Wednesday, December 23, 2009

For Wendell and Jen

This one will not make you cry.

One of the cool things about living in a major metropolitan area is the shopping.  And there are few things I like better than a shopping coup.  (A coup is a brilliant, highly successful act. A shopping coup [pronounced coo] is when you get a killer deal on something, especially if it's a Fossil purse or Born shoes).  Before the days of Internet deals, we shopped old school: grabbed a girlfriend, loaded up the kids (and all accompanying paraphernalia, which was a lot), and made the most of the precious time we had while no one was screaming to be fed or changed.  The babies, that is.

Because I was a first time mom and didn't know any better, I asked my friend J if she would like to go shopping at a VERY popular outlet store about 10 miles away.  Because she was also a first time mom, J agreed.  We loaded up our babies, mine was about 3 months old, hers was even younger, and off we went. 

Thinking back on those days, I have no idea how I had the energy to be a mom.  When we got to the store, we had to grab the infant seat, the blankets, the diaper bag, the purse, the car keys, and, hopefully, the infant.  Once we physically made it into the store, there was the grabbing a cart, situating the infant seat in the cart, finding a place for the diaper bag, arranging the blankets so that the child did not get a chill but was still protected from the germs that must thrive in an outlet store, putting the purse out of reach of a passerby, and then going into full-on panic because you forgot where you put the car keys.  So, you undid the blankets, rummaged through your purse, took everything out of the diaper bag, looked under the baby for the car keys and were just about ready to find a phone to call the spouse (before cell phones as well) and then remembered the car keys were exactly where you put them so that you would remember them when it was time to leave.  They were in your pocket the whole time.

After rearranging the child, the blankets, the diaper bag, and the purse, we were ready to take on the outlet store. We found some amazing deals.  We found girl clothes.  We found boy clothes.  We found mommy clothes.  We found dishtowels.  We found chocolate covered almonds.  And then, in the most amazing shopping coup ever, we found the holy grail of great Christmas presents: A Little Tykes sled.  And one of the reasons it was so amazing is that this was May.  I had visions of strapping Spencer into that sled and his daddy pulling him through the beautiful, fluffy snow in our backyard while I made hot chocolate and watched adoringly from the back door.  (Did I forget that we don't usually get beautiful, fluffy snow here?)  And, honestly, I don't remember exactly how much we paid for those sleds, but it was a good enough bargain that I still remember feeling very excited about the VERY early Christmas shopping I had started.

We ended up getting a 3rd basket to help roll our goodies to the checkout.  Along with the things I had in my basket, tucked in and around the infant seat, I had a sled to purchase.  And along with the things J had tucked in and around her infant seat, she was purchasing 2 sleds (one for her daughter and one for a niece and nephew in a different state (where there actually is beautiful, fluffy snow).  After making our purchases, we began the trek back to the vehicle.  We were a train: the cart with my baby plus bags, me, the cart with the sled boxes balanced precariously, J, and her cart with her baby plus bags.  We giggled on our way out, partly from the amazing deal we got on the sleds, and partly from imagining how we must look to passersby.

And then we got to the car.  This was before the mini-van stage of my life.  This was before the 4-door sedan stage of my life.  This was the 2-door sports car stage of my life.  The joy of a shopping coup can be quickly diminished when one realizes the bargain will not fit in the mode of transportation there to squire it home.  We began to prioritize.  If we took 2 sleds out of their boxes, we could fit them in the trunk.  One sled needed to stay in its box for shipping.  There was no roof rack on this little car, but I did briefly entertain the idea of wedging the sled box in the sunroof opening and driving home like that.  That the babies needed to ride inside, in the backseat, facing the rear was a given.  Everything and everyone else were negotiable.

It took about 5 minutes of this before the giggling started.  We couldn't help ourselves.  We were Lucy and Ethel trying to figure out how to pack the car for the trip to California.  We were characters from The Grapes of Wrath  trying to strap the mattresses on the top of our car.  We were equal parts buyers' remorse and  bound and determined.  And never, never did it cross our minds to return any of what we had purchased.  (First rule of shopping at an outlet store is that you buy it when you see it, because it more than likely will not be there when you come back next time.)

We finally figured it out: 2 sleds sans boxes in the trunk, one boxed sled in the passenger front seat, two babies in rear-facing infant seats in the back, other purchased items wedged where we could, and a very skinny J would wedge in between the babies.  As we made our way to the accomplishment of the plan, (taking apart boxes, strapping in babies, wedging in other purchases), we felt quite accomplished in the success of our mission.  We planned that J would take the baskets back to the store (with the excess boxes in tow), and I was going to stay with the babies.

And then J gasped.  I could not imagine what had happened, but as I rounded the car I found J with one hand over her mouth, tears streaming down her face, and the other hand holding up a package of baby girl tights that had somehow been under the baby seat and blankets in her cart.  Yep, J had shoplifted.  And I was her accomplice.  Neither one of us could stand at this point, we were literally doubled over in laughter.  It  was made worse because we knew that security was probably on the way out to grab us, but we still couldn't stop laughing.  Seriously, my sides were hurting.

As J headed back in to apologize and pay for the tights, I turned to get in the car.  And that's when I saw it.  There was a man, sitting in his car, with his head on the steering wheel.  I couldn't run over to check on him (I was in charge of the babies in the car), but I couldn't just let him die (which is what I sure he was doing).  Just as I decided that I was going to have to start screaming for help, he lifted his head.  He was not dying.  He was laughing.  At us.  With tears streaming down his face.  He leaned his head out the window and yelled to me.  It was something along the lines of never having been so entertained and that he would, from then on, gladly accompany his wife on whatever shopping she wanted to do for the rest of his life because that few moments of watching us made it worth it all.

I wish I could say I never had any other moments like that, but that would be a lie.  That wasn't even the last moment like that I had in that car.  But I have always wondered if there was someone watching a security camera that day and just how entertaining that must have been.  I've got to tell you, every time I watch America's Funniest Home Videos and DON'T see that day, I am thankful.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

"You're going to do what I say this weekend."

That's what my husband said to me on a Friday evening when he arrived home from work.  I laughed. Out loud.  He is not normally the bossy, demanding type, and I am rarely (if ever) the follow blindly type, so it was quite humorous (and uncharacteristic) for him to use those words.

The first thing he "made" me do was to sit with him and watch White Christmas, which is my favorite movie of all time.  I wish I could say that my favorite movie is intellectually stimulating or even thought-provoking, but it's not.  I'm a sentimental, Christmas-loving girl, and watching White Christmas is something I do every year at least once.  Sometimes twice.  Sometimes in July.  While he refuses to watch it other than at Christmas time, Dale does watch it with me every year.  Now THAT is a great guy.

The next day, I arrived home from my Saturday morning coffee group (I don't drink coffee, but they let me in the group anyway), and Dale and Calder (our youngest) were hanging the outdoor Christmas lights.  This was a huge deal to me.  We've struggled with getting lights up every year.  In fact, I think it's only happened 3 times since we moved to this house 9 years ago.  Sometimes it's the weather that keeps us from hanging lights.  Sometimes it's our travel plans.  Sometimes it's a lack of desire to crawl up on a ladder.  But I always want them up.  I would even leave them up all the time, but Dale says no (something about tackiness).  I guess he is kind of bossy after all.

That Sunday afternoon the tree went up--lights, ornaments, and all.  Since my dad passed away, we have used one of his caps as the top for our tree, and this year is no exception.  It's bittersweet to me.  Even though we didn't spend every Christmas with my parents, it's still odd for me to think about never having another Christmas with him. 

And that was my special "you will do what I say" Christmas weekend.  Since then, I have been looking at my tree, touching each ornament, remembering each story.  I've thought about next Christmas when our oldest will be in Afghanistan and wondered what I will be feeling then.  I've thought about how blessed we are to live in this country.  I've thought about what God did for us through His Son, how desperate I am to live a meaningful life, and that I want that for my children as well.  I've thought about what beauty there is in a family that, by the grace of God, sticks together.

Thank you, Dale, for my special weekend.  And thank you that on the weekend you were boss, you didn't even mention laundry.  I will love you forever.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Miss Jane's Kitchen

I know what Heaven smells like.

With all the computer experts I have in my life, you'd think one of them could come up with a way for us to experience the aromas of each other's lives.  We can see each other's pictures.  We can watch each other's videos.  We can even send virtual smiles :-) and virtual hugs {{ }}.  But, so far, there is no way you can experience what I experience when I walk into my mother-in-law's kitchen.  It's Heaven.

A fastidious housekeeper, Miss Jane's kitchen is always tidy.  There wasn't room to put in a dishwasher when they built this house (my father-in-law and his sons did the building of the house), so every dish has been handwashed all these years.  No dishwasher etching of the glasses.  No premature weakening of the handles on her pots from the heating element.  Nope, every dish has been washed in a sink with lots of suds and plenty of hot water while the washer of the dishes looked outside the window into acres of woods. 

There's a garden window in Miss Jane's kitchen.  It is also known as an African Violet forest.  This woman can force bloom any flower and bring any plant back from the brink of death.  She finds the fifty-cent plants in the clearance section and turns them into beautiful testimonies of what can happen if you just take the time to care about something, and show it a little love.  A plant in this kitchen window is a lucky plant, and they seem to know it.

But the best thing, by far, about Miss Jane's kitchen is the aromatic offering of every meal.  A southern lady, Miss Jane knows how to cook.  Her fried chicken and fried okra are my husband's comfort foods.  Her Sunday roasts and vegetables are as wonderful now as they were every Sunday of Dale's growing up years.  Her pork chops are to die for.  And her pies and cobblers are legendary.  Seriously.  When she takes one to a church potluck or fund-raiser auction, people look to see which dish is hers.  I don't even like cobbler, but her peach cobbler makes my eyes roll back in my head.  Yes, it's that good.

Jane is generous with her recipes.  She is more than willing to share her special twists and modifications to any recipe.  But there is a HUGE secret that I think even she doesn't realize makes such a difference in her cooking: She cooks with love.  She cares about every person who walks through her door.  She knows that a good meal can change someone's perspective on a bad day.  She believes that food is to be enjoyed.  And she has lived her life taking care of people with food.  Yes, she loves people, and her food shows it.

Can every hurt be healed with a glass of sweet tea?  Probably not.  But I can guarantee that if you could spend just a few moments in Miss Jane's kitchen, surrounded by the plants and the smells and the love, your perspective on life's woes would change.  It might even change if you could just get one whiff of her pecan pie.  Yep, it's Heaven.