you. I know I have let it go too long without repairs. I didn’t want to burden you or Michael with it, and probably that has made your job now even harder. I am sorry for that.

If I have any last words of wisdom to pass on to you, it would be don’t be afraid to get help when you need it. And be true to yourself without worrying what anybody else will think.


I love you.

Mom

P.S. Please check everything in the box. I think I may have saved something that will help take care of the house.


So, that was it. I felt like Mom was right beside me while I read that, and then as I finished and looked around the attic, I felt like I had lost her all over again. I decided I would haul all the baseball stuff down into the house and find a way to share it with others. Mom didn’t need to hide that secret anymore.

I didn’t understand Mom’s line about something from the trunk that would take care of the house. I thought of the baseball plate stepping stone and wondered if she wanted me to prop something up with her Little League trophy.

I closed the journal with a sigh. As if the universe recognized that I had completed what I needed to do in the attic, I heard Michael yelling for me and the lights came back on.



I walked over to the attic door, and pounded on it, and yelled back at Michael. In a few minutes he figured out where I was and opened the stairs. I peered over the edge and looked down at him without speaking.
Michael looked up at me. “Let me guess,” he said, “You went up there to put those boxes up that you have been after me about and you got stuck?”
I just gave him a look. “Here, catch,” I said as I tossed Mom’s journal down to him. He missed, and I climbed down the stairs shaking my head.
“What is this?” asked Michael bending down to pick up the book that had landed with all the pages fanned out.

“It is Mom’s,” I told him. “Check it out while I jump in the shower. My book club will be here soon, and I’m covered in dust.”

I walked off but heard my brother gasp behind me. I turned to see him holding up a baseball card that had fallen out of Mom’s journal.
Michael whispered, “Max, this is a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card in perfect condition.”

“Okay?” I responded.

“Max,” he shouted, “I’m pretty sure we no longer have to worry about finding the money to fix up this house.”

“What do you mean?” I questioned him.

Michael punched the card’s description into the search bar on his phone and flipped the screen around for me to see.

After a moment I turned and ran toward my room.
Michael yelled after me, “Max where are you going?”

“I have to call the book club,” I told him, “Someone needs to stop for champagne!”

Under my breath I added a “Thanks, Mom!”

The card would solve a bunch of problems, to be sure, but I knew the real treasure in the attic had been finding a little bit of my mom again.
Once again, baseball helped me make sense of the universe.

Baseball, and my mom.

Unfit

Unfit.

You know how it is when something just doesn’t fit like it is supposed to? I don’t mean like your prom dress from high school…

I mean more like, just an event or a situation that is so out of the ordinary that it takes you a second to process it?

Although it could be a physical thing. It is December and those car decorations have started showing up. I actually saw my first reindeer car the day after Halloween this year, and, hey, no judgement from me, that’s about the time I put up my Christmas Trees.

Those car decorations used to bother me because I just couldn’t figure out…WHY. But, in this world we live in today, I kind of love them, because they mean there still people are with enough Christmas spirit and whimsy to decorate their car y’all. Their CAR. It’s a sweet and gentle thing.

So, Friday, I had a really weird day. And after all the weirdness was over and I was sort of processing it, I saw a reindeer car, but it only had one antler. Like, the driver side antler was missing. I sat behind the one-antlered car for a few minutes because we were in traffic. Clearly it wasn’t affecting the function of the car to have only one antler. I mean it couldn’t FLY, but I was pretty sure it couldn’t have done that even if it had both antlers. I had an opportunity to sit there and reflect on what might have happened to the driver side antler. I figured it had fallen off at some point. I reasoned that perhaps it wasn’t a good fit on the car.

And that got me to reflecting on how things just don’t always fit.

It occurs to me now, writing this, that my mind works a lot like those ‘If you give a mouse a cookie’ books… Anyone else? Especially this time of year? I know I’m not alone…

It reminded me of the peacock on my porch.

I was teaching at an elementary school and one day the kids and I came home and there on our front porch was a beautiful, HUGE, peacock, just…standing there like he had been invited over. This was many years ago, before cell phones. I did eventually get pictures, but it wasn’t as easy to capture as it would be now. Well so, we pulled up in our driveway and saw the peacock. The kids were really excited and I was… I was confused y’all. My brain told me I was seeing a peacock on my front porch in the middle of a city of over 300,000 people, but I just couldn’t compute. I stared and finally, after a few minutes of listening to the kids say, “A peacock! A peacock!” I said, “It’s a peacock.” (I know. So insightful.)

We just sat and watched him. His tail feathers were all fanned out and he was gorgeous. Majestic really. Eventually he moved off of the porch, and I ran in the house to grab a camera. I called my sister real quick to get her advice. My sister is a veterinarian. She doesn’t specialize in peacocks, but she is an incredibly smart person about a lot of things. She told me that it was mating season and that peacocks can be aggressive and I should not let the kids get too close. Good advice. She also suggested I call animal control so I did.

Me: Hello? Yes, hi, um…there is a peacock in my yard.
Animal Services: A what?
Me: A peacock.
Animal Services: A…peacock?
Me: Yes. Can you send someone out?
Animal Services: Ma’am…are you SURE it is a peacock?

See? It didn’t ‘fit’ for them either.

After I assured them it really was a peacock, I hung up and we drove down the street behind the peacock, who was now taking a stroll, and I got some pics. I will try to find them and share them later. My kids remember this too, so I have witnesses. When my husband got home, he did not believe us and so we had to wait- this is how it used to work for you youngsters reading- until we finished the roll of film, dropped it off to be developed and then picked it up to show him. We had to wait like a WEEK! Because back then you didn’t just go off all willy-nilly taking pictures of whatever. You couldn’t DELETE them if they were stupid. You had to pay for ALL the pictures BEFORE you even saw them. So.

Anyway.

Friday.

I overslept to start with. I usually am up and going by six, but I had set an earlier alarm because I needed to go in before work and set up for a good-bye party for a colleague. That alarm didn’t go off, or I didn’t save it right or something. So when I woke up, I wasn’t thinking about getting there early. I was just going through my normal morning routine and then I remembered! I had to put it in high gear and I got to the office in time to get everything set up. I didn’t have earrings or eye makeup on, but I got there.

Oh, who am I kidding. I wasn’t going to wear eye makeup or earrings anyway.

Then, after everything was ready to go, I got this pic and …it was just like the peacock on the porch. I couldn’t process it. It didn’t fit.

The picture was for a book cover that I had submitted a short story to. The book was (is) to be an anthology of stories contributed by the attending authors of a book show I am doing in the spring. The show is at the Ballpark (it should be fabulous by the way!) and so the only rule for our short stories was that there had to be a baseball tie-in.
I wrote about a woman who finds a trunk in the attic…well…I will post the story. It was sweet, and sentimental. I was going to post it in this blog, but now I have gone on and on about one-antlered cars and peacocks, so I will post it separately. I’m already running too long.

Well, I sent in my G-rated story several weeks ago and that was that- until Friday when the cover pic came.

Y’all. It was…not what I expected. It was...not a good fit for my story. I’m not going to share the pic because it is not mine to share. There is nothing wrong with it…but if you picked up a book with that cover and read MY little tame story, you would be wondering why it was in there.

It was a …a very sexy cover. A VERY sexy cover. There was a male torso, shirtless, and not a dad bod…and a suggestive title… Now the title was a draft, just to show where the text would go but it went right along with the picture.

I just…I could not process the picture! I thought it must be a mistake.
I showed a couple of friends the mock up. Their reaction reinforced my feeling. The cover was...not UNfit…but definitely not A fit for my story.

One friend said, “Oh my God! I didn’t know you wrote THAT kind of stuff!!!”

I don’t.

In our author group, the contributors were all having a discussion about it and it emerged that a majority of the stories WOULD in fact be a good fit for this cover.

I was left wondering if I missed a memo about genre, but no, it just happened that way!

After some thought, I decided to pull my story from the anthology. This caused some extra work re-formatting the manuscript for the person handling that, and I felt bad, but she was understanding and gracious. I sent a break-up note to my fellow authors explaining that ‘it’s not you it’s me’ (and that is absolutely TRUE. I have no judgement on anyone else’s story y’all! Just had to make the right decision for me...) and there was zero drama. It’s not like my story was pivotal or was gonna make the book or anything anyway. So that done I felt good. Relaxed. The way you feel when you know you did the right thing.

That’s when I saw the reindeer car and started thinking about things fitting or not.

Oh! There was some other weirdness I was going to share, but I am just realizing it would give away a Christmas surprise so never mind. I’m already too wordy today without it.

I’ll post the baseball blog later today. I think it’s a good fit here.

Until then, hang on to all your antlers! Teachers, winter break is coming!!

Happy Sunday.