Finally!

Well, after an unexpected delay that I still don’t understand, My Mirror Lies to Me is finally available on Amazon — only nine days later than the date I had promised. Better late than never, right?

Just to give you a little taste, I’m sharing a small sample of my new book. If you enjoy the sample, you can read the rest through Kindle Unlimited or buy it here for only $2.99.

My Mirror Lies to Me

My Aunt Marian always told people that when I was a small child I would wake up from naps, blink a few times, and say, “…and, um–” before launching into a story of some sort.

I’ve always been a talker. A storyteller. Most of my stories are true, or at the very least possess a small kernel of truth somewhere in either the exposition or fine details. What can I say? I like to make people smile. Maybe even make them laugh out loud. If I can make them laugh so hard they pee, that’s just a bonus.

“Amy stories” have prompted a lot of eye-rolling and grimacing over the years, along with polite suggestions that I write them down in a book someday. Suggestions which, let’s be honest, are less about encouraging me to share my tales than about asking me to please, for the love of God, shut up for five minutes.

“I know, Mom,” my kids will groan. “You’ve told this one, like, a thousand times.”

“Is this another one about your aunts? Yes, I’ve heard them all before,” a more polite co-worker might say. “You should really write a book, you know.”

I used to get embarrassed or offended when people said things like that. Now? Now, I just nod and smile and probably tell yet another story, perhaps about a time when I embarrassed myself by talking too much.

Like the time my soft-spoken, very intelligent sister took me to hear one of her favorite authors speak. She is the quintessential big sister, one of the most organized and efficient people I have ever met. On that particular night, she took care of everything, from getting the tickets to arranging a babysitter to driving us to the theater. In return, she asked for only one thing from me.

“Please let me go ahead of you in the line to meet him,” she asked. “Let me talk to him first and get his autograph. Please?”

Of course I agreed. In spirit, anyway. But as my sister, she should have known she was asking the impossible.

Several moments later, we stood at the table, looking down at David Sedaris. And let me just say here that he was an amiable gentleman who seemed to go out of his way to greet his fans in a friendly, conversational manner. He was all about putting us at ease. Just a very normal, ordinary, approachable man.

And luck was on our side that night. Out of all the people in that line, he turned to my sister with a very simple question.

“Where’s a good place around here to go for breakfast?”

She knew the answer. She knew that town inside and out, was familiar with most of the businesses. It was her job to know the answers to questions like that as part of her daily 9-5. She was perhaps the single best person in that room that he could have chosen for that question.

And what did she do?

She went full goldfish on him.

She blinked. She opened her mouth and closed it. And again. She gaped at him and blinked some more.

“Maybe a Denny’s?” he ventured.

Now, I’m told that I behaved in a perfectly composed and normal manner after that, but that’s not how I remember it. I remember shoving my dog-eared copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day in front of him and babbling something about never looking at Great Danes the same way again.

My sister says he laughed. If there’s any truth to that, then I can die happily any time now, content in the knowledge that I once made David Sedaris laugh.

Have you ever shaken up a bottle of Diet Coke and then released the built-up pressure? That’s exactly what happens to my words when I try to hold them inside and behave myself. And it’s what happened that night, standing in front of David Sedaris.

The dam burst. I babbled. I giggled. I chattered like an idiot. Once I start, I don’t have an “off” switch.

Of course, Mr. Sedaris was very gracious about it. I can only assume someone got him some food at some point after we left. I’ll never know for sure, because my sister and I turned and fled, laughing like idiots.

That’s what My Mirror Lies to Me is all about: Finding the “funny” in an otherwise mortifying moment. Looking at myself and seeing only the best that I have to offer to the world. Instead of seeing a double chin or close-set eyes and a mouth that runs too much, I want to see a woman who is capable of always looking for the good where others see flaws.

If I’ve learned anything about life, it’s that it’s too short to waste time dwelling on the negative stuff. I always want to look past the lies my mirror tells me. I want to enjoy telling “Amy stories” that make people laugh. If I can make a few people pee or spray coffee out their noses, then I’ve done my job.

And David Sedaris, if you ever happen to read this book, the Kalamazoo Denny’s is on Cork Street, just off Sprinkle Road near I-94. Tell them A.J. and the Goldfish sent you.

 

 

 

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Happy Holidays

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d start out by wishing you Happy Holidays. There might be an awkward moment after that while I try to figure out if that was a mistake; after all, you might not celebrate Christmas and it might have been a safer bet to greet you with something about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice.

Maybe I should have just said “Here, take your coffee.”

You know, I think we just make things too hard for ourselves this time of year. There’s no need to take a stand or defend your beliefs or even worry about political correctness. Fighting over whether it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is just pointless because, you see, I’ve got it all figured out.

That’s right, folks, I know exactly what we need to do to get along this holiday season.

We just need to be nice.

Look, I know all about “The Reason for The Season.” I’m a Christian, and I celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. I put the star on my tree and I listen to countless versions of Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know” and I get chills at the reminders that my Savior was born in a quiet stable on that Holy Night. I believe. I believe in all of it. I draw strength from that belief throughout the year.

But I also have fun with Christmas and all of the traditions that come along with it that have nothing to do with religion. Decorating the tree with ornaments that have been in my family for years. Plucking my cat out of said tree when he tries to play with those ornaments. I love hiding that stupid Elf on the Shelf and telling lies about having Santa Claus on speed dial, and I adore all the giggling and sneaking around to find just the right gift for the people I love.

I also love it when the school band plays “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” at their Christmas concert. I think the Menorah in my neighbor’s window is just lovely.

I look forward to being invited to my friend’s annual Solstice Bonfire every year.

I say “Happy Holidays” not because I’m trying to be politically correct or because my Christian beliefs are being suppressed in any way. I say it because the traditions surrounding this time of year are fun and beautiful regardless of how you celebrate. I say it out of a genuine desire to wish you happy holidays, period.

When I was in high school, I was confirmed into the Presbyterian Church after several weeks’ worth of confirmation classes. There were perhaps a half-dozen of us who attended class every week before church on Sundays, and most of us were pretty grumpy about having to get up that early.

As part of our confirmation class, our pastor required us to attend church services for different denominations and beliefs before we were allowed to officially join our Presbyterian church. We went to Catholic Mass and a Baptist service; we visited a Synagogue where the boys in our group were instructed to don yarmulkes as a sign of respect.

What’s my point here? We were welcomed into all those houses of worship even though we didn’t technically belong. And we behaved with respect and courtesy during our visits. Our beliefs, our traditions, were not challenged or diminished in any way by opening ourselves up to beliefs and traditions that were different from ours.

It’s been more than thirty years since I was confirmed into my Presbyterian Church back in Portage, Michigan. I can’t speak for the others in my class, but I’m still a Christian. I probably lean a bit more toward a non-denominational type of Christianity at this point, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned back then.

A little kindness goes a long way. A little understanding goes even further. And a little respect can mean the world.

So wish me a Merry Christmas. Tell me to have a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Solstice. Say what’s in your heart and mean it when you say it, and everything else will take care of itself. I promise not to be offended because we worship in different ways.

Because when I say “Happy Holidays” to you, I am not being politically correct or having my Christian beliefs suppressed in any way. I am saying, “However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, I wish for you to feel all the joy and love and peace that you can possibly feel all through the year. May you be surrounded by those you love; may your heart be full of happiness.”

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

Weekend Coffee Share: Perfect Circle

If we were having coffee this morning, it would have to be an iced coffee, with lots of milk and a splash of hazelnut. It’s a hot day already, with humidity at almost 100%, and I think we’d all be happier with something cold to drink.

I’ve been thinking about circles this week. Not just any circles, though. Those circles in some long-ago math class that I coasted through with a barely-passing grade, where the rings overlap and mark off a small segment of shared ground. I don’t remember what that little bit of shared ground is called, but I wonder if my old math teacher would be proud of the fact that I’m applying math to real life.

There’s been a lot of overlap in my life recently. Circles have been crisscrossing where I least expect it. Meandering lines have suddenly doubled back to form circles in surprising places.

Circle 1. At my first professional job as an adult back in the 1980’s, there was a very sweet lady named Donna who always looked out for me and helped me settle into the department. It turned out that she knew my father. Small world, right? That world got smaller yesterday, when I met her son, who turned out to be the pastor at my brother-in-law’s church.

Circle 2. At about the same time I was working with Donna, I started going to a big church in another town, where I became really active in a singles Bible study group. It ended badly for me in a way that really soured the taste of organized religion for me.

Oddly enough, one of the people from that group has ended up being a part of my life now, decades later and lots of miles away. She has quietly taught me more about forgiveness and compassion than I ever learned sitting on a pew anywhere.

Last week, another person from that church contacted me, more than twenty years since our last meeting. She said she had sampled one of my books and didn’t see God in it, and wanted to know what caused this. Her words were kind on the surface, but the unspoken judgement and implied recrimination hit me like a physical blow.

Circle 3. My ex-husband and I have been apart for more than two years, but we both laughed together on Wednesday when we realized that it was our twentieth wedding anniversary. Since our divorce isn’t actually final yet, we found a bit of humor in the fact that we can technically say we made it twenty years. He and I always shared the same peculiar sense of humor; even when things fell apart for us, that is the one thing we still have in common.

Circle 4. Most of my family is gone now, and I sometimes feel terribly alone. There just aren’t a lot of cousins or relatives in the area. I feel disconnected from the world somehow, like a hot-air balloon tethered to the earth by only a few strings, and those strings are being cut one by one. When I was married, the greatest gift my husband ever gave me was his family — brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles . . . all strings that helped tie me back to the earth. Connections.

Losing my marriage was like cutting all of those strings.

Those random circles all came together yesterday at a small memorial service on the shore of a little inland lake. A gentle breeze worked its way through the branches of the maple trees and tiny waves tickled the sandy shore as we gathered around the table that held flowers and a few small items. There were pictures of a tiny baby boy, born too early into a world that wasn’t ready for him.

I rode to the memorial with my ex-husband and stood with his family; they are my family, too, regardless of our divorce. His niece — our niece — was supported by a circle of those who love her, while Donna’s son, the pastor, officiated at the memorial for our first “great.”

God was there, too. In the words of the sermon, of course, and in the passages that were read from the Bible. But more than that, He was the one bit of shared ground, the one intersection of all those circles.

I can’t worship a God who thunders from a pulpit.

I believe that God is in the kindness and love shown in each of those circles. In Donna looking out for her younger co-worker while raising her son to be a spiritual leader. In my old church friend who teaches by example and not by judgement. In my ex and his family, who still accept me as one of them and hold onto those strings that connect me to this earth.

And yes, He was in little Logan during his few minutes of life in his mother’s arms, as hard as that is to believe through her grief.

So now it’s Sunday morning. Some folks are getting ready for church, and some of them may think less of me because I am sitting here chatting with friends over an iced coffee rather than heading out to a house of worship.

But for me, God isn’t just in a house of worship. He’s not in judgement and recrimination. He’s all around me in everything that we do, but most of all, he is in that little bit of shared ground, that place where all the circles of life intersect and bring us all together just when we need each other the most.

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Happy birthday, Little Man

Today is Little Man’s eighth birthday.

It’s not a “landmark” birthday like the one I just had last week, or the one his big brother will be hitting soon. In the grand scheme of things, turning eight is not a big deal. One year older, several inches taller, and just old enough to tell me at the school this morning that I can still hug him in public but no more kisses in front of his friends.

I snuck one in on the  top of his head anyway during my allotted hug. I don’t think anyone noticed.

It may not be a landmark birthday, but it’s a big day around here. He’s our bonus baby, the one who came along when his brother and sister were already half-grown. He’s old enough now to ride in the car without his booster seat. Next year, he’ll be able to get off the school bus without an older sibling, which is a good thing because next year he will also be my only child still at  home.

Little Man and I made cookies last night to take in for his class today. I had found a box of Strawberry Milkshake flavored cookie mix on clearance a few weeks ago, and we discovered last night just exactly why it was on clearance.

It was the single most complicated box mix of anything I have ever seen in my life. Things had to be “frothed” and “folded” and prayed over, and I think there is a remote possibility that we may have created an alien life form in the process. We ended up creating a sticky, paste-like pink substance that clung to the spoons like a living thing as we fought to drop gelatinous globs of it onto a cookie sheet.

They are delicious, but I swear the tiny chocolate chips look like eyes glaring at me.

For his ninth birthday, the boy gets Oreos.

Last night, his big brother whispered to him that birthday boys should get French toast and scrambled eggs and hot cocoa for breakfast for their eight birthday. He whispered it and muttered it and then announced it rather loudly until Little Man agreed.

For the record, his big brother can be a little bit of an asshole that way.

My kids go to a school that serves free breakfast to all kids every day. Let me say that again, just to make it perfectly clear. Free. Breakfast. To all kids. Every day. Free. I haven’t had to feed my kids in the morning for years.

Now, I work in the school kitchen, so I know the food is fresh and healthy. And let’s face it, it’s prepared on surfaces that are a hell of a lot cleaner than any of the surfaces in my own kitchen. In short, the people at our public school feed my kids a better breakfast than anything I’m going to make them at home.

And did I mention that it’s free?

Still, it wasn’t so bad starting the day out with homemade French toast and scrambled eggs, as long as I had access to plenty of coffee.  I even managed to get the syrup on the toast and ketchup on the eggs instead of vice versa, so I did better than I had really expected.

I gave the cookies to his teacher and I’ll be returning later in the afternoon to read to the class from The Stinky Cheese Man. Folks, if you haven’t read The Stinky Cheese Man, you are missing out. Even if you don’t have a child in the appropriate age range for bodily function humor and horribly groan-worthy jokes, you just have to read this book. I don’t know what I’ll do when my Little Man gets too old for it and I run out of excuses for reading it to anyone. That’s right, I am a fifty year-old woman who still laughs out loud over The Stinky Cheese Man.

I think there just may be support groups for people like me.

Apparently, I can be a bit of an asshole at times, too.

Tomorrow, the boys start Spring Break and I dive headlong into Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to reach my goal of 30,000 words in April — especially since April includes Spring Break, a final round of edits on Fat, Fifty and Menopausal, and preparations for my oldest son’s high school graduation — but I’m willing to give it a try.

April is going to be a busy month around here, but for today, the last day of March, our only plan is to have fun with a certain Little Man who is growing up much too fast.

Happy birthday, Little Man.

 

 

Family Ties

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who looks nothing like the rest of my family. I’ve never really understood the finer points of genetics, but it seems as though I should resemble at least one of the people who share my family history.

But I don’t. I look like none of them, not even my sisters.

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Mom was tiny and dark, with a little round face and a sort of natural grace that just can’t be taught. I have her wonky eyelid and a lot of her mannerisms, but no one would ever look at our pictures together and guess that I am her child. And I certainly didn’t inherit her natural grace; I fall upstairs and trip over nonexistent things on a daily basis.

Mom’s elegance and beauty skipped a generation and went directly to my daughter. The Princess looks almost exactly like Mom did at that age. I, of course, look like neither one of them.

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I got my father’s sense of humor and broad shoulders, but that’s about it. Well, I inherited his family’s tendency to gain weight easily. Yay, Dad. My middle sister was lucky enough to get his pale, crystal-blue eyes and distinctive chin dimple, although none of us got his height.

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I’ll admit, I can see just a tiny bit of myself in his sister, my Aunt Marian, and that scares me a little. I loved Aunt Marian and I miss her every day, but she could be a rather intimidating woman when she wanted to be. I still shudder when I remember the way she squared up that already-square jaw, clenched her teeth, and glared when she was angry. Holy moly, I would have confessed to just about anything when she gave me that look!

I hope I didn’t get the genes for that, although it might come in handy in my job as a lunchlady.

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I don’t look like my cousin, either. Okay, we both have pictures of ourselves with large bodies of water in the background, so that’s something. I wonder if she manages to get hit by seagull poop every single summer like I do.

I’ll have to ask her about that someday.

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My oldest sister says I am wrong, that I really do look like our father’s family, but I just don’t see it. Whenever we go to a family funeral, I see a big group of large people with lots of bony shoulders and sharp noses and round bellies. And no butts. Swear to God, there is not a single man on my father’s side of the family who has a butt.

Unfortunately, the women in Mom’s family all more than make up for that absence. Even the skinny ones have more than their fair share of derriere.

Gee, thanks, Mom.

As a kid, I often wondered if I was adopted. It really bothered me for a while that I just never seemed to fit in with everyone else. Now that I’m older, I’ve noticed just enough similarities to know that I really am related to these people, but not enough similarities to feel quite like I fit in.

And then, a few weeks ago, I found this picture of my Aunt Ida.

 

Hot damn,  maybe I wasn’t switched at birth!

I really don’t mind looking like my Aunt Ida. In fact, it makes me pretty happy. I always had a special connection with Ida.

At one point in her life, Ida looked like this.

 

There just may be hope for me. I mean, come on, she was gorgeous.

All silliness aside, what do I see when I look in the mirror? Sure, I see a woman who doesn’t look anything like my parents or siblings. I see a woman in dire need of a dye job and a good moisturizer. I see someone who really needs to get a little bit more sleep and lot less stress.

But I see so much more. I see the sum total of all the best parts of a lot of good people. I see potential — and I don’t mean the potential to look like Aunt Ida’s cover-girl shots. Trust me, that ship has sailed. It’s not happening. I mean the potential for Mom’s intelligence, Dad’s laughter, Ida’s self-confidence. Potential for my cousin’s strength in the face of adversity. For Marian’s tough exterior.

So maybe I don’t look like most of them. That’s okay, because we are family. Like it or not, we share the same genes that make us who we are, and that’s pretty awesome.  It’s not about who looks like whom; it’s about knowing where we came from and recognizing everything that’s good in all of us.

***

This has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, hosted this week by Kristi of FindingNine.com and April of April Noelle.  This week’s prompt is “When I look in the mirror, I see . . .”

 

 

A Traditional Family Christmas

This holiday season, I hope to establish some new traditions. But I have to be careful, because in my family the word “tradition” is sort of a bad word.

When I was growing up, my aunts were really into holiday traditions. Everything we did was supposed to have some kind of significance, from the precise placement of Grandma’s porcelain angel bells to the exact shade of Christmas toilet paper. Our Christmas with the aunts was always the weekend before the actual holiday, and Aunt Marian was determined to cram MEANING into every second of every day of the entire weekend.

Christmas with Mom, on the other hand, was much less predictable. The most charitable way to describe my mother’s holiday traditions would be to say “Well, she tried.” In fact, that was the best part of Christmas with her — she kept trying different things every year. The only constant about holidays with Mom was the fact that she would let us all open our gifts from Grandma on Christmas Eve.

And that was only because we all knew that Grandma was going to send us all matching nightgowns that she had purchased at Dillard’s Department Store in Jonesboro. Grandma worshipped Dillard’s the way most folks worship God, although she was pretty vague on which granddaughter wore what size and we all ended up swapping gifts with each other until we found one that fit.

I think our most memorable Christmas was the year Mom decided that we should all go to church on Christmas Eve. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going to church on Christmas Eve. Jesus is, after all, “the reason for the season”.  It’s just that we were never really a church-going family. We went on Easter and whenever Mom worried that one of us was sinning more than usual.

On that particular Christmas Eve, she made a batch of chili for our dinner and then ordered us all to get dressed up for the big evening service.  But she didn’t take us to “our” church. For some unknown reason, the woman took all of us — including my two adult step brothers — to an ornate, hundred year-old house of worship in downtown Kalamazoo. It was enormous, with high ceilings and lots of religious statues and plenty of stained glass.

It was beautiful, but it It wasn’t our church.

It wasn’t even our denomination.

To this day, I have no idea what denomination it was. I just know that it involved a lot of kneeling. Everywhere around us, people were bouncing up and down like bits of human popcorn. We tried to blend in and do what everyone else was doing, but we sort of gave ourselves away when a man on our pew bent to retrieve his pen and my entire family hit the floor.

About thirty minutes into the service, the Christmas Eve chili began to work its magic on my stepbrothers. I’m not talking about a gentle, unavoidable “right cheek sneak” during a loud hymn. No, these boys didn’t do anything halfway. Dedicated followers of the Go-Big-Or-Go-Home school of thought, they were busily exploring the full comedic and acoustic possibilities of flatulence in a quiet, high-ceilinged room.

By the time we got back to our car, Mom was furious. As for me, I was pretty firmly convinced that we had offended both Santa and Jesus, and that I was going straight to hell without any Christmas presents.

Now that I have kids of my own, I don’t serve chili or go to church on Christmas Eve. We have a few traditions, most of which involve food. This year . . . well, this year is kind of rough.

It’s been two years since my husband and I split. Last year, he still came to my house to watch the kids open their presents, and we were very cordial about splitting our time with them. But this year, I’m in a tiny apartment and he’s in a committed relationship with someone else. And with our daughter away at college and our oldest son graduating in the spring, it’s time to face the fact that our holidays are never going to be the same.

I’m doing my best to see this as a positive thing. It’s a clean slate, an opportunity to start fresh with my youngest son with a whole new set of holiday traditions. We’ll still make our sugar cookies from his Great-great Grandma Tice’s recipe, and this year he’ll be able to write the note to Santa without my help. By next year, he may have outgrown Santa.

I really hope he outgrows that creepy little elf soon.

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This holiday season, I hope to face Christmas with a positive attitude. I hope to keep in mind that this is a new beginning or me, and I hope to come up with a few fun and meaningful traditions for my Little Man and me to follow every year.

And  . . .

I hope that all of you out there have a safe and rewarding holiday season, surrounded by those you love.  Go ahead, share some of your family traditions or even some of your funniest Christmas memories!

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post: “This holiday season, I hope…” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and Lisa from The Golden Spoons. Please visit their blogs to see what other writers have done with this prompt!

 

If you enjoyed what you read here today, please check out my book Have a Goode One! It’s free on Kindle December 11-12.

Invisibility

The hardship I am most thankful for is the accident that changed my life in 2011. I know that probably seems a little predictable for me to choose that night when discussing hardships, but I’m not thankful for the reasons you might expect.

Sure, I learned that life can change in an instant. I learned just how precious and fleeting life can really be, and I learned how very important it is to always say “I love you” because you may never get another chance. I’m so thankful for the change in perspective I got that night. I mean, it should have been a ten-minute drive to the church and back. I’d done it every Tuesday night for years, and there was no reason to expect that this particular Tuesday night was going to be any different.

I’m not thankful for the four and a half-years of constant pain, or the downward spiral of job loss, divorce, depression, eviction, betrayal, and . . . where was I going with this?

Right. Being thankful for hardship.

I learned that life is too short to keep pushing my dreams to the back burner with the excuse that there will be time later. No, there may not be time later. Time is finite, and life can end with something as simple as driving past a maple tree in a thunderstorm.

If I hadn’t broken my neck that night, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to writing anything. My little romance novels may never sell well or make any kind of bestseller list, but they mean the world to me because they represent my lifelong dream of writing. I did it. I made it come true, something I may never have accomplished if not for life hitting me upside the head with a tree.

I wish life had been a bit more subtle, but it is what it is.

Still, none of this is what makes me so very thankful for everything that happened that night. That part is a little harder to explain.

Sometimes in life, I feel invisible. I’ve always been sort of average. I’m the kind of person who tends to blend in with the wallpaper if I’m not careful. In high school, I once missed two weeks of school and discovered that not one of my teachers had even marked me absent. No one noticed that I wasn’t there.

I’ve never felt important. Never been elected into office, never been anyone’s boss, never been much of a leader. Someone’s mom, someone’s wife, someone’s sister, but never the Someone  that is anyone else’s point of reference.

The night of my accident, I saw the look on the fire chief’s face when he recognized me. I watched the color drain out of his face and I heard the emotion in his voice when he kept saying, “Oh, no. Oh, no, no.” I saw the way no one else would look me in the eye.

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At the emergency room, it took a while for the x-rays and CT scan to show that I was beyond anything they could do for me at our little hospital. As they were wheeling me back out to the ambulance, I remember someone saying that there were some people in the hallway who wanted to see me.

I couldn’t see much because I was immobilized by the C-collar and backboard, but I remember faces. Lots of faces, leaning over to speak to me. Some were crying; one of my husband’s friends leaned over to kiss my cheek and I was surprised to feel his tears against my skin.

I thought at first that one of the firefighters had been injured as well. I figured the crowd in the hallway was there for him, and I panicked until my husband assured me that no, there were all there for me.

It’s been four and a half years, and I’ve never forgotten the way I felt at that moment when I realized they were there for me.

Me. Not someone’s wife, someone’s mom, someone’s sister. Me.

In the days and weeks that followed, I was amazed by the flood of cards and phone calls, of people stopping by to bring food and Diet Coke, or just to visit. People who came to clean my refrigerator or drive my silly butt to the Sav-A-Lot because I was going stir-crazy at home with nothing but my neck brace and a whole  lot of self-pity.

It’s been four and a half years now. I have a lot of bad days, especially since I seem to be going through a pretty rocky stretch of bad luck with things like cars, housing, and money. But at the end of the day, no matter how bad it’s been, I can look back on that moment and draw strength from it.

You see, that was the moment I understood that I matter. Sort of my own personal “George Bailey” moment, like in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, when George realizes that he’s really had an impact on the people around him.

I’m thankful for the accident because it showed me that I  am loved. That I matter.  That I’m not invisible.

 

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “The hardship I’m most thankful for…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, Reta of  Calculated Chaos and Vidya of Collecting Smiles

 

 

Falling For You

Each fall, I remember why I live in Michigan.

At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, I have to say that Michigan is a beautiful place in all seasons.  Sure, we’ve got some of the worst roads in the nation, and there’s a public perception out there that we’re all a bunch of lumberjacks, hunters, and hillbillies. Our winters are brutal; in fact, the weather is unpredictable and often violent all year ‘round. And the wildlife? I’m not even going to talk about the random bear and cougar sightings around here, or the fact that the mosquito is close to edging out the robin as our state bird.  But not even the mosquito is as annoying or irritating as its friends: the gnats, black flies, deer flies, and that most mysterious of all insects known as the No-see-um.

Wait. Where was I going with this?  Ah, yes. Michigan in the fall.

It’s all about change. Driving down the road one day, I’ll suddenly notice an orange leaf here, a red one there, and somehow, it always manages to surprise me. I know it’s coming every year, but there’s always that one day when I say, “Is it that time already?”

Right about then, the smiling weather reporters on the nightly news shows start talking about “Peak Color.” They point at pretty charts and start running all the facts and figures to tell us all where to be and when to be there in order to see the brightest display of Michigan’s best fall colors.

Folks, we don’t need the weatherman on WWMT to tell us when the colors are pretty. Just look out the damn window or head north.  Red, orange, yellow and brown, in more hues and tones than can ever be recreated in a Crayola box of 64 colors. Bright, vivid, riotous shades that stand out against a clear blue sky, or sometimes against thick gray storm clouds that swirl and poke at each other like teenagers looking for a fight.

The trails around Tahquamenon Falls, already orange from the tannic acid in the water, become almost ethereal in their autumn beauty. The Mighty Mac – the Mackinac Bridge – becomes a road to a land of such indescribable beauty that it must be seen to be believed. And Mackinac Island itself becomes Heaven on Earth, and that’s all there is to it. The Island is pretty darn amazing in the spring when the lilacs are in bloom, but even that doesn’t compete with its October beauty.

Colors always reach their peak earlier in the U.P. Or as you non-Michiganders refer to it, the Upper Peninsula. Here in Lower Michigan, we tend to think of those folks up there as sort of a different tribe, distant relatives of our family. We call them “Yoopers” and they call us “Trolls” because we live under the bridge.

That’s okay, though, because at least we go out at night.

The stereotypical Yooper wears flannel, plays Euchre, and says “eh” at the end of every sentence. They even have their own local celebrities – a very funny, very talented band called Da Yoopers, who have songs like “It’s The Second Week of Deer Camp” and “Da Couch Dat Burps” among other treasures.   Da Yoopers also have their own store and outhouse museum in Ishpeming.  My ex-husband and I went there as part of our honeymoon tour of the U.P., right after a stop at the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.

In retrospect, I think it says an awful lot about us that our marriage began with a trip to look at shipwrecks and toilets.

Back down here in the Lower Peninsula, fall brings football season and bonfires, and an almost frantic rush to get in as much fun as possible before the snow hits. It’s not quite time for hot cocoa yet; we demand hot cider stirred with a cinnamon stick or sprinkled with tiny red-hots.

We have corn mazes here in Michigan, like many other Midwestern states. I used to take my kids to the one at Crane’s Orchards in Fennville, but it got embarrassing when the owners had to send in a rescue party for my kids and me year after year. The one year my ex-husband joined us, his perfect sense of direction whisked us through the entire maze in ten minutes flat.

Good man to have around in an emergency, not so fun in a corn maze.

After the maze, we hurry over to Crane’s Pie Pantry, where they serve the world’s best homemade apple pie ala mode. Since I don’t really like apple pie, however, I am usually content with the heaping platter of tiny apple cider doughnuts they plunk down on every table. Add a bottomless mug of icy apple cider, and I’m in absolute bliss, especially since Crane’s idea of a “bottomless mug” is a Mason jar.

Just outside the Pie Pantry, there stands a tiny log cabin made out of railroad ties.  It is over a hundred years old; the Crane family bought it and hauled it here from the little town of Dunningville, where my grandfather and his half-brother Jim built it.  Just inside the door, there are two pictures on the wall. One is a picture of Grandpa, Jim, and their dog Bowzer – who, according to family legend, simply lay down and died a few days after Jim died from a ruptured appendix.  The other is a picture of my four aunts in their heyday.

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If the Pie Pantry isn’t too busy the day we visit, I’ll tell the Cranes that I’m Mr. Hyde’s granddaughter, and they’ll let us go inside the old cabin instead of just peering through the windows with everyone else. My sister and I once held hands in the center and easily reached out to touch the walls, marveling that two grown men once shared that tiny space.

I never met my Grandfather, of course. He died when Dad was just a little boy, somewhere in the 1940’s. From everything I’ve heard, he wasn’t a very nice man, and there are many, many stories about him that I probably shouldn’t have been told. But I love to go to his cabin in the fall because it makes me feel connected.

You see, they’re all gone now. Grandpa, Jim, the aunts, even poor old Bowzer. Mom and Dad, who aren’t in any pictures at the log cabin, but still connected in their own way. It’s been too many years since I held hands with my sister in the cabin or anywhere else, for that matter.  Sometimes, even with my kids and my friends and those few family members who are still here . . .sometimes, I am so alone in this world that I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage to draw the next breath.

But each fall, I go to Grandpa’s cabin and I find that connection again. I hear the leaves crunching beneath my feet, and I try to whistle through acorn caps the way Aunt Marian used to do, and I’m not alone any more.

Each fall, I am reminded that everything ends. There is always a sense of wrapping up, of tying off loose ends, of saying farewell. It’s a last burst of color before we’re all buried in snow. In a sense, fall is a preparation for death. But it’s also a promise, because fall’s beauty reminds us that spring is just around the corner and things are going to be bright and colorful again someday.

It’s all about hope.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “Each fall, I . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Julie Martinka Severson from Carvings on a Desk and Danielle Dion from https://wayoffscript.wordpress.com/. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

The Best Medicine

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” – Kurt Vonnegut

The world needs more laughter. Even on the worst of days, even when the future is bleak and the present is worse, even when all hope seems lost . . . we have to look for reasons to laugh.  I know that laughter has never, ever solved a single major problem, but neither have tears. Especially not in my family.

We were devastated when Aunt Ida died. She was the first one of The Amoeba Squad to go, the first of the four sisters to go somewhere without her siblings. She’d been sick for ages; Aunt Marian often said that that Ida had “one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel.” But still, her death rocked us.

Aunt Vernabelle took it especially hard, although I never really knew if that was because Verna was the most sensitive of the four or because she just really never liked Ida very much and felt guilty about that.  Either way, Verna’s grief was overwhelming. She cried non-stop for days; she cried herself sick and then cried some more after being sick. She couldn’t function.

It was during the visitation that Aunt Marian, the Head Aunt, decided that enough was enough. She turned on her sister and issued an ultimatum: Verna had twenty-four hours to get herself under control, or else. Now, no one was ever really clear on what “or else” meant, but the threat was sufficient to get through to Verna. She sniffled and sobbed and wept for the next twenty-four hours, but she also kept a running countdown: “I’ve got eighteen hours left to cry!” she’d wail. “Marian says I can cry for sixteen more hours!”

“The next time someone dies,” Marian grumbled after a while, “she only gets twelve hours.”

And we laughed. God help us, we all laughed, even Verna. That’s just how my family has always dealt with things beyond our control. We try to find the humor in humorless situations.

I’ve heard it said that humor is a defense mechanism, that a human smile is similar to the way a wild animal bares its teeth as a warning. Well, of course it is! I make the worst jokes and laugh the loudest when life is at its worst.

The night of my car accident, I had a wonderful nurse named Nadine. As I lay there in the Emergency Room, strapped to a backboard and immobilized by a C-collar, Nadine came in with a Shop-Vac to vacuum the glass shards off before cutting off my clothes. As I remember, she was quite enthusiastic about the job, very thorough about getting that glass out of every possible nook and cranny. And I do mean every possible nook and cranny. When she aimed the nozzle between my legs, seemingly in search of glass in the lining of my uterus, I let out a whoop and told her I didn’t usually allow such liberties without dinner and a movie first.

Poor Nadine didn’t know what to do. She burst out laughing, apologized, and kept vacuuming, although I’m pretty sure I heard her mutter something about not ordering the lobster.

Later that night, when they had realized the extent of my injuries and started preparing me for the ride to a bigger hospital, Nadine came back to put in a catheter. Let’s just be honest here: having a catheter inserted is not exactly a relaxing experience. It’s a major invasion of one’s private areas, and Nadine was definitely going for frequent flyer miles in my pelvic region that night. She had to keep telling me to relax, but by that point I was well on my way to a complete meltdown. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t cooperating.

“Honey,” Nadine teased, “would you spread your legs for me if I got the Shop-Vac again?”

For the record, no Shop-Vacs were harmed in the course of my recovery. But laughing at that moment gave me the strength I needed to get through the next few hours. It also made the ER doctor pause and peek into the room to make sure I hadn’t completely lost my mind. “I don’t think I want to know what’s going on in here,” he told us.

Here’s a simple truth about life: Sometimes, it really sucks, and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can ever do to change that.  People die, people get hurt, and the world just keeps on turning. Our hearts may get broken, but they keep on beating. Sun comes up, sun goes down, life goes on.

We can laugh or we can cry. Or we can build a blanket fort under the kitchen table and curl up in a fetal position and do both, but eventually we’re going to have to come back out into the real world.

Might as well find something to laugh about while we’re at it.

And when I die, you all only get two hours to cry.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “The world could use more . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee,  Shelley Ozand Anna Fitfunner.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Happy Memorial Day

Ah, Memorial Day in America. There are a few things that can be counted on every year.

  • It’s going to rain.
  • Some folks are going to cook out, drink too much, and go to parades anyway.
  • Some people are going to gripe that others aren’t showing the proper respect for the holiday.
  • Lots of people aren’t going to show the proper respect for the holiday.
  • Tomorrow, we all go back to work and school, and life will go on.

It’s a solemn day, especially as I look around at the kids graduating with my daughter next week and realize just how many of them are going into the military in the weeks after that.

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It’s a day to look at my family and think of just how many of my loved ones have served over the years.. It’s a day to look at my Uncle Don’s flag in its display case and wonder, for the thousandth time, what it would have been like to know my father’s twin brother.

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It’s a day to think about my Uncle Butch and remember his smart-ass grin. To think about his kids who barely remember him, and the grandchildren – and great-grandchildren!- who never had the chance to meet him.

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I think it’s safe to say that Uncle Butch would have been as proud of them as they are of him for his service.  They drive out here every year to honor him.

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It’s a day to look at the flag and see it as more than just a bunch of stripes and a handful of stars.

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It’s a day for memories, but it’s not a day for sadness. It’s a day when kids dodge into the streets to grab candy thrown by beauty queens perched on floats, while high school marching bands play and firetrucks creep past with their sirens wailing.

There is some silliness going on, too.

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Along with some general grumpiness.

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And overall? It’s a day for family and friends, and fun.

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Life will indeed go on tomorrow, when we go back to work and school. But maybe, just maybe, we’ll go back with a little bit of something else. Maybe a hint of patriotism? Or at the very least, a little bit of understanding, a sense of appreciation for all of the men and women we are honoring on this day.

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Happy Memorial Day, America!