Search

postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Category

family

My Aunts in Shining Armor

As I’ve been combing my recipes searching for something extra special to fix this weekend — just because — I’ve run across certain dishes that remind me of three extraordinary women in my life… women whose love and sacrifice have made me who I am today.

These women creatively acquired me through the bonds of blood and grit and good, old-fashioned love. These women took me in and made me their own. They taught me to know my potential and to believe in it. They taught me that women are strong. That women are powerful. That women are capable. They taught me that women have a voice and that we should use it. These women are my aunts — my three graces, my three fates, my three wise women. And the recipes that remind me of them are as deeply rich and provocative and inspirational as my aunts themselves…

First, there’s my Aunt Jan and her “Mrs. Norris’ Strawberry Pie.” It’s the perfect blend of glistening, syrup-soaked berries steeped in puddles of juice under clouds of whipped cream.

I have no idea who Mrs. Norris is, but I’m here to tell you that this pie is my Aunt Jan in a pastry shell.  It perfectly parallels her zany, vibrant nature. She’s sweet and tart and sparkling with pizzazz. She’s never met a stranger and she’s never been ignored.

She taught me to make this pie during what I call “The Summer of Grandma” – a two-month stint during which my cousins and Jan and I built pie after pie in a humid, east Tennessee kitchen trying anything and everything to get my grandmother to eat. She was slipping away from us, but she still had a hankering for sweetness.

And so we built pies. Pecan pie. And Chocolate pie. And Lemon Meringue — so high and coiffed that women in Texas could likely haul pictures to their hairdressers as inspiration. And finally, Mrs. Norris’ Strawberry Pie – the Mother Superior of pies – just like Jan, our family matriarch after my grandmother passed away.

The baton was passed, and Jan became our pulse and our promise. She’s a talker and she’s a doer. If you want it coordinated and you want it done, call Jan. And she’s a lover. When she hugs you, you find yourself wrapped in clouds of pillow-y bosoms, which she inherited from my grandma (and which, I might add, skipped me in the gene pool). And you find yourself believing in rainbows and unicorns and holy grails.

Because Jan makes the impossible possible. She is quick-witted and confident, and she’s always been my biggest cheerleader. She pushed me and pulled me and pep-talked me into going back to school. Through her, I learned to trust in myself and the God-given gifts that she assured me I had and that I needed to hone.

Without Jan, I never would have trusted my mind or my voice. She taught me that what I think and feel matters. She pushed me to tell it like I see it and to hold strong to my principles. She made the impossible possible in me.

jan

Now, Jan’s twin sister Ann isn’t much of a baker. Instead, she sticks to main dishes, and she’s most famous for her tenderloins stuffed with apples and pecans and fragrant herbs – a savory, nourishing dish indicative of her steady, nurturing soul.

Ann and I have some sort of kindred connection. I felt it from the first time we ever sat down and REALLY talked – on my grandmother’s front steps after I was deposited there by a distant father in a diesel Isuzu and a feverish faith. Ann and I played with kittens and plotted the trajectory of my life on those semicircle steps beneath the crab-apple stone siding and cedar shingles of my grandmother’s house.

Ann embodies most closely who I truly am: intuitive and observant, reserved and resilient, capable and calm. Her eyes are still water on stone, are snow clouds at dusk – and when they meet mine, they see things. Things hidden in shame or for protection.

But with Ann, every trembling, buried burden or bruise is safe. It is better than safe – it is healed. Because she has a ministering nature that soothes and mends. It was her job. Literally. She is a retired ER doc, and I promise you, she did more than heal bodies in her years of service. She calmed hearts and settled souls – mine included. I wouldn’t be where I am today, without her.

annandpat2

And finally, there’s Pat, Ann’s wife, and my aunt by marriage. Pat is our family’s Tupelo honey. Her voice is southern nectar and so is her love. She never has a negative word to say to or about anyone. She sweetens the lives of all of us by spreading her joy and her sweet, sanguine good sense. Any recipe with honey, honey bun to  hotty toddy, reminds me of my beloved Pat. Lover of animals and humanitarian causes alike, she is generosity and goodness with a smile carved from moonstone and a heart made of gold.

My fondest memory of Pat is when several of us piled into a car to take a little trek over the mountains and through the woods– in a snow storm– to visit the Biltmore House. The roads grew slushy and slippery, and Pat’s mother, who was ailing at the time, grew car sick.

When we pulled to the side (more like slid to the side) of the interstate, her sweet, ailing mama proceeded to lose her dinner, right along with her upper teeth.  Pat sweetly swiveled her back into the backseat and then paddled through drifts of snowy vomit in search of the delinquent dentures.

That is Pat: unflappable, ever capable, and always willing to go the extra mile for family. She is as warm and soothing as  Tupelo honey. Her love glows deep and rich, and she moths us all to hearth and home with her warmth. She has always encouraged me to dream big and to reach high, but to never lose touch with my roots – because family feeds the soul.

And thanks to my family — and particularly my three incomparable and beautiful aunts — my heart is full to bursting and my cup runneth over.

My Aunt Nancy

I remember playing lawn darts with her in my grandparent’s side yard, the sharp steel tips twisting through the steamy summer air, then plunging into Tennessee soil. Afterward, we sat in webbed and woven green lawn chairs, cooling our bare feet in the dew-slicked clover as fireflies flickered beneath the oaks. And I remember Nancy and my mother laughing their throaty laughs deep into the nighttime, retelling family histories.

But that’s not my first memory of Nancy. My first memories involve a sky-high, jet-black beehive, bright crimson pantsuits, and white platform heels. Nancy was a beauty, like she’d stepped straight out of the pages of a Sears catalog — my backwoods version of glamour and fashion. The catalog, not Nancy. She was a beauty, whether backwoods or big city.

But her beauty was nothing compared to her brains. She worked her way up the twisted ladder of government contracting inside the top-secret national labs of East Tennessee.

She was a strong, brilliant woman, my Aunt Nancy, born in a time when women who were strong and brilliant didn’t necessarily advertise the fact. Nancy, though, never hid her light under a bushel.

Everyone who knew her, easily recognized her smarts and savvy. She was a spitfire, unafraid to take on Principal Engineers or multibillion-dollar contracts, all with little more than a high school diploma and heaping supply of gumption at her disposal.

That intelligence and tenacity makes her battle with Lewy Body Dementia that much crueler.

Lewy Body Dementia. Prior to Nancy’s diagnosis, I had never heard of it. Odds are you know little to nothing of it either.

Know this, though: it is brutal. It is the cruelest of the cruel diseases that ravage the brain. It takes the stolen language and lifetimes of Alzheimer’s and adds the bitter twist of Parkinson tremors and muscle cramps.

My Aunt Nancy passed away a week ago this past Sunday. She was my mother’s closest sister and my cousin Melanie’s last remaining parent.

Now I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to witness the ravages of the disease at its end stage. But her daughter was. And her sister — my mother — was, too.

As the Lewy Body’s laid siege on her body, mom described Nancy’s week-long war against imminent death through a series of calls and texts. My aunt struggled valiantly, wanting just a few more days, a few more precious moments with those she loved best in the world. She fought longer and harder than most could have. And if her fight was brutal for me to read and hear about, I cannot imagine the agony of being there to witness it.

Cramps tore through her soft tissue, leaving arms, legs, neck rigid and wracked with pain. Melanie massaged her throat, coaxing her to swallow the morphine she syringed into Nancy’s cheek every fifteen minutes. It did little to nothing. Neither the massage nor the morphine. But Melanie persisted. And she held her in her arms and sang to her.

Daughter cradled mother — a poignant, painful role reversal.

I remember meeting my cousin Melanie as a baby the very first time. I was a lanky preteen and she was a pudgy one-year-old — looking all the world like the the Mattel Tender Love baby doll from my preschool days. Nancy had dressed her like a little doll, too. A strawberry blond baby doll in bloomers and bib.

Now, my aunt was the one in diaper and bib, as her sister and daughter and grandchildren sang her favorite songs — little lullabies from all eras of her life — hoping to bring peace, hoping to bring comfort.

They also recounted beloved histories together — perhaps some of the ones I remember vaguely from that summer long ago in East Tennessee.

They cried, they laughed, they sang, they bonded.

The transition was hard, and the transition was beautiful. It was a painful, beautiful, powerful transition from this realm into the next.

And mom tells me Nancy looked young and beautiful again — back to the time before the Lewy Body Dementia wreaked its havoc. Back to those days of platform shoes and bright patterns. Back to those days of fierce tenacity and bold brilliance.

Back to the Nancy we all knew and loved. Ready for her close up.

Her up close and personal with God.

***

I saw a cardinal at my window this afternoon, sneaking a peek at my family through the glass. For me, it’s a sure sign — Nancy is back in her red pantsuit once again. Only this time, she’s got wings.

My Aunt Nancy

I remember playing lawn darts with her in my grandparent’s side yard, the sharp steel tips twisting through the steamy summer air then plunging into Tennessee soil. Afterward, we sat in webbed and woven green lawn chairs, cooling our bare feet in the dew-slicked clover as fireflies flickered beneath the oaks. And I remember Nancy and my mother laughing their throaty laughs deep into the nighttime, retelling family histories.

But that’s not my first memory of Nancy. My first memories involve a sky-high, jet-black beehive, bright crimson pantsuits, and white platform heels. Nancy was a beauty, like she’d stepped straight out of the pages of a Sears catalog — my backwoods version of glamour and fashion. The catalog, not Nancy. She was a beauty, whether backwoods or big city.

But her beauty was nothing compared to her brains. She worked her way up the twisted ladder of government contracting inside the top-secret national labs of East Tennessee.

She was a strong, brilliant woman, my Aunt Nancy, born in a time when women who were strong and brilliant didn’t necessarily advertise the fact. Nancy, though, never hid her light under a bushel.

Everyone who knew her, easily recognized her smarts and savvy. She was a spitfire, unafraid to take on Principal Engineers or multibillion-dollar contracts, all with little more than a high school diploma and heaping supply of gumption at her disposal.

That intelligence and tenacity makes her battle with Lewy Body Dementia that much crueler.

Lewy Body Dementia. Prior to Nancy’s diagnosis, I had never heard of it. Odds are you know little to nothing of it either.

Know this, though: it is brutal. It is the cruelest of the cruel diseases that ravage the brain. It takes the stolen language and lifetimes of Alzheimer’s and adds the bitter twist of Parkinson tremors and muscle cramps.

My Aunt Nancy passed away a week ago this past Sunday. She was my mother’s closest sister and my cousin Melanie’s last remaining parent.

Now I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to witness the ravages of the disease at its end stage. But her daughter was. And her sister — my mother — was, too.

As the Lewy Body’s laid siege on her body, mom described Nancy’s week-long war against imminent death through a series of calls and texts. My aunt struggled valiantly, wanting just a few more days, a few more precious moments with those she loved best in the world. She fought longer and harder than most could have. And if her fight was brutal for me to read and hear about, I cannot imagine the agony of being there to witness it.

Cramps tore through her soft tissue, leaving arms, legs, neck rigid and wracked with pain. Melanie massaged her throat, coaxing her to swallow the morphine she syringed into Nancy’s cheek every fifteen minutes. It did little to nothing. Neither the massage nor the morphine. But Melanie persisted. And she held her in her arms and sang to her.

Daughter cradled mother — a poignant, painful role reversal.

I remember meeting my cousin Melanie as a baby the very first time. I was a lanky preteen and she was a pudgy one-year-old — looking all the world like the the Mattel Tender Love baby doll from my preschool days. Nancy had her dressed her like a little doll, too. A strawberry blond baby doll in bloomers and bib.

Now, my aunt was the one in diaper and bib, as her sister and daughter and grandchildren sang her favorite songs — little lullabies from all eras of her life — hoping to bring peace, hoping to bring comfort.

They also recounted beloved histories together — perhaps some of the ones I remember vaguely from that summer long ago in East Tennessee.

They cried, they laughed, they sang, they bonded.

The transition was hard, and the transition was beautiful. It was a painful, beautiful, powerful transition from this realm into the next.

And mom tells me Nancy looked young and beautiful again — back to the time before the Lewy’s Body Dementia wreaked its havoc. Back to those days of platform shoes and bright patterns. Back to those days of fierce tenacity and bold brilliance.

Back to the Nancy we all knew and loved. Ready for her close up.

Her up close and personal with God.

***

I saw a cardinal at my window this afternoon, sneaking a peek at my family through the glass. For me, it’s a sure sign — Nancy is back in her red pantsuit once again. Only this time, she’s got wings.

Cuddles and Comfort; Sandpaper and Salt

Two friends. Two distinctly different personalities. Both now gone. Gone way, way, way too soon.

The first was full of cuddles and comfort — the human equivalent of gingerbread and coffee. She warmed and invigorated. She sweetened a room. Her cheeks were sprinkled in cinnamon. Her voice was warm molasses. And when she laughed, your moods floated like cream in her wake.

The second was sandpaper and salt — all quick, gritty wit and billy goat gruff. She flashed lightning one minute and sunshine the next. She could be a tough nut to crack, but once you broke through, she loved you for life. And you were a better person for that love.

Both women — larger-than-life itself — now gone from this lifetime.

It’s always such a jarring, jagged feeling, knowing someone has been pulled from the world, leaving snagged roots and empty spaces — in this case, big, buxom empty expanses where bright patterned tunics and laughter once rang.

How can the world simply keep spinning? How do we just adjust to their absence?

And it seems like sacrilege to ask such questions as a mere friend. A friend. When we know others have been so much more enormously — monumentally –impacted by their loss. Children and parents. Spouses and siblings.

My bruises, though they feel deep, are nothing compared to the trauma in those lives. To the violent rifts and vast voids and crushing avalanches of raw emotion they know and feel.

I’ve started to write about my first friend half a dozen times since her death, but I kept stopping. It didn’t feel right.

And how could it?

Because it was all so wrong. So very, very wrong. My friends had families. Children. Grandchildren. Parents. They were loved. They were needed.

And somehow or other, some force or other chose not to take that into account.

And it infuriates me. And devastates me.

But that’s the nature of time, isn’t it? She’s a bitch. Or is Time a HE? Father Time, isn’t it? Of the infuriating, devastating, abusive variety.

Never asking permission. Doing with us as he will. Sketching lines, loosening skins, brittling bones and dry-rotting joints. And stealing friends. And former students. Time is a crook and a thief.

And he steals more and more from us as the years whiz past.

They say death happens in threes. But it seems in the past few months there have been many, many more than that. Friends have lost fathers. Mothers have lost sons. Families have lost matriarchs.

But I guess that’s the nature of the game. And as we get older, death increases exponentially. And none of us escapes the endgame. And eventually, if you’re the last one standing, then… you’re the last one standing.

And that’s hardly a good thing. I definitely don’t want to be the last one standing.

But I do want to stand a whole lot longer. My two friends who recently left this world — they weren’t a whole lot older than me.

I would appreciate it if Father Time would simply sling me more etched lines and loose skin and spare me a lot more life. Because my boys and my girls and my grandkids and my husband… we’ve got more we want to accomplish. We aren’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.

But then, neither were my friends and their families.

Every morning and night, I drive by one of their houses. There’s a light shining on the front porch, as if waiting for her return.

The primroses that pepper the front lawn of her house in the spring are nowhere to be found in this cold winter chill. The trellis, just visible in the backyard sits sparse and bleak in its grief.

But soon, nature will replenish herself. That’s simply her nature. Always resurrecting.

But the inhumanity of humanity is: we don’t. At least not in our original form. But if you’re a believer, there are options out there…

Some people believe in transmigration of souls — from one body to the next. Or others believe in a spirit realm where our loved ones may watch over us as angels. Still others believe in an afterlife where we will all meet up again in mansions and on streets made of gold.

All of these beliefs are the spiritual equivalent of cuddles and comfort amid the sandpaper and salt, the pain and the tears, of this life.

Cuddles and comfort. Sandpaper and Salt. That’s what life — and the afterlife — is made of.



My D-line Coaching Husband and his Boys

My husband is a big, burly, former D-line player and a big, burly, current D-line coach.

We have twin boys. Twin boys my husband waited thirty-six years to have. Twin boys whose genetics could prove the perfect combo to make him daddy to a couple of D-line players’ one day, too.

And I know my D-line coaching husband would love for his boys to follow in his shoulder pads and put their hand on the ground — along with a quarterback or two-hundred.

And it might happen. But then again, it might not. And we’re both okay with that. We encourage our boys to explore what they love and to follow their bliss.

And one of our son’s bliss involves football and trucks. He says he wants to drive a truck like daddy’s when he grows up and be “a coach” like daddy because he “loves to tackle.”  (He might be a wee bit confused.)

And the other one of our son’s bliss involves feathers and unicorns and everything Disney. He says he wants to be “Elsa” when he grows up because he “loves princesses.” (And some would say he is a wee bit confused.)

But I would never say that. And neither would his daddy.

So when Daddy takes our boys to Target after a particularly hectic week of football to spend their allowance and some time with them, one usually comes back with trucks and one usually comes back with princesses.

IMG_1198

And I love my big, burly D-line husband so incredibly much for this — for his ability to foster the joy and individuality of our two totally opposite twin boys.

And when Daddy takes the boys with him to Home Depot to pick up supplies for little projects around the house,  one is usually wearing his favorite blue boa and both are always wearing great, big smiles.

parker and tate

And I love my big, burly, D-line coaching husband so incredibly much for this — for his ability to walk proudly and without hesitation through the world’s most testosterone-laden chain store with our two totally opposite twin boys.

And when the boys pick out their Halloween costumes and one wants to be a police officer like his grandpa was in the military, and the other wants to be a unicorn like his imagination was in his wildest dreams, their daddy encourages them both with compliments and high fives.

IMG_1098

And I love my big, burly D-line coaching husband so incredibly much for this — for his unconditional love and affection for our two totally opposite twin boys.

Our boys are undeniably loved and undeniably fortunate. Both their parents encourage and support them and their choices, encourage and support them and their passions, encourage and support them and their personalities. Both of their parents encourage and support THEM — whether they fit our expectations — or society’s — or not.

Our hopes and dreams and prayers for our boys are that they be happy, secure, productive members of society, doing whatever it is they want to do and being whomever it is they want to be.

And my hopes and dreams and prayers for every child in every house in every neighborhood in every land is that they have a family — with or without a big, burly D-line coach  — who wishes the same for them.

That’s all.

Amen.

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.

peters

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.

grandma

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.

IMG_1149

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.

A Dallas Must-See List for the Preschool Set

I’m not one of those people who loves a road trip – especially not a twelve-hour (without stops) one with four-year-olds. Twins. Twin sons. With more energy than all the suns in all the galaxies in all the universes.

Give me a plane and a peanut snack. That’s my preference… but we can’t afford four airline tickets. So drive, we must.

And this past week, my three fellas and I packed up the minivan and headed west. West to Dallas. To the Big D.  And we did it up big. As in #DallasBIG (Is that still a thing? It was three years ago, when the boys were 8 months. They are much bigger now…)

We’ve made the trek a lot. The first time out, we flew — because they could fly free then.) But the first time we DROVE it, they were 18-months — and it took us just over 23 hours to get home. That was most definitely not a good time.

Our guys don’t sleep on the road – not then, and not now. Ok, maybe I lied just a bit. They have been known, on occasion, to take a thirty minute power nap…

roadtrip
a rare spotting of road trip snoozing

So why in the world do we do it, you ask? Because their big sister lives and operates there. Literally. She’s a surgeon. So drive, we do. Every year.

This trip, however, was the first time it actually felt like a vacation. Because the boys are finally old enough to handle disruptions to naps and nightly schedules without major repercussions to every last one of us.

We pulled into the asphalt and glass metropolis on July 3rd, our minivan registering 109 degrees outside. That’s hot, y’all — even for Dallas standards.

We unloaded and headed out to explore, our first stop being quirky Deep Ellum — a district of warehouses converted to jazz clubs, dive bars, and tattoo parlors. We specifically went there to eat at a burger joint called Angry Dog and to find the giant American Flag mural nestled between side streets. (Which we did.)

americanflag
The American Flag Mural in Deep Ellum

… along with a myriad of additional murals and a very eclectic crowd. Deep Ellum is fun and feisty and definitely not G-rated after sundown. Get there early and then leave. We did.

The Fourth of July dawned bright and hot. Big Hot. #DallasBIG. So we spent a large part of it in Caitlin’s pool, pretending to be mermaids and sharks — before reenactingThe Napping House children’s book by Audrey Wood.

Afterwards, we headed to Plano for fireworks. (We had missed the Dallas ones on the third, opting to go to bed at 9:30 instead. It had been a long road trip, despite breaking it into two days.)

Turns out, Plano was the perfect place to watch fireworks.  We sat atop a sweeping hill – a natural amphitheater – amid amber waves of prairie grass and multicultural waves of people. It was refreshing to see so many ethnicities atop quilts and soccer chairs under our star-spangled sky. It was as it should be.flag2

On Thursday, we headed downtown in search of a shady playground so the boys could romp in relative safety from the heat. A friendly city employee took a break from his sweaty work of cleaning up the flotsam and jetsam of Fourth celebrations to direct us to Klyde Warren Park.

Talk about perfect and free and fun! There was a giant geometric jungle gym, a merry-go-round, and a tree house! But the biggest hit was the children’s water garden, complete with dancing fountains, wade pool, and winding river. The boys climbed and splashed for an hour-and-a-half (in shorts, not suits — we weren’t prepared) before heading to lunch.

And speaking of lunch, not a hundred feet from the children’s park is a food truck line up — an end-to-end smorgasbord of fusion and classic fare – if you’re into that sort of thing. Which we are.

On Friday, another hot one (“like seven inches from the midday sun”), we took the boys to the Dallas Zoo. Luckily there were misting stations and shade trees everywhere. The zoo knows how to keep its visitors semi-comfortable. And how squeeze every last dime from its patrons.

For example… there’s a carousel smack in the center of the entranceway. Your kids are gonna see it. And they’re gonna wanna ride it. At two bucks a head. And you get motion sickness just turning yours. And they’re too young to ride on their own. Awesome.

IMG_0228
Everybody looks queasy in this pic

Still, it’s a good zoo, with several animals Zoo Atlanta doesn’t have, including penguins and cheetahs and bald eagles and hippos. (Alas, we never saw the hippos because the Dallas Zoo is HUGE. And did I mention HOT? But we did get a nice view of the cheetah.)

zoo3

We also got up close and personal with some lions, thanks again to brilliant zoo marketing. The lions take their morning siesta in the shade of a giant picture window only accessible through the air-conditioned rapture and deep-fried bait of a restaurant called the Serengeti Grill. (Did I mention, Dallas is really good at marketing?) We escaped the certain fate of an $82 lunch tab by promising ice cream from the stand just outside.

zoo
Ice cream for the win

Friday night, we met up with a friend of Caitlin’s at a place called Chicken Scratch. It. Was. Awesome. With plenty of sheet-metal siding, picket fences, and weedy raised gardens to make a small-town, southern girl feel right at home.

But when you order the Coconut Waffles and Chicken you realize you’re not in Kingston anymore. Holy died and gone to heaven, Batman! The syrup had some kick (Dallas is nothing if not HOT), and the chicken had some bliss, and by golly, I was in love.

And so were our boys. What kid doesn’t love chicken tenders? But then, Chicken Scratch is so kid-friendly in other ways, too. All the tables are moored in gravel and our boys loved bulldozing their palms through it. (One family I saw brought beach pails and sand shovels. Genius!) And tucked into a back corner, there was even an old-fashioned playground with monkey bars, chicken crates, and half-buried tires.

Our boys were filthy when we left, but they were also incredibly happy.

Our final stop before heading home was The Perot Museum, an architectural marvel with dinosaur and space exhibits, among others (eleven total). It was a great way to beat the heat.

They had a great time with the interactive displays. In one, they made dinosaurs dance by moving their own bodies (sort of like Nintendo’s Just Dance, but with a T-Rex), and in another, they flew like eagles (same sort of technology.).

But our youngest twin’s favorite activity was riding the elevators (he’s obsessed — truly), and playing in the sand box in the downstairs children’s exhibit. Our oldest liked working the conveyor belt pulley and “driving” the stationary truck in the same children’s exhibit. (If you visit and have young kids, make sure you do the children’s exhibit last. One mother was openly lamenting her decision to enter the museum at that location. Her kid didn’t want to see anything else.

The tickets to the Perot Museum weren’t cheap, and it was very crowded (on a Saturday the week of the Fourth, what did we expect?), but it was loads of fun. Heading out, the boys begged to stay and keep playing in the outdoor music station.

We had a great time in Dallas. We did a whole lot in our five days – way more than we’ve ever done in the past — plus, I got to see my girl. That always makes the drive worth it, whether the boys nap or not. Or the drive takes takes twenty-three-and-a-half hours or sixteen with stops.

I’m actually kind of looking forward to what we can find and do on our next trip out. (Shh. Don’t tell Mike.)

plano4

Simple Resolutions for a Stronger, Saner Me

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write for this week’s blog. Since it IS New Year’s Day, I feel like it should hold some sort of tremendous import or be full of proclamations and profound resolutions.

Problem is, I just don’t know what those might be. I’m totally fresh out of profound proclamations. To tell the truth, I’ve never really owned any.

I am a simple person with simple needs. And my resolutions are equally simple. Family comes first and foremost. Always.

Therefore, I vow to give more love and hugs and phone calls and prayers. Every day. Every single one. I’ve tried to do that this year. But sometimes I’ve failed.

Sometimes the days spin wildly out of control – much like twin toddler tantrums – doubling and flipping and following so closely one upon the other that I suddenly find myself on the other side of nightfall and realize I’ve failed. Failed to call my girls, to check on my grandson, to pray for my babies (all four) and the lives they are owning and embellishing. Failed to say “I love you” to my husband. Failed to lavish an ample number of hugs on my rapidly-growing little boys – and they need lots and lots of hugs. As many as I can give. Because hugs grow good humans. I’m convinced of it.

I need to do better.

And to do that, I need to take better care of myself – primarily my mental health, which takes a beating from full-time teaching and all-the-time mothering.

So, to maintain my sanity, I resolve to take more naps and wear more blue jeans. I believe fully and absolutely in the restorative power of both. Blue jeans and naps do a world of good! And in a world full of bad, I believe they could lead to a gentler, kinder (more comfortable and well-rested) universe.

I know how cranky I get in buttoned-down, up-tight clothing. My fuse is short when my fabric is inflexible. And when I’m sleep-deprived, heaven help! I become a ticking time-mom. 😜

Unfortunately, my work place believes in neither (naps or jeans) so I’ll just have to get as much of both in as I possibly can on my days off. But why does the school administration object so unreasonably to such reasonable stress relievers?

I think a nap class in the place of study hall could shoot our test scores through the moon. After all, it is scientifically proven that naps boost productivity and mental alertness. They also lower stress levels and improve overall mood. I’m here to say that high schoolers – and their teachers – could greatly benefit from post-lunch siestas. Although I guess I understand the objection to naps. Sort of.

But blue jeans?  Why, pray tell, are blue jeans so frowned upon in our establishment?  Do the powers-that-be really believe that students respond more favorably and focus more intently when the instructor is dressed professionally? How, pray tell, do tailored trousers and silk blouses translate into higher SATs and college admissions? I’d like to see a study on that hogwash.

Still… I don’t have an issue with Monday-through-Thursday compliance. But I do believe that casual Friday should be reinstated. (We used to have dress-down days at the end of each week, but then this year, that simple workplace perk went the way of the dinosaurs. Why, you ask?  I have no idea, I reply. I do, however, have lots and lots of anger and resentment…)

Oops… I seem to be digressing – and stressing –over a set of New Year’s resolutions that are meant to help alleviate my stress levels: more naps and blue jeans (at least on the weekends). Simple. Cheap. Effective.

So there you have them. My far-from-profound, hardly earth-shattering resolutions. Love more. Hug often. Call daily. Pray constantly. And nap and wear blue jeans every weekend and calendar break of 2018.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nap to take…

I Wish You a Merry, Mid Century Modern, Swivel-Chaired Christmas

peterschristmasThat old holiday standby – “I’ll be Home for Christmas” — there’s a reason it’s a favorite. Nearly all of us yearn for those Christmas card kinda holidays — those Currier & Ives, picture perfect Christmases from our childhoods. The ones with lights twinkling, presents waiting, family hugging, baking, laughing, snuggling. Those are the ones we remember with fondness.

And as we get older, those kinds get harder and harder to recreate. In part, it’s because families get scattered to the four winds and coming home for the holidays takes a major Christmas miracle.

Take my family, for instance. I have a sibling in Phoenix, a daughter in Dallas, another in Knoxville, aunts and uncles scattered across the Southeast, in-laws in Detroit, and grandparents in Heaven. Only one of the afore-mentioned family members is home  – and it’s the first time for her in five years. So yes, distance makes family reunions impossible.

But I also think it’s because those past Christmases probably weren’t as consummately classic as our memories tend to make them. Pretty sure my grandmother’s house was more Clark Griswold than Norman Rockwell. Regardless, it is what I miss the most at Christmas.

There were uncles and cousins times twenty. There was turkey and stuffing and more. You want jingle and nog? We had plenty, but who cares? No big deal, we had more….

I wanna be back where my people are…

I wanna see, wanna see them dancing – my uncle the hambone, my Grandma the Charleston — while cousin Teresa pounds out carols on the old, rattletrap pump organ and the rest of us cousins twirl endlessly on the mid century modern swivel chair with winged backrest and threadbare upholstery.

This chair was an arm-less dame with a generous lap and endless patience, and we stacked ourselves up and spun round and round till our stomachs – or a cousin — flipped. And then we started all over again.

And while we tripped the chair fantastic, an ancient miniature schnauzer with rotting teeth nibbled hard boiled eggs at the fireplace hearth, and our aunts and mothers baked up a holiday feast worthy of Rockwell legend.

And when we  finally all sat down to eat – all those Southeast-scattered aunts and uncles, and the entire eight cousins, along with the dog, and the grandest dame of them all, our Charleston-dancing, snuff-sniffing, Melungeon-made matriarch — the table absolutely did NOT look like that iconic Saturday Evening Post holiday spread. There was no silver service, no matching white china, no apron-wearing, gray-haired grandparents delivering the glistening turkey to the masses. (My grandfather died when I was scarcely two, and my grandma never basted a butterball in her life – not to mention her hair was a deeply dyed, bitumen-black bob.)

No, our table looked more like the Grinch-down-in-Whoville’s final dinner scene. Our spread was scattered across a hodge podge of card tables and end tables linked together in a rickety centipede’s spine. No turned-mahogany matched seating for us. Instead we all bellied up to the banquet in random ladder-back and fold up and no-backed seating and heaped up our plates with turkey and pork tenderloin and cranberries and asparagus casserole and stuffing and dressing for miles.

Elbows rode tables, laughter rode faces, and our family spun straw into gold.

I miss those days and those sounds and those people so, so much.

We have a new matriarch now. And the eight cousins have doubled and quadrupled and scattered to horizons far, far away. And not a one of us is getting any younger. And some of us are nearly as old as our bitumen-bobbed matriarch was way back in those Christmases past.

Which means not many of us are able to gather round rickety card table banquets to rehash the hilarity. But I can still hold out hope. Hope that some time, very, very soon, we can get all the extended Peters back together once again to recapture the merry, mid- century modern, swivel-chaired holidays of our youth.

That is tops – absolute tops — on my grown-up Christmas list.

(Perhaps a Christmas in July this year, Santa? Whaddaya say?)

 

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑