Come What May

It was a cold, gray, January day.  All of the other kids were in school as it was a Thursday, but Kid A had checked herself out early.  It was her 18th birthday, so she could do that now.  She climbed into her newly-leased electric car and turned on her iPod.  The passionate and emotional voices of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman spilled from the sound system.  The words blasted her ears and bombarded her heart.  The song lasted the exact length of time it took her to drive from parking lot to parking lot.  She took it as a sign, like a cardinal at the window or unexplained feathers.

Sheepdog and I arrived together.  We held hands as we walked into the waiting room.  I noticed a giant eel slithering inside a 75-gallon fish tank before I even saw Kid A in the corner.  The building smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol and burning things.  We all hugged and walked over to meet with her guy.  She gave him a piece of paper that had been folded and unfolded and looked at so many times that it had the worn feel of soft leather.  They spoke to one another in the language of creative people.  Then he scanned her paper into the computer and pulled it up on the big screen.  A lone sob escaped from my throat before I could pull it back.

Seeing his familiar handwriting up there, larger than life, I was caught completely off guard.  But seeing it a few hours later, permanently inked onto the slight wrist of my oldest child, it actually felt good.  After all she had seen and experienced and lived through the past few years, it felt right.  Well, as right as a tattoo can possibly be.

"I will love you until my dying day."

“I will love you until my dying day.”

His life story will always be a part of hers.  He left his mark on her heart.  Now his handwriting is marked on her forever as well.

*******************************************

Today is the first anniversary of Braden’s death.  One whole year has gone by.  An entire year of holidays, and birthdays, and Mondays.  One whole year passed of experiences, and change, and growth.  One whole year of the regular and mundane too.  One whole year of memories made without Braden.  I feel like that is one of the worst parts.

I have thought of him so much over the past year.  Sometimes I think of him intentionally, like when I plant flowers in his memory.  I talk to him as I’m doing the work, updating him with new funny stories as well as the regular day-to-day stuff that’s been going on.  And when these plants inevitably die, I think of him again because I know he is playing a twisted joke on me.  All of my other plants thrive.  It’s just the ones that I tell him are “his” that end up brown and crispy.  I like to think that Braden enjoys our conversations so much that he is just making sure that I’ll keep checking in with him.  So I guess I’ll keep buying him new plants.  And I’m good with that.

Other times he pops into my consciousness accidentally, like when I recently came across the milk shake recipe for cancer patients that I used to make for him when his stomach could tolerate them.  It was made with protein powder and coffee and chocolate sauce and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.  It always made me so happy when he would finish one, because he was losing so much weight and what else packs on the pounds but the best ice cream on the planet?  I also find him popping into my head when I’m listening to music in the car, wondering if he got to hear that really great song before he died.  Or was he around for that game?  Or did he get to see that movie?  Or look at that blood moon?  As more and more time passes, the answer is almost always ‘no.’  Not while he was here with us on earth.

So, to officially and reverently mark the passage of one whole year without Braden, Sheepdog and the kids and I went on a short hike up the Indian Seats Trail at Sawnee Mountain this past Sunday.  When we reached the top, we found some rocks off the beaten path and we sat together as a family.  We overlooked the valley below and Sheepdog said some nice words and reminded us that Braden is happy and healthy now and we shouldn’t ask for anything more than that.  He also reminded us to be thankful for our own health and happiness and to make each day mean something.  Some of us spoke about happy memories and fun times with Braden.  Some of us weren’t able to speak at all.

There was a placard up by the Indian Seats that said mountaintops are considered sacred by Native Americans because they bring us closer to Father Sky.  I don’t know about that, but I certainly felt closer to my God and to Braden that day.  It was sacred and it was good.  Well, as good as it can be when somebody is taken away before we are ready for it.

Wish me luck for tomorrow… come what may.

The Decline of the American Farmer

Kid D is in an adjustment phase.  He just started the third grade.  Third grade is kickball at recess.  It is noticing the opposite sex as somehow different than you, but not really caring too much.  It is the last carefree days of single digits.  Third grade is multiplication tables, cursive writing, and how to write a book report.  It is a pivotal year.

I was talking to him about all of the exciting things he will learn over the next few months and he seemed so excited.  Granted, I am a master motivator, but the kid appeared genuinely enthusiastic about all of the new and wonderful wisdom that was to be had.  If knowledge equals power, than he was able to see the path to world domination.

But then came the homework.

It is easy to say, “Eyes on the prize; hands on the plow,” but it is very difficult for an eight or nine-year-old to walk that walk.  There are so many other fun things to do… run through the sprinkler one last time before this summer is gone forever, ride a bike, jump on a friend’s trampoline, play football out in the yard.

“My friend just called and asked if I can jump on his trampoline with the sprinkler underneath of it!  Can I go, mom?  Please, mom?  Can I?”  Homework quickly slips down the to-do list when shiny distractions beckon so aggressively.

Being a stickler for a proper education, but also a supporter of fun (especially the “squeezing out the last drops of summer” stuff), I made him a deal that he could go as soon as he finished his math worksheet.

Smoke poured from the tip of his Dixon-Ticonderoga.  Soon he was finished.  He swore that he had done his best work as he threw the paper in my direction and darted down the street on his bicycle.  When I looked at his homework, this is what I saw:

Kid D math homework

I guess I need to work a little harder on my motivation skills.  Kid D is already over it.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Good Housekeeping

You may have noticed some updates to the This Is How I Do It website over the past few weeks.  I have been in the process of changing the look of my site and I even wrote a long overdue, much more current version of the Cast of Characters (2013).  Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

I started writing This Is How I Do It just about two years ago.  Sheepdog and I were out to dinner (alone!) about a month before and I was complaining that I still wanted to write a book, but I could never find the time to actually write.  “It is a process, ” I whined to him, “that requires focus and discipline, but I have all of these distractions – namely Kid A, Kid B, Kid C, Kid D, Kid E and even you – that are constantly requiring my immediate attention.”

“Um, that’s your job, so suck it up and stop whining.  If you really want to write, then start with something small.  Write a blog.  Write about us.  Write about all of these kids and the distractions and our crazy lives.  People will want to read that.  And they will keep reading because you are a great writer,” said my biggest advocate.

So I sucked it up and I created this site.

I can’t believe that it has been two years.  I remember how scared I was to press “publish” on the very first day… it was a Sunday and I was doing a bunch of yard work.  I didn’t tell anybody, not even Sheepdog, that I was actually starting.  I just did it.  Afterwards, I went outside and got to my task at hand, listening to some good, angry, weed-pulling music and distracting myself from the inevitable judgment that I envisioned as people read my first real post (Guess Who’s Pregnant).  Shit, is it “who’s” or “whose?”  Do I even know proper grammar?  This is so scary!

I did not do a very good job staying away from the computer at all.  I left flowerbed dirt footprints in the foyer each time I came back in to check the web traffic (WordPress tracks everything for you so you know how much love you are getting… just like Instagram “likes,” but for blog hits).  Once I saw that I was getting good numbers, dare I say really good numbers, I didn’t stop yelling periodic updates to anyone who would listen.  By the way, no one at my house was listening.

“One hundred people have read my post!  That is one-freaking hundred hits on my first day!  On a Sunday with nice weather!  They love me, they really love me!” I yelled from my office, even though everyone else was outside and no one was paying attention.

“I’m up to one hundred fifty-seven now.  I’m on a roll!” echoed through the empty hallways a little later on.

But my enthusiasm would not be deterred.  It was like crack and I was an addict.  People were really reading what I had to write and I loved the feeling.  I had no measure as to whether they liked it or not, but I didn’t really care about that yet.  The numbers just kept on climbing and I was immediately hooked on blogging.

All in all, I got one hundred ninety-eight hits on that first day.  Over the next two years I have watched as thirty-two thousand more people have visited my website.  Some even commented, which made me feel really special.  My favorite part is that people can often relate to what I am writing, and it is truly why I continue to do this.  Nobody wants to feel alone or weird or like they suck at stuff.  So I share my stories and hopefully remind everybody that nobody is perfect and we’re all just making it up as we go along.  Life is crazy and scary and messy.  But it is also a huge gift.  So suck it up and do your job.

And if you’re really lucky, somebody will tell you how awesome you really are.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Can you define "defective?"

Can you define “defective?”

Just Say No to Cash

For those of you who know me very well (and there are only like nine of you on the whole planet… “I’m a loner, Dottie.  A rebel.”), you are well aware that I do not enjoy chatting on the phone.  There are certainly exceptions, but I rarely spend my free time yakking it up.  Yesterday was a unique day for me in that I called or was called by every single person in my family of origin (also known as “907 Chelsea Peeps”).  It wasn’t even anybody’s birthday or a holiday or anything really special.  I can’t tell you the last time that happened.  Not that we need to stop the presses or anything.  I’m just saying.

So in talking to everybody I got a crapload of new information… updates, ideas, stories, gossip.  You know, the good stuff.  Some of it was really good stuff too.  Let me just say that in the game of OMG One-Up, my family will probably win.  We’d come in second place at the very least.  There’s some crazy stuff out there, people.

Anyway, Sister B called me in the middle of the day and mentioned that she was collecting money for some group teacher gifts and she had an idea for a nicer presentation than just handing over cash in an envelope.  I was unaware that cash in an envelope was not nice, but apparently I don’t know anything.  So I told her to write a post and I’d put it on my blog so anybody who reads it can copy her idea.

Or you can just give cash in an envelope.  Seriously, I don’t see how that can be a bad thing.

********************************************************************************

End of the Year Gift Idea by Guest Writer, Sister B

It is that time of the year again…soccer banquets, religious education end of year parties, graduations, last day of school parties, ballet recitals, cub scouts graduation ceremonies…I don’t know about you but my wallet is empty!  I am so thankful for the adults who help my children throughout the year in so many different ways, whether it be their coaches, teachers, school administrators, instructors or leaders.  They work so hard, demonstrate incredible patience, foster a love of learning in so any ways, and I took on the coordination of the donation of funds towards a group gift.

I know from my teacher friends that gift cards are always the best because if they get another candle or apple-themed “#1 Teacher” mug they are going to literally scream.  But I just didn’t want to put a big gift card in an envelope and call it a day.  I wanted to take a few minutes and a little creativity to show those who have earned a year end gift that we appreciate all that they have done each and every day of this past year.  I did not want to spend a lot of money because the majority of the funds should go towards the gift card for the individual who deserves the kudos!

I searched the internet and found this adorable phrase – “Thanks for helping us ‘grow’ this year!”

I was inspired to create a gift card holder with a flower theme.  I found small baskets 2 for $1 at the local dollar store.  Target had faux felt flowers in the $1 section and they were bright and colorful and cheery.  I found gardening signs also in the $1 section at Target and made a sign on my computer with the clever phrase.  I purchased a styrofoam cube from the dollar store, cut it in half and placed it in the bottom of the basket.   Then, covered the styrofoam with shredded paper, inserted the faux flowers, stuck in the sign and voila!  Instant end of the year gift card holder!  Can’t wait to give these to my kids’ specialists, coaches and teachers and they can enjoy them for many years to come.

 

There are several other variations of this gift idea.  You could purchase fresh flowers and just make the sign.  You could buy a plant from Home Depot or Lowe’s.  You could have your kids make homemade tissue paper flowers.  The possibilities are endless.  But with a little creativity, you can really show the teachers in your life your thanks for all of their time this past year.  And your gift will stand out from the rest of the pile of gift cards in plain envelopes, guaranteed!

Dear Mom and Dad,

Sheepdog and I can’t thank you enough for letting us stay at your house while you are in Mexico.  We are having the best vacation family trip with the kids and we are so grateful to have such a fabulous place to stay while we are doing so many fun things in New Jersey.

We have been bringing taking great care of the house while you were gone too.  Sheepdog bought a new ceiling fan for the green guest room and he installed it the other day.  We are bringing in the mail every day and checking in with the builders on the front porch and landscaping projects as they progress.  It’s all good.

Please save us, Nanny Fabulous!

Except for your plants.  Despite my best efforts, they are not thriving.  I have managed to kill a few, and many of the rest go to the brink of death and then come back to life on a daily basis.  I have watered them every day like you said, plus I have been talking to them and visiting with them (mostly at the Point during cocktail hour), but I think they just miss you.  So come home soon.

Much Love,

Daughter A

Old People Are Dirty

The other day the kids and I all traveled to Vineland, New Jersey (the largest city in the state measured by total area – 69 square miles, home to the largest farmer’s cooperative on the east coast – the Vineland Produce Auction, and the birth place of Welch’s Grape Juice) to visit my maternal grandfather, Henry, who now lives in the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home there.

I have always called him “Pop Pop,” but my kids call him “Pop Pop Pop” or “3 Pops,” so as to differentiate between him (my only living grandparent) and my dad, who they call “Pop Pop.”  I don’t know why no one was able to come up with more unique nicknames in our family, but that’s what they are called so we just deal with it.  Although there was an attempt one time by Kid C to rename them, when she referred to my Pop Pop as “Pop Pop Fancy” (I guess from all of the Pop-ping) and my dad was (logically) “Pop Pop Plain.”  But those never stuck.

So we drove a little less than an hour to see 3 Pops, who is doing well health-wise for an 80-plus year-old man, except that he has circulation issues with his legs.  He is not a petite man by any stretch of the imagination – he was six feet, five inches tall at his tallest and I’d bet he was pushing three hundred pounds – so he can’t really walk on his own anymore.  Instead he drives around in a pimped-out, mac daddy electric wheelchair.

When we first got there he gave us a tour of the place.  No matter that we had been there several times before.  He just wanted to show off his visitors, which apparently is how you brag in the Home.  Imagine the sight of us in the halls… me and the five kids marching along with Pop Pop Fancy leading the parade in his Master of Ceremonies Hoveround.  He was a superstar!  We filed in and out of room after room, meeting friends and nurses and chatting them all up.  We shook everyone’s hands and many of them asked for and got hugs too.  I’m sure I got felt up a couple of times, but it was for the veterans so I wasn’t going to complain.

We took 3 Pops with us to a nice italian restaurant called Martino’s for some yummy lunch.  He is a regular there, so all of the waitresses came over to say hello and ask how he liked his spicy mussels (apparently a standing order for him).  Then we stopped at the store to pick up some fresh peaches, strawberries and navel oranges for him to keep in the fridge in his room.  He sure does love him some fruit!

Ernie and Pop Pop Fancy cruising the courtyard garden. Note that Ernie is wearing his favorite sombrero from The Awesome Hat Collection.

Back at the home we made another round of the halls to see if there was anybody who we might have missed on the first pass.  This was when we met my favorite couple of the day, Ernie and Mary Webber.  They had just recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary and they live in a room in the home together.  Mary is a little sicker and requires more care than her husband, but she still knew that she had some visitors and she just lit up when she talked with us.  I wondered to myself if they sometimes did it in their room.  How sweet would that be?  Ernie had an extensive hat collection that he insisted the kids all try on and he also had a beautiful vegetable and flower garden that he started in the courtyard that he showed us with immense pride.

It was clear that 3 Pops was ready for a nap, as it had been a busy and exciting day, and even his wheelchair was moving a little slower than usual.  We all hugged him and said our goodbyes, and the girls promised to write more letters (another way to get bragging rights in the home).  Kid E made me cry when he uncharacteristically climbed up into 3 Pop’s lap in the chair, grabbed both of his cheeks with his sweaty little hands, and gave him a giant smooch (you thought I was gonna say that he told him he wasn’t ugly, didn’t you?).

So we all piled into the car and headed back to the marina.  It was an all around great day and a really nice visit.  I was very proud of all of my kids that they did not even once stare, point, or ask embarrassing questions out loud when we were there.  No one mentioned that it smelled weird.  No one poked the people who were asleep in the hallways.  They were respectful and kind and interacted with everybody it made me very happy.

As we pulled into the driveway at my mom and dad’s house, I yelled out to the kids, “Now everybody should go to the bathroom and everybody should definitely wash their hands.”

Then Kid D replied, “Yeah, because we sure touched a lot of old people today!”

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Gardening Highs and Lows

Apparently my food gardening thumb is anything but green.  I have tried over the years to grow vegetables in a garden.  I mean, I grew up in the freakin’ Garden State.  I love fresh vegetables.  In our first house here in Atlanta, Sheepdog built me a beautiful raised garden bed that was twelve feet by twelve feet and I did acidity tests on the weird red clay dirt and I read all the way through Walter Reeves’ Guide to Gardening in Georgia and I tried to grow lettuce and carrots and cucumbers and zucchini and green beans and tomatoes.  I made pretty rows with labels and I talked to the seedlings and I watered them and I loved them.  Nothing but the beans survived.  But I had ginormous green beans out the wazoo, even after giving bags upon bags to neighbors.  So I froze them and we had beans every night for about a year.  Now I hate green beans.

A couple of years ago I tried to grow a deck garden with planters at the house we live in now but I wasn’t so successful.  Apparently this house is an anomaly that always faces the high-noon, hot sun on all four sides for more than six hours a day.   I think it rotates or something, on all three axises.  Whatever the cause, I can’t grow a food garden because everything gets fried in this hideous Hotlanta summer heat, and shade does not even matter because even on cloudy days you step outside even at eight in the morning and you can watch as living things just spontaneously combust around you.  We must live less than a mile from the sun.

The thing on the left needs a little more of the thing on the right

It actually is more efficient to grow and cook your peppers at the same time

Nevertheless, as is the case in most areas of my life, I follow the rules of insanity (doing the same things over and over again, while expecting a different outcome each time).  Except that I always tweak the plan so that this time I will get it right.  And this year I will beat the heat and find a spot that will allow them to thrive!  So today I will head out to a local garden center and pick up some plants and seedlings and I will plant them and talk to them and water them and love them.  I will enjoy working the soil with my hands and adding just the right amount of nutrients and tenderly repotting the tiny little plants one at a time and lovingly making each one a label that indicates my hopes for what they will be when they grow up.

And one day very soon I will step outside and see that my beautiful and lovingly cared for little deck garden has been completely fried like a drive-thru order at Popeye’s.  And I’ll have to once again go to the grocery store to get my lettuce and cucumbers and peppers and tomatoes.  And I’ll vow to try again next year, finally with just the right changes that will result in bountiful produce from our backyard.  And when you find a bag of ginormous green beans on your doorstep, you will know that I have finally succeeded.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…