Saturday, December 29, 2012

Do All the Good You Can

When he spoke these words, John Wesley was, without a doubt, thinking about Aunt Diane. 

Do all the good you can.  

“Well hey, Renee, I didn’t see you there.  When did you get into town?”  At this point, Aunt Diane would wrap me in a hug so tight that my face was lodged somewhere in the hair perched on top of her head.  As soon as she let me go, she’d look into my eyes and say, “You look so pretty.”  This is when I rolled my eyes at her…no one looks pretty after driving for several hours.  But you could always count on Aunt Diane to pick you up.  She spoke with such sincerity that you had no choice but to believe her. 

By all the means you can.  

“Gift giving” was quite a specialty for Aunt Diane.  In our family, a birthday is always just cause for a celebration.  And you could always tell exactly which gift was from Aunt Diane…a gift bag, with multi-colored tissue, ribbon, and a balloon.  I used to wonder how she always managed to find balloons for every occasion…and always in your favorite color.  The contents of the bag were much less predictable.  Aunt Diane had this masterful way of knowing exactly which random gift you needed.  Like the little metal table that sits in the corner next to my fireplace.  It’s the perfect size for a picture frame and my Scentsy.  The colors match my living room.  It is exactly what I didn’t know I needed.  And the glass flowers nestled between my U-Verse box and picture frames.  I remember opening the flowers and thinking, “Glass flowers…what am I going to do with glass flowers?”  Now I can’t imagine not having them. 

In all the ways you can.  

Aunt Diane always had a style all her own.  No one could rock a pair of acid washed cut-off shorts like she could.  She wore white scrunch socks long before, and long after, the Saved by the Bell crew made them cool.  She always managed to tie her hair in a loose bun on the top of her head.  I used to think it was magic that kept the little bun in place.  Wisps of hair fell across her forehead and around her ears, but her earrings were never missed.  The woman had some of the largest, and heaviest, earrings I have ever seen.  Not even a surgery to repair some of the damage caused by the heaviest ones could dampen her style.  She could wear bright red or pink lipstick like no other.  Through it all, she was herself…and she showed us that you should never be afraid to just be yourself.   

In all the places you can.  

For several years, Diane and Kinsey lived on the other side of the pasture at the end of our street.  When we were little, Alicia and I would walk up the street, climb the fence, dodge the piles of horse poo, climb the other fence, and then walk into the little white house.  Once inside, Aunt Diane would welcome us with hugs and ask if we wanted something to drink.  It was in this house that I learned to love Drop Dead Fred.  We would all pile on the large sectional sofa, wrap up in blankets, and laugh until it hurt when Fred slid all over the kitchen floor.  It was years before I actually knew what he meant when he looked up the mom’s skirt and whispered, “Cobwebs.”  Although small and filled with one-too-many elephant statues, Aunt Diane’s home was always full of warmth and laughter. 

At all the times you can.  

When Aunt Diane was in charge, you knew you were going to have a good time.  When Jurassic Park came out in theaters, it was Aunt Diane who loaded up all of the kids and took us to the movies.  We sat in the main theater at the Rialto…about four rows from the front.  The dinosaurs roared and charged and destroyed the park…and Aunt Diane snored.  She fell asleep.  For her, a trip to the movies wasn’t about enjoying the show.  A trip to the movies was about showing the cousins a good time.  

To all the people you can.  

In a family as large as ours, sharing a meal requires a pretty good amount of food.  No matter what the main course might be, the meal was never complete without bread.  This seemed to be Aunt Diane’s specialty.  She always brought the bread…rolls, to be exact.  I don’t know what kind of rolls she bought or why they were her favorite, but I’ll never forget the look on her face as she walked in the front door….frazzled. “I’m sorry I’m late!” she’d call.  (And she always was.)  That’s when the scent of hot rolls would waft through the air, and miraculously no one minded that she was twenty…or thirty…or forty minutes late.   

As long as ever you can. 

Aunt Diane left this world on Christmas Eve.  Her absence is painful.  And while we know that she is looking down on us, we miss her.  I miss her.  I miss her smile.  I miss her laugh.  I miss the way always carried a purse that was much too big for her petite frame.  I miss the way she never called my dad by his name and the way she doted and fussed over Mawmaw even though she could barely take care of herself.  I miss the way her eyes sparkled when she watched the kids play.  In her absence, I’ll do my best to remember John Wesley’s words and the lessons Aunt Diane taught us through them… 

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
Because Aunt Diane showed me that I can.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nancy Taught Me That

Nancy taught me that Charles Shultz was a genius…that Snoopy and Charlie Brown and Linus and Lucy could and would teach you most of the lessons you need to learn in life.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that balance can be found in a guided reading schedule even when you are juggling eight or nine groups of students…that little creativity, a little organization, and a lot of plastic tubs are all you need to set up the perfect reading rotation.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that it’s ok to take time for yourself…that there’s nothing wrong with curling into a comfy chair with a good book and a full pot of tea…and it’s even ok if you stay in your pajamas all day…that time spent lost in a good book is not wasted.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that the dirty ones need hugs more than anyone else…that the kids who smell funny and have greasy hair and dirt under their fingernails and yesterday’s lunch spilled on their shirt are the ones you should hold onto a little bit tighter…a little bit longer.  They are the ones who need the hugs most.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that a glass of wine tastes much better when shared among friends…that venting on the deck is a thoroughly acceptable way to spend an afternoon…that the birds and the squirrels in the trees are pretty good at keeping secrets…that chips and salsa make a perfectly acceptable dinner.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that it’s ok to take a few minutes to brush a little girl’s hair every morning…that some little girls aren’t lucky enough to have someone take the time to brush their hair and add a bow before giving them a quick hug and sending them off to school…that a secret stash of cute hair ties and a little pink brush hold the power to start each day off on a happy note.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that we need to set boundaries…that we need to set limits so that the people around us know just how far they can push us before we snap…that students need to know our boundaries…that we must help some students learn how to set boundaries…that a box on the floor made out of Duct Tape does a nice job of defining our own space…that 2nd street makes a very nice boundary.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that you never give up on a student…that there’s always another intervention…a different strategy…an experimental method that might reach into a child and unlock the potential hidden deep down inside…that they just need you to try one more time.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that it’s ok to laugh…that sometime a laugh is the only weapon you have against a situation with the potential to bring you the cliff and make you want to jump…that when you take a few seconds to laugh with a friend, a solution to life’s problems will magically present itself…that hearing a gut-busting laugh coming from the across the hall can (and will, if you let it) brighten your day and put you back on track.  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that you can’t make everyone like you…that no matter how hard you try, some people won’t understand you or your methods…that you can’t take it personally when people misunderstand what you say…that it’s not your fault when people make a snap judgment about you…that small-minded people are going to talk about you and say that you are something you are not…that when this happens, you smile and keep on going because Dr. Seuss was right …that “those that mind don't matter, and those that matter don't mind.”  Nancy taught me that.

Nancy taught me that everything is not as it seems…that those who appear tough as nails are often the ones that need a hug and a kind word more than anyone else…that we all need someone that will let us be weak and small…that life is often very different from what it seems…that success always outweighs the pain…that the good times always make up for the bad.  Nancy taught me that. 


For my dear friend Nancy Garratt…may she rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where were you when...

We ate Chinese food.  We sat in the local Panda and ate Chinese food just like it was a regular day.  The planes had crashed…the towers had fallen…and we ate Chinese food.  Jim announced to the group that we would, “get those bastards!”  And we all laughed.  And then the room got quiet.  “This is our moment.  This is the moment that our generation will look back asking, ‘Where were you when…’”  I don’t remember who said it, but they were right.  The attacks on 9/11 defined more than just my own generation.  The terror attacks defined our new nation.  We were forever changed.  Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, but no one really knew what to do.  Eventually we ended up at the cave watching TV…watching hour after hour of news coverage from the day.  There was nothing else to do…nowhere else to go.

When our country began to heal a bit, someone made a commercial that showed a street before and after that terrible day.  Words on the screen said that the terrorists wanted to “change America forever…and they did.”  In the after shot, the street was decorated with American flags and banners. 

So yes…the terrorists forever changed our country on 9/11.  We still have scars from that day, but we have something else, too.  We have pride.  And hope.  And a renewed sense of patriotism. 

Monday, September 3, 2012


It’s Labor Day.  And like many others I know, I am truly enjoying this day set aside to NOT labor.  Sure, the washing machine is running and eventually I’m going to head upstairs to clean the bathroom, but for now…I’m lounging on the couch watching old movies and enjoying some yummy, iced green tea.  A little while ago it dawned on me that I picked up some pretty great habits over this past summer.  Healthy eating habits and an exercise routine finally found me, and writing for the sake of writing is not the struggle it has been for the past few years.  (The NWAWPians were very good to me, and I am forever in their debt.) 
Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of beginning a new school year, these healthy habits have begun to fade a little.  It's harder to get to the gym...easier to pick up dinner on the way home...tastier to have that extra Diet Dr. Pepper instead of sticking to water.  I'm too tired to write, and I can't think of anything important to say anyway.
Excuses...excuses...excuses.  They're back.
Hoping to find some writing inspiration, I searched my school bag for my writer's notebook...the one I tell students that I keep with me all the time so that I can't write down my writing ideas no matter where they find me.'s at school sitting on the shelf next to my desk. 
Determined to at least do a little bit of writing today, I pulled out my facilitator notebook. (After all...quick writes from our meetings live on those pages, and our facilitator team is AMAZING at finding great inspiration for quick writes.)  Just three pages in I paused to read about courage.  "Courage is a single blade of grass breaking through the snow."  For this particular quick write, J introduced us to Courage by Bernard Waber...a simple book with a BIG message about the ways in which we demonstrate the many kinds of courage each of us face in life.  I've used this same book and quick write with students, and I am always amazed by their connections.  In his book, Waber begins most lines of text with "Courage is..."  I think I'll follow his lead.
Courage is filling the coffee cup to the brim knowing that it's going to dribble on the carpet as you make your way to the couch.
Courage is sipping off the top of the mug even though the coffee is super hot and you might burn you tongue.
Courage is putting your bedspread in washer and hoping it doesn't fall apart by the time it comes out of the dryer.
Courage is continuing to read a book that goes against much of what you believe to be good teaching just so you can speak intelligently to your co-workers when they tell you how much they LOVE every word written between the front and back cover.
Courage is sitting down to write without really knowing what you want or need to say.
Courage is admitting that, while you haven't fallen completely off the wagon, you realize that the grip you once had is beginning to slip.
Courage is balancing the checking account after paying the bills. (Still working on building up enough courage for that one.)
Courage is clicking on the little, orange button that says "Publish" when this is done.
Quick Write written on 9/9/11...
Breaking through...feeling brave...and scared to death at the same time.  "I need you to do this for me," she said.  Being that one that needs to feel needed and wants to please others, I said yes.  I'd take the leap...step out into the unknown...break the mold...and lead.  Fear set in.
I can't.
I don't know how.
No one will listen to me.
This isn't on my "to do" list.
What was I thinking?
Stop the roller coaster!  I want to get off!
But the ride doesn't stop.  The train never pulls into the station.  Eventually the butterflies settle a little bit.  And even though it's not the plan I had for myself, it's the plan that was meant for me.
I am the Literacy Facilitator.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Slide Show

"You know," she said, "there wasn't a single picture of him at his work." And K was right. We left the memorial service for a dear friend's husband discussing the kind words from the priest, the twenty-one gun salute, how beautiful "Taps" always sounds as it glides out of a bugle, and the sadness we felt for our sweet friend and her family. But mostly, we talked about the slide show of photos on display. We saw old black and white snapshots from his childhood, their wedding, family vacations, grandchildren, reunions, and even candid stills of their beloved dogs. In the constant stream of memories, not one image showed him working.

Less than a mile from the funeral home, the topic of conversation began to turn back to the responsibilities and expectations waiting for us when we all returned back to our schools...the assessments and meetings and paperwork and millions of other tasks that seemed to fly in an unending stream what often feels like busy-work. "That's not in my slide show," someone said. We all laughed, but then the car got very quiet. I don't know about the others, but I began thinking about my own slide show...the people and places and events most important in my life.

The images and poignant words swam in my mind all week. And yet, on two separate evenings, I found myself at school many hours after the final bell. While some might say that I quickly forgot the lessons learned that Monday morning, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, those two evenings WILL be in my slide show. The work accomplished in those hours will soon be forgotten, but the people will remain. You see, I am blessed beyond measure to have a family that supports me no matter what, but they are physically too many miles away for the daily interaction that this people-person craves. As a transplant to Northwest Arkansas, I rely on my friend-family to keep me going on a daily basis.

Between my blood-family and my friend-family, my slide show gets longer and fuller each day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

ABC's of Summer Vacation

All of the Simpson’s hitting the beach

Beginning to Blog

Chirping crickets

Dinner in Cinderella’s Castle

Eating smart

Forgetting all of the school-year stress

Getting a good tan

Helpful response groups…Thanks NAWAPians!!!

Insomnia takes a vacation

Jumping in the pool (Thanks, Myka!)

King-sized fun...and lots of it

Lazing in lounge chairs

Mornings in the salty sea air

Not much professional reading

Off Task…as much as humanly possible

Planet Fitness...FEEL THE BURN

Quotes from great movies (Thanks, Deborah G.!)

Reading...just for the fun of it

Sunglasses and sunscreen and SUNSHINE

Tableaus at the AWE Institute

Understanding what it means to find happiness in myself

Vietnam and the Things They Carried (Thank you, Katy M.!)

White Sand

X-Raying my goals

Yawns leading to great naps

Zipping and zooming down the interstate

Sunday, July 22, 2012

You deserve a break today.

Sitting on he balcony just watching the world go by...this feels good. The palm trees tremble as the ocean air passes through the fronds. Families are packing their cars...laundry bags and sandy buckets and beach chairs and bags of souvenirs and keepsakes and all sorts of other trinkets make their way into car trunks and cargo holds of trucks. And yet here I feet propped up in a lounge chair and the smell of salty sea air filling my nose. While others are packing up and preparing to rejoin the real world, our vacation is just beginning.

Bright and early this morning, we headed to mass. As I sat between my dad and my brother, I heard the priest deliver fantastic words to weary travelers. "You deserve a break." He reminded us that Jesus and His disciples took time off to reacquaint themselves with God's will and word. (See, vacationing is a good thing!) In his final words, Father Mike encouraged us to spend time with family think about what is most important in our lives and to put our focus there. That is just what I intend to do.

And if I happen to doze off while sitting in my beach chair watching the waves crash, I'm sure no one will mind. After all, a good nap is part of taking a break. We all deserve a break.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Things They Carried

Many many MANY great lessons were presented during the 2012 Northwest Arkansas Writing Project Summer Invitational.  Many.  As I watched each lesson, I looked for ways to use the middle and high school lessons in the elementary classrooms I am lucky enough to reach.  The possibilities are endless!

One lesson, however, is going to take a little more thinking before I will be attempting it at the elementary level.  Not because it was too hard or the skill isn't appropriate or the content was too advanced. No, it will take me a while to translate Katy's lesson at the elementary level because I was so focused on what I was taking away from it was helping me as a a person. 

Katy asked us to read a few pages from Tim O'Brien's novel, The Things They Carried.  I was so draw into this book that as soon as the lesson was finished, I raced to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy of the book...besides, I needed a new book to read as I watch the waves roll in when we hit the beach tomorrow night. (Woo hoo!) the close of Katy's lesson she asked us to write about carrying  something that is too heavy to continue taking it with you every day.  So...

Let it go.  Let it go.  Let it go.
You are carrying around too much extra garbage with you every day.  Stop worrying so much about what did or did not happen.  You can’t change it anyway.  Whether it was good or bad no longer matters; what matters is that it is…all of it is.  You over analyze situations, replay events in your head, and exhaust yourself thinking about what might have happened if.  You carry this worry around with you every day expecting a different result.  Guess what…it’s not going to happen.  It’s just not. 

Experiences, both good and bad, make you who you are today and who you might be tomorrow.  No one expects you to be perfect.  No one except you anyway.  Your destiny is not determined by what has already happened.  Your destiny is waiting for you.  God’s path is laid out before you…waiting.  All you have to do is follow where He leads.  You have been truly blessed with so many great things in your life.  If you continue to display the scars you think define you, you will never live the life you are meant to live.

So let it go.  Be brave.  Put down all of your fears and regrets.  You don’t need to carry those burdens around with you anymore.

You are loved.  And that is all that matters.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Monster

My monster Fear walks on tiptoes…creeping into and out of the haunted spaces in my mind.  Large antennae reach and stretch out from Fear’s my monster’s head; they search for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the foundation of the things I hold most dear.  With superhuman strength, my monster Fear hears the things I dare not say to anyone else…the secrets kept inside where no one else can use them against me, but Fear my monster knows.  Fear My monster uses my secrets against me…planning and plotting to bring me down when I least expect it.  If you look closely, you can see where my monster’s Fear’s feet have trod.  Gaping holes and tears…mangled emotions and shattered dreams…rooms once filled with light and life now stand vacant thanks to Fear my monster. 


Faith marches in ready for battle…brandishing a sword and wearing steel-toed combat boots.  Beams of light stretch and reach out from every fiber of Faith’s being; Faith seeks out my vulnerabilities and points of weakness.  Faith does not poke and prod me to discover my secrets.  Faith already knows…and loves me anyway.  If you look closely, you can see where Faith has weakened the grip Fear has over me.  Faith reduces Fear to a crumbled heap of nothing…smaller than dust particles picked up in the afternoon breeze.  Faith fills the holes and tears left in Fear’s wake.  Faith repairs and heals the once mangled emotions and shattered dreams.  Faith refills and restores abandoned rooms with life and light.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Inner Monologue of a Tired, Old, Fisher-Price Coupe

(A faded red and yellow Fisher-Price Coupe sits abandoned in the middle of a back yard.  Light rain has just started to fall.)

Hey!  Come back!  Don’t leave me out in the rain!

Damn…they left me.  Again.  Why do children always forget to put me away?  Honestly, is it so hard to put toys away before dashing back into the house to do whatever it is they do when they get inside?  I guess I should be thankful that I am finally going to get a little cleaner…that mud hole from this morning sure did leave a mess on my undercarriage.  And I’m quite sure we rolled through that dumb dog’s business a couple of days ago.  But still…it really sucks getting left outside in the rain.  If I had motor I could put myself away, but nooooooo…You don’t need a motor.  You’ll be pushed by little feet and the imagination of child drivers.  What a crock of shit.  If I ever see that stupid red coat again it will be too soon.  I tried to tell him that I needed a way to power myself.  I told him.  I said, “Santa, don’t you think I’d be a better car if I had a motor?  All great cars have motors.  How am I going to truly reach my potential without a motor?  You could even experiment with me.  Put in one of those power motors the elves have been using for that Power Wheels prototype.  I can take it.”  “Oh no,” he said.  “That won’t be ready in time.  Besides, my sleigh doesn’t have a motor.  I’m powered by the hopes and dreams of children all over the world.”  It took everything I had to hold my words back.  I wanted so bad to look at him and say, “Then what are the reindeer for…decoration?!?!” 

Geeze…that rain is really coming down now.  I hope the wind doesn’t pick up too much.  I hate getting covered in leaves and beat nearly to death by sticks.  At least I don’t have to worry too much about storm damage.  If those rough and tumble boys couldn’t take me out, I sure as hell aint worried about a little thunderstorm. 

Hmmm…I haven’t thought about them in a while.  The boys…my boy…I miss that boy.  Don’t get me wrong…these new girls are great.  They load me up with new treasures to carry, and we zip and zoom around the yard.  I love to hear them giggle, but it’s just not the same.  When the boys were little, my boy and those two neighbor boys, we’d spend hours together.  Forget the Three Amigos…we were the Fantastic Four.  I was one of the gang!  One boy would climb into the seat, and the other two would join forces and push me around the tree, between the swings, and even through that muddy place that always seems to be between the patio and the little hill that leads up to the trampoline.  The big people would scream, “Stay out of the mud!”  But us boys…we didn’t listen.  The mud was fun! 

Over and over again…they push me to the top of the driveway.  One boy would climb inside and prop up their feet on the front dash.  Then the other two would give a big shove and send us racing hard and fast down the driveway.  We’d coast a few seconds and then dash down the little hill.  Flying!  Soaring! Whizzing down the drive way.  In those first few seconds, I was Mario Andretti…zipping and zooming down the track at Indy.  The boy would make that funny noise that is somewhere between a gut-busting laugh and a terrifying scream.  He was so happy.  Honestly, I wanted to scream, too…only not because I was having fun.  I wanted to scream because I knew what was waiting for us at the end of the driveway…the gate.  That damn gate had to be kept closed so the dogs wouldn’t run away.  I didn’t mind the little dog…he pretty much left me alone.  But that big one…he was something else.  If I’d had my way, I would have opened the gate so that spotted dog would run away.  He kept peeing on me…like he was telling the world that I belonged to him.  To HIM!  Can you believe it?  A car for a dog…Horse hockey.  I don’t belong to no dumb dog.  I don’t belong to nobody.  Nobody except that boy.  Anyway, we’d race down the drive and then slam into the gate.  It’s a wonder we never got whiplash.  Over and over…shove, whoosh, crash!  I’ve never been so sore in all my life.  Man that was fun.

Once or twice me and the boys tried to race under that old trampoline.  We tried to dodge the jumping feet above our heads.  My boy would say, “Come on, I bet we can get all the way from one side to the other while Alicia is in the air.”  I tried to tell him that I couldn’t go that fast…I didn’t have a motor after all.  (Santa’s fault…not mine.)  But my boy was very sure of himself.  We’d wait at the edge of the black mat, and just as his sister would leap into the air for a backflip, we’d take off.  Not even six steps into our journey, the girl’s feet (and sometimes her knees) would slam into my roof.  She’d cry.  He’d laugh.  And then we’d hide…we had to hide quick so mom wouldn’t find us after Alicia went into the house to tattle.  We never did make it all the way under the trampoline, but it never stopped us from trying.

Sometimes, my boy would put on an eye patch, ratty pants, and a black hat.  He’d come out of the house waving a plastic sword in one hand and pretending his other hand was just a hook.  He’d climb in the seat, and we’d be off!  “ARRRR, Matey!” he’d call.  We’d sail the seven seas searching for ships to rob and treasure to steal.  He was the captain, and I was his mighty vessel!  He’d find treasures and load them into the cargo hold (under the back window actually).  We’d find new places to hide our booty (ha…booty) so that NO ONE would ever find it.   Those girls would come outside and scream, “Lewis, where is my tape?  I know you took it!”  I’d sit real quiet like…knowing all along that we had hidden that stupid New Kids cassette under a bucket in the sand box.

One day, my boy realized that his legs were too long to squeeze inside me.  He had gotten too big.  “This is it,” I thought. “I’m headed to the dump.”  But instead of carting me off, the dad did something else…something much worse.  He put me in the rafters of that big boat house at the back of the yard.  He stuffed me up there with the old junk that no one ever used.  He said they just couldn’t bear to send me to a new house…I was a special toy that had brought so many wonderful memories to their son.  I should have felt honored…I was special to them.  I had been a great friend to their boy, my boy really.  I should have been thankful.  But really…I was pissed.  What toy wants to be put up too high for any child to reach?  What good was keeping me locked away where no one could play with me?  “The boy won’t stand for this,” I thought.  “He’ll come out here and find me, and then you’ll be sorry.”

But he never came.  Not for me anyway.  He came for the grown-up sized water skis, the knee board, the big bed frame…and then one day he came with keys for the Jeep…the real Jeep.  The one parked just beneath me.  The one that had a real motor and big fat tires.  He climbed inside that real Jeep and started the real engine.  Then they drove off.  He drove off without me!  How could he?! 

He had grown up.  I decided then and there that never again would I belong to some stupid kid.  I’m too old for this crap.  All kids do is make you love them and then they leave you.  I’m not falling for those tricks again.  I decided I’d just stay up here in those rafters until the end of the world.  I’d show them that they should have just thrown me away.

But then one day, the boy’s dad came back out to the boat house (he had a few more gray hairs, but it was the same guy).  I heard him ask about me.  He was looking for me.  Suddenly, he pulled me down from the rafters, hosed me off, and put a little oil on my wheels. (Sad to say, but I had let myself rust away a bit.)  Anyway…he pushed me back out into the yard and called over a new kid.  A girl.  She kind of reminded me of my boy…skinny legs and a little clumsy.  The girl climbed inside and began to push with her feet.  Her tiny muscles weren’t strong enough to keep us going, so the man pushed us.  “Faster Pawpaw!” she called.  He pushed her all over the yard…around the tree and between the swings, but this time they actually stayed away from the mud.  Wimps.

“Are you having fun?” he asked her.  “This was Uncle Lew’s car when he was a little boy.” 

“Is he going to be mad that I’m playing with it?” she asked.

“No,” he said.  “Uncle Lew said you could play with it…he thought you’d love it just as much as he did.”

My boy.  My boy didn’t forget about me.  He saved me…saved me for the next round of little drivers to play in the yard.  Pretty soon a second little girl started coming out to play with me.  The other day she climbed inside and said, “Let’s go, Lightnin’!  We gotta save Mater!”  Now I’m not sure who Lightning is, but I bet I’m faster.  After all, I’m powered by little feet and the imagination of child drivers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Magical Moments

Cinderella’s Castle…this iconic structure greets you as you enter Disney World.  It can be seen in the opening credits of every Disney movie, and I was headed inside to have dinner.  Without a doubt, this was going to be one of those experiences that would make the entire trip worth it.  Martha and Robert had planned a fantastic Disney vacation for their granddaughters, my nieces Haley and Ashlyn, and Alicia, Mike, and I were just lucky enough to get to tag along.

 Our first stop upon entering the castle was to meet Cinderella.  Haley was bursting at the seams…she couldn’t wait to get close enough to let her slender fingers graze against Cinderella’s dazzling blue dress.  Ashlyn, on the other hand, was less than thrilled.  She wasn’t excited.  She wouldn’t let go of Robert’s hand, and smiling was out of the question…it wasn’t going to happen.  Deciding that we would not let her ruin our fun, we drug her into the picture anyway.  She managed a weak smile, but everyone could tell that her heart was not into this evening.  After a few quick photos, we made our way up the spiral staircase to see what magic awaited us in the dining room.
When we reached our table, a fancy waiter greeted us.  His costume reminded me of the footman that helped Cinderella into her beautiful carriage.  He wore a puffy, white shirt, vest, and short pants with socks tucked under the hem of the shorts.  His worn, leather shoes had bright shiny buckles on the tops.  As we found our places at the table, he pulled a stack of stars from his pocket…Wishing Stars.  Each girl, including the grown-up girls, received a shiny, blue star.  “This,” he told us, “is your wishing star.  Make sure you keep it close to you.”  With a large smile plastered across my face, I gently placed my star on the table in front of me.  In just those first few seconds, I knew I was hooked.  The magic in the air had taken over.  The waiter also handed Haley and Ashlyn very special wands.  The wands were made of transparent blue and clear plastic, and they sparkled like stars on a moonless night.  “You will need these,” he said very matter-of-factly, “during the wishing ceremony.”

As I glanced down the menu, I realized that this was not going to be the same type of meal I had for lunch.  This menu was fancy, and so was the food.  While the grownups struggled to choose between smoked salmon, braised short ribs, and seafood stew, Haley and Ashlyn enjoyed the comforts of a kid’s menu...cheese pizza, macaroni, or hamburger sliders.  Like all great kid’s menus, this one also came with word searches, a maze, and a beautiful picture to color.  Shortly after making our dinner selections, a trumpet fanfare blasted through the room.  As Haley turned my way, her tiny smile began to grow.  “This is it, Aunt Nae.  One of the princesses is coming out.  Who do you think it will be?”  Before I could make my guess, the narrator began telling the story of a young girl who finds herself in a large house filled with talking furniture and a magical rose that lets a hairy, scary beast know how much longer he has to break the spell cast upon him.  “It’s Belle!  It’s Belle!”  The castle’s magic was seeping into Ashlyn…she could hardly contain herself.  Suddenly, there she was.  Belle waltzed into the room with a gentle spin.  She smiled and waved to each table, and then she began making her way to around the room to give a personal greeting to each family. 

Just as the grownups began to wonder how we would keep the girls contained while we waited for Belle and the other princesses to reach our table, the tray of appetizers arrived.  We all dove fork first into the food placed in front of us.  Salads and cups of soup began to disappear as our tummies reminded us that, while we had had a wonderful day, it was time to take a break and refuel.  Little did we know that these quiet moments would not last very long.  The trumpet blasts once again signaled the entrance of the next princess.  “Who is it going to be?” I asked Haley…knowing that my own excitement was beginning to rival that of my seven-year-old niece.  The narrator began telling of a young girl “…with skin as white as snow…lips red as a red, red rose.”  “I think it’s Snow White,” she said.  And then she was there…Snow White breezed into the room with her hands held out as if she were carrying birds on her fingers just like she does in the movie.  As Snow White began making her way around the far side room, Belle approached us.  Greeting us all with a smile and a wave, she moved to the end of our table to meet the girls.  Haley proudly showed her the journal I had decorated to document her journey and asked Belle for an autograph.  They talked a few minutes, posed for pictures, and then Belle was off to greet the next table. 

Taking no time to savor the magic left in Belle’s wake, Ashlyn turned to the table and announced, “I have to go potty…and I mean I have to go bad.”  Promising to hurry back before Snow White ventured to our side of the dining room, Mike rushed Ashlyn to the restroom.  A third blast of the trumpets followed by a brief introduction let us know that Sleeping Beauty was entering the room. 

“You know,” said Haley, “her real name is Aurora.” 

“I DID know that,” I told her.  “Did you know that I used to be so scared of that movie?  You know that part at the end when Maleficent turns in the dragon?  That used to scare me so much.”

“Really?” she said. “I used to be scared of that, too…back when I was five.  I think Ashlyn is still scared of it.  I’m not.  Not really.”

Before we could continue to discuss the best Disney villains, Snow White approached our table.  Looking at the empty chair she asked, “Are we missing a princess?”  That voice…Snow White’s high-pitched, sugary-sweet voice…the one from the movie I had seen so many times…amazing.  I had to remind myself that she wasn’t the real Snow White…there was no need to ask her how Dopey was doing.  Instead, we simply told her that yes; one princess was in the restroom.  “Oh, that’s no problem at all,” she said. “I’ll come back.”  She then turned all of her attention to Haley.  She signed her book, asked Haley if she had found her own Prince Charming, and then she told her to beware of apples.  “Not all of them are good for you, you know.”  As she left our table, Haley turned to me and said, “Wow, Aunt Nae, she was really nice.  I hope she DOES come back so that Ashlyn can meet her.”  I couldn’t help it…I reached over and gave my niece a hug.  Her tender heart was flowing out of her little body. 
By this time, our entrees had made their way to our table, but we were barely eating.  The excitement of the room was sweeping over all of us.  And while we claimed we were just excited for the girls, secretly we all knew this dinner was bigger than just providing a great experience for Haley and Ashlyn.  Promising to return with Ashlyn so that she wouldn’t miss anything else, Martha exited the table.  Once again, a princess visited us and asked about the empty chair.  This time it was Sleeping Beauty, Aurora, as Haley had taught us, who promised to return to say hello to our missing princess.  Holding out her book, Haley asked Aurora for her autograph.
“This is a beautiful book,” she said.  “Did you make it?”

Haley told her that no, she didn’t make it. “My Aunt Nae did,” she said, giving me a big grin.

Without missing a beat, Aurora gasped and said, “Really?  She is truly magical.  She must be a fairy!  I have three fairy aunts.  Their names are Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether.  They raised me in a beautiful cottage in the forest.” 

Whatever grip on reality Haley had left was gone in that moment.  She was completely swept up in considering that her aunt might truly be a fairy.  I just smiled and told her that one day I would share my secrets with her. 

Not long after Aurora departed, the lights seemed to dim a little, and a booming voice announced that it was time for the wishing ceremony.  Haley reached for her wand and made sure that her wishing star was ready to go.  I, however, reached for my camera.  This would undoubtedly be a picture-worthy event.  “Hold your wand above you wishing star, close your eyes, and wish with all your heart!”  Haley did just as the big voice instructed.  With her eyes scrunched tight together, she waved the wand in circles over the glittering star.  I snapped pictures as fast as the shutter would allow.  In my head, I could hear her words from earlier that day. “You know that’s just a wig, right?  That’s not the REAL princess.”  I have no words for what it felt like to watch her wishing and believing in the power of dreams.  The music in the room swelled, and the ceiling was filled with thousands of glittering and glowing wishes.  Haley could hardly believe her eyes.  “Look at all of the wishes!” she exclaimed.  But I couldn’t look.  Instead, I blinked back tears and gave her a tight squeeze. 

Somewhere amongst our excitement at having Belle, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty visit our table, we missed the grand entrance of Ariel, the Little Mermaid.  As she approached, I noticed a pink blur zooming around the room.  Ashlyn made her grand re-entrance and proceeded to, well, attack Ariel in an extremely tight bear hug.  Stunned, and perhaps a little winded, Ariel returned the hug with, “Now where did you come from, Starfish?”  No one bothered to scold Ashlyn for running through the dining room.  No one asked if she remembered to wash her hands.  All we could do was laugh at the moment…clearly more magic was at work.  Just like the other princesses before her, Ariel spent a few minutes talking to both girls, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. 

As the desserts made their way to the table, we began to wonder if Snow White and Sleeping Beauty would remember to make their way back to meet Ashlyn.  How silly we were to doubt the word of two highly-respected princesses.  One by one, they both made their way back to the table.  Each lady told Ashlyn how glad they were that they got the chance to come back by to meet her.  Needless to say, Ashlyn was on cloud nine.  While Snow White spent a few minutes talking to the girls, I snapped pictures of their meeting and conversation.  Once again, being caught up in the moment, I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing; I was too busy watching Haley and Ashlyn and feeling the magic in the air. 

All too soon, Snow White left our table, but it wasn’t long before, as promised, Aurora returned.  She gave Ashlyn her undivided attention.  No one else existed except for her.  They talked a bit, posed for pictures, and then she was gone.   In her wake, Sleeping Beauty, along with the rest of the Disney Princesses, left behind two little girls (and five adults) in complete awe of everything they had just seen and felt.  Deciding we would rather eat the delicious desserts placed in front of us than leave them sitting on the table, we returned our focus to the delicate creations in front of us.  Then it was time to go.  Other families, complete with their own princesses, were waiting for their turn to experience this magical meal.  We gathered our things, and began to make our way back down the spiral staircase. 

As we reached the final few steps, we realized that Cinderella was still waiting patiently for princesses to greet and welcome to dinner in her castle.  This time, the room was rather empty…and Ashlyn was in a MUCH better mood.  Seizing the opportunity to have a happy photo, Martha asked if Cinderella would mind posing for another picture.   Ever the happy hostess, Cinderella agreed.  This time, Ashlyn’s smile could not be contained.  She seemed to radiate joy.  Pure happiness erupted out of her.  Magic was once again spinning and dancing in the air. 
Each princess who graced us with her presence ushered in with them the joy and pure happiness of childhood…of believing in fairy tales, birds that can sit on your finger and sing, roses that float in midair, and the power of making a wish that you know could never really come true.  In fairy tales, everything is possible.  The same can be said for dinner in Cinderella’s Castle…everything is possible.  A little piece of that night will always live inside me.  Words and pictures do not have the capacity to fully explain what those moments felt like…how much they mean to those of us lucky enough to experience this magical meal first-hand.  Lucky for me (and everyone else) my Cannon captured an image that, in my opinion, comes as close as any picture ever could.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This is the Patio

This is the Patio

Stepping out the back door, I am bathed in comfort and familiarity.   

No bigger than two cars parked side by side, the patio is a forever friend giving insight to the lives of those that dwell near this perfect blend what life was, is, and someday might be again.
This is where family and friends gather…     

Where steaks, burgers, chicken, and even vegetables have been grilled to perfection before being placed lovingly on the stove top in the kitchen so that family and friends can fill their plates
Where dinner guests sit in the hopes of enjoying their meal before being carted off by the oversized mosquitos that seem to take over summertime in South Arkansas
Where a boiling pot of crawfish draws back those that have moved away even if they can only  spend a few short hours reliving days gone by
Where, much too late and far too many glasses in, the “neighborhood moms” attempted to learn the “Cha Cha Slide” only to discover that they could not contain their laughter long enough to follow the directions being shouted at them through the speakers
Where the warmth of a blazing fire in the fire pit warms the toes (and hearts) of all who gather round on cold nights
This is the place of childhood memories…
Where we Simpson Kids-Renee, Alicia, and Lewis- played tag, hosted birthday parties, and watched Dad get the boat ready so we could all “roll on the river” each Sunday afternoon
Where mom and dad sat watching while we learned to pump our legs so we could swing all by ourselves and then leap out into the air before crashing into the grass and pretending you didn’t scrape your knee when you hit the ground
Where Mathew and I got married because we were six, and that’s what six-year-olds are supposed to do
Where at the tender age of five, Alicia and James announced that they were moving far, far away…all the way to Shreveport, and we could only visit them on Sunday
Where Lewis dressed up Pongo before enrolling him in the town’s annual Fabulous Fourth Pet Show
Where Mom stood to tell us to get out of the Marlow’s pool and come home for lunch
Where we laughed while watching Peter, the largest white rabbit anyone had ever seen, chase Charlie, because he didn’t know that a rabbit was supposed to be scared of a dog
Where coloring books became waterlogged and crayons melted after being abandoned on hot, summer days
Where the grown-ups sat in the evenings to solve all of the world’s problems while the kids played on the swing set or in the sand box
Where neighbors became friends…and friends became family.

This is Daddy’s spot…
Where he sits each morning to drink coffee, say his morning prayers, and watch the sky fill with the day’s light
Where he waits for nightfall while sipping scotch and water at the end of a hard day
Where he has become obsessed with his iPod because it has the ability to play all of his favorite songs just by applying a little bit of pressure to the dial
Where he watches the birds swoop in and around the bird feeders he has filled to the brim.
Where he curses the squirrels for eating the birdseed…Don’t they know that “birdtheed is for the birds”?!?!

This is mom’s retreat…
Where her baskets of hanging plants float under the eaves of the house while the vines stretch over the edges of the pots trying desperately to reach the slab and sprawl on the concrete
Where pots and containers of every shape and size house buds and blossoms carefully tended and watered each day
Where Good Housekeeping and Redbook are often devoured in single sittings
Where, after a night of giggles and smiles shared between life-long friends, Rum Runner became the new favorite
Where she nurtures tiny seeds and plants with the grand-girls in hopes that their little green thumbs will develop in ways that her own daughters’ green thumbs never did
This is a place that changes…
Where the old white bell now lives because no one could bear to leave it out in the country after Mama Mt. Holly was gone
Where the radio with its crooked antennae has been replaced with a new Bose system complete with tiny remote so you don’t have to leave the comfort of your chair to adjust the volume
Where pink bicycles and tricycles and scooters live because the grand-girls have so many riding options that they need a garage of their very own
Where extra bag chairs and folding chairs and benches and stools lie in wait because you never know who might stop by and how many people they might bring with them
Where Alicia now watches her own daughters jump on the trampoline or pump their legs so hard that the swings seem ready to take flight
Where Lewis and his buddies tell stories and drink too much beer while he is home on leave, but life is short, and no one seems to mind
Where I sit with Mom and Dad to talk about hopes, dreams, work, school, new cars, when I might be ready to purchase my own home, and all sorts of other grown-up things
This is a place that stays the same…
           Where a forgotten softball rests at the edge of the flowerbed
Where, just behind the bird bath, a red Matchbox truck sits abandoned and alone after the cousins left on Sunday afternoon
Where, although he is no longer bright red and yellow, the Fisher-Price Coupe peeks out from behind the tree pleading, “Please, come play with me.”
Where shoes are deposited after making a mad dash through Simpson’s Swamp…a souvenir left over from the last hard rain
Where garden gloves for the tall and the small await their chance to once again plunge into an oversized bag of potting soil
Where the electric lines supplying power to the house sag a little too much for everyone’s comfort
           Where a bottle of bubbles supplies endless hours of fun and laughter
           Where fireflies decorate the summer evening sky
This is the patio.
No bigger than two cars parked side by side, the patio is a forever friend giving insight to the lives of those that dwell near this perfect blend what life was, is, and forever will be.
This is home.