My father, Jo, is 71.  Unfortunately, I have suspected for some time now that he is losing his mind.  The signs at first were curiously concerning, but I rationalized them away.

For example, Dad had daughters.  Twin grandsons were his second chance to engage in all sorts of “boy” activities that he missed out on with us:  Scouting, fishing, sports, BB guns, etc.  But, earlier this year, when the boys were nine years old and the new James Bond movie premiered, Dad sat at my kitchen table one Saturday afternoon and suggested–with a straight face– that he take the boys to see the movie.  Mistakenly, I thought he was pulling my leg per his dryly sly sense of humor.  But, no.  He was serious.  Hang on there, Dad….let me read the review of that movie.  Humph.  Extra violent, inappropriate humor, an ambiguously bi-sexual villain, and of course the usual female love interest…..nope.  Not going to happen.  (So, I left the boys with Joel and I went with him. 😉 Just being a loving daughter.)

But, perhaps most strange was when about three years ago he acquiesced to my Mother’s plea to buy a standard size poodle puppy.  During my childhood, Dad tolerated our assorted dogs…two toy poodles, and later a three pound Chihuahua.  Dad is a cat person.  And, once he raised me and my sister and sent us into the world, there would be no reason for him to ever own another dog.

So, throwing common sense to the wind, enter Bo, the black standard poodle.  Bo is at least as smart as a three year old child, and far less mannerly.  I recall in my raising being expected to mind my parents, and I never got away with anything.  Bo?  Not so.  Bo is incorrigible.  And, my parents are not upset by his antics.  No, they laugh!  They tell tales about him that horrify me.  I know they are capable of better, obviously, since they raised me and my sister!  They were uber alpha dog with us, so to speak.  When they said sit, we sat and said yes sir, thank you, sir.  Bo?  So far, he has eaten, chewed, and mangled no less than twelve leashes, two wallets, one cell phone, a several hundred dollar pair of prescription glasses, countless socks, a door facing or two, and several sandwiches left unattended on the kitchen counter for milliseconds.  Bo understands Spanish and English, especially when pertaining to his intended bedtime or being placed in his crate resulting in my parents resorting to spelling or subtle eye movements to communicate around the dog.  All this despite professional obedience training. 

And, in yet the strangest twist, guess who Bo adores?  Exactly.  Not Mom.  Bo is extremely possessive of Dad to the extent that he wedges between them when they hug, and he sleeps in the bed between them.  A sixty-five pound dog, in my father’s bed—without objection from Dad?  This is certainly not the father with whom I lived.  Who has kidnapped him and where have they taken him?  Now I’m really worried that early dementia is setting in.

But, tonight I received confirmation that my father is slipping away.  He sent email, which I have pasted below:


I have just come in from walking Bo. I asked permission from Doris to beat him, but she won’t let me.

When I started out with him I gave him a chance to poop in our yard. If he will do that before we get into the road I don’t have to scoop it up into a plastic bag from the road and then carry it in one hand all around the neighborhood. He didn’t accept my offer to poop in the yard. So we headed out down the road with his leash securely around one wrist so he can’t get away from me. I called my sister on the cell phone to talk with her as I walked, as we talk every Sunday evening. We had only gone about fifteen yards, just past my neighbor’s driveway when Bo began to squat to poop. Great, Bo. Couldn’t you have done this one minute ago before we left the yard?

I told my sister I had to lay the phone down a minute to clean up after him. I placed the phone on the road pavement and squatted down on my knees to scoop poop. The leash was still around my right wrist. While starting to scoop poop, I felt Bo pulling on my right wrist, toward my neighbor’s yard. I looked to my right and there in the brown mulch surrounding one of his trees was a brown calico cat that blended in almost perfectly with the mulch. Almost. But Bo saw him. Bo suddenly bolted, and with the leash attached to my right wrist he suddenly jerked me off my knees to the pavement, landing on the right side of my chest.

While I am stretched out in the road, I hear a car coming around the curve. Great. I’m on my side in the road and the phone is on the pavement to my left. If only the phone is about to get smashed by the oncoming car that will be great. I just hope he doesn’t hit me.

Fortunately the driver saw me and stopped. I recovered the phone, got up, and walked on. My chest is a little sore and hurts a little when I cough, but I don’t think I broke a rib. We went on around the curve and Bo spotted the cat again, once more in the next tree bed around the curve. Fortunately I was on my feet and could stop another rush at the cat.

Now I ask you – am I justified in beating the dog tonight?


Now, in his younger years, Dad would not have asked permission of any sort.  What crazy stranglehold does this dog  have on Dad?  Sadly, my mother’s take on it came minutes later via Dad’s second email:


Doris just said, “The only thing worse would have been if Bo got away.”

HELLO – How about if the car had flattened me? Would that maybe have been worse than Bo getting away?


It is so sad to see a parent start to slip away, to become a shell of the person they once were.  Dad, I promise when I select your assisted living home, it will be the best money can buy.

A Good Friday

Since having children, we have usually taken advantage of Good Friday to spend time with our children doing some sort of family activity, dependent upon Joel’s schedule as to whether it is local or a day trip.  Today, as we drove several counties away with the kids for a day of fun, we reminisced about our first Good Friday together.

Shortly before Joel and I were introduced on a blind date, Joel purchased a 1960’s era basement rancher house.  He allowed the widow from he purchased it to live there even after he closed while she finished a new home in another state.  And, then we met.  Fast forward through our quick engagement, and it became financially practical for me to move into the house while he continued to live in one of his father’s rental properties.  After becoming engaged and the widow simultaneously vacating, it was time for me to move in.  Which, in a stroke of good fortune, or so I thought, the timing coincided perfectly with accomplishing this on Good Friday since my office was closed for the holiday.   The house needed interior painting, and I sprung my plan for painting and moving on Joel.

“But, its Good Friday!” said Joel.  Exactly!  “Yes, it’s a good Friday to do all this since I am off work and we have a long weekend.”  Joel sputtered again about it being a religious holiday without articulating exactly how that prevented the plans from going forward.  As envisioned, I moved in that weekend, including painting the living room on Friday.

Now all these years later, when thinking back with humor to our initial differing views of how to spend the holiday, Joel said as we drove today, “Oh, yes.  That was when you moved into my house.”  What?  Whose house?  Not your house, it became my house that day and four months later it became our house, right?  Laughingly, Joel retreated a little.  What’s that saying about what is yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine?  Um-hum.  So many years of marriage, so little progress it seems.  *wink*

And, so early this morning we found ourselves driving to Dollywood because the kids requested that as our family activity.  Particularly, Sarah Grace is finally tall enough to ride all of the big rollercoasters (except for the Wild Eagle), and Noah was eager to escort her onto all of them, encourage her, and protect her as a loving big brother.  The two of them almost, but not quite, relegated me to the un-cool parental chaperone in the seat behind them on all of the coasters.

It is fair to say that if given the choice between randomly painting some room of our house today versus going to a theme park, Joel would pick painting.  But, parental love and duty ushered us into the sports utility vehicle and into a theme park where the high was forty-two degrees, and the rain began only an hour after arriving.  The rain started as a mist, became a steady drizzle, and by suppertime was relentlessly soaking.

Joel does not “do” roller coasters.  He becomes green on them.  And, Samuel refuses to ride roller coasters because he is a child trapped in a little old man’s body who worries about safety, and will not relinquish control long enough to learn to love that fluttery feeling in his stomach.

Consequently, I am the Coaster Mom.  And, let me assure you, you have never really lived until you ride EVERY. SINGLE. COASTER. IN. THE. COLD. POURING. RAIN.  (The Wild Eagle was the Wet Eagle today.)  As we whizzed upside down and through corkscrews, on state of the art metal tracks, and on old teeth-rattling wooden tracks, the freezing rain stung our cheeks like tiny icy needles horizontally attacking our faces.  Our breath, when we could actually catch it between death-defying drops, visibly hovered in front of our noses and mouths.

We were unprepared for poor weather, other than our hoodies.  And, yet, we all had a wonderful day.  Joel and Samuel spent time watching the blacksmith make tools and decorative implements over the hot fire or exploring wildlife exhibits, while Noah, Sarah Grace and I tackled the bigger rides.  In the end, the rain did not dampen our fun.  We made a lot of memories, laughed at each other’s soggy and bedraggled appearances, and all climbed into bed tonight sweetly tired.  A Good Friday, indeed.


Joel’s 48th birthday was Monday. As a couple, we generally don’t exchange gifts–not for birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries. We do, however, usually exchange cards.

(Okay, confession time here: Joel called me from Walgreen’s the night before Valentine’s where he was buying the kids’ cards for their classmates and asked if we needed anything else. Oh no. It dawned on me I had not bought him a card and the next day was Valentine’s. So, I said, “Um, well, I haven’t bought you a card, YET. Really, I was going to.” He laughed and said, “You want me to buy my own card for myself?” Well, if you put it that way, yes. Love you!)

Both of us like the humorous cards better than the sappy, hearts and flowers cards. Funny is good, and a zinger or two is even better. This year, I was exceptionally pleased with my birthday card selection. But, more on that shortly.

Anyone who knows Joel well knows that he loves finding a bargain. Our basement is full of one man’s treasures, formerly another man’s junk. Garage sales. Going out of business sales. Mark downs. Flea markets. If I am guilty of owning too many purses and shoes (and really, is there even such a thing to be guilty of??), then Joel is condemned for never passing a yard sale without finding the next must-have item.

As a newly engaged couple, and in light of our quick romance and engagement, I slowly began to comprehend Joel’s compulsive impulsive inability to resist the siren song of a sale. We bought bedroom furniture together for our future home (yes, on sale), but we needed a mattress. No rush, or so I thought, since we had months to go before being married.

One weekend while in Knoxville seeing my parents, we climbed into the back seat of Mom and Dad’s car to go out to eat. A few minutes into the drive, Joel gleefully exclaimed that he had forgotten to tell me that he had bought a mattress. What? He had also forgotten to tell me he was even shopping for a mattress! Yes, he went on to say, he stumbled across a mattress outlet, became enamored of a mattress and bought it. Sputtering, I asked if it crossed his mind that a mattress purchase should have been made together, you know, so I could inspect it, lie down upon it, and assess it for comfort. Bewildered at my objection, Joel blurted out, “But, it was a GOOD DEAL! It was on sale!” My parents exchanged awkward glances with each other in the front as I fumed and in a solemn tone said, “But it is not a good deal if I do not like it.” Joel bleakly stared out the car window and softly said “oh!” as the implications of impending married life settled about him.

Now, almost seventeen years of marriage later, we still have that mattress, although now it is on our daughter’s bed. I did like it. I have not liked all of his purchases and our basement is the graveyard for many of the trinkets he has bought. (He vehemently denies that the basement has anything other than priceless finds in it.)

I have used his penchant for bargains to my advantage a time or two. But, none better than this week. As I stood in Walgreen’s looking for a birthday card, I found myself involuntarily laughing out loud in the aisle. I found it. The perfect card. The front had a picture of a donkey and a price tag that dangled from the card saying:

photo (1)

And inside, it said:


Joel loved the card. He rolled with laughter. He took it with him to a men’s breakfast to show to his buddies. As he pulled it out of his coat, he told his friends that when he opened it, he did not let me see him crying tears of happiness as he knew I finally truly understood him.

Now that is a good, no–a great deal if you ask me.

Aunt Loser Goes to D.C.

According to Noah, whenever Aunt Cyndi travels with us, its just like adding another kid to the trip. And, you know what? He’s right! The kids’ affectionate nickname for her is Aunt Loser. On a prior vacation, after playing games together and sweet teasing between her and them as to who would win, the kids triumphed and she became Aunt Loser forevermore.

We took our kids and Aunt Cyndi to Washington, D.C. for Spring Break. Only minutes into our road trip, and from the far back row of the Suburban wedged among the suitcases encroaching from the trunk, she taught them the following joke:

“Do you know what a fart is? It’s a turd honking to get out.”  This met with raucous laughter from our three. (Footnote:  Recall the trip last fall where she taught them the term “craptastic”.  That has haunted us for months.)

Swell. Really swell. Insert parental eye-roll here. How many weeks, or worse, months will we hear that joke repeated? I lamely attempted to recall that joke in an email to family, but I didn’t get it right. Cyndi corrected me, to which I replied, “Pardon moi.” Sheesh. I’m not current on the scatological humor I guess.

Mockingly exasperated at her, I said, “CYNDI! If you don’t behave on this trip then we will lash you to the roof for the rest of the trip.” Score one for Mom! Even rowdier laughter from the kids. And, then for the rest of the trip we teased her a lot about stopping to buy bungee cords if necessary. She explained to the kids that as their Aunt it was her duty to teach them all sorts of irrelevant things in life.

From what I could observe, she also believed it was her duty to keep them stirred up and laughing at bedtime, and to disrupt bedtime as long as possible. She and the kids had a running routine that centered around whether or not she could creep in on her hands and knees after they were tucked in and scare them. Every night she tried, and every night they erupted into giggles when they caught her. But, one night after I had warned them AND her that it was way too late to keep on with such silliness, I went into my bedroom, and when I came out there she stood with her nose poked into the tiny crack between the door and jamb. CYNDI! THAT IS ENOUGH! She jumped like a sprung Jack in the Box and we both laughed that instead of her scaring them, I scared her! Finally, toward the end of the week, she began hiding in their bedroom closet and successfully scared them witless as she sprang from the closet in their darkened room. Surely there’s no connection between that and their reluctance to turn out their lights at home now?

Cyndi and Sarah Grace were our Metro navigators.  Our hotel offered a free shuttle to and from the Metro, and all we had to do was call them when our train passed a certain stop, which Cyndi heard as the Boston Commons stop. (Which if we were in Boston, would be logical.  Not so much in D.C. though.)  However, Cyndi couldn’t find Boston Commons on any of the four Metro lines, and fretted silently the first day.  As we rode the Metro back toward our hotel, she confessed she couldn’t find any such stop on the map.  Just then, we whooshed into the next station and “Ballston” whizzed by.  Sarcastically, with one eyebrow cocked, I asked, “Would that be Ballston perhaps?”  Relief flooded her face even as she started laughing.  She said, “Yes! How embarrassing!”  To which I mocked her with, “Yes, I’m embarrassed FOR you!”

As our trip progressed from one historical site to another—Monticello, Ash Lawn, Ford’s Theatre, Arlington Cemetery, and all through D.C., and finally Mt. Vernon, Noah quipped that this was the Dead President’s vacation. Cyndi, despite now working for the University, was not a scholarly sort in her younger years, and a trip full of history would have tortured her. But, she seemed to enjoy this trip.  Mostly.  Except for the First Ladies’ Dress exhibit in the Smithsonian American History Museum. There, her enthusiasm lagged. Cyndi and I are opposite in many ways including that as much as I love frou frou, she dislikes it equally as much. While Sarah Grace sought a picture in front of each and every dress (a child after my own heart!), I spied Cyndi texting inside the exhibit and she confessed to the following text with her friend:

    Cyndi:  Annnnnd now we are looking at dresses worn by First Ladies. Can we go back to the space museum?

   Friend:  Oh lord.  Cyndi is tugging at her sister’s shirt saying can we gooooooo? Lol

   Cyndi:  Pretty much!  My niece is loving it though.  But how much longer?

   Friend:  That makes me laugh and feel sorry for you at the same time.

We love Cyndi despite, or perhaps because of,  her craziness.  Cyndi is a winner in our eyes.  Even if she is Aunt Loser.

Leading By Example

If you have read many of my rambling posts, or even if only just a post or two, you know that my Mother is often a humorous subject—and there could be more to come!  What you don’t know is that when I read them to her word for word before posting, she giggles good naturedly and urges me to post them, and she never once has asked to change even one word of what I have written.  But, since so many of my writings lovingly tease her, the time has come for a compliment.

People ask me frequently if twins run in our family.  “Well, they do now”, I say.  And, sometimes I say yes and tell them truthfully that my grandmother was a twin, she is believed to have lost a set of twins herself, and her sibling had a set of twins.  And, sometimes, I tell them that and how we needed help.

Joel and I miscarried five times before seeking help.  Two of those five losses were ectopic, and one of those ruptured requiring emergency surgery.  Ultimately, we sought evaluation and testing with specialists because of an inability to carry to term, and then an inability to even conceive after the fifth loss.   Five long years and multiple surgeries passed by.  (And, eventually we would have a sixth loss after Joel‘s vasectomy.  A darkly humorous story for another day.)

But, joyfully, our second attempt at in -vitro fertilization resulted in a twin pregnancy.  Despite the remote possibility of a multiple pregnancy, we did not expect it.  And, during a routine ultrasound when no one had said anything to us about more than one, I asked matter-of-factly, “So, it is just one?”  The doctor replied equally matter-of-factly, “Oh no, its two.  Here look.”  Joel and I were both taken aback.  Delighted, but shocked.  Joel just about fell off the stool where he was seated next to my head.

But, only weeks into the pregnancy, I awoke one Sunday morning to the unmistakable and dreaded spotting.  I had been down this road before, and with a heavy heart I called the doctor and went in early that morning for an ultrasound.  Since it was Sunday, Joel, as pastor, went to church and carried on.  We both knew that science could do many things to help one become pregnant, and conversely medicine could do very little to keep us pregnant at this early stage.  After all, we had been there, done that, and gotten the hospital i.d. bracelet several times.

Mom and Dad drove up from Knoxville, and after my early morning appointment, we sat glumly in the Krystal’s restaurant located on the corner of the intersection within view of the medical center where I had just been.  Only time would tell whether we would lose one or both of the babies.  Mom and Dad tried to encourage me as best they could, but we all knew that lives hung in the balance.

Miraculously and unexplainably, weeks turned into months.  More quickly than singleton first timers, I needed maternity clothes since I was showing larger and earlier. I am a shortwaisted  5’3’’, and there was only so much room for two in there!  The nearest maternity store was in Knoxville, and I drove there to meet Mom in the mall.

We walked into Motherhood Maternity…about five-hundred square feet of clothing and maternity accessories covered every nook and cranny of the store and assaulted my fragile senses.  Within minutes of entering this foreign world, and one which I never had any reason to enter before, and utterly overwhelmed by selecting even the first garment to try on, I began to cry.  Not dainty moist eyes, nor merely a few leaky tears, or a stray salty water drop.  No, I began uncontrollably sobbing and the more I wanted to stop, the more I continued to cry.  Waterworks, blubbering, ugly cry….that and more.  Tears washed mascara over my cheeks and dropped onto my blouse.  I was afraid to try on actual maternity clothes because I had never made it to the point of needing them, and I did not equate being pregnant with actually becoming a mother.  Here in bold letters hung MOTHERHOOD over my head above the doorway, while simultaneously hanging emotionally over my heart.  If I bought clothes, then I would have visible reminders hanging in the closet if we miscarried again.  My body had crossed into a developmental stage before my mind caught up. 

The saleslady graciously retreated and said something along the lines of she would give us a few minutes.  But, I couldn’t breathe or think straight and Mom lovingly pulled me out of the store “for some fresh air”.  We sat on a bench smack in the middle of the hallway in West Town Mall while Mom encouraged me to let it all out. 

Mom is a retired surgical nurse.  She never minded blood, guts, or vomit, but strangely if you came at her with a little mucus she couldn’t stand it! Just try handing her one little damp Kleenex and she would lose it and run away.  But, there she sat  wiping snot bubbles as they blew from my nostrils without flinching.  She patted my back….like I was five instead of my actual thirty-five.  Mom employed a  delicate mixture of sympathy, strength, encouragement, humor, and practical bluntness.  She expressed confidence and faith that we would make it this time, dried my tears as I hyperventilated in the middle of the mall, and finally plainly said I couldn’t go around naked and if I didn’t buy some clothes then that that would be a looming possibility.  She calmed my nerves and instilled the courage to buck up and keep going.  She talked me off the bench and back into the store.

So, with much less mascara on my eyes, and black streaks still on my cheeks, Mom gently ushered me into the store for the second time.  As I began to try on clothes, the saleslady gave me a contoured pillow to place under the garments to simulate advanced months of pregnancy.  We laughed as they all seemed impossibly large, and there was no way I would ever need that sized clothing.  Shows what we knew!  By the end of the pregnancy, I exceeded those pillows!  I was so round that I had my own zip code. 

And, that is how our twin boys joined our family.  Mom did some of her best mothering that day.  She bore my pain but masked her own fears, selflessly wiped my snotty nose, and motivated me to buck up and persevere.  Mothering is hard, and I learned my first early lesson in becoming a mother that day.  Thank you, Mom.


Happy New Year!  And, more importantly, Happy 71st Birthday to my Dad.

Growing up, whenever we had some bright idea of which Dad was skeptical, he would simultaneously exhale and murmur, “Hmmm” in a softly trailing off disapproving tone.  Not enough to exactly stop us from our endeavors, but just enough to convey his concern and to plant a subliminal seed of doubt in our minds.  Which usually meant personal injury for me when I ignored it.

In law school when I signed up to play intramural flag football for our team, The Tortfeasors, Dad uttered his signature hmmmm, and even added, “I wish you wouldn’t do that.  I have seen lots of injuries from that.”  Dismissively, I said, “Oh, Dad, I’ll be fine.” And I was perfectly fine right up until the last game when the referee stepped in front of me and the collision knocked me backwards and the back of my head smacked the hard sod.  The worst injury inflicted, however, was the unspoken “I told you so” in conversation with Dad as he diagnosed a probable minor concussion and major bruise to my ego.

This past Sunday after church we went with friends and their children to Beech Mountain for sledding.  While driving up the mountain, Joel and I discussed that I would not sled because the last time I attempted sledding (two or three years ago), I ended up in the emergency room for a CT Scan of my neck after a particularly frightening spill.  So, just to be safe I would just watch.  We laughed about my accident prone nature, and how our current plan was the safest.  Positively idiot proof.

Coincidentally, Dad called just then.  “What are you guys doing today?”  “Oh, we are taking the kids to Beech Mountain for free sledding.”  And then I heard it.  A barely perceptible hmmmm.  I ignored it.  After all, I would not be sledding.  The kids would be sledding and on a reportedly tiny hill at that.   But, Dad’s silence was conspicuously loud and filled with volumes of unspoken worries about sledding in general—-which I recognized all too well from years of growing up with a doctor and a nurse for parents. As children and teens, my sister and I were unwillingly well informed about many “dangerous” activities and the horrible results from the same, usually preceded by “You haven’t seen what we’ve seen in the emergency room….” and then followed by an eye roll from us.  Except that this time, Dad said nothing more except reluctantly, “Well, have fun.”

We arrived at the top of the mountain.  Bright blue cloudless skies wrapped around the mountaintop.  Tree branches glistened with thick layers of ice.  It was extremely cold—in the teens —and slightly windy, and the sledding hills covered in deep white snow beckoned.  Post card perfect!  The kids ran up the hill with their sleds while Joel and I walked to the observation and landing area at the bottom of the hill.

I waved enthusiastically to the kids.  Have fun! Yes, I see you! SPLAT.  Now you see me, now you don’t!  I’m up, no I’m down!  I disappeared from Joel’s line of sight, and bewildered he turned and found me on the ground at his feet.

We had not been there even five minutes.  Literally one minute I was upright and the next I fell sideways onto my outstretched left arm.  I took a very hard fall onto packed snow and ice, and I knew instantly that I was injured. But, I popped up quickly from sheer embarrassment at falling in front of the crowd.  You know, in the I -meant -to -do -that and never-let-‘em-see-you-sweat type of way with some nervous laughter as I stood up and shook off the snow and ice.  Quietly, I said to Joel, “I think I really hurt my arm.”

We came home several hours later (after a truly fun day and during which the extreme cold helped somewhat numb the pain) and I went to the emergency room to confirm what I already suspected.  I fractured my radial head and stunned my ulnar nerve.  I am now casted and medicated and will have more x-rays in two weeks.  Not to be defeated though, I typed this post one handed. Take that Beech Mountain!

I was not on a sled, I was merely near a sled. So for now, the final score is:  Sledding 2; Suzy 0.  Dang, I hate it when Dad is right.

Christmas 2012 and Beech Mtn 093             Christmas 2012 and Beech Mtn 141

Christmas Spirit: I’ll Have Another

Merry Christmas!  Our favorite Christmas movie, “A Christmas Story”, is playing on a 24/7 marathon loop. We opened the presents and snuggled on the couch to watch the movie this morning.  And, now as a mother of twin boys each with Red Ryder BB guns, the phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” resonates more deeply.  And today as we ate Christmas lunch at Shoney’s—due to poor planning and no grocery shopping before we traveled out of town for Joel’s family reunion, and after Googling what restaurants were open on Christmas Day—, I laughed at the realities of our Christmas versus the idealized version in my head….fire roaring, no children fussing with each other, and all of us in matching pajamas drinking eggnog and opening gifts. Instead, sitting in Shoney’s with my parents, husband ,children, sister and her partner, all of us wedged into seats among the predominantly elderly buffet throng, Noah astutely observed that it was Seniors’ Day in Shoney’s.  (We saw Christmas Future, and it wasn’t pretty.)

Recently during the children’s portion of our worship service, called The Feeding of the Lambs, one of our church members, Jan, explained that while growing up she watched the Bing Crosby Christmas special and she longed to be part of that beautiful family, with perfect music being sung and played, and snowflakes falling gently outside the window.  Instead, in Jan’s house, her rambunctious cousins threw a cherry bomb into the fireplace which exploded soot all over the family, and their orange cat, Maynard, climbed the Christmas tree and toppled it over breaking the ornaments.  To top it off, the Christmas ham that her mother baked was too large for their modest refrigerator so they placed it in a cooler on the back porch, only to find the next morning that the dogs had eaten it.  Jan wondered when they would ever have a Bing Crosby Christmas. Some time later, she figured out that the Bing Crosby Christmas was fake….all fake! The music was pre-recorded, the kids weren’t Mr. Crosby’s, and the snowflakes were tiny pieces of paper being dropped from the ceiling of a studio set.  In the end, Christmas wasn’t about the illusion of everything being just so, it was about her family’s love and Christ’s birthday.

In our family growing up, we loved eggnog.  Or at least, my father, sister, and I did. Mom, not so much.   Weigel’s eggnog is and will always be the only brand for me, and we always looked forward to the holiday season so that we could run to the Weigel’s near our house to buy the half-gallon cartons.  Mmmmm.   A family tradition. But, my fond memory is also tempered by the shattered reality that I was once inadvertently an eighth-grade drunk.

My paternal grandparents, Fletcher and Hazel Sweet, took me to a housewarming party one Christmas season way out in the country somewhere to see an 1800’s era house that their friends bought and refurbished, and which was filled with antiques and era-appropriate holiday décor.  My tee-totaler grandparents left me on my own near the punchbowl brimming with eggnog.  Dainty cup after dainty cup I drank it.   Oh, so sweet and creamy, thick but just shy of clogging my throat, and oddly it had a teensy bit of a strange aftertaste….not quite medicinal, not quite bitter, but not purely eggnog either.  This certainly wasn’t the Weigel’s eggnog I was used to, but it was pretty good.  And, if a little was good, then a lot was better.  Bottoms up!

Except that my head began to hurt and my stomach fluttered.  I felt woozy.  Time and space swirled.  Granddaddy and Grandma did not know that I had single-handedly consumed enough to snocker an adult.  On the way home, I laid down in the back seat of their car all the way home.  They returned me to my parents, and I stumbled in and laid down on the couch in the family room, “drunk as a skunk” according to my Mother, where I promptly fell asleep in an eggnog induced stupor.

I’m pretty sure a Bing Crosby Christmas would not include a plastered thirteen year-old eggnog addict.  Our neighbors have invited us for dinner tonight (thank goodness, I can’t bear Shoney’s again), and are serving eggnog.  Straight eggnog, I hope.

Nudge, Nudge (A guest blog by my sister, Cyndi Sweet)

If you have played any games on Facebook, your iPad, iPhone, or any other technology that allows you to play games like Words with Friends or Dice with Buddies, you are probably aware of the “nudge” button that allows you to prompt friends to take their turn in the game. The nudge button can be a fun and simple way to remind your opponent it is their turn to play. And, really, who hasn’t been sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to be seen and killed a little time playing games on their phone? If you are all caught up on your games and it has been a day or so since your friends took their turn, the nudge button is a perfect way to communicate to someone, “Hey…I’m bored and want to play, take your turn!” On the flip side, the nudge button can be your worst nightmare. I tend to nudge someone only if a reasonable amount of time has passed. Generally, if it has been 48 hours or less, I won’t nudge you. I figure you are busy and you’ll take your turn soon. However, once we pass 48 hours, I’m more likely to utilize the nudge button.

My sister, Suzy (sorry…she is known as Suzanne, but will always be Suzy to me) has a built-in nudge button of her own. It’s called  Type A personality. She knows what she needs to do, sets an agenda, and gets it done. If you are involved in the plan, you better get on board or get off the tracks. And, as a mom of three (ages 9, 9, and 7), the wife of a Pastor, with a very successful career in law, and heavily involved in her community as a volunteer board member in organizations. I’d say her Type A personality and ability to nudge people in the right direction are needed and useful. I get lost just trying to keep up with plans for myself…I can’t imagine trying to coordinate her life!

Let’s have a look at how Suzy’s nudge button works:

Grad School
For many years, my family encouraged me to pursue a Master’s degree. For equally as many years, I tried to avoid pursuing a Master’s degree. I never really enjoyed school and struggled at times, so when I finished my undergraduate degree, at the graduation ceremony, I ran across the stage, grabbed my degree, and kept running! I’m pretty sure I barely stopped on the stage for the required “Grip and Grin” photo with the President. I wasn’t really sure if he was going to reach for my hand or for my degree. I was heard yelling “I’m never going baaaaaaack to school again!” all the way back to my seat. But, years later, I started to realize that a Master’s degree was probably a smart thing to do, but fear held me back. Suzy began to nudge. “Hey…have you started grad school yet? When are you starting? What are you going to take?” “You can do it. Grad school is very different from undergrad. You have no reason to be afraid. You’re older and wiser now. You CAN do it!” (And, now that I have started grad school) “Hey…what are you taking next semester?” “Have you registered yet?” “When will you finish?” She continues to gently nudge me from time to time, prompting me to keep going and not give up. I have come to appreciate the nudges that come in the form of encouragement and support.

For many years now,Sharon and I have enjoyed vacationing with Suzy, Joel, the kids, and mom and dad. We usually go to the beach for a week in the summer, but we also take other trips throughout the year as our schedules allow. I know when I get a phone call that starts with “Hey, I’m considering a trip to (insert location here) and was thinking that we could (insert activity here)….”, that it’s going to be a great idea and lots of fun. I also know I need to clear my schedule to help firm up plans because a plan has been set in motion. And, (remember from above) once a Suzy plan is in motion, you better get in motion too.  After the initial proposal is made, nudges to not delay and make a decision follow.  “Hey…did you go online and look at the activity? What did you think? Can you go on X dates?” And, if I haven’t firmed up plans by the next day, the nudges continue. “Hey…are you in? If so, I’m going to call and book it right now.” I’m thankful for these nudges as well because the end result is always something fun, different, and filled with precious time with my family and Sharon.

Lest you think I’m the only being nudged, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Suzy recently shared with me that she had managed to irritate her legal assistant, Helen, with electronic nudges. Suzy has a system in her legal work that she created and refers to as PFS. Now, remember, she has a Type A personality. In her words, “I’m organized! Got a problem with that?” PFS stands for Print, File, Save. When she sends a document or email that is pertinent to a case she is working on, she forwards the document or correspondence to Helen with the subject line “PFS”. PFS means print the document or correspondence, save an electronic copy, and place a hard copy in the case file. Suzy was recently at a conference where she had a little extra time in her schedule.  She utilized her extra time to review her sent email box and realized she had “a few” emails that needed to be PFS’d. She began to forward them to Helen with the subject line “PFS”. One after the other. Over 200 electronic nudges to print, file, and save. Yes, you read that right…over 200! The emails dated back to July! Suzy says they dated back to mid-August, but Helen said the truth of the matter was that there were some dating back to July. These electronic nudges were in addition to about a ream and a half of already printed PFS documents. Suzy had fallen behind in her own system and ended up nudging poor Helen to the point of exasperation, which resulted in a “I’m sorry I fell behind in my own system…please enjoy these flowers to make up for it” flower delivery to Helen. I think Suzy realized Print, File, Save was about to become Helen’s version of Please Find Someone else! It’s my understanding that the flowers were received graciously.

So, dear readers, I encourage you to listen to the nudges in your life. Sometimes they come from friends. Sometimes they come from family. Sometimes they come from God. I can promise you this…if you ignore the first nudge, there will be second. And a third. And so on until you acknowledge them. I’m thankful for a sister who has continued to nudge me through life by way of encouragement, support, love, and lots of fun trips. But, also remember, that nudges from Suzy follow a pattern of nudge….nudge….NUDGE! Remember, get on board or get off the tracks. The light at the end of the tunnel will not be an extended time for you to make a decision. It will be the headlight of the Suzy Plan-Making train!

Honey, I Killed The Cat

For our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Joel adapted Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem to commemorate each year of our marriage, which I have partially excerpted below:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways……One wall papering job (our first year of marriage which almost became our only year of marriage after undertaking that project together)….Four moves…..Eight cats…..Ten surgeries….Thirteen times daily turning the lights off (Joel‘s pet peeve about me leaving all the lights on)…..Fourteen Christmases, and Fifteen Wonderful Years of Marriage and three beautiful children.”

Of those entries, eight cats is perhaps the most demonstrable evidence of Joel’s good nature and true love. He does not love cats. Heck, he doesn’t even like cats. But, when we were dating, he hid that fact when I introduced him to my two Persian cats, Sophie and Othello. Oh, kitty, kitty he said as he gingerly patted their heads and goofily grinned. Over all these years Joel has been extremely accommodating and good-natured as a procession of cats has come and gone. And, so far he has only killed two of them. Accidentally, he says.

One Autumn evening a regal silver cat turned up on our back porch—well, actually, he stalked Joel in the darkness and followed him home as Joel walked our poodle— with glistening gun-metal gray fur and Coke-bottle green eyes, and mewed pitifully as he stared wistfully through our glass back porch door. One ear bore the mark of battle with a notch missing from it. I fed him, and of course, once you feed a cat, it becomes yours. Sterling was sweet and affectionate, and favored me over everyone else. Of all my cats, Sterling was one of my favorites.

That same winter, mere months later, Joel called me as I drove home through winter’s darkness and haltingly blurted out, “I killed the cat. I ran over him in the garage and the kids were in the car when I did it. And now they are all crying.” Five minutes later I arrived home, raised the garage door centered within the shadowy outline of the house against the starless night sky, and gazed into a brightly lit diorama vignette reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Except for the macabre subject and bad lighting. And copious tears. There stood Joel and all three children still huddled in a semi-circle sorrowfully looking down upon an obviously dead cat with blown pupils and tongue lolling out to one side. The fluorescent overhead lighting cast a greenish pall over the scene, and I felt green in my stomach.

Okay, everyone. Let’s go inside and move away from the body. I ushered the crying crew into the house and began triage to calm each person, including despairing Joel. Joel had also called my father, a doctor, who was on his way despite the absurd pointlessness of a house-call. Sure enough, Dad arrived a few minutes later and officially called the time of death. Inside, the children were in various states of mourning: Noah, our animal lover, sobbed. Sarah Grace was tearful, but settling down. And, Samuel, our future doctor, plotted how to conduct an autopsy on the goo drooling out of Sterling’s mouth onto the polished concrete floor. In between consoling his brother, sister, and father, I issued stern warnings to Samuel, “Don’t you dare touch that fluid! Stay in this house!” Dad and Joel dug a grave in the black coldness.

Not long after that, one night at our supper table, the kids were unsettled and wild. Milk was spilled. Joel was angry. I intervened with a general observation that accidents happen and we all need forgiveness. To which Noah commented sarcastically, “Yeah. Let’s not forget who killed the cat, Dad.” And, with our humor regained and a sad event now ruefully funny, we all moved past the night that Daddy killed the cat.

Until the next cat died on Joel’s watch. Which is a story for another day.

“M” Is For Superhero

All superheroes wear a signature costume and color uniquely theirs and instantly recognizable to the citizens they are charged with protecting.  Superman wears red and blue, Batman wears black and yellow, and The Green Lantern wears, well, green obviously.  But my favorite superhero wears soft pink velour.

During my second year in law-school, my roommate and I lived in a two-story townhouse in the back of the complex. Our complex was quiet and private and located only one mile from my parents’ house.  Our back concrete patio extended into a small yard bordered by a forest, and tall brick walls separated our patio from the neighbors on each side.

When you entered from the front door, you stood in our den and could walk straight ahead into our dining room, and then immediately turn left into our kitchen.  Our dining room had double sliding glass doors that opened onto the patio, covered by a curtain that opened and closed by a pulley on a drapery rod, with a broken off broom-stick wedged in the bottom of the doorsill.  But, the curtain only partially covered the sliding glass doors because the pulley hung up so that a quarter-inch gap of glass peeked out past the edge of the curtain.

Our kitchen also opened onto the back patio by a Dutch split door with a full window in the upper half of the door decorated with diamond patterned lattice strips.  We never hung a curtain over that window.   The resulting effect was that at night, we could not see outside, but we were illuminated inside to anyone who might be outside looking into the kitchen.  And, although the kitchen had a phone jack, we never bought a phone for the downstairs.  Or at least not until while studying in early December for our fall semester finals when my roommate spontaneously declared she was going to Wal-Mart to buy a phone.  She did and that same night we installed the portable phone in the kitchen.  Which turned out to be a fortunate impetuous decision.

The next night I stayed home to study while my roommate went to the library.  Shortly before 7 p.m., and with the winter night’s inky darkness blanketing the world, I ambled downstairs and into the kitchen to make supper.  As I stood at the microwave mindlessly watching the Lean Cuisine rotating around and around, I heard a loud and unmistakable rattling of the sliding glass doors.  It wasn’t wind.  It wasn’t an earthquake.  And, it grew louder and more intense.  Instantly fearful for who was outside and working on being inside with me, I yanked the portable phone off its base.   I stood rigid in the only spot where I couldn’t be seen between the kitchen and dining room…leaning against the broadside of the refrigerator just inside the doorway between the two rooms.

The menacing jiggling continued.  Instinctively I called….Dad.  Dad has guns.  Except that I miscalculated Dad’s availability.  Mom, who was in bed recovering from cervical discectomy surgery with strict instructions to lie flat and still, answered.  Dad was at the university taking his weekly Spanish course.  I blurted out that someone was attempting to break into my townhouse and Mom yelled, “Call 911!” Right. I should have thought of that.

I called 911.  Whoever was outside that door was single-mindedly determined.  As the dispatcher collected the necessary information, I noticed my two Persian cats’ reaction to the impending threat, both of whom were in the dining room facing the glass doors.  Fergie, my mentally disabled orange cat, bowed up in a picture-perfect pose of a Halloween cat….every hair standing on end, with her gums drawn back showing every fang.  Emma, the grouchy fat silver cat, cowered with fear and urinated on herself and the carpet.  As if I didn’t have enough to think about, I found myself oddly diverted mentally cursing the mess I would have to clean up, all while answering the 911 operator’s questions.  The intruder’s efforts continued without ceasing.

In the distance I heard a faintly strange noise.   waaaaannnhhhhh.  It grew louder, longer, and closer.  wwwaannnhhhhhhh.  And, then it was right outside my townhouse! WAAAAAANNNNNHHHHHHHH.  My mother’s car horn!  My mother was speeding through the complex flat-out laying on her horn.  BAM! BAM! BAM!  The iron knocker on my front door slammed into the door three times, and I joyfully told the 911 dispatcher my mother had arrived.  The shaking glass doors stopped precisely and simultaneously with my mother’s horn blaring in the parking lot.  The 911 operator warned me not to open the front door, but I KNEW, KNEW in my heart who it was.

I flung open the front door and my red-headed mother burst in wild-eyed and wild-haired wearing her full-length bubblegum pink velour zip-up house-robe.  My mother, who never even walks to the mailbox without coiffed hair and perfectly applied lipstick, paced around makeup-less in my den, her meadow-green eyes darting around, gesturing excitedly, and threatening all sorts of  unspeakable harm to the unknown criminal.  I no longer feared for my safety, but I feared for the intruder’s safety if Mom got her hands on him.

The police arrived several minutes later, and investigated.  The sliding glass doors were found popped upward and outward from the track, a condition which rendered the broken broomstick ineffective as a safety mechanism.  My mother’s quick thinking prevented the intruder from actually entering the townhouse, and from perpetrating harm upon me.  My mother rescued me.

The police left.  I hugged and kissed Mom, and I began the process of calming Mom, and cleaning up the cat and the carpet.  I think I’ll buy Mom a pink velour robe this Christmas.  Wonder if I can find one with a large “M” embroidered on the front?