Monday, May 31, 2010

When Jackson was a little guy, he thought the minute the candles were blown out on the birthday cake, it was official, you were one year older. This applied even if your birthday was a few days before or after the party.

Just like the candles on Jackson’s birthday cake, over the years, Memorial Day has become the official beginning of summer even though, according to the calendar, summer doesn’t really begin until June 21st.

Over the long weekend we celebrate at cookouts with friends and family, go on mini-vacations and enjoy trips to the lake. Until we are reminded by radio and TV ads, we tend to forget the real meaning of Memorial Day. It began as Decoration Day in the 1800s to honor and celebrate those who have given their lives for the rest of us to enjoy the freedoms we casually assume we’re entitled to.

Unless you have a friend or family member who is or has been in the military, the significance of Memorial Day might not even cause you to pause. My Dad served in the Navy during World War II. His ship’s assignment was change just before it left port. The ship that was sent instead, never returned. My father-in-law was in the second wave of soldiers to storm Omaha Beach. That all was before Jim and I were born. But because our fathers lives were spared, Jim and I and our kids and grandkids are here today.

Last year Jason joined the National Guard. He’s an Army chaplain. Everyone in the family knew before I did. I think it was like the commercials on TV, he was concerned how I’d react. I won’t lie, it did knock me off center a little, but honestly I felt nothing but pride. He’s gently explained to me it’s not whether he will be deployed, but when. It took me a while to digest that one.

So today when you’re having your burger at the lake or relaxing in your lounge chair at the pool, consider for a moment why you’re able to enjoy the privileges, choices and freedoms you have. “Thank you” to the men and women past, present, and future who serve our country.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jim hung up the phone. “Suz, that was Kari. She and Dakota were out jogging and Dakota was attacked by a cow. She can’t find Travis and she needs help. She said she would call back.”

This was right before Kari and Travis were married. Calling for back-up was something she would have to learn to do over the next several years while Travis was in med school and residency.

“What! Was she out on one of those farm-to-market roads? How on earth did the cow get to Dakota? Is Kari okay? How badly hurt is Dakota? Oh good grief, this is terrible. Where are they now?” I asked, just as the pone rang. It was Kari.

“Where are you? Are you all right? How’s Dakota?” I suddenly realized I wasn’t giving her time to answer. “I’m fine. Dakota is in with the vet right now,” she sighed.

“Kari what on earth were you doing so far out in the country? How did the cow get to Dakota? Did Dakota run under the fence in to the pasture? Can dogs get mad cow disease from a cow bite,” I kept on with my rapid-fire questions.

“What are you talking about,” she asked confused

“I’m talking about the cow. The cow that attacked Dakota. Jim said a cow attacked Datoka?”

“The cow? I said Chow, not cow. Dakota and I were jogging in the neighborhood and one of the neighbor’s Chows ran out and went after Dakota. I think the Chow thought we were invading his territory,” she said laughing.

I was so relieved to know there weren’t hostile cows living outside Springfield, Missouri. This was when cell phones were relatively new and the reception was sometimes sketchy at best.

But isn’t that what we tend to do when we don’t know all the facts, go into a semi-panic. I’ve learned over the years to slow down and ask a lot of questions in what looks like to be a crisis. Nine times out of ten it’s not. It keeps my blood pressure normal and I don’t get weak knees from an adrenalin rush to spring into action when it’s not necessary. Honestly, what action would I have taken in a cow attack situation anyway?

“Not only do I not know what’s going on, I wouldn’t know what to do about it if I did.”
-George Carlin

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When you know better and do it anyway, I think it’s called asking-for-it. The Friday of Memorial Day weekend is not the time to travel and it’s not the time to even pull in the parking lot of the Super Center. I knew better and I did both anyway.

People get a little crazy and careless on holiday weekends. Just the sheer volume of traffic makes a simple road trip life risking. Television is the only place I have seen a worse accident than I saw yesterday. Two vehicles, a truck pulling a goose neck trailer carrying a backhoe, and a horse trailer were all scattered and smashed so badly it was hard to tell what happened. It added an hour to my trip, but caused me to slow down and remember how fragile life is.

Once I got home I decided to make a quick trip to town. It would keep me from having to venture into the sea of vacationers today. I waited until about 7 to go to Walmart. So did everyone else. The aisles were jammed, products were out of stock, and they were calling for all checkers to report to their registers. I stood for 10 minutes in the express line.

To pass time I read the magazine covers and learned Oprah and her friend Gayle had a screaming match in public, John Travolta and his wife are having twins and three ways to loose weight while eating everything you want.

All of a sudden someone yelled, “WELCOME TO WALMART!” I looked up from my third magazine to see the greeter in his blue vest yell it again. Then someone walked past him to leave and he shouted and pointed to her, “HAVE A GREAT DAY!” He startled a lot people, but made everyone smile. I did.

I finally made it to the cashier. “That guy is sure enjoying his job,” I said. “Oh, he’s new. I don’t know him very well. He does have one thing figured out though. If you have to work you might as well have fun doing it,” she smiled.

Brilliant idea. We all have to work in one way or another, paid or not. There are some things that just have to be done, so you might as well have fun while you do them. Who knows, like the Walmart greeter, you might make someone smile.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men...”
-Colossians 3:23

Friday, May 28, 2010

“If men liked shopping, they’d call it research.”

Jim Brawner is all about Consumer Reports. Before buying, he studies cars, TV’s, phones, and computers like an investigator. He even knows the highest rating for things we don’t need and never will buy, so shopping is research for him.

Honestly I’m more concerned about cup holder placement than miles per gallon and if a laptop fits in my briefcase is much more important than megas or gigas or whatever it is that impresses people who understand technology.

However, it’s a different story when it comes to shopping for clothes. My friend Gary says men hunt for clothes. They go to the mall, shoot it, bag it, and bring it home.

It’s a mission for Jim to buy a pair of black slacks. He hits the mall and goes in the first store that looks like it might sell black slacks, finds his size and he might try them on. If he does, I guarantee he won’t twirl and wonder if the slacks make his rear look big. For men, if they zip up, they fit. He pays for the slacks and leaves the mall. Not much research goes on with that.

Recently I went shopping for a black pair of slacks and got totally distracted. I found little girl clothes 75% off, a new kitchen gadget and note cards for Aunt Jo. Within 30 minutes I forgot the original reason for going to the mall. Then I needed a time out so I sat down for coffee and tried to remember what it was I was really looking for.

Jill called with some cooking questions and Jim called wanting to know what time I was getting home. Then I was way off track. I started out for the parking lot and couldn't pass up a couple of stores with SALE signs in the window. After I picked up an Auntie Anne’s pretzel I left the mall knowing I had had a great shopping experience. No research necessary.

When I was about to fall asleep that night I remembered ... black slacks. I need to always shop with a list.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One of the best things about May is strawberries. My friend Roxie says she’s just certain right when you walk through the gates of heaven it smells like fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are close to the top of my list of favorite things ever. Like Bubba fixed shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump, we fix strawberries; strawberry shortcake, chocolate dipped strawberries, strawberries over ice cream, strawberry smoothies, spinach and strawberry salad. I grew up in Arkansas and it’s hard to find better berries anywhere. In Arkansas it smells like heaven in May.

My dad would take my kids to Round Mountain in the spring to one of those you-pick-’em farms. I think he let them pick until they got tired. Over the years I’m sure he spent hundreds of dollars on strawberries. One year I think four year old Jill’s bucket weighed more than she did at the weigh-in.

I drove down in Arkansas to see my dad yesterday. He just finished up the batch of berries I bought off the back of a truck last week so I made it a point to look for a berry truck or stand on the highway. I slowed down by the unofficial car sales lot where I bought berries last week. The K-Mart parking lot is the best place to sell a car at home. This community didn’t have a K-Mart so that spot must be the place to sell everything. Last week strawberries, this week no strawberries, Yorkie puppies.

About 50 miles further south past Aunt Gertie’s Flea Market is a fruit and vegetable stand. We stopped in there a couple of weeks ago. The farmer was sold out but we did meet couple from a small town in Arkansas who were also looking for berries. We actually knew some of the same people. If we had talked long enough we might have found out we were related or at least may have know some of each other’s relatives.

Yesterday the farmer had about a dozen quarts of berries and they were the puniest looking strawberries I had ever seen. “Are these all the berries?” I asked. “Yep,” he answered and flashed me a toothless grin.

“Oh, wow, I was looking for some larger ones,” I said, disappointed.

He was quick to say, “It’s the end of the season, but these are the best berries we’ve had.”

“I think I’ll pass. Thank you though. It just doesn’t smell like heaven,” I said as I turned to walk out. “Well, Okay,” he said with a puzzled look as he scratched his head and spit tobacco juice in a paper cup.

I’ll got to Kroger this morning.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

If I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent in bleachers, on fields, in gyms, at pools and on courts over the last thirty years I could probably buy a car or take a really long trip. Just when I thought I was going to store the bleacher cushions, umbrellas and folding chairs the grandkids are putting on uniforms.

Jim went on a Cub Scout camp out last weekend. The boys were making the big crossing from Tiger Cub to Wolf and had to complete tests in knot tying and compass and maps. Big was the only Grandad there and in typical Jim Brawner style, I’m sure he had more fun than anyone.

Last night we went to Jameson’s T ball game at the Rec Plex. He plays on the blue team, The Royals. Everyone should have as much fun as these kids do. Each base has a coach to tell them when to run and which way to run because it gets confusing with so many things to remember when you’re five and six years old.

One player got so excited he went straight from second base to home. I guess the home plate coach was cheering louder. There were several head on collisions and there was a rugby style scramble for the ball in the infield until the kids realized they were on the same team. Then they laughed and were overly polite, “You take it. No, you take it.” Meanwhile the runners were rounding the bases.

The batter before Jameson was left handed so when Jameson got up to bat he gave it a try from that side of the plate too. Jameson’s right handed. When the Royals were out in the field he ran the ball to the first baseman and handed it to him instead of throwing it. I guess he thought the ball would get there faster. The runner was out! Whatever it takes.

The best part was watching big grins on the little faces while they were superhero baseball players. So here we go again. Round two. Another thirty years.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When a string of challenging days come in a row, I start to feel like I am sinking. No matter how strong and steady you claim to be, if you’re honest, you’ll admit life can wear you out too. I feel like I’ve had not just back to back days, but weeks that have poked holes in my boat and it’s taking on water. It bullies around my confidence to be able to handle life.

Lack of confidence and fear creep into our lives as we grow up. Kids are fearless until adults teach them boundaries for their own safety. Obviously that’s necessary, but if pushed too far a paralyzing fear takes hold. My mom grew up on a farm with a stock pond. She never learned to swim and had to work hard at overcoming her fear of water because she was told over and over, “Don’t go near the pond because you could drown.”

In the same way we learn to be afraid and lose our confidence, we can build it back ... piece by piece. I was out walking a few days ago and I had to give myself a good talking to. Do you ever do that? I was to the point I could either sink to the bottom in the stock pond of fear and worry or start swimming, real fast. It’s not that I don’t know how to swim to pull myself up out of that sinking feeling, I didn’t think I had the energy.

So I talked out loud to myself. It’s more convincing that way. It concerns the neighbors I’m sure. “I am strong. I am confident. I can handle anything tossed my way. I have energy and I’m not tired. I will not sit down give up. God made me and loves me and won’t give me more than I can handle. I like myself. I am loved. I can do it!”

Did I instantly feel those things? Nope. Sometimes it’s best to fake it until your feelings catch up. They eventually will.

Here’s a video clip of three-year-old Jessica doing her affirmation dance. I’m telling you it’s like learning to snow ski; it’s much easier at three than forty-three. It’s amazing what we can learn from the kids. Enjoy your day and keep on swimming.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7

Monday, May 24, 2010

Have you ever thought, “I’ll just tidy up” and three hours later wonder what happened? Picking up leads to dusting leads to vacuuming leads to dragging out the Bissell carpet spot lifter. It attacked me yesterday afternoon.

Then about 5 o’clock I decided my car needed to be washed. I wonder sometimes why I bother. The bugs on the highway this time of year are the size of small birds and the birds seem to use my black car for target practice. When I think it will rain and wash off the splattered bugs and bird poop, the skies are clear for a week.

I grabbed some quarters and headed to town in my car washing clothes. About halfway there I remembered three things I needed and exited across the highway from the car wash toward the Dollar General. Then I realized how I was dressed. “Get over yourself, Suzette,” I said out loud and walked toward the store. I felt so much better when the first person I saw had on pajama bottoms and Crocks.

The car wash wasn’t busy because all the smart people were out on the lake. I pulled in the bay where the truck drivers wash their big rigs, dropped in six quarters and picked up the soapy brush. I had the gooey soap slathered all over the car when the one minute countdown alarm sounded. The challenge was on to rinse the whole car off in one minute.

I attacked like a wild woman. A breeze kicked up and I was down wind. I was too busy to worry about it because I was going to beat the timer. That had to have been the longest minute ever. When I looked up, all the soap was off, the meter said 0:00, but the water was still going. It was like waking up at 3:00 am realizing there were several hours of sleep time left. I had plenty of time. The water never went off on its own so I finally turned the black knob to the off position.

I got back on the highway toward home, half drenched, hair stuck to my head, but the car looked good. There’s just something about a clean car. It makes you look like you have it all together when you really don’t ... and probably never do.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Only one week until it’s officially summer. The last few days of school are just ahead, neighborhood pools are opening one by one and I bought my first watermelon of the season yesterday. I’ll admit it tasted a little like cold, crunchy cardboard. Maybe I’m trying to rush things a bit.

The Plum Nellie Days were in Branson this last weekend. There’s an ugly dog competition, a craft show, a street dance and the crowning of the King and Queen. It’s quite the local tradition all in celebration of summer almost here ... it’s plum nearly summer or plum nellie. Until I learned the history I thought Nellie was someone famous.

This time of year is like none other. What can beat the feeling of walking out of school on the last day or putting on Coppertone for the first time since last summer? The peacefulness of listening to the crickets and frogs at night is like a tranquilizer. It helps balance the dread and horror of putting on a swimsuit after the long winter. About the first of July the shock does wear off a little.

Summertime has such distinctive smells; sunscreen, freshly cut grass, rain on hot pavement, charcoal and food on the grill and chlorine. Maybe summer is so special because volumes of our deep childhood memories are made during June, July, and August.

When I was growing up we spent most days at the pool. I went to day camp for two weeks and spent a week with my grandparents on the farm every year. One summer I learned that not all chickens for dinner come from the grocery store and discovered where the saying, “Running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off” came from.

So hang on, it’s almost here. One week and counting. Summer just makes me smile. Maybe the real reason is ... I get to wear flip flops for three months straight.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I was lost in my own thoughts staring at a jewelry display wondering if it was too soon to start Christmas shopping. I feel so efficient when I shop ahead. But finding a laser level or mini light saber hidden in the bottom of my socks drawer this time next year is usually what happens. I stood there arguing with myself when I was so rudely interrupted, “Of course it won’t fit. I ate onion rings.”

I turned around to see who was talking. The woman behind me was shaking her head in disgust. “Why do I think any of these rings are going to fit when I have onion rings for lunch. They blow me up like a puff fish. Those *^@~# onion rings!”

I laughed out loud. She stared at me with the stink eye so I turned around and twirled the necklace display acting like nothing had happened. To my relief she started laughing too. “Maybe if you drink a lot of water the ring will fit tomorrow. It really is pretty,” I suggested.

“Or maybe I should remember onion rings do that to me,” she said as she handed the sales person her credit card and smiled.

In reality she knew the onion rings weren’t to blame. It was just easier to blame them instead of her bad choice. How many times do I catch myself tempted to accuse everything and everyone for mistakes I make all by myself? I think the guilt doesn’t bite so hard if I share the blame.

Our bosses, kids, husbands, and siblings are accused for most of our misfortunes. The government and our mothers are blamed for the rest. We’re all guilty of passing blame on some level and it’s really not fair. I hate to even recommend a new restaurant to some people because if they don’t enjoy it, it’s my fault. Ducking blame is so tiring.

Responsibility for our choices, good or not so good belongs to each of us alone. Don’t blame the onion rings.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I had everything planned perfectly. Most of the three hour drive home from seeing my dad was behind me. I would swing by the house, drop off my bags, freshen up, pick up Jim and we would be off to Springfield for Smith’s one year birthday party. That sounded simple enough. I rounded one of the near hairpin curves on Highway 65 in the pouring rain to find traffic on the two lane road not moving.

Having stopped right beside a volunteer fireman directing traffic, I rolled down my window about 2 inches to ask what was going on. “A girl miscalculated the curve and rolled her Jeep. She’s on the way to the hospital in the ambulance so it shouldn’t be too much longer now,” he explained.

Forty minutes later traffic started moving. That was not in my plans. Maybe I wouldn’t unload the car and hopefully I looked fresh enough for a kids birthday party because my time was really short now.

I stuck a motivational CD in the dash to distract my frustration. Oddly enough, the speaker was explaining the importance of expectations. “Do you expect to reach your goals? Do you expect good things?” she asked.

That’s when I started talking back, “Yes I do! But where does that get me. I was expecting to get home, relax for a minute, then take off again. That’s not going to happen.”

I hit the off button. I know the gap between expectations and reality is where stress sits, so how much should I expect without getting frustrated? I thought about it the rest of the way home.

I remembered the sticky note I have on my desk that says: Hope ... a great expectation of what is to come. Hope is a good thing. It keeps us moving forward when things get tough. I had hoped and expected things to go the way I had them planned, but once again I was reminded I’m only one fragment in the big picture. Taking care of the girl in the accident clearly was more important than me running a curling iron through my hair.

Just like the curvy road we don’t know what’s coming next. An attitude of positive expectancy is an exercise in hope and faith. To adjust to unplanned circumstances with minimal frustration is something else. However, both are are choice.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
-Hebrews 11:1

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An interesting question came the other day. “I’m concerned about my seven year old daughter. I know I’m her mother, but she’s beautiful. People stop us on the street and tell her how pretty she is. Consequently she thinks the world revolves around her. I’m afraid she is turning into a selfish, me centered little girl. Is it too late to straighten this out?”

First of all, it’s never too late to turn around when you discover you’re going the wrong way. Obviously the earlier our kids realize they’re just a tiny part of a big world the better. Clearly it’s easier to redirect a seven year old than at sixteen year old, but even then it’s not too late.

Complement her when she does anything kind, thoughtful or loving. Tell her how proud you are of her sweet, generous spirit. My mom told me years ago, “Give your kids 10 compliments about inner beauty to every one compliment on outer beauty.” Explain to your daughter appearance can change, and it does. We have only so much control over that. But a sweet spirit is something we can choose to always have. She’ll learn soon enough there are plenty of pretty girls, but it takes someone special to be beautiful and nice.

Don’t we all know women who never learned being pretty is not an exemption from being nice. They make me nervous. Conversations always turn back to their life and their problems and it’s always laced with drama. I usually end up holding my breath and tensing my shoulders after being with them for a while.

Emphasize to your daughter she may be a stunning young lady, but how she acts far outweighs how she looks. The best thing is you are aware of the potential problem if things don’t change now. That’s half of the solution. Don’t give up.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yesterday we stopped at McDonald’s in a rural community. To escape the mid-afternoon noise we set up our computers in the play area because it was empty. We enjoyed the quiet for about 12 minutes before moms and kids invaded. Just as Jim answered an important call, a three year old threw a full on fit because his mom was ready to leave. The louder he cried the louder she told him to hush. So much for Jim faking he was in an office.

We were meeting Jason who had gotten lost on the back roads, so I had some sit and think time while Jim was on the phone. An elderly couple sat down in the booth on the other side of the playroom window with their ice cream cones. The wife looked like one of the faces in a museum painting ... deep, watery, pale blue eyes, white hair pulled back in a tight bun and wrinkles so deep it was as if someone had carved them. She closed her eyes each time she took a bite of ice cream.

Her husband was watching her like they were on their first date. She caught him staring at her and grinned. He reached across the table and squeezed her hand. I felt like I was watching a movie clip.

I wondered how old they were, 85 or maybe 90. I thought about all they had seen in their lifetimes. I’m certain they remembered when there were only ice boxes, wood cook stoves and no indoor plumbing. They dated when there weren’t restaurant chains, computers in every lap and Droids or iPhones on every ear.

Yet here they were on the other side of the glass from us and all our technology simply enjoying their 49 cent McDonald’s ice cream cones as if they were fine delicacies. I want to learn to do that before I’m 85 or 90 years old.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I got a phone call not long ago that started out pleasant enough, but out of nowhere, it turned really ugly. The caller was so angry, not at me, just flat out angry, I think at the whole world and some things were said that stung like blowing sand. Nothing bad enough to injure, but enough to aggravate and burn. It kept coming and nothing was calming down so when I got a chance I said, “Oh, look at the time. Have to run. Bye for now.”

I flopped back in the chair and realized this was one of those pivotal moments when a choice has to be made. Do I let this obviously bitter, enraged person mess with my mind or am Teflon? I let it mess with me for a little while, then I realized I’m better off Teflon.

Teflon is one of my favorite inventions, right up there with caller ID. Nothing sticks to good Teflon, it just slides right off. Even the worst burned mess will come off with just a little water.

When hurtful things are said and done we all have a choice, we can be Teflon or Velcro. When we allow things to stick instead of slide the temptation is to rehash and replay over and over. I’d like to be to the point when anything potentially damaging is said I’d think, “Oh, whatever”, and let it roll.

You don’t have to be a beauty pageant contestant to want world peace, or just some personal peace. We’re all calm when everything around us is calm, which is rare. The challenge is this: if you want your world under control and peaceful, you have to be under control and peaceful. The people around us can’t give us peace. It has to come from inside us. If the rest of the world can’t give us peace, then they shouldn’t be able to take it away either. Teflon is the way to go.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body...”
-Proverbs 14:30

Monday, May 17, 2010

Children have the wonderful quality of relaxing and sometimes defusing tense, emotional situations, accidentally and not premeditated. They’re so innocent and well intended, even the most intense people at least smile.

When I was eight and my brother was five we were in my Aunt’s wedding. It was quite the formal affair ... before dancing down the aisle was popular. I was a junior bridesmaid and Russ was the one to release the ribbons on the rows for the parents and grandparents. Our three year old cousin Gary was the ring bearer.

The boys were wearing stiff, scratchy tuxes and I had on so many petticoats a strong wind would have lifted me off. To add to the uncomfortable factor, it was a hot summer afternoon.

Russ accomplished his duties without a hitch. I took my responsibilities very seriously. Gary made it down to the front with the white fluffy pillow holding the fake rings, turned around and smiled just like he was told to do. But, after a few minutes he began to fidget. Then he sat down. I pulled him to his feet. He sat down again, put the pillow on his lap and put his head on the pillow. I pulled him up again.

Russ was on the front row watching every move. Finally in effort to encourage his younger cousin, just after the pastor had said, “Let us pray,” Russ in a loud “whisper” said, “Hang on Gary. Grandaddy said after this is over, we’re going to get some Cracker Jacks.”

The very formal affair wasn’t so formal anymore.

So many times when I’m in the middle of an uncomfortable situation, I think about Cracker Jacks and the perfectly timed wise words of my five-year-old brother. Hang on. Uncomfortable times don’t last forever. The Cracker Jacks are coming.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I was three years old when I got my first pair of pink ballet shoes. I loved everything about dance class; the leotard, the music, and Miss Mary Anne. She was soft spoken and beautiful and possibly the best ballerina in the world to a three-year-old.

My favorite thing about dancing was the recitals. Miss Mary Anne let us help pick out the sparklie costumes with flowing net or a bouncy tutu. It was like Christmas Day opening up the box when the order came.

In fifth grade I was Queen Ermelinda in the May recital. I remember being back stage in the fog of Aqua Net hairspray and makeup lights thinking life could not get any better ... a beautiful costume, a huge stage with a velvet curtain, my parents in the packed auditorium and I was performing a solo.

So naturally when Jill was three I signed her up for ballet class, bought the leotard, tights and shoes just like I wore. I was so excited her first day of class, but not Jill. She cried and clung to my leg. So we sat and watched the first class and talked about how much fun the next week would be. She didn’t buy in and clung to me again the second and third classes. Finally the instructor explained to me, “You know Mrs. Brawner the love for dance is not something genetic that can be passed on. Either you want to dance or you don’t. Obviously Jill doesn’t. Not right now anyway.”

I had to think about that for a while. How could she not love dance? Over the years I have watched parents insist their kids participate in activities they had been involved in as kids. I heard a man just last week say, “There was never a question about whether I would play football or not. It was just part of the life plan laid out by my dad. I never liked playing football, but who was I to question the plan.” How sad.

Jason and Alison enrolled three-year-old Mollie Jane in dance last fall. She is all about dance. Last night was her first dance recital and we were on the third row. It was awesome. She smiled and didn’t miss a step, kind of, but she had the smile and wave down perfect. She even took me backstage after the recital to turn in her costume and pick up her bag. Of course we went to the after theater dinner at Chick-fil-A.

So here’s what I’ve figured out. Maybe if your kids don’t wan’t to do what you did when you were growing up, whether it’s dance, football, tennis, or whatever, it’s OK. Find out what it is they want to do. Besides, there is always a chance your grandkids will like the same things you did.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Have you ever found yourself, let’s say, at a party or a kids sporting event and the group conversation slowly drifts into “well did you hear?” As if on cue, someone in the group will say, “No. What?” I’ve learned that’s the signal something wonderful or horrible is about to follow. Most of the time it’s not wonderful.

Usually the person sharing the information smiles and sits up a little taller because she is privy to information no one else is. Everyone leans in a little closer not to miss a morsel and listens intently as the story unfolds. If this is a proper church going group, the concluding sentence is, “I’m only telling you this so you can pray.”

What’s fascinating is when someone in that group of listeners retells the story, it’s always embellished. Within a week a soap opera worthy script is spun. It’s chancy to share you have an appointment to have mole checked out. You may find out through the grapevine you only have six months to live with fatal skin cancer.

Why are we so interested in the misfortunes of others? When things are retold, opinions are thrown into the mix and assumptions are made. That’s why minor things grow into monsters. I don’t believe anything unless it is first hand information. Even then I have several questions.

Here’s what I have figured out ... if someone talks to me about someone else, they will talk to someone else about me. I found myself in a situation once where an angry person started venting to me about what a mutual friend had said and done. I told her that was between her and our friend. It wasn’t mine to deal with. But she persisted. I finally held up my hand and said, “I meant what I said,” and walked away.

My mom used to say, “If you’re not part of the problem or part of the solution, stay out of it.” I have learned the hard way, when I ignore her advice, I end up in trouble every time.

“He who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself from calamity.”
-Proverbs 21:23

Friday, May 14, 2010

Do you ever wonder when you drop an important letter or bill in one of those U.S. Mail boxes if it will really get to where it’s supposed to go? Most of the time I try not to think about it as I drive by and drop in.

Once I put a $2500.00 check to a heating and air contractor in the big blue box. It was a local address and it took two weeks to get to where it was supposed to go. I should have hand delivered it.

How much mail gets lost behind counters or mail truck seats? When Jason got married, we just assumed friends were so involved fighting the wife’s illness, they had forgotten to return the reply card. In reality they never got the invitation and were surprised and disappointed thinking they weren’t invited. For Travis and Jill’s weddings we assumed nothing, but made phone calls. We were shocked to find out how many invitations were evidently lost. But where did they go? One of Jill's invitations came back three months after the wedding in a ziplock bag looking like evidence from a crime scene.

Benjamin Franklin was the country’s first Postmaster General. What did that guy not do? In the beginning postal service rates were figured on the distance the letter traveled. I guess, the further it went the more horse feed they needed. Postal rates are now increasing so fast now I’m surprised there aren’t more disgruntled postal patrons than postal workers.

I read in USA Today standing in line at the post office is in the top six things we dread following public speaking and going to the dentist. Truly it is a strenuous exercise in patience. My question is why have four clerk stations if only one or two are ever used?

Clearly the postal service has taken a hit with email use. It’s so much easier and greener to delete email than throw junk mail away. However, emailing an important letter is not a whole lot different for me. I can hit send on my computer and lose it in the black vortex of cyberspace because of one wrong letter in the address. It’s not like Google where you get a message saying, “Did you mean...?” At least postal carriers extend a little grace if they can read your writing.

Even if it’s a gamble and sometimes frustrating to send something postal, I don’t now, maybe Ben Franklin and the fellas had a pretty good idea after all. I still look forward to going to the mailbox every day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Giving Tree is one of those classic written for children books that speaks more deeply to adults than children. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to. Shel Silverstein is a gifted author who perfectly portrays the quality of selfless, want nothing in return giving through a tree. Our copy is buried somewhere with The Cat In The Hat and The B Book.

Several years ago Jim’s truck caught on fire as he was driving through a neighborhood. He grabbed three year old Travis and put him on a stranger’s front porch yelling for help. The first person who came to his rescue with a fire extinguisher was a deaf man. I’m not sure about the details of that.

After having it towed to the repair shop Jim learned the charred truck could be salvaged, but it would take several weeks. Organizing our schedule with the kids in one vehicle would be like putting together a 500 piece box puzzle with some of the pieces missing.

The next night, visiting with a group over dessert, we laughed about the guy who couldn’t hear being the first to help out and that Jim left his son on a random front porch. A man we had only met a couple of times said, “Jim we have three vehicles and there are only two of us. We insist you drive our car until your truck is fixed.”

Jim said, “Oh I couldn’t do that. It will take weeks.”

“So. We came in two cars tonight, we’ll leave one for you.” He must have read The Giving Tree. We had no idea what to say and he was so generous it made us feel uncomfortable. Why is receiving awkward?

I was given a wonderful gift recently and I immediately started explaining why I couldn’t accept it. It’s a knee jerk reaction. I wonder if it is pride. Then it hit me ... Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” It’s even written in the red letters. No wonder it feels better when you are on the giving end than the receiving. That’s the secret the big tree understood.

So when you don’t receive a gift, you block the blessing for the giver. I suppose it’s simply best to say thank you, smile, and not only be an unselfish giver, but also learn to be a gracious receiver.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It seems there are rules, standards and regulations for everything anymore. I’m sure it’s partly due to the increase in our sue everyone mentality. I understand the need for laws, otherwise there would be total chaos, but you just about have to read an information manual before you do anything to make sure you’re within legal boundaries.

I was asked not long ago, “What kind of rules did you have when your kids were growing up?” It would be so easy if parents could pull out a handbook with standard rules like HIPAA and OSHA have. Clearly every family is different and each has to decide on house rules or, just like any other organization, it could be disastrous. It would be much too simple if the same thing worked for everyone.

Obviously rules and boundaries change and expand as the kids grow up. The don’t punch your sibling rule becomes a given the older they get, then maybe not. I think the key is to be conscious of how much responsibility your kids can handle and establish boundaries accordingly.

By the time our kids were in high school, we pretty much had only one rule in the house, The Do Right Rule. Jim Brawner strongly felt by then all three needed to be able to think on their own and make decisions based on their understanding of what was right and what was wrong while they were still at home. No, it wasn’t a free-for-all, but more like a gradual passing of responsibility.

We’ve all seen situations where parents rule with extreme control in fear their children will revolt. Also out of fear the kids behave perfectly, but once they're out of the house, look out. At some point, doing what’s right needs to come out of a person’s own convictions, not their parents’, the church’s or their friends’. It’s a major facet in growing up. Some are still trying to figure it out at 40.

Jim Brawner’s Do Right Rule was simple and no one was confused.

“Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight...”
-Deuteronomy 6:18

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Last night I talked to my friend Deb whose son is getting married. Her daughter has been married for several years. I asked how it felt to be the mother-of-the-groom and she laughed, “It’s different. I guess I’ll learn how to be the mother-in-law one little bit at a time.”

We talked about how fast our kids had grown up, laughed about our earlier years as moms, and assured each other we were the youngest looking grandmothers ever. Then she very seriously asked like I should have the right answer, “Why is it so different when your son gets married?” Even though she is a mother-in-law already, Deb intuitively knows it’s somehow different with sons.

“I kind of figured this out a few years ago while chopping cilantro. I’ve often wondered if my theory would be different if I had been chopping onions or garlic. Anyway, I call it my Cilantro Theory. This is the way I understand it: When a baby is born the mom is the central woman in that child’s life. When little boys grow up and get married the central woman figure shifts from his Mom to his wife. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. When the shift doesn’t happen, trouble is just waiting. When a little girl grows up and gets married the mom is still the central woman in her life. Not much changes,” I said.

“I think you’re right,” Deb said. “That makes so much sense.”

“It did for me. Did you know the letters in mother-in-law rearranged spell Woman Hitler? There’s a reason for all the mother-in-law jokes and it normally involves the woman who refuses to relinquish her position as the central woman in her son’s life. There are even TV comedies written about this very thing. You’ll do a great job. Your son’s wife-to-be will be blessed to have you as her mother-in-law,” I tried to encourage her. “When things get a little confusing just refer to the Cilantro Theory.”

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and become united to his wife...”
-Genesis 2:24

Monday, May 10, 2010

“Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects.” Arnold Glasow

Occasionally life overflows with stuff that’s not so funny, but honestly I think the only way to handle it is to laugh. I suppose there really is a choice. The easiest thing to do is to go into a total funk and stay there until the fog lifts. The more challenging choice is to find the humor and laugh.

We’ve spent a lot of time with sick family members lately. It’s enough to make anyone take up bad habits. I’ve seen the inside of more hospitals in the last three months than in the rest of my life. Every time I say, “Surely nothing else can happen,” it does. I’m not saying that any more.

In the 1970’s laughter therapy originated when studies showed the improvement of health with increased exposure to humor and laughter. Laughter can decrease blood pressure, trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer, and boost an overall sense of well being. You honestly can go into laughter therapy so you can be shown how to laugh. I think you can save the money you’d spend on therapy and go to Walmart and watch people. If you can’t find humor there, I’m not sure you can be helped.

Last week Jim and I were in the lobby area of the retirement community where my dad, aunt and uncle live. Every week free blood pressure tests are given. Jim was visiting with my aunt who was waiting her turn when an elderly woman asked him, “Excuse me, are you next?”

Smiling he stuck out his hand and said, “No, I’m, Jim. Glad to meet you.” The whole room laughed in a wave as the retirees one by one realized what he had said. I bet the blood pressure readings dropped 10 digits. If increased exposure to humor improves health, I’m in luck because I live with someone who loves to laugh.

Author Anne Lamott equates laughter to carbonated holiness. We all need it in huge doses. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart is like good medicine ...” I don’t think there is ever a risk of an overdose.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A book store is one of my favorite places. I like the way they look and smell and generally really smart people work there. Well, maybe they just seem smart because they’ve read so many books and they know how to find even the most remote titles.

I think bookstores are almost like comfort food for me. My mom used to take me to the library before giant bookstores were invented, so to be surrounded by books just feels good. I stopped by for coffee at one of those comfort stores the other day. Holding my latte staring at book titles, my shoulders began to relax.

One book caught my attention, I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Parent. It instantly bothered me. It sounded so harsh. The author is the mother of eight. If I had eight kids I might not want to be anyone’s friend. I absolutely understand the reasoning behind the title, but it still bothered me. Maybe the title should have been, I’m Your Parent, Not Your Peer When You Are Little, But I Will Always Be You Friend. The publishing company probably would have vetoed that.

Maybe I was just one of the lucky few, but my mother was always my friend. Obviously the relationship shifted and changed through the seasons of our lives, but I always felt like she was my friend. I think where moms get into trouble is when they act the age of their kids leaving no reasonably sane adult to lead the troops.

This is the 10th Mother’s Day I’ve been without my mom. I still miss one of my best friends. So, I think I’ll spend the day with my favorite guy, the one who made me a mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Today is Joe Brawner’s memorial service. It’s one of those days I’m quite sure I’ll laugh and cry equally, see relatives I only see at weddings and funerals, and eat potato salad and banana pudding. That’s just what you do when someone you love goes to be with Jesus.

It’s really weird when your siblings pass on. It’s like burying part of your childhood. I lost my brother almost three years ago, Jim lost his sister seven years ago and now his brother. It sort of shakes you to your core, but it also causes you to seriously think about your own life ... where you’ve been and where you’re headed.

Several years ago I came across a poem that asks all the questions I’ll ask myself today ....


I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning ... to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth,
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For the dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth...
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars... the house... the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard...
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
Things can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile.
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy's being read
With your life's actions to rehash...
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?


Friday, May 7, 2010

I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired, everything looks off and bad and desperate. It’s the wrong time to make even the smallest decision, even where to eat. Most things are blown out of proportion and it can get really get ugly if anyone tries to talk reason to me.

Someone said to me yesterday, “You look like you could use 12 hours of sleep.” Wow! What was that supposed to mean? Did I look that bad or was she trying to encourage me to call it an early night? I’m going with the early night.

I’ve often said I could get so much more done if I didn’t have to sleep. Skimping on sleep doesn’t get more done because when I push on when I’m tired, I generally have to go back the next day and redo. Studies show adults generally need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. It gives our bodies time to mend, repair and get ready to be awake again. Cutting back even one hour can make it hard to focus the next day.

Evidently we sleep in cycles and some sleep sounder than others. As a mom I don’t think I went into a deep sleep until all my kids were on their own. Now when the grandkids stay over, I get up in the night to check on them. Jim sleeps on. I think it’s because he knows I’m making rounds.

We all have our own distinctive sleep habits. I like the room cool and the covers over my head. I have to have a sound machine to drown out the rest of the world because I sleep so lightly. And nothing is better than sleeping in my own bed with my foot next to Jim Brawner’s.

I’m not one of those women who wakes up refreshed and lovely, ready to face the world. I generally look like I’ve wrestled an alligator and need a good hour on auto pilot to have coffee and wake up. I clench when I sleep so to save my teeth and jaw my dentist made me a bite guard. It adds to the look. The other morning I woke up with it clenched in my fist instead of my mouth. Who knows what that was about.

So, I’m going to try to get more sleep to see if the experts know what they are talking about. Having an off switch on my brain would be convenient.

“I will lie down and sleep in peace...”
Psalm 4:8

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I was talking with a woman I had just met as we walked from one building to another past what at first looked like a large hedge. I stopped when I realized tiny red roses were hiding in the leaves like crepe paper party decorations. “This is like a huge miniature rose hedge. I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s amazing,” I said carefully touching the flowers like they might break.

My new friend came to a halt. “Wow! That is unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before either. What’s even more unbelievable is I have walked down this sidewalk in the spring for years and I thought this was just an ordinary hedge. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it. Thanks for pointing it out.”

“I guess it’s like walking by the same boy every day in high school. All of a sudden one day you realize how cute he is,” I smiled, knowing I’ve done the same thing.

Aren’t we all oblivious, just with different things. There’s no telling how much we miss because we’re so preoccupied. Have you ever been driving down the highway and suddenly realize you don’t remember the last two miles? It’s as if we’ve been in a hypnotic trance and someone snapped their fingers. What’s scary is we’re rolling down the road at 65, or faster, our body in the car and our brain on another planet.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we challenged ourselves to be acutely aware of the people who surround us noticing details we overlook. What if we took the time to study a sunset or a mountain or lake we see all the time, but really don’t take a serious look. Kind of like drug awareness programs, we should put ourselves in a life awareness program. Who knows what we might see or learn.

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.  Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.” 
-Mary Jean Iron

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

At dawn on May 5, 1861 the Mexican army fought the Battle of Puebla against a much stronger, better equipped French army who wanted control of the territory. The conflict only lasted for the day and Mexico won. However, a year later France took over the country and ruled the three years following.

Today in Mexico Cinco de May is basically May 5th. In the state of Puebla there will be a small ceremony in the capitol. In the U.S. we have parades, parties, and picnics all over the country. I think Cinco de Mayo celebrations are growing in Mexico because Americans have promoted it.

Until I Googled, I thought Cinco de Mayo carried a significant reason to celebrate, like the 4th of July. However, in comparison to the 300 year struggle for independence from Spain and the war with the U.S. where they lost two-thirds of their original territory, the Battle of Puebla was like a street fight.

So, why the fuss over such a minor battle Mexico won for a short time, but ultimately lost? In the 1950s and 1960s evidently civil rights activists tried to build harmony between the U.S. and Mexico. But in all honesty in the ‘80s I think beer companies and restaurants thought May 5th was a perfect excuse to commercialize and celebrate. It has spread and gown to the point where the U.S. commemorates a Mexican one-day battle with the French. Figure that out.

In my opinion, we Americans use any excuse to celebrate. If you think about it, paying tribute to a skirmish 250 years ago, celebrating Cinco de Mayo is no stranger than celebrating a ground hog. Besides, Cinco de Mayo is so much fun to say, like you really know Spanish. I think I’ll wear my Cancun shirt today and enjoy chips and salsa.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Have you ever really stopped to think about what honestly matters most in your life? We all are quick with the politically correct answer; God and family or some variation of that. It must be that we want everyone to think we have our priorities all in order. There are the expected answers and then there are the real answers. Just like being asked “How are you doing?” ... the real answers are rare.

I know people who say family is important who haven’t spoken to a sibling or parent in years. The feud has been going on so long, the real issue can’t be explained. But when asked they’ll tell you family matters most. It makes me sad.

I'm reminded once again, when it’s all taken apart, what matters most, no, the only thing that matters, is relationships. Whether it’s a relationship with family, friends, God or yourself, that’s what counts. The homes, cars, job titles, 401Ks or lack of any of that is trivial compared to your relationships. Guard them.

I got a call yesterday afternoon from Jim’s younger brother Jerry. At 2:00 Joe, the oldest Brawner brother, left for heaven. When someone we love passes away I think we’re handed a reminder, like a pink slip, to think about what counts and what matters.

I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to spend a week on the Lido Deck of a cruise ship in August, Brawner brothers and wives. I’m glad we were able to go to Texas to celebrate Joe’s birthday in late March. And what a blessing it was for him to hold his triplet grandsons born two days later.

So what really counts? What really matters? Cheers to you Joe Brawner! You’re one who knew.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I know spring’s official date was March 20th and Easter has come and gone and according to the fashion rules of the 1960s it’s now OK to wear white shoes. But for me, until I plant flowers, it’s not really spring. So instead of cleaning out my kitchen cabinets as I had originally planned, yesterday I planted flowers.

Every year when I dig in the dirt I think of my friend Pardner. Pardner lived to celebrate her 100th birthday and was one of the smartest women ever. She planted and cared for the thousands of flowers at the summer camp where we worked for 20 years. When I met Pardner she was planting and watering and I was young and curious. Her flowerbeds were stunning so I asked one day what her tricks were for a green thumb.

Wise people are usually generous in sharing the knowledge they’ve collected through the years. We just fail to ask questions. I sat down on a rock to listen. Her long answer reminded me of asking my grandmother how to make her Thanksgiving dressing; add sage until you can smell it.

Then she stopped digging, brushed a wild strand of hair out of her eyes and said, “It all really boils down to just a few things. Always pinch off the bottom of the roots when you take the plant out of the container.” I don’t know why, because I never asked. I should have. “Put water in the hole before you put the plant in the dirt and water every day unless it rains. Oh, and pinch off the dead heads. That’s all you need to remember, Dah’lin.” When she smiled her eyes crinkled.

I’ve always followed Pardner’s advice and my flowers last until the first frost every year.

There’s something so organic about planting flowers, like it’s something we’re all supposed to do. Digging in the dirt and getting messy and soggy is therapeutic in an odd sort of a way. It’s as if you are doing something not only for yourself, but for others to enjoy too.

It’s officially spring because the flowers are planted. Now I’ll have to find my white shoes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This time every year I want to dig through everything I own and throw at least half of what’s stuffed, crammed and wedged into closets, cabinets, and the garage. It’s so frustrating looking for something I know I have one of, only to find everything but that one thing, especially when it comes to clothes. I've found it’s best to wait until Mother’s Day to bring my summer clothes up from the downstairs closet and take the winter clothes down. In Missouri you’re only guaranteed cold in January and hot in August then sometimes that’s not the case.

Jill was unloading the dishwasher when she was here. “Mom it’s official, you’ve turned into the little old mug lady. Why do you have so many mugs and how do you fit them in this cabinet,” she asked, like I could qualify for one of those before and after shows about hoarding.

“I like to bring home a mug from places I’ve been and I do have a method to my madness. I can fit every one of them in. Besides how many times are they all clean at the same time. Some of them are always in the dishwasher. Just be glad I’m not the little old cat lady,” I answered.

I probably do need to get rid of some of the mugs. Tossing out three year old magazines and expired things in the medicine cabinet would be smart too. I’ve read it’s best to just tackle one room at a time. The problem is I start sorting and get distracted looking at things and remembering where they came from or where I wore something. I was going through books at the end of the year and sat down and read for an hour. Maybe I need to set a timer like mothers do for kids doing chores.

Why do we all have so much stuff? My friend Amy lived in a temporary house for nine months with most of her things in storage. She said the only thing she missed in all that time was one cookbook. She couldn’t even remember what had been packed away when they moved into their new home.

I used to sneak stuffed animals out of Jill’s room and keep them in the attic just so there would be room on her bed for her to sleep. Over several months, if she never mentioned them, they showed up at the Pink Door Thrift Shop. Not once did she miss a single one.

I guess I should just dive into the spring cleaning. So today I’ll attack the kitchen cabinets to see what I can do without. I'd better keep an eye on my mugs. The next time Jill visits she might hide some of them to see if I notice they’re missing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

For years I’ve watched a man struggle taking a walk through town most days. He doesn’t look to be old. I’ve watched him for a good 20 years so maybe he is old now. But who determines what age old starts? He must have had an accident or a stoke because he shuffles one foot in front of the other barely moving along. I might pass him on my way to run errands in town and pass him again as I leave downtown. Recently he started using a walker, but he still continues his daily trek.

I feel like I know him because I have watched him for so many years. I’m sure he has no idea, but he inspires me even though I don’t know his name. Whatever happened to slow him down years ago could have totally stopped him if he would have let it, but obviously he made a choice to keep moving.

Everything is so speedy and digital now. We get frustrated when the computer doesn’t move fast enough and when we have to wait an extra two minutes in the McDonald’s drive through. I know I’ve pulled out of line more than once before even making it to the talking box. We’re short on patience and give up easily.

Perseverance to hang on and push through things is tough and sometimes takes sheer grit and determination. Today, I’m tired. Slaying the dragons and rescuing the world has about worn me out. I would like nothing more than to just sit down. But every time my feelings drift that way, I think of my friend without a name who more than likely would like to sit down too, but he pushes on. I figure if he doesn’t give up, neither will I.

The motto of the French Foreign Legion is a good reminder to keep moving forward, even when you want to give up and sit down. “If I falter, push me on. If I stumble, pick me up. If I retreat, shoot me.”

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the face, I have kept the faith.”
- 2 Timothy 4:7