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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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autumn

Autumn: the season of change and new beginnings

It is autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar tells us. My car thermometer, on the other hand, says it is 93 degrees at 6:30 pm. We’ve had more than eighty days of 90+ temperatures in North Georgia this year. Enough is enough already! But supposedly it’s autumn, and that means it’s officially my favorite season.

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I love fall for so many reasons. For pumpkin patches and apple orchards, for candy corn and nutmeg and cloves, for gemstone leaves and front porch scarecrows. Albert Camus proclaimed autumn “a second spring, when every leaf’s a flower.” And I tend to agree. I mostly love fall because it symbolizes new beginnings in all sorts of ways for my family: a new school year, a new football season.  Fall is my absolute favorite!

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Fall is the season of new school years: new faces, new potential, new energy, new passion. And even though we’ve already been in school for over seven weeks (this is the South, after all – we go back before the sunburns have even had a chance to peel), we still call this fall semester, and we’re still feeling fresh (sort of) when the autumnal equinox officially strikes. I have one-hundred- eighty sophomore students sitting in my seats and eager to learn (sort of). And while the challenges are great and the resources are slim, I still have a tremendous reservoir of love for my students and passion for my subject. So fall is my favorite!

And fall is the season of football, the game that seasons our family with a long, strong, complicated marinade. It is flavored with dynamic combinations, unexpected ingredients, raw emotions and daring outcomes — all served up on a spiral slice to robust and critical crowds. It is the sport that leaves me absolutely spellbound and absolutely spent… a complete and utter glutton for the punishment and pain, the pleasure and pride that makes up the season. As a football family, we wouldn’t want it any other way. So fall is my favorite!

And fall is the season for late afternoon drives in the countryside. Living in the country gives the boys and me ample opportunity to witness the glory that is fall: golden soybean fields, corn crops with buzz cuts, and barnyard nurseries – the farm animals are having their fall babies!

We pass a menagerie of livestock on our way home from school every weekday, and I swear, almost any given pasture on almost any given day has a new baby to ogle. Parker and Tate providing me with a running commentary of each fascinating new discovery. We pass a horse farm, a multitude of cow pastures, and even a field full of mama sheep and their newborn lambs. I bet there’s a dozen in that pen — little, bleary clouds scattered sleepily across the grass and under the pines. My breath catches at the sight of them every single time.

And fall is the season for hay bales. I’m here to say that I never knew how compelling hay bales could be until I had twin boys with a hearty devotion to tractors. There’s been a steady harvest in recent weeks. From one field to the next, the same scene has run its course and the boys never tire of talking about them. I dread the day when all of the hay bales are gone. It will be a dark day, indeed.

Fall is the season of long and languid afternoon sun, a sun that leans low to blind drivers and irritate my twins on rides home, a sun that creeps deep inside living room floors to butter bare toes, a sun that catches dust and pollen dancing in its rays for an undeniable reminder of allergy season – as if we needed reminding. The boys’ noses have had snail trails from nostril to lip for weeks now.

Fall is the season of baking treats and making memories. I used to spend hours in the kitchen when the girls were little, crafting fall festival Cake Walk prizes and bake sale bounty.  Baking makes me dizzily, freakishly happy. It’s my mother’s fault. She baked a lot when I was a kid, her hair, frosted with highlights (and probably splatters of buttercream frosting, as well), pulled back from her beaming, beautiful face. The world felt warm and wonderful and safe and sound in the sanctity of her kitchen — and I guess somewhere along the way, happiness, beauty, warmth and womanhood all got tangled up with baking for me. So now when I bake, I feel like I’m Wonder Woman on a mission to cure what ails the world, one bundt cake at a time.

 

I made some banana bread last week, which went with Mike to the football war room, where the guys spend hours working on this week’s game plan. I hope it gave them a little lift in the midst of the Sunday grind. The process of making it and the comforting scent of it gave me one, for sure. 

Fall is the season of my grandson Bentley’s birth. The little acorn is a fall fledgling with gangly limbs and translucent skin, who shimmers like wheat fields in the sun when he smiles, and his eyes are brighter than crisp autumn skies. So thanks to Bentley Boo, fall is my favorite!

Finally, fall is the season of change. Colors change, temperatures change, grades and teachers and wardrobes and weather… they all change. And in this hate-filled political climate, I pray that Camus is right. That autumn is a second spring – a season of new beginnings – an opportunity for rebirth. May it baptize us all under the shower of leaves, washing us clean of this long, hot, angry summer of hate and intolerance.

Let clarity and love, humanity and grace shine on us all. May we all feel welcomed and valued, respected and protected in this rapidly unfurling season of change.

 

Seize the Sunsets: A Candy Corn Devotional

I have an extreme addiction to a colorful seasonal confection that is notoriously divisive in households and classrooms and office buildings the world over. And its name is candy corn.

As far as I’m concerned, it is manna from heaven. It is the food of the gods. It is a candy and a vegetable – and that makes it the perfect food!

And while I know it’s not technically produce, I do know that it has honey in it. And honey comes from plants – excreted through the saliva of bees, but still. If it comes from a plant, it’s a vegetable.

Plus honey is referenced in the bible  — 26 times to be exact – and in a good way (not like salt, which is a punishment for people who look backwards when they aren’t supposed to), but in a nourishment for the Israelites who kept looking forward in faith and physicality for forty years in the wilderness kind of way.

Plus, it’s TRI-colored for heaven’s sake — it is a THREE COLORS IN ONE confection (a holy trinity, folks).

And if you’re still not convinced… candy corn is fat free! What could possibly be more divine?

So yes, by golly, candy corn is godly. I am a true believer. And I faithfully try to convert others every year.  But some of you doubters still remain, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I think it’s the way you were raised…

Now me, I grew up an absolute devotee. My mom exposed me early and annually to its righteousness. She would place giant kaleidoscopic bowls of candy corn around the house every autumn, which I would kneel before the minute I walked in the door from school. I couldn’t get enough. My soul hungered for it. It was like eating fistfuls of sunsets. Sweet, sugary sunsets. I recall many an October afternoon basking in the warm glow of a candy corn devotional.

Being exposed so thoroughly and at such an early age has served me well. But it also made me a bit naive. Little did I know not everyone shares my passion. Not everyone worships on the shrine of those trinitarian sunsets.

Candy corn definitely has its detractors — and super vocal ones, at that.

I learned this the hard way my second year of teaching. I thought I’d proselytize to the masses during a review game. The reward would be righteous, I promised. So my students put everything they had into the review. They jostled for the lead with gusto, hungry for a taste of the grail. But when I pulled out the first single-serving cellophane bag for the winner and tossed it his way, all hell broke loose.

You would’ve thought I’d just thrown him a bagful of boogers. Or ear wax — which is what he said it tasted like as he slung it back at me in disgust.

Ungrateful infidel.

Apparently, he’s not the only one. I polled this year’s students and they were drastically divided. Half would kill for it, the other would rather die than eat it.

And I’m always amazed by the look — the look from nonbelievers when I offer up these kernels of truth and light. The wrinkled noses, the abject disgust, the ready dismissal.

They are blasphemers, the whole lot. Because even if you don’t believe candy corn is divine, it is pure sacrilege to turn down a communion so sacred and scarce and being offered up so selflessly. Because candy corn is hardly something I readily part withal.  It is a true personal sacrifice.

So don’t turn it down. That’s just rude.

My girls know better. They were raised right. And this fall season, my boys are being initiated into the faith. The ritual of edification is short, yet satisfying. Simply nibble one honeyed hue at a time: first the tip – just to see what it feels like (pure heaven) – then proceed to the sleek middle orange, and finally the wide yellow base. Repeat until satisfied.

And listen, I tell them. Listen real close and you can hear each kernel of truth whispering its legacy in a low incantation: “Carpe… Carpe Diem, boys. Seize the sunsets.” Because you never know when you won’t get another.

Well, you do. After Thanksgiving, they’re gone.

So carpe’ diem, boys. Carpe’ dem sunsets!

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Layer Cakes and Legends: My Apocryphal Appalachian Roots

Today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted in roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it reminded me of my grandmother.

Not because she used to bake blackberry jam cake. (She didn’t.) Nor because she loved to bake at all. (She didn’t.) There was only one cake she ever made, and she made it every fall for Thanksgiving — a German Chocolate Layer Cake, triple-stacked to heaven and beyond. It defied natural laws.

Baking my own triple layer cake this morning somehow conjured up my grandmother’s spirit. Out of nowhere, a warm fragrant memory slipped in — a peppery whiff of Scotch snuff amid baking layers — and I was instantly transported back. Back into the warm half-circle spotlight of her bifocals, where she peered up at me with love and adoration… and then demanded I write down a select few of her stories.

Yup. Demanded. And Grandma always gets her way — even from beyond the grave. (Compromise was never her middle name.)

And she really was quite the storyteller — I like to think that’s where I get my passion for words — and her tales were always tall. As impossibly tall as her German Chocolate Layer Cake.  She told some doozies, but there was always truth in the pudding, er, batter… batter thick and sweet and loaded with flavor.

Her stories infused every room in her small house. They found you in every corner. You couldn’t escape them. Through the darkness of night, she was sitting on your mattress while you slept, telling you a story.  Through the closed bathroom door, you were sitting on the toilet while you shat, she was telling you a story. No exaggeration.

Her stories were a never-ending narrative. I’d heard them a thousand times. I thought I could recite them backwards. They were a constant. Like a beating heart. Always there. Always.

Until they weren’t.

I took them for granted. I tuned them out. I never wrote them down. I really wish I’d recorded them, old cassette ribbon winding like stretched caramel from one receptacle to another to help me transcribe her words from one era into another, today. Alas, I did not.

But this past summer, my family celebrated her oldest son — my Uncle Pal’s — 80th birthday. My two aunts and my father were there, too, rounding out her initial genetic contribution to this world.

The four sat atop a green, overstuffed sofa and held court, flipping through old pictures and regaling the second and third generations with Grandma’s tales of our Appalachian roots.

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Most of the stories I recalled immediately… their familiar cadence returning to me like skip rope chants learned in my childhood:

My grandma the buxom beauty — her breasts swelling so large when she contracted mumps at twelve that they never returned to what she considered a respectable size. She and her sister Margaret would mash them tightly in scarves, trying to achieve the ideal body image of her age — flat-chested flapper girl — to no avail.

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My grandma the axe murderer — her one and only victim, a Harley Hog my dad bought knowing she hated them. Her brother had almost died on one; her son would not have the same opportunity. The Hog died instead, a quick, violent death from hatchet-strike to the fuel tank. Dad wept as his full-fendered baby girl bled out in front of him… the original chopped Harley.

My grandma, the exile — sent in her early twenties to country music legend Mama Maybelle Carter’s house, her childhood friend and neighbor. My great grandfather sent her away to keep the clambering boys away from the self-proclaimed prettiest girl in five Virginia counties. (Humility was also not her middle name.) Grandma spent an entire summer dancing the Charleston, little June Carter running between her flashing legs while Mama Maybelle scratched her guitar.

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Keeping Grandma away from the boys worked for a while, but she finally managed to run off and marry the love of her life at the ripe old age of 25 — an old maid by Appalachian standards. Grandpa was years younger than she was, also unheard of in that time period.  (I guess I get that from her, too.)

My aunts and uncle also told us a few tales I’d maybe heard, but had long since forgotten.

Like the seven-foot tall distant relative named Pleasant who was so small when he was born they could fit his head in a tea cup, and who slept in a Singer sewing machine drawer next to his parents’ bed. Pleasant grew up to be large and in charge, and was famous for once throwing a man out a second-story speak easy.

I also heard about an ancestor who, at 98-years young, could stand and do a somersault in the air. Backwards. That’s a back tuck, by the way. Cheerleaders drool for that kind of skill. He could do it at 98. Unfortunately, no one remembered his name.

But a whole lot of other names were remembered in my uncle’s living room this past July — names summoned from my grandmother’s looping cursive, scrawled in her black-papered memory book. Names like Viney and Velma, Tom and Tate, Willie and Chapman, and Emmy and Spencer, and Pleasant, of course. (I kind of wish I could have another kid, simply so I could name him or her Pleasant. No, scratch that. I’ll leave that up to my girls…)

Those names, written in Grandma’s looping penmanship, lassoed us all and pulled us back — back to our childhoods and beyond. Back to the crags and coal of the Virginia mountains. Back to the looping, sprawling deep-settled roots of our family tree.

The tree itself juts high and strong these days, with limbs spread far and wide. From London to Phoenix, her descendants are scattered like leaves in haphazard drifts of color and contrast in a beautiful, autumnal haze. We, indeed, have a glorious family tree. And her stories — our stories — deserve to be told.

* * *

Yes, today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted with roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it conjured my grandma, who channelled my fingers and hijacked my blog  — to write about an Appalachian beauty with a penchant for layer cake and a story or two thousand to tell.

My guess is, she isn’t quite done with me yet.

Hay Bales and Husband and Hercule, Oh My!

This time of year, three of my favorite things — football, teaching, and family – all make my world spin at dizzying speeds. And while I try valiantly to juggle all three, there are just some days – and weeks – where things get out of balance, and I must regroup. This was one of those weeks.

To calm the chaos, I find comfort and joy in a couple of shaggy-haired boys with sheepish grins, a movie night with the hubs, and hay bales.

I’ll start with the hay bales. Yes, hay bales. They make me happy. They’re so simple. They’re so round. They’re so simply and perfectly round. And they smell so good — like sunshine and fresh air. And they send tiny little flecks of their sunshine-smell up into the actual air, where they dance around in the sunlight like flying little flickering fairies of dusty hope.

I love them. They make me sneeze, but oh, how I love them — big, round, sneezy blessings of promise and hope.

This time of year, the landscape is trimmed with their texture– giant swells of them collect in the fields of my hometown like nub on sweaters, or they nudge up to the fence lines in scalloped hedgerows.

I get this calm in my soul when I see them. I can be totally caught up in the chaos of my day – the football frenzy and the toddler tornadoes and the Halloween costumes still not found – but when I pass by these laid-back haystacks I feel… better. It’s hard to explain.

In a world full of jagged edges and complexity, sometimes it’s just nice to see roundness and simplicity. They are gentle reminders that the storms of today will mellow into the golden grains of tomorrow. All shall be well.

But they are also gentle reminders that time marches on and seasons change, and we should embrace the present, no matter the chaos that swirls around it.

I passed hay bale after serene hay bale on the way to the home to curl up on a Wednesday night with a glass of wine and some Murder on the Orient Express on cable. I am an absolute sucker for some Dame Agatha and her mustachioed-marvel, Hercule Poirot (second only to Sherlock Holmes in my whodunit hero worship).

The movie is breathtakingly beautiful, with sweeping vistas of Balkan mountain ranges and Edwardian opulence. And Poirot and his little grey cells never disappoint. Nor does a nice glass of red with a big bucket of popcorn.

If I love hay bales for their simplicity, I love detective movies for their ability to deconstruct complexity — to unravel chaos and lay it out in a seamless, satisfying denouement. And I know the world isn’t so easily solved. I know that chaos and sickness and sorrow exist, and there’s not much that can be done to dismantle the darkness and wipe it all clean. But mystery movies curled up with my husband help sideline the reality for a bit.

And then there’s my shaggy-haired rapscallions with sheepish grins — their hair a mixture of hay straw and loam, their faces a mixture of shimmer and shenanigans. They leave riptides of Legos and crushed Cheetos in their wake. But even through all the bruised heels and stained carpets, they bring me such joy — such breathtaking, heart-splitting joy. Today they’ve both cuddled me and clobbered me on more than one occasion. But oh, how I love them so! From the minute they were conceived — tiny little round he-bales of embryonic perfection – they’ve complicated everything. And they’ve simplified everything.

They add chaos to my world, and calm to my soul.

Yes, this week, the world has spun in super-duper, frenetically-fast fashion. There’ve been faculty meetings and football practices and parents-in-law visits to juggle. And I love it all. I really, really do. But I also feel jittery and disjointed at times. But that‘s where my husband and mysteries and hay bales come in. My recipe for soothing a weary soul.

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