Saturday, February 8, 2014

Remembering my uncles

My mom came from a large farm family with ten children. She had only one sister, Opal, but so many brothers I must name them to keep count. Not in exact age order, my mother's brothers are Ray, Ralph, Joe, Clyde, Edgar, Dean, Dennis and Jimmy.

Growing up I remember all my uncles always being present at family gatherings at the family farm land in King, NC, but I was much more focused on spending time exploring the pastures and fields with all my cousins. Matter of fact, I have so many cousins I'd totally fail the test to tell you how many, much less name them all!

As my cousins and I grew up, left home for college, married and began their own families, we didn't get together that often.  We drifted apart and only saw each other at a few family reunions or chance meetings in unexpected places.  I still chuckle about being assigned to present for a Christian Books store only to discover the bookstore contact was my cousin, Ed. And there's the time, I ran into another cousin at a civic function.  When I recognized him, I gave him a big hug and his colleagues eyes bugged out of their heads until we told them we were cousins.  There are so many cousins, I shouldn't have been surprised we'd eventually run into each other. 

But my mothers' brothers remained a constant in my life; always warm, affectionate and interested in the lives of all the nieces and nephews. Of course, my uncles were frequent visitors at our home in Greensboro.  They brought Papa to visit us, but after Papa died they continued to visit us frequently as well as be present for weddings and other family celebrations.  I would never say I was close with any of them individually, but I loved each one of them.  I was always comfortable in their presence and knew I was loved because of their gentle kindness. 

Each was a well-respected southern gentleman in his own way. My uncle Joe, the bus driver, drove our youth choir all over the East Coast and my friends considered him an integral part of the choir.  I remember staying at my uncle Ray's house for an overnight visit without my parents.  I loved to visit my uncle Dean's grocery store and play in his barns behind his house. My uncle Dennis, a car mechanic, could troubleshoot a problem with a zen-like intuition and owned a busy gas station.  My uncle Ralph taught me pigs didn't eat cucumbers and neither did he, which always cracked me up.  I admired and looked up to my uncle Edgar, a power plant executive, almost as much as my mother did. My uncle Jimmy, my mother's kid brother, worked at my uncle Dean's store and lived in my grandparents' home with my Papa, so I saw him every time we visited King, NC. 

Over the past few decades, my oldest uncles, one by one, died in their old age.  Men of strong Christian faith, their funerals were testimonies of lives filled with service to their God and their community.  After the recent deaths of my uncle Dean and Uncle Edgar, it dawned on me where once my mother's brothers were too many to count, only Uncle Dennis and Uncle Jimmy are still with us.  Dealing with the sadness of that profound loss, one very special and touching memory of my uncles rushed back at me as if it were yesterday. As comforting and sweet as it is, it truly shows what loving humble men, my mother's brother are, and were.  

The day of my sister Caryn's funeral,  I was totally and profoundly lost.  I don't remember much about that day, but I DO vividly remember my uncles; specifically Uncle Edgar, Uncle Dean and Uncle Dennis volunteering, nope… insisting they were going to babysit my two month old nursing son, Ian, while I attended my sister's funeral.  Gently and confidently, they took him out of my arms and proceeded to coo and cuddle him as I was ushered out the front door.  I remember how relaxed I felt handing over my infant and I was more than a little surprised by my feeling of total trust.  Honestly surprised for I'd always seen my uncles as business men and this was the first time I recognizing them as fathers - not  just providers, but nurturers.  

After the funeral, I returned to find my uncles joyfully fussing over my boy sleeping peacefully in Uncle Edgar's arms.  They teased they weren't going to give him back.  It made me laugh for the first time on that horrible day; for all I could see in their faces was how much they loved me and my son.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow day memories by decades

This week's snow caused a flood of memories of snow day memories.  I decided to list my highlights by decades.

Late 1950's - Kinston, NC

  • A dusting of snow was all we ever got,  but Dad found enough to make a snowman.
  • Moms improvised southern style snow boots made from layering socks, shoes, socks, then bread bags secured with rubber bands, but every kid had a regulation snow suit. Go figure!
  • I got my first taste of snow cream - a delightful mixture of fresh fallen snow, milk and sugar. 
1960's - Greensboro, NC

  • The first ice storm brought us a winter wonderland of icicles, but no electricity, heat or school.  Dad drove the family back to Kinston until electricity was restored and schools reopened.
  • For one blissful winter, it snowed every Wednesday for weeks. We enjoyed snow days Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays and attended school Mondays, Tuesdays and most of June.
  • Same year, Hathaway Drive turned into a protected sled hill on snow days. Blocked off by the city, our hill featured a bonfire at the top, 4 inches of packed ice for maximum speed and the gruesome frozen blood in ice from an unfortunate kid's sledding accident to stop and gawk at on the walk back up the hill. 
  • The exhilaration of the run was everything! I remember my sisters, lined up with me and holding onto each other for dear life atop the Radio Flyer while friends performed the essential running push to ensure the fastest 2 block thrill ride of our lives. 
  • A few winters later I mastered the art of solo sledding - Hold the sled to the side, take a running start, drop face down to the boards only inches from the ice, grab the cross bar pulling back right or left to steer and dragging the feet to brake. (I can't believe we didn't break something!) 
  • Not long after my first solo, I survived my first sledding collision with a hint of terror, but a rush of adrenaline to fuel the long walk back to the top of the hill with an even more solemn stop at the blood in ice. 
  • I learned to share the family sled and alternated runs with my sisters. A bonus was time by the bonfire and sipping hot cocoa from a thermos. 
1970's Greensboro, Chapel Hill, North Wilkesboro and Raleigh, NC
  • Learned not only to drive, but drive on snow. Dad taught us to downshift the automatic transmission instead of using the brakes. White knuckled, we practiced steering with a fish tale instead of against it. 
  • The March snow storm in Chapel Hill the week after a Spring Break Bahamas trip, had me resenting the necessity of covering my dark tan with layers of wool, but enjoying the boy's surprise snowball ambush on the quad. 
  • Snow day Senior year I was delighted by a surprise visit from my future husband, Frank, and his friends. I fell in love with the black and white photo of Frank taken during the following snowball fight in our apartment parking lot.  I still have it… and him. 
  • As a first year teacher in North Wilkesboro, snow days were dark days of real worries my kids on Free breakfast and lunch plan might not eat that day. I'm sure some did not.  
  • Regardless of the severity of the storm and road conditions, my sweet husband braved it all to open the pharmacy while I got a snow day or a teacher's workday.  I never relaxed until he called to say he'd arrived safely.  
1980's in Raleigh, NC
  • As a first time mom with a snow day, I bundled my baby, Chris, in a snow suit, pushed him around the yard in a laundry basket and built him a snowman. 
  • Add little brother, Ian, to the family and I enjoyed the snow days even more. I became the biggest kid in the house and made sure the boys experienced snow cream, making snow angels and sledding safely down the driveway on a lame plastic trashcan lid. 
1990's in Raleigh, NC
  • We got the boys their own Radio Flyer sled. I bounced between adult knowledge of the inherent danger of downhill sledding and the childlike desire my sons experience the thrill of a good run.
  • A two night sleep-over at our friends house, during a long week of snow days in the mid '90's, was the highlight of the decade. My sons got to sled and romp in the snow with their best buds while the adults supervised and/or added wood to the fire, made chili while sipping spiked apple cider, aka "Rocket fuel". 
2000's in Raleigh
  • 2000 started out with the wildest - a blizzard with 22" of snow. My ever inventive boys shoveled pathways around the front yard for our Jack Russell to disappear into, relieve herself and run her little heart out.  Standing on the deck or at the front windows was like watching a mouse run a maze - crazy! 
  • December 2005 and the surprise one inch ice storm that brought Raleigh to a standstill was most surreal.  I thought watching a city bus slide down the street outside my office door was astounding, but the 8 hour commute home was astonishing.  Imagine my reaction to finally making it home to find out my son, Ian, had just returned home from slip-sliding on the back roads to meet his buddies at a local restaurant. Unbelievable! 
  • The night the Christmas pageant ended with a snow shower was a wonderful God moment… until the Associate Pastor, a kid at heart himself, announced it was snowing.  Keeping the kids focused and singing instead of trying to get a glimpse of the snow flakes was a struggle, but no one minded.  Even the older adults were excited it was snowing and turned to look!
2010's to today - 
  • Winter storms are named like we name hurricanes. I guess 24 hour news and weather channels must create weather hype to keep us watching, tweeting and posting. 
  • This is the first decade we got most of our information about winter weather and snow days from friends on social media. I've gotten weather updates and pictures from friends and family as far away as New York, Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado faster than TV news can deliver.  I especially enjoy the pictures of my friends sharing in that first snow experience with their own children and some with their grandchildren. Makes me smile! 
  • High Tech aside, what I will remember most about this week's Winter Storm Leon is we didn't need Weather Channel to tell us it was coming, nor that it would bring snow to… of all places… NC beaches. You see, 10 days ago, while enjoying a weekend at the beach with friends, we experienced a winter thunderstorm. Any real Southerner knows…. If it thunders in the winter, it will snow in 10 days.  And 10 days later, it did! It snowed here in Raleigh AND at the beach! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Working around the pain.

The past several years I've been working out at the gym on a regular basis.  I've gained energy, muscle mass and dropped some poundage along the way, but it came at a cost.  And I'm not referring to the cost of the gym membership and weekly sessions with a personal trainer.

The real cost for this 50 something is a host of temporarily life altering body aches and injuries that taught me a new kind of commitment - working around the pain.

I actually strained my lats/obliques doing a simple sit-ups during the first few months of my workout journey.  These back muscles run around the sides of the chest. When pulled or strained breathing deep is painful.  Thanks to my trainer, I didn't stop training, she helped me work around the pain until my body repaired itself. I wonder how anyone stays out of the emergency room if they sprained those bad boys, because I only strained mine and I thought I was dying!

I developed achy stiffness in my hands and wrists and managed to work around the pain for several years. I dropped silverware and cooking utensils, but rarely dropped a knife.  Scrubbing floors, raking leaves, cooking, writing, etc. sent me over the edge.  I reluctantly gave up on my elementary teacher perfect penmanship.  I put off writing handwritten thank you notes because my fingers and wrists froze whenever they felt like it; making forming legible letters or creating a neat and flowing cursive impossible. Sometimes I sucked it up and sent out embarrassing chicken scratch notecards in leu of my preferred, yet tacky, texts and emails.

I also found ways to workout with the hand and wrist pain.  I began wearing cool fingerless gloves at the gym to stabilize my wrists and fingers to keep me lifting and moving.  They work wonders and the cool factor was a motivator. I got compliments on them…even at the drugstore or grocery store. Yeah, in those gloves shopping all stinky without make-up after my workout is a fashion statement. 

Two years ago, I developed foot pain.  The ugly bunion on my right foot never hurt until I worked out regularly. I discovered plantar fasciitis is not always just pain in the arch, but is also an excruciating pain running from the outside of the foot near the little toe and up to the ankle.  My tortured feet screamed at me when I even pulled my gorgeous Nike technology dress shoes with the conservative three inch heels out of their cloth bags!

I worked around the foot pain every day.  My feet finally shut up when I caressed them in a new pair of expensive cross trainers with thick socks,  Merrill barefoot technology running shoes, clunky orthopedic dress flats or the sleeker Toms flats.  I got great relief from bi-weekly pedicures. (Do NOT judge me! My manicurist is a miracle worker who keeps me walking and working out.)  I took beginner Yoga classes to balance and stretch barefooted which strengthen my foot muscles, reduced the bunion and its pain as well as eased other miscellaneous body aches and pains. Ahhhhh!  I think zealous over-stretching during Yoga actually caused the plantar fasciitis, but I self-corrected.  I listened to my body, then changed equipment or position at the first sign of foot pain.  All those work arounds helped and I occasionally wore my pretties for a few hours without pain. Hurrah!

Fast forward to this past few weeks and my new challenge - the dreaded rotator cuff pain.  I am not sure if this injury was due to old age, lifting too much weight last week or lugging heavy carry-on bags through airports in Europe and the Middle East on my recent international trip. All I know is rotating my arms, raising them in any direction or lifting anything hurts worse than every other pain listed above and I will get past this.  I've come to realize I will continue to get older, work out, travel and live my life to the fullest with a new kind of commitment…  

I'm working around the pain.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

From Dubai to Dad

I'm far from a poet, so bear with me my friends. 
It's heartfelt, it's awkward, not for you but for my Dad.  

With love, Lisa 

From Dubai to Dad

Back from Dubai and deep in slumber
jet lag is waning as I try to recover.
Phone is ringing it's three in the morning.
dad's rushed via ambulance it's bad it's alarming.

Prepare for waiting room limbo and bedside vigils.
Send out Facebook messages and take a short shower,
Eat something, sip coffee and wish I was there.
Calm brings on focus and I know its from prayer.

Power up iPad, cellphone and Mac
cramming all in my bag but no room for the Mac.
Slapping on makeup to hide my fatigue
I head off to the Hill feeling feelings I fear.

Family gathers around the emergency room bed
oh what joy to feel love coming down and around.
In times of crisis all walls come down
questions of life are unwelcome, unreal and profound.

While doctors struggle to read what was sent
of fuzzy CT scan and incompatible disc.
Now diagnosis pending and surgery on hold
we're confused and encouraged, but on shaky ground.

ICU Waiting room attendant detached
but gracious couple's orientation is kind and exact.
Offering an extra chair for mom's bags by her side
we settle in to wait for what might arise.

Thirsty but not hungry
others go eat.
Too anxious to nibble
just water to drink.

Finally a white coat appears at dad's curtain
he's going to be fine and shocker- they're certain.
Rush to share morsels of medical jargon
so foreign I garble the complete explanation.

Texting and texting for prayer and updates
as cellphone trembles, dings and click-clicks.
Frustrating dropped calls and undelivered text
searching for signals, please give me a break!

Down long corridors and courtyards drenched in rain.
Sharing the good news with family, then friends.
From crisis to normal they're sending him home.
Not now, maybe later, overnight, Wait's too long.

Finally packing and ready to go
a new explanation - diagnosis turned round.
No worries, no matter, he's still doing fine.
Puzzled but pleased. "Dad, let's get out of town."

It's raining, it's dreary yet we're making good time!
Rains until Greensboro then God's light shines around.
The sky becomes bright, clouds brushed with bright colors
We're bathed in God's blessings and Dad's crisis is over.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year recipes for good luck!

I'm headed out the country tomorrow, so I've handed over the recipes for the traditional New Year's Day dishes to my son, Chris.  Actually, I wrote them down since following an actual recipe isn't the southern way. Yes, Chris is fix in' the required blackened peas and collards to enjoy while I am somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.  I no longer know why you must eat these dishes… something about luck and prosperity…but we fix them because they taste wonderful.  

So if you are interested, below you'll find my preferred recipes for blackened peas and collard greens…. 

New Years Day dishes - Black -Eyed Peas and Collards

Blackeyed peas 

2 cups dried peas
6 cups boiling water
4-5 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
salt to taste
Place dried peas in a bowl, discard any pebbles or broken beans. Cover with boiling water, let stand for two hours. In a large kettle, saute onion in bacon fat. Pour in 5 cups boiling water. Drain peas and add to the pot, add salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Cook 1-2 hours, keeping covered with water. Cook peas until tender.

Collard Greens or "Collards" 
2 bunches fresh collard greens - look for bunches without any wilted leaves
4 cups chicken or turkey broth
Ham hock (use 6 slices of bacon if you can’t get a ham hock)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
salt & pepper, to taste

Prep for pot liquor - In a large pot or dutch oven, add 4 cups of chicken or turkey broth, the ham hock and pour in enough water to cover the ham hock. 
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. 

Prep collards - Wash the collards in a sink of cold water. Take collards out of the water. Drain the sink and rinse again. (This time add a Tablespoon of coarse salt to the water - sea salt or kosher salt is good. If you don’t have either, table salt will work.) Take collards out of the water.  Cut the stems and all tough ribs and discard.  Roll up the collard leaves and coarsely chop. 

Add collards to the pot of ham hock and broth.  You will probably have to push down on the greens to get them all into the pot, so add so you can still get the lid on the pot.** Bring to a boil. (**As the greens wilt, you can add the rest of the collards to the pot.) Stir. Cover with a lid and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer the greens until they kind of fall apart when stirred. (Approx. 1 - 1 1/2 hours.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Note: the broth and ham hock are already salty so taste before you add salt. 

Pot liquor can be enjoyed as a hot beverage… I'm not kidding. It's pretty good. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Who can I invite to join us this Christmas?

A friend posted the following on his Facebook page:

"At the request of a friend...Sobering thoughts as we enter the holiday season...It is important to remember that not everyone is surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. If I don't see your name, I'll understand. May I ask my friend(s)...... Wherever you might be, to kindly copy, paste, and share this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my friends just for moral support. I know some will! I did it for a friend and you can too! (You have to copy & paste this one, .....NO 'sharing' please"

Funny, this has on my mind for the past few days, but I didn't know how to say it.  I hope the original author doesn't mind me borrowing it because I need it to help me put my priorities and perceived "struggles" in their place.  

If I hadn't read this post

  • I might have been tempted to shamefully blog about my large family's unbelievably insane attempt to get the entire family together in one place at one time. 

  • I would have droned on and on about my iCal exploding and the headaches of keeping up with whom I will see when and where. 

But if I had, all of you would have shouted together as one, "Boo! Hoo!" and "Shame on  you!"

And I would have deserved it.

Thank heavens, the Facebook post instead reminded me of how my grandparents did Christmas.

My grandparents'  home was always open to strangers who found themselves away from family or alone during the holidays. Soldiers passing through town on their way to somewhere else were often at the family Christmas dinner table.

Matter of fact, Norman, a young soldier from Pennsylvania enjoyed Christmas at my grandparent's home so much, he ended up marrying their oldest child, my aunt Mary Alice.  (The real story is he fell in love with her AT the dinner table and phoned his parents to announce he'd found his future bride!)

It is a sweet story and even sweeter because it reminds me of my uncle who used to tell it. (Sadly, he passed away this year.)

It also reminds me to quit making sure I make it to all my little event and instead think…

 Who can I invite to join us this Christmas?  

Go Ahead - Google it!