It’s Not Just About the Building

Susan-wheelchair-955x675

 

A few months ago I was invited to write a guest blog post for Charli Riggle’s blog, which features articles and information about disabilities, as well as children’s books, and spirituality. (Charli is a diverse and brilliant woman. Check out her new web site.) The post is up now:

“It’s Not Just About the Building”

I hope you’ll click on the link and read it and leave a comment.

Today I’m off to Eupora, Mississippi, to the Webster County Friends of the Library group to talk with them about my novel CHERRY BOMB. And on Saturday I’ll be in Nashville at the Southern Festival of Books, where I’m on a panel at 4 p.m., also talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB. To keep up with where I’ll be when, visit my EVENTS page on my web site.

Have a great week!

The Last Lecture and Another Special Anniversary

the-last-lecture-randy-pauschTen years ago today—September 18, 2007—Randy Pausch gave his “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon. He was a computer science professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unlike most professors who are asked to imagine their demise when giving their last lecture, Pausch didn’t have to imagine his—it was right before him. He was given a few months to live.

His lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” was about overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, seizing every moment, and not knowing how many moments you might have. You can watch it here.

The lecture, and the book, The Last Lecture, were more than a legacy for his students and colleagues and friends. They were Pausch’s gift to his three children, who were too young to understand the life lessons he wanted to teach them. The book was a great blessing to me, and I plan to give it as gifts to my children. My favorite quote from his lecture and book:

“We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

Mary Allison CallawayThis day—September 18—is also the nineteenth anniversary of the death of my precious Goddaughter, Mary Allison Callaway (d. 9.18.1998). I wrote about it on the tenth anniversary of her death here.

Mary Allison wasn’t given the opportunity that Randy Pausch was given—to prepare for his death. She was killed instantly by a drunk driver. But she was prepared by the way she was living her life. She was a shining light to all who knew her, and an enormous blessing to me and my family. I still miss her. Memory eternal, Mary Allison.

Rituals

 

Mom and me when I was crowned queen of the little league, circa 1961

Mom and me when I was crowned queen of the little league, circa 1961

With Mother’s Day coming, I find myself thinking about happy memories of my mother. I’ve been doing this a good bit this last year, since my mother’s death last May. And this first memory might surprise some of you (who remember that my mother was frequently abusive to me, verbally) but I think you’ll understand once I explain it.

When I was a little girl—probably around seven years old—my mother would come to my room every night to kiss me goodnight. My brother and I had small rooms right next to each other at that point, and I would hear her go into Mike’s room first, and then come to me. I don’t remember us saying prayers or having long conversations at bedtime, but I clearly remember the words she said just before leaving my room every night:

Good night, darling. I love you.

Those exact words. I would close my eyes, wrapped in an emotional security blanket, and go to sleep. No matter how she had treated me during that day, this was what I craved, what I longed for and thankfully received just before sleep. My mother’s blessing. If I heard her say something to Mike after that, I would call her back into my room to say it again. I wanted those words to be the last I heard before sleep. A benediction of sorts.

Fast forward forty years to 1998. My father was dying of cancer, and I spent the final days of his life in my parents’ home in Jackson (we already lived in Memphis) helping Mom with his care. (We also had help from Hospice.) Dad had a lung removed in May of 1997 and lived for fourteen months as a semi-invalid, on oxygen and often in a wheelchair. I would visit them about once a month during that time, and that’s when I observed their rituals. Dad bringing Mom coffee in bed (which he did for me on school mornings when I was in high school); Mom and Dad reading their morning devotionals together; and especially the greeting and response they said to one another every morning:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I remember telling my husband about this and we decided to begin this ritual, which we do to this day. Something about that mutual encouragement to acknowledge God and to decide to rejoice often kick-starts my day in a positive way. When my husband is out of town, sometimes we text the message first thing in the morning:

TITDTLHM.

LURABGII.

Are we simply creatures of habit, or is there something more spiritual—perhaps even more ethereal—at work here? I believe that rituals are a big part of why I love the Orthodox Church. There is something comforting about the rituals we find in our church tradition.

6088bb5795d4447b8b1a56bd32e67bc3When our children were young, we would bless them before bed. If my husband was around he would do it, partly because he’s a priest. But as a mother, I often said a blessing before kissing my children goodnight, and made the sign of the cross, touching their forehead, chest, right shoulder and left shoulder. (Or even just signing them in the air in front of their faces.) The intent was to call down God’s blessing on them, yes, but also to give them comfort. My husband does this for me most every night, and also says a special blessing for me whenever I travel. And when we travel together. We get into the car, sometimes set the GPS, and then he says a prayer/blessing for our safe travels.

I remember a priest sharing with me many years ago his habit/ritual of crossing himself in the process of putting on his seatbelt when he got into his car, and saying, “Lord have mercy.”

There is something comforting about the repetitive nature of the liturgy. How many times during each service do we say, “Lord have mercy”? Can we ever say it too much? Why do we love the repetition?

Ths article in Psychology Today says we engage in rituals for several reasons. One is to try to maintain a sense of control and order to our lives. Another is to find meaning and comfort after a loss, like when people pray after a tragedy. In the Orthodox faith, we have specific prayers for the dead at regular intervals after their death, and sometimes special liturgical foods are shared after the prayers. One practice is to read the Psalms for forty days after a loved one dies. I’ve done that many times over the years and I always find comfort and draw closer to God during those days. Part of that is, I’m sure, that I’m more aware of my own mortality, having just buried someone I love, especially when the person is close to my own age or even younger.

reading to my three oldest granddaughters at the beach last month

reading to my three oldest granddaughters at the beach last month

Have you ever noticed how children love to watch the same movie over and over (often on their iPads now) or read the same books over and over? When I first started reading to my granddaughters and noticed this I would think, “Wouldn’t you rather read something new?” But they seem to find comfort in the familiar, and never tire of the same episodes of Paw Patrol or the latest Disney movie or the words and pictures in a favorite book.

As I finish today’s post, I’m thinking about how writing for this blog has become a ritual of sorts. I started the blog ten years ago this August and have posted three times a week—usually Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—for almost every week of that decade. I wake up on those days thinking about what I’m going to write, if I haven’t already written the post earlier and saved it to publish on a certain day. Of course there are days when I can’t think of anything to say, and it bothers me throughout the day until an idea comes to me. Once it’s done, I find myself calmer, like a child whose mother has just kissed her goodnight.

 

Sea Fever

3-year-old Gabby catches a wave during our 2015 beach trip

3-year-old Gabby catches a wave during our 2015 beach trip

We’re headed to my favorite place on earth Sunday—Seagrove Beach, Florida—for our (almost) annual family beach vacation. I’m so excited that all of our kids and grands will be there this year. Bill and I took a year off from this annual tradition last year, for our “bucket list” trip to Paris. But we did make it down for Thanksgiving last year (just the two of us). So, the last time we were there with any of our kids was in May of 2015, when our daughter Beth, her husband Kevin, and their three-year-old daughter Gabby joined us. Beth was pregnant with Izzy at the time. Here are some great pictures from that trip. So, this year there will be 7 adults and 4 kids, ages 7 ½, 6 ½, 5, and 20 months—Izzy’s first beach trip! Can’t wait! I always think about John Masefield’s poem, “Sea Fever” when I’m getting ready for the beach:

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I love Kris Delmhorst’s musical version of “Sea Fever” on her wonderful CD “Strange Conversation.”  I’m listening to it now as I write this. Can’t wait to be there!

I only remember one beach trip with my family when I was a little girl. Most of our family vacations involved following my dad around golf courses and watching him play in (and often win) tournaments. Swimming in the pools at the various country clubs where he played was fun, but it wasn’t the ocean.

When our boys were 3 (Jason) and 6 (Jon) we took them to Destin for the first time. (Beth wasn’t with us yet.) And then later we took Jason and Beth to Hilton Head, South Carolina one summer when Jon was in school at St. Andrews-Sewanee. And we took all three kids to Kiawa once. But it wasn’t until November of 2006 that we went back to Florida with our grown son, Jon, to celebrate his graduation from flight school. This was our first trip to Seagrove Beach, Florida, which has become our favorite destination. I documented some of those earlier vacations in this post from 2010. We’ve been back with our kids and grands numerous times, and I spent three one-month writing retreats alone there, in 2011, 2012, and 2013. (It’s where I gave birth to Cherry Bomb, my novel that’s coming out in August.)

Our daughter Beth was married at Seagrove Beach in May of 2011. Next week we’ll be staying at a house right next door to the wedding venue. Lots of great memories….

I’ll close with a few photos. I might not be blogging from the beach next week… so please come back in May!

 

May 2013 (sunset photo taken at Seaside).

May 2013 (sunset photo taken at Seaside).

Father-daughter dance at Beth's wedding, May 2011, at Seagrove Beach

Father-daughter dance at Beth’s wedding, May 2011, at Seagrove Beach

On one trip (I think this was actually at Gulf Shores) I kept a watercolor journal....

On one trip (I think this was actually at Gulf Shores) I kept a watercolor journal….

November 2006... when I fell in love with Seagrove....

November 2006… when I fell in love with Seagrove….

November 2006

November 2006

Jason and Beth Kiawah

Jason and Beth Kiawah

Jon and Jason's first beach trip 1984

Jon and Jason’s first beach trip 1984

Dad, Mom, me 1956

Dad, Mom, me 1956 (can’t believe my parents let me go topless! I think my swimsuit straps hurt my sunburn….)

Me, Dad, Mike 1956

Me, Dad, Mike 1956

A Letter to My Children

open-letterA friend recently sent me a link to a blog titled “God’s Grace and Mom’s Alzheimer’s,” and specifically to a post from August of 2013: “What I’ll Say to My Children If I’m Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s.” I agree with many of her sentiments and recommend the blog to anyone caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Here’s a sample:

I fear having AD someday myself. (My mind already concerns me too often.)  But if that day comes … what I would say to them is this…. Pray and trust God to guide you.  Get as much help as you can.  I don’t want you to sacrifice your life plans or family for my sake, but I want to always be part of your life.

If you need to find a nursing home for me, I understand.  Pray about it and seek wisely. And then visit me often. Even if I don’t seem to know you, believe in your heart that part of me does.  Hold my hand and talk to me.  Tell me all about your life.  Sing to me and read the Bible to me, please.  Brush my hair and tell me memories of your childhood.

Everything will be better in heaven.  Meanwhile, when I can’t talk anymore; just know that I love you forever and that being a mom to you was an honor and the delight of my life.

What powerful words. I wish I had known about this blog during the decade or so that I was caregiving for Mom, because I think we are kindred spirits. I can’t find the author’s name on the blog (or the blog’s Facebook page) but I’m sending kudos to her, and also saying, “Memory Eternal” since I just read that her mother recently died. Maybe she and Effie are exchanging stories in heaven.

“There’s This Cute Boy”

WSJ articleWednesday’s Wall Street Journal had an excellent article in the Life & Arts section, “‘There’s This Cute Boy…’ Secrets to Getting Teens to Talk,” by Anne Marie Chaker. The article is about kids and their parents writing journals to each other, sometimes instead of talking, but hopefully to break the ice for difficult conversations.

The article reminded me of something I’ve blogged about before—the many letters I wrote to my grandmother during my childhood (in the 1950s) and into my teenage years and even the early years of my marriage. I felt “safe” telling my grandmother things I might not tell my mother—including how I felt when my mother and brother yelled at each other (which happened a lot, and I would go to my room and turn up the radio to block it out) but also poignant moments like my first kiss. I have a shoebox full of those letters, which are a treasure.

So sometime last year I started writing to my granddaughters who live in Denver, and receiving precious letters back from them, especially the older two, who are 6 and 7. Recent letters from these two were especially touching.

Grace (7) told me she is studying Black history in second grade. She said her teacher told them that there was slavery in Mississippi, and since I’m from Mississippi, she asked whether I knew any slaves when I was a little girl. I responded by explaining that I lived many years after the slaves were freed, but that unfortunately many Black people were still being treated unfairly when I was a little girl (and even now), and how important it is for us not to judge people by the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes (this granddaughter is Asian), or which country they are from.

Aslan1Anna (6) wrote a letter to Pops (my husband) asking him two questions: (1) What is your favorite color? And (2) What is your favorite animal? He answered her back: BLUE, and LION. Now, I’ve been married to this man for almost 47 years, and it never occurred to me to ask him either of these questions, so we had a revealing moment and discussion. Turns out he loves lions not only because they are majestic and beautiful, but because of the lion, “Aslan,” who represents Christ in the Narnia Chronicles. He has asked me to bring some of the Narnia books with us to the beach next month so he can read them to his granddaughters.

Today I know that “Face Time” (which we enjoy with all 4 granddaughters) has probably replaced hand written letters as the primary means of communication between the generations, but I plan to keep up the letter writing as long as my granddaughters will participate. There’s something really special about it. I feel a different kind of closeness in this exchange, and I hope they will keep responding to my letters!

Woozies and Glam and Flowers, Oh My!

What a fabulous birthday I’ve had. Dinner out on birthday eve with my sweet hubby last night. Visits from several friends today. Packages and cards in the mail. Phone calls and text messages from children. And about 150 Facebook birthday wishes. I am feeling the love. THANK YOU, everyone!

 

Flowers and cards.

Flowers and cards.

Pearls and feathers from sweet hubby.

Woozies to keep wine cold, from sweet Madeleine and Damon.

Woozies to keep wine cold, from sweet Madeleine and Damon.

Peacock martini glasses from Beth and her family. Perfect.

Peacock martini glasses from Beth and her family. Perfect.

Peacock sticker for my new MacBook Pro, selected for me by almost 5-year-old Gabby.

Peacock sticker for my new MacBook Pro, selected for me by almost 5-year-old Gabby.

Beautiful JJill necklace from Jason and his familiy. They know my taste!

Beautiful JJill necklace from Jason and his familiy. They know my taste!

Crossword Puzzles and Alzheimer’s

Crossword puzzleThis morning I worked today’s crossword puzzle (from the newspaper) at one sitting. I work these puzzles almost daily. I also play Scrabble regularly with my husband (Pass ‘n Play on his iPad). I read somewhere that these activities can help stave off the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Well, my mother and her mother both died with Alzheimer’s, and they both worked the crossword puzzle DAILY until, well, until they couldn’t. I don’t care what the research says, it’s not a magic bullet. So there have to be other motivations for working puzzles and playing games. How about fun?

The same article I linked to above included reading and writing as activities that help slow the processes of dementia. Reading. Writing. I’ve already read four books in 2017 and I write (or edit) daily.

I’m doing my part. Did I mention praying? I do that as well.

So, my daughter and her family are spending a few days with us (from Denver) so this will be short…. Have a great weekend, everyone, and if you’re doing crossword puzzles to prevent dementia, just keep on keeping on and have fun!

Time Was Soft There—Literary Gossip and Catnip for Book Junkies

55008Flying to and from Austin (through Atlanta, of course) gave me several extra hours of reading time this weekend, so I finished my third book of 2017:

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

I had planned to write a book review today until I found a Kirkus Review that pretty much says what I would have said. I’ll add that when I was in Paris last May, I stopped into Shakespeare & Company right after visiting nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I wish I had read this book before visiting the legendary store. I had no idea that people lived inside the store (for free) nor did I know any of the owner’s colorful history. Read the Kirkus Review for a quick summary. I’ll share the closing line here as a teaser:

Literary gossip, and catnip for book junkies.

Susan and JulieWe had a wonderful time in Austin at my first cousin, Julie Johnson’s wedding this weekend. What a beautiful city and surrounding areas—the wedding was held on a deck/patio high up at The Oasis at Lake Travis, with an incredible view of sailboats on the lake (temperatures in the 70s) and later, a windy and cloudy but powerful sunset. My husband and I also loved hanging out with two more of my first cousins (Jimmy and Johnny Jones from Jackson, Mississippi) during the weekend, so, as weddings often are, it was a fun reunion. Johnny remarked that it was great getting together for something other than a funeral, which is the main time we usually see each other! My husband and I had a great time shopping for his first pair of cowboy boots, and a new cowboy hat for me (I collect them from most cities I visit), which we wore to the wedding.

Now I’m back home in Memphis, enjoying editing the essays that are arriving in my inbox for next year’s anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. I love my job. Have a great week!

 

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

four-gospels… my true love gave to me: four calling birds! In the Church’s tradition, those birds represent the four gospel writers—the holy apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (seen in these icons). They are “calling” to the world to hear the message of Christ’s incarnation.

So how am I celebrating the fourth day of Christmas? We just got home last night from spending a wonderful Christmas in Denver with two of our kids and all four of our grandchildren. So we are tired but happy. Of course I’m unpacking, doing laundry, and grocery shopping today (and starting back on exercising on the elliptical)… but it’s also a day for Christmas cardsopening more Christmas cards and reading through so many wonderful Christmas letters from friends and family near and far. Sending Christmas cards is one of my favorite traditions, and receiving them is such a treat.

This year I didn’t come up with a creative way to display them, so I just spread them out on our dining room table as they arrived. This morning I captured them in photos, then I took down last year’s photo cards from the bulletin board in the kitchen and replaced them with this year’s. Well, some of them. (They don’t all fit!)

It was fun to group some of them:

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spiritual/religious cards

spiritual/religious cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year's cards arrive!

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year’s cards arrive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to everyone who was thoughtful enough to send us a card and/or a Christmas letter this year. I hope you are enjoying this tradition as much as we are!

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