Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life can be so distracting for me, if I want to get something done, I have to be very intentional and deliberate. If I don’t, I look up and two years have gone by. That’s why I have to write things down to stay halfway focused. And, it’s as if I mean business if I write it down, even if it’s on the back of a napkin in pencil.

Not long ago a young mom asked me, “If you could only offer one helpful parenting hint what would it be?” Questions like that make me nervous. If someone tries something I suggest and it backfires, I usually pick up the blame.

I had to think for a minute. By the look on her face when I finally answered, I think she was expecting something like “have the kids in bed by 7:30 at night” or “be in church every Sunday.” Here’s what I told her, “Parent with a plan.” She looked at me like I was explaining some algebraic equation.

“What do you mean? Can I buy it at the bookstore,” she asked seriously?

“I’m saying you have to be strategic,” I smiled. “When our kids were little, I started a list of things I wanted them to know and understand before they left home. As they got older the list got longer. I ended up with 15 character qualities and responsibilities I felt were important. I kept the list in the drawer of my bedside table and I’d pull it out every now and then and review it to see how things were going and where I might need to be more intentional. It was also a good time for me to take inventory of my own life”

“Humm,” she said, as she pulled out a pieces of paper and pen. “What’s on the list?”

“Your list needs to be a list of what you would like to see in your kids lives as they launch out into the world. Mine wasn’t instant and comprehensive, over time it developed and grew,” I explained. “It’s not really a list you can check off each item when completed because all through life we go forwards and backwards and sometimes sideways. What’s important is your awareness to be intentional with parenting.”

“Oh, she said,” as if I had given her a truck load to think about.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
~ Proverbs 22:6

Monday, August 30, 2010

David stared at me in shock and amazement, then laughed, “Did you really just do that?”

“I sure did and I’ll do it again if I have to,” I grinned. “I’d do it to my own sons. You are marrying into this family so I took liberty to treat you like a son.”

David and Jill’s wedding was only a couple of months away so he was patiently meeting all the extended family. Jill, David, Jim and I had just finished a nice lunch. Walking up the sidewalk to my uncle and aunt’s lovely home, I noticed a toothpick sticking out of the corner of David’s mouth. I had walked right past him, grabbed the toothpick, threw it into the grass and rang the doorbell without missing a beat. I'm sure it was a bit surprising.

“How would it be for you to meet someone for the first time with a toothpick hanging out of your mouth like an unlit cigarette? You do realize you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” I added.

“I suppose I hadn’t given that much thought to a toothpick, but I guess I will now,” he said smiling.

“You know, buddy, if you rearrange all the letters in the word Mother-in-Law it spells woman Hitler. You’d better get ready,” I shot back trying to act serious and stern.

Now when David affectionately introduces me as his Woman Hitler, people stare in disbelief. What they don’t understand is we have an understanding. If he didn’t love and respect me, that would never fly. But he does, so it works. It works so well I sign my email WH.

The Mother-in-Law/Son-in-Law relationship can be a painful awkward one. It takes some shifting and establishing boundaries for everyone. In my case, I’m blessed. Right after she was born, I started praying for the man Jill would someday marry. God listened.

Here’s what I understand so far; it all teeters on mutual respect. David gets to call me Woman Hitler and I have the freedom to jerk a toothpick out of his mouth.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sometimes I wish everyone had the opportunity to live in a small town, even for just a while. There may not be the major metroplex amenities, but the sense of community makes up for what we lack in art museums, commerce and professional sports teams. We don’t have a 70,000 seat sports complex, but we do have Pirate football.

Even though there is no need for a sweater yet, for me, fall officially started the other night with the first football game. Every Friday from the end of August until the first part of November half the people we know are at the game. I can learn more at one ball game than reading the local paper for a week.

It’s a good thing I enjoy football and know the difference between a false start and pass interference and a double reverse. Jim was playing college ball when I met him and he went on to coach for a dozen or so years. Travis played junior high, high school, college and arena football. After that Jim officiated. I suppose that’s why I have bleacher indentations on my back side.

Pirate fans are wild and loud. The crazy twin emerges in some adults. For the students it’s an excuse to dress and do things they wouldn’t outside the stadium. Jason’s senior year he borrowed the huge Jolly Roger pirate flag and during half time ran the length of the football field in his black Chuck Taylor high tops and a red and black Speedo. Since he was a swimmer, I guess he thought that was an appropriate way to show support for Travis. Lucky for him, school officials did too.

We spent years in the Booster Club, traveling to games, decorating locker rooms, making scrapbooks, hosting Thursday night meals, and developing a network of friends who cared deeply about our kids. The other night in the middle of all the cow bells, train horn blasts, and excitement I thought about how grateful I was my kids had the opportunity to grow up understanding community. There’s so much more to hometown football than the game on Friday night.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yesterday reminded me why even the slightest bit of change can sometimes give me a headache. It all started with the television. Ours died a slow and painful death a couple of years ago. Our friend Gregg had just bought a new one, so he let us borrow his old TV. We enjoyed it, but it was time for us to get our own.

Jim Brawner is the research analysis and Consumer Reports guru. After two weeks of intense study, he made his decision. I suppose he was tracking down the best TV like he was on a big game hunt. I would have gone to the store, picked the one with the prettiest picture and bought it.

When the Geek Squad guy came to set everything up, he and Jim got into a discussion about cable service. Jim chose to bundle to get the better deal so our Internet and phone service had to be moved. No problem until the phone bill came from the old phone company. After two 45 minute stints on hold for the phone company account specialist, a woman finally answered, questioning why we were changing and asking if we knew about their company’s bundle packages.

I blamed the decision on Jim just so I could get off the phone. After I hung up, as I was walking past the security system key pad, I noticed the SERVICE yellow light was shining. The security company sent someone to check it out. “We’ve had trouble with the media company you’ve switched to not finishing up so their system will link with ours, but we can fix it,” he explained.

The service guys couldn’t find the phone jack in the downstairs techno central room. After two calls to Jim, we realized a heavy shelving unit holding books, plaques, and general stuff had to be moved. It took all three of us. As the guys slowly moved out the book case, I stood still in horror. It’s similar to moving the refrigerator that’s sat in one spot for five years. Notes, papers, things that had been lost for months and dead bugs were everywhere.

I wanted to say, “You know, contrary to popular belief, ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ is only a saying. It’s not really in Scripture.” Instead I said, “Hold on a minute while I get the vacuum cleaner.” I guess they felt sorry for me because they moved the other shelves so I could clean behind them too.

It all started with a new TV. Now understand why change threatens me. It’s like falling down stairs ... you don’t stop after one.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Watching airline ticket prices is like watching the stock market. What looks good can change in ten minutes and if it does look good, act on it now. Just like shopping at TJ Maxx, if you find a smoking deal, be sure to put it in your cart, push it around for a while, then decide. If you don’t, it will for sure be gone when you go back to pick it up off the rack.

I’m beginning to understand why this part of the United States is called fly over country. Depending on the day, I can fly to London and back cheaper than I can fly to Dallas because so many airlines prefer to fly over instead of stop.

Twenty-five percent of my email every day is concerning travel. I’ve signed up for every alert from every airline so I can snatch a decent price when it rolls over on the leader board. Just when I think I have it figured out, a new deal comes out.

Then I start comparing the add-ons for seat selection, checked bags, and which airport has the cheapest parking fees. You need a degree in travel management to figure it all out.

There are so many “discount” travel sites now. The first time I booked through Cheap-O Tickets I could hear Mom telling me when I was 10 years old, “Remember, Suzette, you usually get what you pay for.” That’s a little unsettling when flying is involved.

When layover times and arriving at the airport at least an hour early are factored in, driving can be faster. If you do drive you are at least assured your luggage will arrive with you and there’s no virtual strip search involved.

I suppose I’m going to have face booking airline tickets like I do balancing the check book ... coffee, neck stretches, prayer, and a calculator.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Math has never been one of my personal strengths. I eeked through “baby math” in college celebrating I would never have to take another math test for the rest of my life. What I didn’t realize was balancing my bank account every month would be more challenging than any exam in a classroom.

I mark off an hour, get a hot cup of coffee, and do some neck stretches and pray before I sit down with the bank statement. My check register is similar to a diary or personal journal and would make absolutely no sense to anyone but me. I void checks and add back, deduct forgotten debits, draw red arrows to put a draft under a deposit, and subtract the monthly fees I’ve never remembered. Really my only concern is I don’t take out more than is in the bank.

It was so much easier before debit cards. Jim and I have a system now and it works ... most of the time. He tries to remember to put his debit receipts on my desk every day and I have a special spot in my wallet for mine. There are only a few surprises now.

I have only balanced to the penny twice in my life. If I’m $50.00 close to what the bank says, I count that as balanced as long as their balance is better than mine. If it’s less, I write, “banking error” and subtract. I have one friend who would close accounts and start fresh just so he could get a balance straight. I’ve considered it.

Our kids don’t even know what a paper bank statement is. They keep up with everything on their iPhones. I’m sure Droid would do that for me, but how would I keep up with what’s pending? I was so proud of myself when I started paying bills online. I might really have a mess trying to learn another new system. In reality, lurking at the bottom of it, I’m sure, is my fear of change.

So until I take the big leap into the green, paperless, smart phone bank account keeping system, I’ll continue with a wing and a prayer and my calculator.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I’ve always gone with the assumption, no matter where you are, it’s safe to stop in a local restaurant if the parking lot is full. Chain restaurants are extremely predictable, so I like to choose non-chain if given a choice, especially when I travel. Granted it can be a bit of a gamble, but some of the best food ever can be found in a small town cafe or a local truck stop on the interstate.

Years ago, before Branson even had a stop light, home grown eating establishments were all we had to choose from. The Shack, Branson Cafe and The Farmhouse are sill landmarks in our community and waiting for a table is not uncommon. I suppose I’m spoiled and assume other small town eateries to be of the same caliber.

When driving through a little town last week, I chose the Crystal Cafe strictly on the number of cars parked outside. When we went through the front door I wondered if they had hired parking lot filler cars to make it look like they were busy and popular.

It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit room. I think it was intended ambiance, but evidently people had fallen because the were several “Watch Your Step” cardboard signs posted. The decor was interesting. It was as if, instead of updating every few years, they simply added to it. It was an Italian/ Mexican/ steak house restaurant and was decorated accordingly.

There was a two foot tall Wizard of Oz tin man made from cans hanging next to a large lamp with the Budweiser Clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon. I was so tempted to ask if the lamp could be turned on so I could see the menu. There were several plastic floral arrangements mixed with pictures of the map of Italy, the Mexican flag and a crucifix. When I noticed an interesting photo of a family who resembled the Italian mob, I decided I would keep any complaints to myself.

As I was finishing my taco salad, I looked up to see a Christmas ornament hanging from the ceiling that someone had obviously missed when the decorations were taken down in January. Then again it might have been there on purpose.

I suppose you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover ... or maybe you can.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I used to wonder about couples who sat quietly eating, not saying much. I thought they were surely mad or tired of each other. But, over time, I’ve learned that’s simply the true spot of comfortable. There’s no pressure to entertain or act cute. Just being together is a privilege.

Jim Brawner and I were having one of those lunches at Chic-Fil-A recently. For fear someone would think we were angry or bored with each other, I asked the loaded question women often ask men, “So, what are you thinking about?”

Instead of the standard issue answer, “Oh nothing,” I was surprised. He very matter-of-factly said, “How much a BMW mechanic makes.”

I looked side to side like he’d given me secret information, “What? Where did that come from?”

“There’s a BMW mechanic sitting behind you and I was just wondering how much those guys make working on high end cars,” he said, like I should know what he was talking about.

“How do you know he’s a BMW mechanic?” I asked, not wanting to turn around to look.

“He has on a shirt with a BMW emblem and Greg embroidered above the pocket, so I figured Greg is a BMW mechanic,” he grinned.

Good thinking! Now that was deep. That’s proof positive men think about where they are at the moment. I was enjoying my grilled chicken and fruit salad wondering if Jason and Alison were having fun on their trip, if the jewelry party Jill hosted to raise funds for Haiti was successful, how Jameson’s first day of school was, and how many calories were in the salad. I was all over the place, but he was focused on the salary scale of Greg, the BMW mechanic.

I smiled back, popped a strawberry in my mouth, grateful he was comfortable being honest with his thoughts.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I’ve gotten to the point I almost start to sweat when I hear someone say, “Just trust me.”
I suppose it’s from all the disappointments and surprises I’ve experienced when I believed that phrase.

Several years ago I sublet a space to a guy to teach Karate three days a week. When we were setting up our agreement he said the magic words, “Trust me, this will work.” I was just young and naive enough to believe him. After he enrolled three packed classes of students, accepted their parents first month payment, he disappeared. I realized too late, he most likely didn’t even know what a Dojo was.

Since then I have been more cautious with trust. Webster defines trust as the firm reliance on the integrity, ability or character of a person or thing; to have a confident expectation of something or someone. It’s sad to admit, but I extend trust very cautiously.

My mom used to say, “I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him.” She weighed 110 soaking wet, so that wouldn’t have been too far. She also said, “If you want to make sure, without a doubt, something gets done, do it yourself.” I used to think she was a bit cynical, but after being stung a few times, I walk a little more cautiously understanding what she meant.

My heart literally hurts when I hear story after story of trust betrayal in marriages, friendships and families, businesses and even in churches. I’ve seen them all crumble to nothing because of lost trust. Then the betrayed put up invisible walls of protection around themselves keeping all relationships at a distance.

Sadder to me than the actual betrayal is watching the wounded carry around the anger, hurt, and hate for, sometimes, years. I want to hand them an anonymous note that reads: “Put it down. You’ll feel so much better.”

I was so angry with the pretend Karate teacher. Actually, I was more angry with myself for letting someone dupe me. First I had to forgive myself then, I imagined using some moves Mr. Miyagi would be proud of. I put it behind me, and moved on a little wiser.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Several years ago in New York City I hopped in a cab getting a break from the pouring rain. The taxi that had just passed me by hit a pot hole puddle drenching me. I thought that only happened in the movies, not in real life. “Where to Ma’am?” the turbaned driver asked in a thick accent as I shut the door.

“Fifty-seventh and 5th please,” I answered shaking my head like a wet dog. “When do you think the rain will let up. When the weather is like this, the entire city gets a little testy.”

“It’s supposed to clear off tonight. Maybe things will calm down,” he answered with a smile.

“I hope so. Where are you from and how long have you been here?” I asked.

He went on to explain he’d come from India ten years earlier leaving his family and the crowded lifestyle to find a better life in America. “I discovered America is just about as crowded as India,” he sighed.

“You think so,” I asked. "What other parts of the country have you visited?”

"Brooklyn," he answered, as if he’d traveled extensively.

“Oh, please don’t judge the whole country by where you’ve been. There are huge wide open spaces outside the city. It’s like another world and it’s beautiful. Promise me someday you’ll take a trip to see what I’m talking about,” I said.

He looked at me as if I was telling him a fairy tale, but promised he would go see for himself some day.

Yesterday driving through New Mexico at sunset, I thought of the taxi driver who assumed all of America was jammed with people. I hope he’s had the opportunity to take that trip.

“He has made everything beautiful in it’s time.” ~Ecclesiastes 3:11

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I understand why, in 1893 on a visit to Colorado Springs, Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write America, The Beautiful. There’s almost too much here to take in at once, I don’t know where to look first. There’s just no hiding I’m a gawking tourist.

We’ve been visiting our longtime friends Steve and Alana Smith and their three kids, Georgia, Tucker and Brawner. Yep, Brawner for Jim Brawner. Yesterday, Steve, Georgia, and Tucker took us to Garden of the Gods, a 1350 acre city park dedicated in 1909. A city park, in my mind, has a walking/bike path, a jungle gym, some swing sets and maybe an ultimate Frisbee course. In Colorado, like everything else, the parks are different.

Among the walking trails huge red sandstone rock formations seem to be growing out of the ground like corn and cabbage in a garden. It’s like nothing I’d ever seen before. We only had a short hour to explore, which really isn’t fair. It was like eating one peanut or potato chip.

For me the most fascinating thing in the park was Balanced Rock. It was as if one good shove would send it rolling, but it stood steady. I wondered how it stayed there. It reminded me we all hang somewhere in the fragile balance. Some days I feel like one good shove would send me rolling too.

I suppose finding the balancing point is a continuing process of tipping, getting up adjusting, and trying again, kind of like learning to ride a bike. At some point you learn what it takes to keep it balanced enough to avoid a crash. Lately I’ve discovered the sweet spot of balance is somewhere between too much and not enough and it’s something that can’t be checked off the list of things to do. It’s a lifelong challenge.

Friday, August 20, 2010

For years my calendar looked like notes from an air traffic controller’s desk with coffee rings. No one understood what was happening next except me and then I often wondered. One time I turned on the car, took a deep breath and talking to myself said out loud, “OK, where to first?”

“Mom!”, seven-year-old Travis said in a semi panic. “Don’t you know?” He likes order and a plan too. For everyone to remain calm, some thoughts are best left inside your head.

A mom of three asked me recently how important I thought it was to be at all of the kids’ activities. I asked my standard question, “You really want to know what I think?” I always preface my answer with that question. I think it’s like asking permission to give an honest opinion.

“I do,” she said. “Well, for me, on the list of important things it was close to the top. Jim Brawner and I would have to divide up the calendar sometimes to make it everywhere. He traveled with his job, so sometimes I was I was left to cover all the bases.

When Jason was swimming in college, Travis was playing high school football, and Jill was in junior high playing volleyball I had to map out one weekend very carefully. Because Jason was in college only an hour from home, I could make it to his Friday afternoon dual swim meet. Jill and left after Jason’s races and drove an hour and made it just in time for the kick off of Travis’ football game. The next morning I was in another community at Jill’s all day volleyball tournament.

Yes, our home was child centered but not in the dreaded “Child Centered Home” sense. We made plans around our kids, but our kids didn’t run our home. It was Jim’s and my home before Jason, Travis, and Jill came on the scene. They joined our life. Did we make time sacrifices, absolutely. Do I regret it? Not one single minute.”

She stared at me for a minute, like it about wore her out just listening, then said, “OK, I’ll remember that.”

“Ask adults if their parents came to their activities and most of the time, they cannot only instantly answer, they will also tell you how they felt about it, the good and not so good,” I added.

Then she said, “I bet you met yourself coming and going for years. I bet you miss it.”

I just smiled and left my thoughts inside my head because I didn’t want to totally overwhelm her ... “Not so much because now I’m going to grandkids activities, but this time I do get to choose.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have you ever realized there are things we never notice until someone points them out: things like how the neighbor’s baby looks like Mikhail Gorbachev without the birthmark and that it’s more comfortable to walk on the shady side of the street between noon and three in the summer. These aren’t really important things, but they make you smile or make life easier.

Once author Donald Miller raised this question, “Why are coffee pots always in the bathroom in hotel rooms?” I’d honestly never noticed it before, but since he brought it to my attention, I check every hotel room I stay in to see where the coffee pot is. I would say they’re in the bathroom in 90% of the time. Since I’ve become aware of it, I always move the coffee pot right after I check in. It frees up more counter space in the bathroom and I’m honestly not thrilled with the idea of making coffee next to the toilet.

A sense of awareness is not a character trait or a spiritual gift, but more like a developed habit. I thought after a baby was born a new mom acquired it automatically. My theory was busted the first time I got in the car and realized I’d left the baby in the house as I was backing out of the driveway.

It’s amazing what you can see and learn if you pay attention and become more aware. I’m sure it would cut down on losing the car in a parking lot.

Lately I’ve realized how many people are hurting, not just having a tough day, but hurting to their very core. It’s pushed me to look up and outside of myself a little more often. It doesn’t take a lot to encourage others, even people we don’t know. Something as simple as opening a door for someone, letting a frustrated driver cut in a line of traffic, or offering a kind word and a smile may be the only nice thing a person experiences in a day.

Just like noticing coffee pots placement in hotel rooms, it takes paying attention. People are so much more important than coffee pots.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The ick factor for mildew in the shower, molded food in the fridge, and smelly workout clothes is close to 10 on a 1-10 scale. However, for me, lice are so disgusting, they’re off the scale somewhere around a 17. I didn’t even know what lice were until a little girl arrived at summer camp with the nasty critters. Evidently they reproduce faster than rabbits and spread quicker than chickenpox.

Getting rid of lice is expensive, time consuming and just gross. After washing hair with special shampoo, washing linens at scorching temperatures, and spraying upholstered surfaces, if you are fortunate, they'll be eliminated.

The problem is the larvae stick like glue to hair, so they have to be meticulously taken out with a nit comb. No only did I learn about lice that summer, I learned the real meaning of nit picking. Nits are tiny and near impossible to find unless you know what you are looking for. They almost have to be hunted.

Last night I was sitting on a bench by the outdoor seating area of a restaurant waiting on some friends to join us for dinner. It was hard not to hear the family sitting behind me. The wife started in on the husband, “You sounded like you didn’t want to join the rest of us for dinner. Why do you have to have that kind of attitude?” And on and on she went.

The husband became defensive and came back on the attack with a speech about her spending $20.00 too much, and besides that why was she always late. Meanwhile the mother-in-law and their two children and, for that matter anyone in ear shot, had to listen to their bickering and nit picking. I was so tempted to turn around and ask, “Are you kidding me?” My better judgement stopped me.

After having spending a three hour dinner I'll always remember with our friends and old neighbors Richard and Marsha, I was even more bothered by the ridiculous conversation I overheard before diner. Richard is in a grueling fight with cancer. The two of them are grateful and appreciate every day they have. They understand what’s really important. I was again reminded life is too short to waste time focused on trivial matters ... picking for disgusting nits.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I hate to admit it, but I never quite outgrew ‘fraidy cat. As a kid I was afraid of big dogs, snakes, and the dark. The neighborhood Doberman terrorized the kids and other dogs, but I realize now he was just a mean dog with issues. I eventually learned the difference in good and bad snakes. They’re all good if they’re in the zoo or dead. I still sleep with a night light.

I suppose we all fear something; losing a job, germs, the stock market, or teenagers. The question is how do we handle fear?

We went to church with Jim’s brother Jerry and his wife Rayanna the other day. It’s one of those churches you don’t have to worry if you wore the right thing. The associate pastor read the announcements then welcomed the senior pastor who had just received a clean bill of health after a long wrestle with colon cancer. His message was appropriately about fear.

He said something I have thought about for several days ... “fear makes ready and ready makes fearless.” He showed a powerpoint of a first baseman for a professional baseball team in the “ready position”. The next slide was a secret service man walking with the president. “Do you think either of those guys are afraid?” he asked.

He went on to make the point they both had spent years preparing for what they do. The fear of dropping the ball or not spotting an intruder made them ready. Because they are ready they are fearless.

Fear is mostly about the unknown. Several years ago a tornado buzzed through while an out-of-town friend was visiting. She had only seen tornados on the Weather Channel. I calmly took her to the basement where she threw herself of the floor crying, “Sweet Jesus save us all.” She didn’t know we were in the ready position.

The question is this: “What are we afraid of?” Fear makes us ready and makes us fearless.

“So do not fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~Isaiah 41-10

Monday, August 16, 2010

I have mixed feelings about birthday parties after 21. Not so much for other people, but for myself. I suppose I would just like to let the day marking me one year older slip by unnoticed. Several years ago when my friend Norma hit a milestone birthday, her husband flew some of her out of town friends in for a surprise party. She was really surprised, especially when she found out we were staying at her house.

That night I woke up feeling like I was on a cruise ship in a tropical storm. I camped out on the cool tile floor in the bathroom. It was convenient and soothing at the same time. I had evidently eaten something past it’s expiration date and I was so sick, at one point, I wanted my mother even though I was almost 40 years old.

Why is it when things get tough or we get sick, no matter how old we are we want someone to take care of us and tell us it’s going to be OK? Someone older and wiser than we are. A friend and I were talking the other day about how challenging it is to take care of aging parents. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and she’s feeling the strain of role reversal; daughter taking care of the parent.

It’s an odd spot to be in. She said, “It’s like you want to ask, ‘So when are the grown ups going to show up?’ I’m sure it’s because the grownups in our lives have always taken care of everything.”

I’d never really thought of it that way, but I suppose it’s true. It’s probably uncomfortable because being a grown up carries responsibility we don’t necessarily want to deal with. But when all the olders and wisers are all gone or not capable, it's our turn to step up to the plate.

I’m not sure I like being the grown up, but I suppose, with time, I’ll get used to it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

There are some things I knew I would never do, especially at my age. Drugs and bikinis are two of them and I’m sticking tight on that decision. The other thing I never saw myself doing was going on a road trip without a plan. I love a plan. There is imaginary security in the plan. I work the plan. Heading out with Jim Brawner for two weeks with the plan being “we are on a road trip” is really scary. He’s thrilled and I’m on the verge of hives.

We have a general idea of where we’re going and know we want to end up back at home in a couple of weeks, but that’s as specific as the details get. So far we’ve stopped in Conway, Little Rock, Hot Springs, and Arkadelphia on the drive through Arkansas. Deciding where to stay the other night was based on how many hotel points the Hampton Inn required. Arkadelphia won. We booked it on the fly and to my amazement, it turned out fine.

Yesterday we stopped in Jefferson, Texas on our way to Dallas. Jim’s cousin drove over from another nearby small town to meet us for lunch at Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar. The menu only offers a few things, but it had to have been one of the finest lunches I have ever eaten.

We could choose from Kornbread sandwiches, a couple of soups, two kinds of salad or Frito pie. It was a toss up between the Frito Pie and the unusual sandwich. I settled on the veggie sandwich on broccoli cornbread, sweet tea and a piece of buttermilk pie. My taste buds were confused, but pleased.

We’re in Texas for a couple of days then off to Colorado. I’m relaxing a little about the lack of a plan. We didn’t get to make one stop we really wanted to. I guess we’ll have to come back through Texas on our way home. I realize that’s the benefit of no plan, schedule or itinerary. We’re making it up as we go and so far the surprises are good ones.

I’m slowly learning sometimes the best things happen when there’s not a plan.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sometime between 1985 and 1990 a new term originated ... playdate. By definition it’s an appointment set for parents to get their children together to play. When I was a kid there was no need for an appointment. If you wanted to play, you went outside and joined in on a kickball game or an intense game of Jacks.

Asking around, I’ve learned playdates are most popular for little kids who aren’t old enough to manage their own social calendars. Moms get together with their little people to give the children an opportunity for social interaction. Who are we kidding? It’s for the moms to have adult conversation. I used to do that too, but it was more like mental health insurance for me instead of social development for the kids.

Four friends and their baby girls got together for a playdate at Jill’s house the other day. Vivian was the oldest at nine months and evidently was trying to figure out why all these other girls were holding her toys. When she would try to take something away from one of the younger ones, Jill would give her a different toy and say, “Viv we need to share with our friends.” That seemed to satisfy her, for a bit.

After a while Vivian crawled over and picked up an idol toy, then crawled over to one of the other girls. To everyone’s surprise she put the toy down in front of her friend and took the toy she wanted. At 9 months she’s already working on the art of negotiating. She assessed the situation and figured out the best approach without overreacting.

I wish I could always remember to do that, myself, when faced with a challenging situation. I bragged on Jill and told her what a wonderful mommy she was by teaching Vivian to be a sweet and kind girl. But, I told her not to get too excited because, like me, Vivian might not remember to handle things the same way next time.

“Love is patient. Love is kind...” ~1 Corinthians 13:4

Friday, August 13, 2010

Twice a year it would arrive at our front door ... a huge box of hand-me down clothes from Mary Anne. She had two girls then a boy. I had two boys then a girl. I offered to send her my boys’ clothes in exchange, but she wisely decided to pass. My boys were rough on clothes.

It was like Christmas for Jill to dig through the box. She would lay things out in piles by color then pick out her favorites. One fall some pink, fluffy moon boots were in the bottom of the box. They were tired looking, but Jill thought they were fabulous and wore them all winter, into the spring, and with her shorts in the summer. I suppose she was establishing her own fashion trend long before UGG boots were popular.

When Travis was seven we gave him a Denver Bronco’s jacket for Christmas. The next fall, when it was time to pull out coats, he insisted it wasn’t too small even though the sleeves were three inches up his arm. We finally realized why he didn’t wan’t to give it up. It was his first jacket that wasn’t a hand-me-down. It was his own.

Some things are just best when they’re your own. Recently a Mom asked me what that I thought was key in raising confident children. I told her I felt kids grow up confident and comfortable when they know why they believe what they believe. Things are right and wrong because they, for themselves, know what is right and wrong, not just because Mom and Dad or youth leaders or friends say so. They need to understand and own their own beliefs first hand.

Obviously, parents need to instruct, guide and direct kids in establishing a firm foundation, but I think our goal should be to send young adults out into the world confident and carrying a clear moral compass that’s not a hand-me-down, but their very own. They need to know what they believe and why they believe it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Every time I think about the first day of a new school year I smell floor wax. Everything is always neat, clean and organized the first day of school, even the teachers, parents and students. Going back to school in late summer used to be just part of the ebb and flow of life. Now, like everything else, it’s an event.

Instead of getting a new box of 16 Crayolas, a couple of wide ruled spiral notebooks and a handfull of #2 pencils, the back to school list, at first glance, has to make parents sweat. Even when I was sending three kids the register total was scary.

My biggest challenge was school clothes. The jeans that fit in the spring always looked like capris by the end of the summer. And I know there is no scientific evidence, but I’m positive sunshine and water make kids’ feet grow.

I can only imagine what sending off a new college student involves now, especially a girl. I was in Home Depot the other day and there was a whole area designated for dorm decorating. Linda, my freshman roommate, and I thought we were so trendy because we bought matching turquoise and green bedspreads. Now everyone needs, lamps, rugs, bulletin boards, refrigerators and microwaves.

Sending kids back to school is not only challenging financially, but emotionally. For some reason, for me, it felt the same to send one to college as it did kindergarten. It’s probably a little, or a lot, about losing control ... like I had it in the first place. The start of every school year was a fresh reminder; all I could do was kiss them goodbye and pray.

About mid-October the new wears off of school and everyone starts looking forward to Christmas break. Parents have had time to recover a bit financially and bravely face restocking for the spring semester. The good thing about that time of year is the new clothes bought to replace the ones outgrown can be disguised as Christmas presents. Fall and it’s cooler weather must also stimulate growth hormones.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I’ve decided remodeling is similar to childbirth. You know it hurts, but after a while you forget how much, so you try it again. This morning, I slapped my forehead and said, “Oh yeah. This is what it feels like." Six years have passed since the first round of fix up and it didn’t involve the kitchen. This go-around might be like birthing triplets.

Rob the painter took the cabinet doors, drawer fronts and free standing pantry back to his shop to paint. All the food from the pantry is piled high on the counter tops. We look a bit like hoarders. Why do I have so much stuff and when was the last time I used almond flavoring? I found a couple of things that expired two years ago. It’s a little embarrassing.

The new appliances are all in except the microwave that’s still in the box in the garage. After installing the dishwasher, my better judgement told me to not ask Jim about the microwave for a couple of weeks.

The day the countertop guy came and set up all his computerized equipment is the same day the storm door guy and the tile guy came to measure. It was also the day the lawn care folks cut down a tree and trimmed the hedges. Jim was trying to back out of the maze in the driveway when his rear view mirror caught the side of the countertop company truck. I suppose that’s why we have insurance.

Today Rob is priming the cabinets. The fumes are enough to make me want to stay outside on the porch. That’s saying a lot since it’s 100 degrees out there. I did learn how to take down the microwave. Maybe enough time has passed to request the new one be installed.

The flooring man came to measure and this afternoon I have to pick out tile and carpet. I think it’s the last thing I have to decide on. It’s like buying a new pair of jeans. Then you need a new top, shoes and accessories. It never ends. Hopefully, the next time I even think about remodeling or updating I can remember childbirth .

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I guess I’ll always be a sucker for, “Mom, I need your help with something.” I should know better by now, but the momma in me blurs my clear thinking. A couple of months ago, I got one of those calls from Jason. He sounded so serious.

Jason is the director at Camp Barnabas, a summer camp for kids with special needs. Every August, Price Cutter grocery chain hosts the Price Cutter Pro-Am golf tournament. Camp Barnabas is one of 40 charities that benefit and this year they were in charge of the fashion show for the ladies’ luncheon.

“Mom, Keri from camp, needs you to model for the fashion show. Alison’s going to,” he added, thinking I wouldn’t protest if she would be with me.

“Oh Jason, I don’t know. That’s so far out of my comfort zone.” But then he got me, “It’s for the kids and I think you’ll have fun with Alison.” “Oh,” I said. “Thanks so much Mom. Keri will be calling you. Love you. Talk to you later,” he said as he hung up. I still don’t know how he got “Yes” out of “Oh”.

A few weeks later, Keri from camp called to set up a meeting with the personal shopper at Dillard’s. I asked if I could go with Alison. “Oh, Alison didn’t realize the tournament is when she’s out of town. She can’t be there. So when is a good time for you?” Great. Now I was on my own.

I don’t know why I can comfortably speak to 2,000 women, but the thought of parading around in front of 100 gave me heart palpitations and a dry mouth. The meeting with Beth the personal shopper was interesting. I’ll have to admit, I had fun and I relaxed a bit.

Yesterday when we were finally made up, dressed up, and lined up, I said, “I think I might throw up.” One girl laughed and said, “Then you'd be a real runway model.”

Right before I walked out, I felt like Gracie Hart, Sandra Bullock’s character in Miss Congeniality, so out of place. But then, I thought about the kids. This is for the kids. I took a deep breath and walked and I didn’t fall down.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I was surprised the other day to find out golf was invented in the 15th century by some men in Scotland hitting a pebble around sand dunes using a stick or a club. I think they were probably outside for a smoke break and one of them picked up a stick, hit a rock and looked at another guy and said, “Beat that.” That was the birth of the gentleman’s game.

When I was about 12, my Dad and Mom wanted me to learn to play golf and love it like they did. I got the best shoes, the finest clubs and private lessons and I really tried to love it, but the chemistry just wasn’t there. But I kept it up because there was a really cute boy in the junior program. I could knock the cover off the ball, but had no control over where it went. I think I spent half of the summer looking for 300 yard shots that went into the woods where all the ticks and chiggers lived.

Mom always looked so cute in her golf outfits. She once considered switching to tennis because she thought it had more to offer fashion wise. I honestly think she played for social purposes only, however, she did once have a hole-in-one. She wasn’t a power hitter, but was consistently right down the middle, kind of like the tortoise in The Tortoise and The Hare story.

Dad was on the golf course every Thursday and Saturday and Most Sunday afternoons. He was thrilled Jason and Travis enjoy golf. It was almost like he was passing along a legacy for the love of golf even though it evidently skipped a generation. And the tradition continues. Now Jackson is playing junior golf and can’t get enough of it. Obviously he has figured out how to stay out of the woods.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

You’d think by now I’d know better than to say, “I’ll never .......” . It never holds up. Almost three years ago, when Jim was approached to take over the laundry service for the local sports camps, I flippantly said, “Fine, but you won’t find me doing dirty camper laundry.” I had been the counselor who bagged the laundry, the director who had dealt with the laundry service, and the Mom who had packed the trunk of the campers hoping everything would make it back home. No way was I going to be the laundry service.

I just finished my third summer of doing laundry. No wonder my family laughs when I say, “Well, I’ll never”, about anything. Jim and Jason established Big Daddy-Tall Son Laundry Service. Jim, of course, is Big Daddy, his granddad name, and Tall Son came from the owner of Tran’s oriental restaurant years ago. When Jason wasn’t with us, Tran would always ask, “Where’s your tallson,” like it was one word and a position in the family.

The learning curve has been challenging. How hard could washing clothes be? When it’s thousands of pounds, it’s tough. I’ve learned how to carry an 80 pound bag of laundry, how to back up and park a big van, and when the sign say only 1/4 cup detergent, it really means 1/4 cup of detergent.

Our team works like a well oiled machine. Diann, Rose, Kelley and Dawn were acquaintances who have become my friends. They’ve carried me though a tough summer of loss just by being there with me. And in some strange way there’s something therapeutic about untangling knots, folding warm clothes, taking a Thai food dinner break and laughing, a lot.

My laundry money is for the vacation fund. Two years ago it went to our trip with Jason, Alison, Travis and Kari to London to see Jill and David. Last summer it went toward the bucket list trip cruise to Alaska for Jim’s brother Joe. This year it goes toward the Brawner party of 15 family vacation.

The banged up elbows, sore muscles, and bruised knees are all worth it. I’ll even try it again next year. So, even though I told Big Daddy and Tall Son “I’ll never....” they have Crazy Momma helping.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

There is such a push/pull for me when it comes to hitchhikers and people with signs asking for help. Maybe I’ve read too many stories about things gone wrong or maybe I’m just a chicken. I’m quite sure it has nothing to do with being selfish or too busy to be bothered.

Last week when I was waiting at a traffic light on an off ramp, I saw a man about ten cars ahead holding a need help cardboard sign. This was different because it seems I’m always the first car at the red light trying not to make eye contact so I won’t feel so guilty for not handing a $5.00 out the window. It was one of those 104 degree days and the guy was rocking from one foot to the other. I remembered I had an extra bottle of water in the car, so I rolled down the window and handed it to him as I drove by. He was so gracious and thankful. It really doesn’t take a lot.

I’m so skeptical about handing out money that might go for street drugs or a bottle of cheap whisky. My friend Roxie keeps a stack of $5.00 McDonald’s gift cards in her car to give instead. Maybe we should all should do that.

A few years ago, Jim stopped by a mall when he was on a road trip. As he was leaving, man approached him in the parking lot asking if he had extra change. He was hungry. In typical Jim Brawner style, he didn’t give him money, he invited the man to join him for lunch.

As they were eating Jim asked the man to tell him his story; where he was from, if he had a family, and how he had fallen on hard times. A divorce, drugs, and losing his job were just tiny facets of a complicated life. Jim finally asked his name and was stunned when he realized he had just bought lunch for one of his college football teammates.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” ~ John Bradford 1510-1555

Friday, August 6, 2010

I ran into a young friend yesterday who I hadn’t seen in a few months. He must have grown three inches. He’s in that time frame of life when you can hear boys getting taller if you listen carefully. I looked a little closer because it seemed he needed something wiped off his chin. I thought I would help him out because he might run into a really cute girl. I stopped short of reaching up to his face when I realized what was on his chin was intentional. It was whiskers ... of sorts. He looked a bit like Scrappy, Scooby Doo’s sidekick.

Facial hair on teenagers makes me smile because it generally looks like they are trying too hard to grow up. Ask most women and they’ll say on men in their 20s through their 40s a scruff looks good. An unshaven face on men in their 50’s and 60’s generally makes them look homeless.

One friend of mine grew a mustache in his 20s to look older and more accomplished. That was 30 years ago. I want so badly to tell him he doesn’t need to try to look older now. I suppose that would be kind of rude.

Shaving is such a rite of passage from childhood to perceived adulthood, for girls as well as boys. The first time I shaved my legs I was quite certain the general public thought, “Now there goes and adult. She shaves her legs.” The excitement of shaving lasted about 2 weeks.

I know a girl who doesn’t shave her legs and she’s not European or even an old hippie. She just thinks it’s a waste of time. It was a bit off-putting the first time I saw her in a skirt, but I got used to it, kind of. If you think about it, we do spend a whole lot of time shaving, waxing, lazering, and plucking. She may be on to something.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I got an email this morning announcing a Hot Offer for the Dog Days of Summer. Who wants anything hot right now? It’s pretty rough here in the middle of the country. Some folks visiting from Minnesota asked a local shop owner the other day if there was any way possible it could get any hotter. I suppose that’s like asking, while in Minneapolis in the middle of January, if the thermometer could drop any lower.

I always thought Dog Days originated because everyone said it was so doggone hot. But, it actually came from ancient Europeans, not old Arkansans. When the skies were being mapped out by constellations, one was named Canis Major, the big dog. The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius. The star was so bright it was thought the earth received heat from it. Now you know why Sirius radio’s logo is a dog with a star eye. Maybe you already did and I’m just the last one to figure it out.

In the summer Sirius rises and set with the sun. In late July and early August it’s in conjunction with the sun and ancient Romans thought it was like a heat booster for the sun. They named the 20 days before and 20 days after the conjunction the “dog days”. So today Dog Days are between July 3rd and August 11th and obviously we understand the heat has nothing to do with the far away star, but from the earth’s tilt.

Whatever the reason, it’s hot. My remedy is drink lots of water, stay in the pool or run through the sprinkler whenever possible and eat more ice cream. August 11th is coming and Dog Days will officially be over, but I’m not expecting cool breezes. My friend Spike White would say, “It’s summertime. It’s supposed to be hot.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

When my brother was born my granddaddy passed out cigars at the local high school basketball game. He had raised five daughters and I was the first born grandchild so it was a big day for him, like he had accomplished something. Grandads act like that, because they can.

My mom’s parents lived in a tiny town on a dirt road with a pasture and a creek behind the house. They always had dogs and chickens and an occasional horse or cow. When I went to visit I got to go barefoot outside and make mud pies in the dirt. I rode in the back of Granddaddy’s pickup truck when we went to town which was probably five city blocks away. He’d give me a nickel to spend on candy and wink like it was our secret. He knew my dad didn’t buy me candy because dentists just didn’t do that.

My dad’s parents lived in another state when I was a kid, so I didn’t see them as often. My Grandpa was a school superintendent for years and when he came to visit he brought new pencils and writing tablets and erasers. I thought I was the only one of his gaggle of grandkids that was special. Grandpas know how to make granddaughters feel like a princess.

Now Jim Brawner has seven grandkids who each think they are the most special. Big, short for Big Daddy, has four boys for his buddies but the girls melt his heart. Because that’s what granddaughters do.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

“A fool shows his annoyance at once ...” ~ Proverbs 12:16

Yesterday was a run errands by the list day. If I don’t make a list, I’ll go in a store to buy sticky notes, get distracted, and leave with next year’s month-at-a-glance calendar with a cute floral design cover. Without a list it’s hard for me to stay on task. So I set out with my list to run important errands ... like pick up the Caribou Coffee pods for the Keurig at Bed Bath And Beyond and return a faulty pump bottle of lotion to Target.

The last stop before I headed home was Pearle Vision to see if they could do anything about the scratch on Jim’s new sunglasses. I knew August had officially arrived because it was 103 and it felt like the heat index was somewhere around 120. It was so good to walk in the store. I couldn’t have been one of the pioneer women with all those petticoats traipsing across the West without air conditioning.

I set my purse down in a chair and started explaining to the clerk what I needed help with. We’d been talking for three or four minutes when Droid randomly started playing music, loudly. I just stared in amazement. An older woman at the next desk said, “Your phone is ringing.” Surprised I said, “No, that’s not my ring.”

Obviously she had ignored what I had said because she asked in an irritated voice, “Aren’t you going to answer it? At this point I was pushing and sliding everything on the phone. “It’s not ringing, that’s Jimmy Buffett singing, “I said smiling, “And I can’t figure it out.”

Then the exasperated woman said with a furrowed brow, “Can’t you just turn it off?” That’s when I began to feel like the third grader standing at the black board who couldn’t come up with the correct answer in front of the whole class. Instantly I wanted to tell the annoyed woman to calm down and that the glasses she had picked out were ugly. Then I remember the rest of the “a fool shows his annoyance at once” proverb ... “but a prudent man overlooks an insult.”

So, I thanked the clerk for her help, apologized for the disruption and went next door to the Verizon store to discover I had bumped the Pandora radio application Jason had put on Droid. It evidently had taken several minutes to download. Maybe the heat is getting to everyone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I thought was a simple request turned out to be a shocking experience. When I drove through McDonald’s to pick up my favorite Southwest Chicken Salad the other day, I very casually asked if I could have a copy of the nutrition facts sheet. The server had to ask the manager who had to rummage and dig for one. When I got home with my salad and sweet tea I decided I would brush up on my nutritional knowledge.

Since I was having a salad I checked that category first. It had 320 calories. Not bad. But the Newman’s Own Creamy Southwest Dressing added another 100. Maybe next time I’ll have the Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette and save 60 calories.

Then I scanned the burgers and that’s when the shock and awe began. The Angus Deluxe Burger has 750 calories! I smiled since I rarely eat beef. But the second shock wave hit when I read the Premium Chicken Grilled Club clocked in at 530 calories. Evidently grilled just sounds skinny. Add medium fries at 380 calories and a large Dr. Pepper at 310 and there’s more than half of your 2000 calories suggested calories for the day in one sitting. And, if you might decide to add for dessert a 16 ounce McFlurry with M&Ms at 1050 calories you will have 2270 calories. Unbelievable!

I started to panic because my beloved Sweet Tea wasn’t even on the sheet. Was it like unlisted prices in a fancy restaurant ... they don’t want to shock the customers so they leave them off? I quickly Googled it up. A large Sweet Tea is 230 calories, about 80 less than the Dr. Pepper. However, I usually ask for half sweet and half regular so do I get to say it's only 115 calories?

Here’s what I’ve figured out: You just about need a degree in math to know what to eat. And, if knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss, in this situation I think I’d rather be blissful. The knowledge is just too shocking.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I’m pretty much a black and white, literal thinker. I see things as they are, the obvious things. I solve problems that way too. I suppose I’m a conventional, conservative, inside the box thinker. It’s safe that way.

I’m really trying to think more outside the lines. I even bought a coffee mug that has the words DREAM BIG in giant letters on it. It has nudged me a little bit. It’s usually early when I’m holding the mug so my brain is not quite warmed up yet.

I so admire people who see beyond the obvious. I was in an art museum recently. There was a painting that had such depth it almost looked 3D. The amazing thing was it had been painted in the late 1800’s before computer imagery. Do you suppose the artist looked at the blank canvas and could envision the finished product? I could stare at a blank canvas all day and only see a blank canvas.

That’s why I think artistic talent like painting and singing are gifts and we aren’t gifted the same. The American Idol auditions are proof of that. Creativity is different though. I think we all are creative. But we get stuck in rut thinking. I know I do. I suppose partly because it’s easy and we’re lazy. Change is challenging.

Routine can take over if we let it. Then we begin to stagnate like pond water. I know I need to get still and think about the what ifs. I’m sure the fear of failure holds me back. The new question to ask myself is, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t work?”

“Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else has ever thought.” ~Albert Einstein