Wednesday, January 30, 2013


So, turns out I broke Tim's car.

Remember when it conked out on me during my writer's retreat earlier this month and Mike and others came to my rescue? Well, turns out even good old Southern generosity cannot heal a cracked engine, so we now have the unanticipated expense of buying a new car. Yuck.

Most people who buy new cars are a bit sad to see the old ones go. So many memories. Mix tapes wedged in a broken cassette player remind us of our carefree college days. In the case of a family car, there are macaroni necklaces hanging from a rear view mirror-- missing sippy cups found in "the way back," and the way every stain tells a story. I can remember Margaret barfing up goldfish on an Amelia Bedelia book in this car. Shadow's muddy paws on the black upholstery after we went geocaching on a soggy day. Marks from Jack's baseball cleats. The crank windows that would confuse the heck out of neighbor kids when we gave them rides.

Since our family doesn't love change-- remember this picture of Jack and Margaret saying a tearful goodbye to our old green toilet?-- I know that getting rid of Tim's Jetta will be tough. New car = no Jack memories in it. No Margaret, Jack, and Shadow wedged together in the back seat. No Jack learning how to drive stickshift in 2 years.

Getting rid of the old car is sad, but it does give me the chance to poke fun at Tim a bit by telling you a little college story. You may have noticed that Tim is a fine looking man. And by fine, I mean f-i-i-i-i-n-e stretched out to 3 syllables the way Jimmy Walker would say "Dy-no-mite!" back in the day.

Well, when we were at Wake Forest, apparently Tim caught the eye of a few gay guys on campus. We didn't hear this first-hand, so I can't vouch for its accuracy, but because I have always greatly admired the opinions of gay men (Hello early 90's equivalent of Clinton Kelly and Nate Berkus!) this only raised Tim in my esteem. Good taste in accessories, good taste in men, they were playing my song.

We also heard that these guys had bestowed upon Tim a nickname, much in the same way my sorority sisters would say, under their breath, "There goes 'Wolf Man,' 'One Nut', or 'Sparky.'"

Tim's nickname? "Yumm Yumm."

Imagine my delight, years later, when Tim, Baby Jack and I received his randomly issued plates from the DMV reading "YMM-5555." Too funny. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this one!

Tim may miss his old car, but I don't know whether he'll miss those plates.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What You See is Not What You Get

A week of hacking coughs, chills, general malaise, and time spent communing with the couch, leaves me on the road to recovery yet still weakened emotionally. My brain was too foggy to do much writing,  so I did a lot of tv watching instead.

And by watching, I mean judging and railing and growing increasingly despondent. You see, big doses of reality tv tend to put me in a snit. When I'm in a snit, I get a certain look on my face and am apt to say ungenerous things or let bitterness take root, which I know is not healthy. Other common times these snits occur are when we're out and about and I see a child in a dangerous situation, such as a four year old standing on the headrest and hanging out of her her dad's jeep sunroof while he does donuts in a gravel parking lot. You know, stuff like that.

Margaret will see my eyes widen and will look at me and say, "Don't say it Mom..." Which means, don't say with the deepest of annoyingly melodramatic sighs, "He is putting her life in danger, and yet that little girl will be fine. Just fine!" And it's not that I'm saying I want harm to come to the little girl, or any of the kids I see doing crazy-ass shit on a daily basis, I just want our boy back.

Reality tv on my sick bed gave me FAR MORE than my normal exposure level of people behaving badly. I got to see dance moms fighting with each other, while their little girls got screamed at by a megalomaniac dance teacher. I got to see Kardashians, who could do so much good in the world with all of their resources, yet they just kept on being Kardashians. I saw parents either beating up on their children or neglecting them entirely on one of those new nanny shows. Sigh. Rail. Repeat. Try to pluck the bitter seedling poking through the earth saying, "Why Jack?"

Six days in, I dug out our family home movies and began watching those instead. Which was almost more than I could take. We've seen short clips of the kids taken from our cameras and phones, so I thought I could handle the movies. But these were hours-long recordings of birthdays and snow days and random Wednesdays and Christmases in such slow, real time, that only a parent and the children in the movies could ever want to watch them. I had not seen most of these moments since the time that we lived them.

The adorable movies gave me so much more than the many photos I've pored over for the last year have.  Little voices. Earnest looks, hearty laughs and naked jumping on the bed (kids only). Slobber, bath time, scavenger hunts, serious discussions about "twains," and a sibling relationship that was so close I am still unable to describe it.

And much like with reality tv, I just couldn't stop watching. I laughed so much, but I could feel my heart break again.

For there was that regular missing and yearning, that every parent has upon watching the baby fat disappear and hearing "lello" eventually turn to "yellow." Of onesies giving way to corduroys to sports uniforms and eventually cargo shorts.  It's misery, that tick ticking of the clock even though it brings with it fewer crusty noses, much-needed time for Mommy, and greater independence for the little ones, which should be our goal as we raise citizens of the world. We really do miss it when it's gone.

I'm not trying to romanticize baby and toddlerhood. Heck no. The out of style scrunchie on my wrist, baggy misshapen clothes, and slightly crazy look in my eyes in a lot of those movies hinted at sleep deprivation and long, long (did I say long???) days at home with the kids. We miss it, we miss their little selves, but we know that hard, precious time was but a  moment, a step. A step that got us here. And here is where they are supposed to be now, even if it means facial hair, smelly shoes, and a big dose of 'tude.

Except when through terrible evil, baffling circumstances, or a loving God's inscrutable plan, "HERE" is not where they are any more.

And we are left with movies and memories, and most days, hope.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes

So, in going through folders of the kids' stuff last week, I found some more gems to share with you. One is a "song" written by 4 year old Jack. And by song, I mean non-rhyming stream of consciousness. And by "written," I mean sung to me as I furiously struggled to write it all down.

And, in his little preschool way of being on a roll and having my undivided attention, Jack went on for a good four pages. He riffs about God, the Bible, Adam and Eve, Jonah, hitting, and going potty. Wishing I could hear his little baby voice rocking out to this song, but I'm glad I have it written down.

I thought you would especially like the chorus,

"If you're lost, God can find you
If you're lost, God sure can!"

And some verses:

"Everyone as a heart inside you
So if you're lost
He never takes his eyes off you
When He's looking at you
He's looking at everyone in the world"

"So If you're lost, God can find you
If you're lost, God sure can!"

"I'm telling you the truth, I'm telling the truth again
So really God is looking at you the whole day long
He never takes his eyes off you
He is everywhere"

"If you're lost, God can find you
If you're lost, God sure can!"

"If you're up in Heaven, you'll never bump your head
fall down the stairs
or have to go potty again
But down here you have to do those things"

"And Still God can find you
Whenever you're lost God can really find you
He can see inside your heart
Try to make people with really small hearts really
do good instead of bad"

And a safety tip:

"If Jesus tells you to do something, he's telling you the right thing
but not anyone else
If someone tells you to get in his car, don't do it."

"If you're lost, God can find you
If you're lost, God sure can!"

We do believe that when Jack was lost in the water, God never took His eyes off of him. And if you are feeling lost, He can find you, too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Food for the Body and Soul

Despite my near obsessive hand-washing, I've come down with something. We're going to just hope it's a cold and not the dreaded f-word. Get your mind out of the gutter; you know I mean the flu, right? In serious need of some comfort food, so this is what I'm throwing in the crockpot tomorrow morning--  my favorite White Chicken Chili.

I know you may have other White Chicken Chili recipes, but this one requires no browning or pre-cooking and if you buy frozen onions like I do, no chopping at all. Just dump everything in and walk away. I can't stand it when a crockpot recipe requires prep! Seriously, who has time to cook dinner at breakfast time?

I hope you are having a good day, and if you are under the weather like I am, that you have a nice snuggly blanket, a hot cup of tea, and a full DVR.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Summertime Smiles


You know Jack was quirky and funny, right? I was going through some papers yesterday (the kids' Christmas lists over the years, doodles, and drawings) and I found a little sign from an impromptu lemonade stand they held on our culdesac with their specialcousins when Jack was 10 and Margaret 8.

The sale was rather uneventful until my good friend had to call 911 because her preschooler ate a Hershey's kiss with almonds out of the one of the "candy cups" for sale. She was afraid her daughter might have a nut allergy like her 2 older children, so she called for back-up.

Fortunately, little B was fine! The lemonade stand kids then had the added bonus of selling their wares to the hunky (my observation) firemen who showed up with their rig. They pulled in $10 cold cash!

Last night I was looking at the little sign Jack made using scrap paper and a colored pencil, and I smiled thinking of the creativity and fun he brought to our lives.

The top says:

Spend Money Here
Loli-Pop .10
Candy Cups .50
Lemonade .25
Brownies .50
Laffy Taffy .10

Underneath it says:
Kiddie Menu:
Loli-Pop Licks .01
Brownie Bites .25
Lemonade Sips .05
(no chugging or pay extra)
How enterprising. So many smiles.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I Carry You With Me

As I've mentioned before, one of the MANY thoughtful acts people did for me following Jack's accident was send special jewelry to wear every day in honor of him. Gorgeous jewelry that in one way or another represents him. One friend had a silversmith make me a charm shaped like a mobius strip with his Bible verse on it. Perfect for a young puzzler like Jack. Another found a necklace with a bird on it. Beautiful sea glass earrings adorn my ears and remind me that water gives as well as takes away. I treasure each thoughtful gift.

One of my faves was made by a woman in Minnesota named Amanda, with the help of her husband and her friend Amber. She used a photo of Jack she downloaded from this blog, and on the back is Jack's favorite Bible verse in his 4th grade handwriting.

You may remember I wore this necklace in our Christmas photo so Jack would be included.

Even though Amanda and her husband are busy parents with hectic jobs, they would like to provide memorial necklaces like this to hurting moms and dads. They would charge only for the cost of making and mailing them to you, which would be around $18 each.

And even though each and every child would look lovely on such a necklace, this is a special gesture for bereaved parents only.

Is this something that would bless you?

If so, here's Amanda's contact info:

Subject line: Memorial Necklace

Thank you Amanda, and thanks to all of you who have found so many special ways to reach out to hurting families.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


When it came to choosing a theme word for 2013, I toyed with a few ideas. I think last year’s word, if I had even chosen one, would have been SURVIVE, so I considered whether this year’s word should be THRIVE.

The more I thought about it, however, I kept coming back to GENEROSITY.

I am not a naturally generous person. I lean more toward thoughts of scarcity and want than generosity and abundance. As a kid I counted Christmas presents and Easter candy to make sure I wasn’t getting the shaft. I consistently tried to do things to get my mom to love me more than my siblings, as if her love might somehow run out if she spread it three ways.

Tim and I suffer from a lack of generosity in our marriage. There is tallying and scorekeeping-- a certain stinginess of spirit-- as we each try to protect what we see as “my rights” or “my time.”  In pre-marital counseling, our minister gave us some words of warning about "a youngest child marrying a youngest child." Margaret, like her mom and dad, is quite comfortable being on the receiving end of generosity.

I know you aren’t supposed to choose a word of the year and inflict it on your entire family. That’s kind of like when Tim decided we would all give up TV for Lent right during the Winter Olympics. Or when I optimistically instituted, “The Summer of Social Skills.” Big bombs.

But generosity is an ideal I want for our family. I don’t want to cling so tightly to love that it fizzles and burns out. I want to expose it to the light and air and spread it around. I don’t want to miss opportunities to help others just because it’s inconvenient. I have often marveled at the huge outpouring of love and acts of kindness we have received from others (from you!) since Jack’s accident, at a time when we just could not do for ourselves. There has been great beauty in accepting and being healed by the generosity of others, but I wonder, are we now only takers and not givers? I want 2013 to be a year when we look outside ourselves and spread love to others by loosening our grip on “mine” and “me.”

I was thinking of all of this when I got in Tim’s car to drive to my solo writer’s retreat Wednesday morning. About two and ½ hours later, smoke pouring from the hood of the car, I pulled over to the shoulder. I was far from home in an unfamiliar place. Within minutes, four people had stopped to see if I needed help. Young. Old. Black. White. An elderly man took a look under the hood and said the car was too dangerous to drive, so I called a tow truck.

While I waited for the tow to arrive, I hunched over in the front seat and peed in a McDonald’s iced tea cup. These were desperate times, I tell you.

Mike, the tow truck driver, picked me up with a smile on his face and a great accent from having grown up along “The Rivah.” We chatted about his daughters, one in college and one in high school. On the way to his shop, he called his wife to see if their extra car was at home. It was. Before I knew it, I was driving an adorable VW bug in my favorite color, light blue, and was back on the road. Yep, Mike knew only my first name and cell phone number, but he had lent me a car! We would be in touch over the next few days, checking on the progress of Tim’s car. When it turned out that it couldn’t be fixed anytime soon, Mike offered to lend me the VW bug to drive back home and keep as long as I needed it, as in “a few weeks!” Instead, Tim drove the 2 ½ hours to get me and we hope to rent or borrow a car in our town.

I thanked Mike for taking such good care of me. When I pressed gas money into his hand, he refused it, saying, “That money will come back to me 20 times over.” I asked about his generosity. Did his wife mind his giving so much of himself to help total strangers? Here we were, on a Saturday morning. A simple tow on Wednesday had become rather more complicated, and I had a feeling I was neither the first nor the last person Mike had helped out in this kind of circumstance. “Naw, my wife’s just like me.” “Her Daddy’s shop was right across from my Daddy’s shop when we were growing up.” Sounds like a family culture of generosity to me.

So I went into this week, this new year, determined to become more of a giver and less of a taker, and yet I’ve already taken more and more. But my experiences with those 4 people who stopped to help me on a cold winter morning, and with Mike who is still trying to figure out how to fix Tim’s car, have shown me to think  BIGGER when it comes to generosity. Not necessarily bigger in monetary terms. But more of myself. More of my heart. More of my time.
Love doesn’t run out.

The Lettered Cottage

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Quick Check In

Okay, Christmas and New Year's provided me my longest blog-break ever, and I sure missed writing and YOU.  Just wanted to jump on here today to say hello and that I hope you had more smiles and laughter than tears and yelling during the holidays.

Margaret went back to school this morning, and in a moment I'm heading off to the country to try to do some writing. The house where I'm staying has no internet connection, which could help me be a tad more reflective and productive. No promises, though. When I was in college I rented a hotel room so I could be alone and complete a major project. I specifically asked for a room with no TV in it. You can imagine how delighted I was when I discovered a tiny black and white model in the bathroom. Yep, instead of doing my project, I found myself perched on the bathroom counter in my pj's watching "Battle of the Network Stars."

Much love to you today. See you in a few days...