Monday, December 31, 2012

My art gallery.

My sister-in-law, Tara, a most talented artist, had us for dinner the night after Christmas. She gave those of us in attendance our choice of one of her original mermangels. I thought long and hard about where to hang it, and finally decided to make a gallery consisting of all the hanging art she's given me over the years--at my kitchen sink. I chose this spot because they delight me to look at, and if they are here--where I will see them all the time-- I will always have something to smile about.

Even when I'm in my kitchen!

My advice for the New Year?

Set yourself up to find delight in something every day. That way lies peace and joy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tradelast, boys!

It's almost embarrassing how much I miss having my Mama share a tradelast with me. I have written about them before-those times when she passed along something nice someone had said about me. No one has stepped up to take her place in that department, so I have to take them where I find them now.

I ran across this note while I was cleaning out some drawers. It is a triple whammy since I am not sure to which son this note applied. They both spoke from the pulpit.

But it is also a sweet note to me, to let me know that somebody noticed that perhaps I had something to do with their gifts.

Technically, this isn't a real tradelast to my boys since I won't be making them ante up before they read this. That almost never works out anyway.

I'll just be adding this to their tabs.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thank You.

I have been meaning since Thanksgiving night to write a bit about the day. Time slipped away, but here I am on a quiet Sunday afternoon a few days later, just now getting 'round to it.

I think that's probably not a bad thing. Serves to cut through some of the swirlier thoughts I'd had that day, and to hone in on what was most worthy of noting.

1.  It was the first time I have ever cooked a turkey, or made dressing. Those things were always done by Mama, or Mama and my sister working in concert. Both came out perfectly. This made me feel as though I had found a key to a new universe.

2.  It was one of only, perhaps, three Thanksgivings I have ever had apart from my larger family (parents, siblings, and their assorted families). We had received a gracious invitation from my oldest brother and his  wife, to come to their home for lunch. Logistics began to press down on me, and on others, and we reluctantly had to decline. What I missed most -- what I knew I would miss most -- were the stories. My God, the stories.

3.  My husband, younger son, and I instead went to lunch at the home of my older son and his wife, one  which they will only formally be taking possession of this week. It's a grand place, full of fireplaces and storage spaces and room for so many adventures for our granddaughter to have.

4.  A longstanding family tradition has been the reading of the 100th Psalm before thanks are returned. This has usually been an honor reserved for the youngest person in attendance who is either able to read or recite it, but exceptions have been made over the years. Wearing the Matriarch Cape, I decided that this year it should be read by the person who is now the head of this branch of the family: my husband. I handed over the battered copy of the King James Version Bible that had been given to me when I was a little girl by my beloved Grandpappy, and Henry began to read.

Standing in that new old home, with its high ceilings and new appliances, I listened to him begin to read as I twisted a dishtowel in my hand with which I had just mopped up a little spill.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. 
Serve the Lord with gladness, come into this presence with singing.

I looked at my sons, young men who have made my husband and me so very proud. They are so handsome, such good men, so much yet for each of them to accomplish and experience, so much promise already fulfilled; so much that lies ahead for them both.

Know ye that the Lord he is God:
it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 

I glanced at our daughter-in-law, who has brought into our lives so much beauty and joy and lightness. I looked at our granddaughter, not yet 3 years old, busy playing at eating a sandwich provided earlier, since we were so late coming to table. She was not mindful in the least way that a seismic shift was happening. She only knew her Mama and Daddy, her beloved UncaThomas, and her Pop and GrandMaMama (her new precious name for me) were in this place with her, and all was right with the world. 

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving
and into His courts with praise:
be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

And I felt a peace I hadn't felt so completely since our world came off its axis last October. 

For the Lord is good; 
His mercy is everlasting,
and His truth endureth to all generations. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Little Messages

My beliefs about what we are promised in terms of a life after death are complicated, but, I believe, soundly based in scripture. I won't go into the fine points in this forum. Suffice it to say that I don't believe my Mama, or any of the other people I love who have died are sitting around in some unseen dimension right this minute.

The common language of grief we mostly use, though, gives me comfort despite its beautifully fanciful ideas. I like to imagine Mama "up there" somewhere, looking over us, sending us messages, watching out for us. I don't deny there are days when I wish I believed that's how this works.

What I do believe is that the promise of a life eternal and triumphant is true. I just don't believe it happens the way we talk about it.

That said, in many ways I have felt Mama's presence more acutely on a near day-to-day basis since she died. I believe that the tremendous love she had for us so infused our hearts and minds that it is the truest truth that she will never be gone from us, except in body. Maybe it's God's grace that opens our ears and eyes to that love so completely that it feels palpable. Tangible. Real.

What I believe or don't, what I wish were true but doubt, those things don't keep me from having wonderful Mama moments. One happened today on my long walk in the park.

I need to backtrack for a minute so that little preface will actually have a point and let you know that I am fairly well obsessed with Spotify. It has replaced every online game I ever played when I have nothing else to do or so much else to do that I don't want to get started. I cough up the premium fee every month so I can save playlists to my iPhone to take with me on my walks. ($10 a month to invest in my mental health is peanuts. I even gave up manicures to make room in my budget for this.)

Yesterday I was playing with the playlists again. I do random searches, listen to about 10 seconds of a piece of music and plop it over to a list. Mostly this is music from musicians or groups I've never heard of. I've found some rotten stuff this way, but I've found some real treasure, too. The point of it for me is in the discovery.  Not listening to something all the way through makes it fresh to my ears while I'm walking -- when I can give it my nearly undivided listening attention.

While I was doing my search I was looking at the calendar next to my computer. We are fixing to hit a rough patch for our hearts, as we can't help but be reminded of all the steps that brought us to Mama's passing, and I'm trying to find ways to let that find expression in ways that honor who she was, and who she wanted us to be.

My Mama was my biggest cheerleader. No matter what silly thing I accomplished, or tried to accomplish, she was my encourager. She made everything better when everything was going to hell in a handbasket. She cajoled. She raised an eyebrow. She yanked me up. She noticed me.

I had begun to worry that I was going to slip into a real fine funk in the coming days, and so I was deliberately trying to find upbeat things to listen to. I listened to no more than about 15 seconds of all the new stuff I found yesterday that felt right, plunked them onto my Sunday Morning list, and didn't give them a second thought.

And then I went to the park, turned it on, and started walking.

At about mile 5.5, when I had gotten to the top of the hill that overlooks the bridge area for the second time, this song I downloaded yesterday cued up.

Nothing about that made me change my mind about what I believe

But it reminded me, and it enfolded me, and encouraged me, and made me remember the best things. 

And I praise God, from whom all these blessings flow.


P.S. - I  just noticed the "love you J" signature on that graphic. 

P.SS. -- I am happy to live in the mysteries. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

No peeking?

Spotted this subtle but unusual cloud formation Tuesday afternoon. Made me think somebody up there had been told peeking wasn't allowed.

As if she'd have paid attention to THAT.

Monday, September 3, 2012

How We Did the Big Birthday

Yesterday the handsomest man I know had a big birthday, one of those with a 6 at the front and a 0 at the back. I had made mention of his request for a chocolate cake on Facebook and the problem that caused me because I'm not really a cake baker person. I have a mixer. Somewhere. I think. That's as close as I could get.

Well, the offers for chocolate cake came pouring in, one privately from a friend who said she'd be honored to make a cake for him, seeing as how he had been Scoutmaster for her son years ago. She told me how important he had been in her son's life, how when others thought he was too big a handful Henry became -- and remained -- his biggest cheerleader.  It was a lovely, lovely thing to hear. I don't think anybody will ever fully appreciate how deeply Henry cared about every single young man who was ever a Scout in Troop 1, or know how hard it was for him to step away from that post a couple weeks ago, and so abruptly because of his new job.

But I digress. I know you are surprised.

I passed on the cakes because I had decided to go to GiGi's cupcakes instead. Neither of us needed the remnants of a whole cake around the house. I had brought some of these wonderful treats from Atlanta last year, not realizing we had a place here. Thank goodness they are out in East Bacooder, which to those of us in Midtown Montgomery, means making a trip that might as well be to Atlanta.

Top row, L to R:  Scarlett's Red Velvet and Pistachio
Bottom row, L to R: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Midnight Magic, Lemon Poppyseed

Because I am not given to wretched excess, I only ordered 5 cupcakes. The blank spot you see up there meant I could average the total caloric intake and make the damage to our waistlines a little less. Don't you just love averaging?

Henry, given his specific request for chocolate cake, had that Midnight Magic one all to himself, and the rest of us passed the others around. My favorite was the Lemon Poppyseed, in case anyone is interested. 

There are a couple locally owned cupcake bakeries about which I was made aware, and I promise to dedicate myself fully to checking them out soon and reporting back on those.  I assume this task seriously. 


Earlier in the day we traveled to the zoo with Rosemary and The Entourage (her parents and her uncle). It was quite hot out there, and while we did not attempt the skylift (next time, though!) she got a big kick out of watching her G'mama get black-tongue licked by the giraffe, and from feeding the very active otters. Although she had her sunscreen on, a little extra protection from the sun never hurts. 


We were exhausted from the zoo trip, so her Mama and Daddy dropped us off at the house, thinking she might take a nap. She did. It lasted 8 minutes. She had more important things to do than sleep!

Like sing and dance. (Screenshot implies break-dancing. Didn't happen, I promise.)

And a little show of support to the Oregon Ducks. This is our neutral team, which takes the sting out of my promise to her Daddy that I would not make an issue out of the fact that she is being raised in a home that has not a single crimson and white thing in it, even though we have taught her that elephants say Roll Tide, but really, we can agree that's just cute, right?

I wish so much I had caught the look on her face the first time she actually made noise come out of these. I have never heard her laugh so hard or get so excited!


It was a good day with a good man and a family I am lucky enough to have been part of creating!


(P.S. -- Our supper was this delicious spaghetti casserole. I made it the day before, so I wouldn't have to fool with it yesterday. This is so good, and so easy!)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Living Without the Net

I wrote and posted this blog (but not on Facebook) originally because I was so outraged and upset by what had happened to us (and doubtless, many many others). I debated long and hard about broadening the scope beyond the handful of subscribers I have to this blog, because talking about money stuff is like throwing one's underdrawers out in the street.

I decided to go on and post it. I hope it will put a real face on this dilemma for some of my friends who are lucky enough not to have to worry about this, and maybe can't imagine that people they do know are wrestling with this.   

When my husband was unemployed for several months at the beginning of 2011 we were able to take advantage of COBRA. You know about COBRA, right? It's frightfully expensive health insurance gap coverage, one to which you become entitled under federal law in the event you lose or leave your job and find yourself uninsured and unemployed all at once. It's frightfully expensive: monthly premiums are in  legal excess of 100% of your previous rate.  In our case, that amounted to roughly $1,000.00 a month, an amount that an unemployed person really can ill afford, but as we learned all too soon, it's a necessary expense.

While he was unemployed Henry had a "significant cardiac event," and had to have emergency surgery to implant 3 stents. It was, his cardiologist said, a true fluke: one of those instances when all the arteries are just ducky one day and with no warning become acutely blocked by rogue plaque. The fact that he had had a heart attack back in 2003 had no bearing on this event, and, as the surgeon told us, this happens to people with no history of heart troubles, some of whom had received clean bills of health just days before, as was the case with Henry. Our COBRA coverage, while it still left us with a substantial deductible to pay, meant we did not have to consider bankruptcy.

Henry finally found a job late last spring. We were very excited about the new challenge, but things there just didn't pan out. Citing the poor economy, his employer reneged on the contract they had for Henry's pay. With no other prospects we were forced to make do, rob from Peter to pay Paul, and otherwise scramble to make sure we could keep our home. At the very least, the employer was covering insurance, and the rest was just the way of sorry things.

Recently, my husband was offered a job with a much larger operation, in a salaried position. Bonuses are possible, but the salary itself is the first time in his entire working life that it will be sufficient to cover our fixed living expenses, and a little to begin to rebuild our cushion, which was utterly depleted since his unemployment in 2011 owing to the COBRA payments, and the gaps in coverage for his hospitalization and surgery that we were left owing.

The downside? Henry's new employer does not offer their health coverage to anyone in their employ for a full three months. That means we cannot even apply for coverage with their provider until late November. Irritating, but hey -- we figured we could COBRA again, right?

Nope. Unbeknownst to us -- and to most Americans, it would seem -- COBRA only applies if a company employs 20 or more people. Henry's last employer did not, so no COBRA.

But there's now this pretty cool option called temporary coverage, offered by most of the large insurance companies, and all the marketing suggests that it's perfect for people waiting for new or first-time coverage to kick in. So, we applied. My application went through like grease through a goose. (More about this in a second.) Henry's was turned down today.

Why? Pre-exisiting conditions, which I could understand if the policy for which he applied were going to cover those. But it would not -- we knew it wouldn't when we applied.The policy for which we had to apply would only have covered accidents or illnesses unrelated to these two conditions.

If his coverage with the new boss were going to kick in during the next 2 months we would just hold our breath and wrap him in cotton, but insurance regulations require that a person has not had a gap of more than 63 days to keep them from having to go through an extended waiting period.

We have one option left, AHIP, which is offered through the state, and administered by the very company that has just denied him coverage, which happens to be the same company from which we have had coverage since 2010. AHIP coverage is not guaranteed: one can be denied, although none of the material I've read tells you what the criteria for denial of coverage might be.  **see update below

In 2013, this pre-existing exclusion will no longer be allowed for adults over 19. The only thing wrong with this part of Obamacare is that it didn't happen soon enough for us, and we are facing a scary future in which one illness could send us into bankruptcy, and I am not blowing smoke when I tell you it is a distinct possibility.

It is such irony that I avoid doctors at all costs, haven't had a physical in 3 years, have no clue what timebomb could be lurking in my body and I get covered -- completely, and for a pittance -- in less than 24 hours of applying for an temporary individual policy with UHC. My husband, on the other hand, who has had 2 physicals in less than a year (cardiac and general), both of which he passed with flying colors, cannot be covered, and if he breaks an arm here at home, or an uninsured driver hits him at a red light, we will lose everything.

Also ironic is that I had scheduled myself for a physical on the last day of this month, the day our existing coverage ends. The gentleman with whom I spoke from the insurance company to which I was applying for coverage advised me NOT to, because if something were to be found, or suspected, tested for, and later found to be a problem, my coverage would be cancelled. So. I could be fixin' to explode, but at least I won't know I need to worry about it, I suppose.

I don't care what your political leaning is, this situation is just dead wrong, and not just because it is happening to us. It is a problem that is surely sending a lot of good, honest, hardworking folks into foreclosure, bankruptcy, or early graves.

I'm not sharing this because I want your pity. I'm sharing this because Henry and I share this very real dilemma with more people than you can imagine, and most Americans do not know that these loopholes exist.

We are just praying the loophole doesn't become a noose.


We spent several days trying to slay this dragon. The first hopeful call went to an agency to which we'd been referred for folks who were not eligible for COBRA. That didn't work -- they required that you be uncovered by any policy for a full 90 days before applying with them. 

My last ditch attempt was a trip back to Google, wherein I typed in a string of words something like this: no cobra temporary coverage preexisting condition high deductible. There may have been other words, too, words I spoke loudly in my head but maybe didn't quite make it onto virtual paper. 

I came up with a website that sounds and looks all the world like a portal for State Employees only.  Since nothing else was consuming my every neuron, I started digging around, and clicked on a link that said AHIP. 

AHIP, as in Alabama Health Insurance Plan. I studied it carefully -- saw no fine print that this was just a program for State Employees, made a call, talked to one of 3 women (all my best friends, now) to see if what sounded too good to be true was too good to be true, and after faxing certificates of creditable coverage, a few health-related questions, and a copy of Henry's driver's license, plus one short phone interview with him -- bam. Covered. 

This is a last gasp coverage. Here are the basic criteria:  you have to have been under a group policy for 18 months. (We nearly got tossed out on this one, since he'd only been with the previous employer for 15 months. Thank goodness the COBRA we took out when he lost his job back in 2011 counted toward the 18 month period!) This is not available to folks who are eligible for other insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, or through their or their spouse's employer. (We will surrender this in November, when we will be covered by PepBoy's program.) Here's the kicker - Henry's pre-existing conditions are covered fully covered, after hefty deductible is met, of course. 

And here's the upshot -- it is well less than half of what we paid for COBRA coverage, and although our deductible is sky high, we at least have something in place to keep a complete economic disaster from happening in the event of a health emergency or accident.

What I want to know is -- why is this information so hard to find? Not a single insurer or agent or agency with whom I spoke even suggested this to me. At a time when I know full well there are surely hundreds of people who are riding in this same boat against a crushing tide, why are there only 3 women working in an office (each of whom were incredibly helpful, thoughtful, and speedy with every single bit of correspondence and phone call) that appears to be tucked away in a corner of what seems to be an agency that exists only to benefit state employees (when that is obviously not the case)?  

We have a happy ending to our story, or at least this chapter closes well for us this time. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting It Right

Late last fall, after I had begun developing a late bloomer interest in actually, you know, cooking, I decided to replace the cumbersome food processor/mixer/blender combo we'd been given back in 1979 with a new food processor. I shopped around a bit, and the one that I could afford that had a feature in which I was particularly interested was this KitchenAid.

No big bells, no loud whistles, all I wanted was one that would chop, grate, slice, and provide me with two sizes of bowls. This one was perfect.

Usually I am very, very good about sending in warranty information straight away, and then promptly losing all paperwork and forgetting when I bought something anyway, and of course, using an appliance with no trouble until the day after it's out of warranty. In this case I departed my own well-written text, and just never got around to sending in the warranty information.

I'd had it about a month -- it was just after Christmas, I think -- when I finally decided to use the thing. I attempted to shred a block of cheese, and nothing happened. Nothing good, anyway. Nothing I could do would make the thing work again for more than about 15 seconds. At that point I should have contacted the manufacturer immediately, right?

But nope. I was busy with Christmas retail season. I had just gone back to work after being out for six weeks during my mother's illness and the weeks after her death. My siblings and I had a system worked out to provide care for my father that we executed for 6 months, taking turns staying with him for the 24 hour a day care he needed. Then he was hospitalized, then he went to a nursing home, then he went to an assisted living facility were we all felt good about not being in constant attendance, so here I was all these months later, staring at a useless food processor, knowing I'd thrown money I didn't have to waste down the toilet.

Winning, right? But with a little time on my hands now, here's what happened.

Me, to KitchenAid, 7/28/2012: I bought this food processor several months ago, and it has never worked correctly: my husband believes that there is a problem with the contact that needs to be made when you put the top on in order to lock it so it will operate safely. It will allow the processor to work for a couple of seconds, but then appears to lose the connection and it shuts down.  We should have contacted you when the problem first happened, of course, but it happened during a time when our family was undergoing some significant upheavals, and it just wasn't the most important item on the list. We are in the process of throwing things out, and I really hate to ditch the processor, but frankly I don't remember whether we registered it!

What I'm hoping, I guess, is that this is a problem that is not unique to my unit, and that perhaps you can help me figure out how we can fix the issue. I have always had very good use from KitchenAid products, and expect that if this problem is fixed the same will hold true this time.

KitchenAid, to Me, 7/31/2012:  I am sorry to hear that you have had a problem with your food processor.  If you put the bowl, lid and food pusher together while it is not on the unit, does you see the little "finger" that pops out of the base of the handle?  If this broken, that could cause the problem that you are having.  If that does not solve the problem, Please let me know and I will go ahead and replace the bowl under warranty to see if that helps.  I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

Me, to KA, 8/5/2102:  We do see that little finger pop out. What happens when I use it is that the lid assembly comes loose. It will not attract "locked.". When THIS happens the unit shuts down. 
We actually filed a video of this for you. Here is the YouTube link, which is viewable only to those who have the link.

Please watch to the end.  Thank you!

KA, to Me, 8/6/2012:  Dear Ms. Lucas, Thank you for providing that video.  I have placed an order for a new work bowl cover to be sent to you at no charge to see if that helps.  If it does not, I will send out a new bowl.  You video indicates that a new lid may be the correct fix.

Me, to KA, 8/16/2012: I received the replacement top for my food processor and I am happy to say that, while it did not completely fix the problem, at least the processor is usable now! Experimenting over the weekend revealed that when the grating/slicing blades are used for anything with any "heft" (cheese, potato, carrots, etc.) the problem repeats itself almost every time. For less dense things, it works fine, and the mechanism can be adjusted manually (with a screwdriver) to enable the top to do it's safety job and allow us to use chopping, blending features, at least. That's a big improvement! Am I 100% happy? No. But you went above and beyond, and for well more than half of the things I wanted a processor for, we will make do. We just won't be using it for grating/shredding some things.  

I appreciate so much your helpfulness, and your willing to work with me on this issue.


KA, to Me, 8/20/2012:  Dear Ms. Lucas, While I am happy that the lid has made the processor functional, we want you to be able use all of the functions.  Therefore, I have placed an order for a new processor to be sent to you under warranty. You should receive your replacement unit within the next 7 to 10 business days via FedEx. Once it arrives, we do require that the original processor be returned to KitchenAid.  If you no longer have the box that your original unit came in, you may use the box and packing materials that your replacement comes in to return your original unit. A pre-paid label will be included with your replacement food processor.

And yesterday, this was on my front porch. 

It's so very easy to complain about shoddily made merchandise and poor customer service these days. And in our current culture, people tend to lap it up. Kvetching as entertainment. I'm as guilty of that as the next person. 

I just wanted to share this story about a company that did not have to do any of this, but chose to do the right thing by me, and the right thing for their business. 

Thank you, KitchenAid, and thank you Janine, KitchenAid's e-Solutions Specialist!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wisdom for the Age, from an Angel.

Let me tell you about Estell Wilson King.

She was born in Union Springs, Alabama on August 14, 1911. Her parents had eight children, and Estell was the sixth of these. 

Her favorite scripture is Galatians 6:7.  "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps as he sows."

She is one of the founding members of Starr Baptist Church here in Montgomery: it was given birth in her home in 1962.The years of service and prayer she has poured into that congregation long ago entitled her to be referred to formally as a Mother of the Church.

Estell  worked as a nurse for 40 years, 30 of which were spent as a private nurse for members of my Upchurch family. Her path and my family's crossed when my great-grandparents, Austin and Samuella Roche, required nursing care in the last years of their lives. After their deaths, she cared tenderly, in turn, for my grandfather and grandmother, my great-uncle and great-aunt, and my father's sister

When she celebrated her 100th birthday last year, her son Roy compiled a book about her that included commendations from Governor Bentley, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, the Montgomery County commission, and even NBC Today celebrity Willard Scott. 

That book also included these notes about her life:

"She was active during the Montgomery Civil Rights Movement and purposefully participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. She provided room and board to out of state clergy in town for the Selma to Montgomery March. And she volunteered her nursing skills to assist those in need of first aid as marchers arrived on the Saint Jude Campus on March 24, 1965. In 2004, she was selected as one of Montgomery's Seniors of Achievement." 

She is a woman of many remarkable gifts. The one she most generously bestowed on us, and which we still feel, was love. The booklet from that party last year included not only that list of accomplishments and commendations, but showcased this letter from my mother, written on behalf of the whole Upchurch family. 

"We first came to know you in the early 1950's and our love and admiration have grown stronger and stronger with each passing year. You have cared for three generations of our family. Estell, you became a friend and confidant to all the children and grandchildren and even the great grandchildren.  

We shared many good times, lots of laughs and many tears. You held the hand of many as they passed 'through the valley of the shadow of death.' I know that their final moments were made more comfortable knowing that you were close by to hold a hand or wipe a brow. 

How do you thank someone for that kind of love and care? There is no way. We will each try to make our own lives better, remembering that we have traveled many miles with Estell King. We have all come in contact with one of God's Angels on Earth. 

Happy Birthday to you from all the Upchurch Family. The mere mention of your name brings smiles from all of us."

Estell Wilson King and Jean McCord Upchurch
August 13, 2011

When Sally and I went with Mama last year to Estell's home on Holt Street to spend her birthday eve with her, the two of them spent most of the time lost in stories together, stories about the funny things that happened (and there were many) over the many years Estell cared for Grandmama. They commiserated over the passage of time, the ravages of age, the goodness of God, and there was so much love that flowed between the two of them in that place I could almost have held it in my hand. When we left that day, we were sure we had just seen Estell for the last time, that the visit was our opportunity to see her again before she'd most certainly be gone. 

We were sure of so many things that day that turned out not to be true in the way we thought they would be.  Mama was gone from us just over two months later. 


Sally and I went to see Estell today, on her 101st birthday. Her son Roy had told her that she was to have company, but not who the company might be. She has recently suffered a stroke, and dementia has a light finger on her shoulder, but she knew who we were, she remembered our visit with Mama last year. 

She grabbed hold of our hands right away, and would not turn loose for love nor money. I lost count of the kisses, wish I had a dime for every time she looked hard in our faces and said, tenderly, "So pretty. So, so pretty," and wouldn't take a million dollars for even one of the hundred times she said, "I loves you. I loves you." 

Eleanor, Estell, Sally
August 13, 2011

When it was time for us to go, we asked Roy to take a picture of us together. He'd been kind enough to do that last year, and we joked with him and Estell that we wanted this one as a reminder of how much we had aged and how little she had. As we tried to get ourselves into the same position, sister Sally said, "Estell? I'm not sure we're going to be able to get back up once we get down! How do we do that?" 

Eleanor, Estell, Sally
August 14, 2012

Estell said, "You just gets up."

A whole lot of people spend a whole lot of energy trying to get to the truth of life, when all we really need to do is look to Estell:  You reap what you sow, and you just gets up."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fill in the Blank Friday

(This is not an original idea - one of the bloggers I follow posted this today, and it sounded like fun. At least once.)

1. The age I will be on my upcoming birthday is: 55. 

2. The best birthday present ever would be:  a weekend in New Orleans with my husband, all expenses paid. 

3. My favorite birthday to date was: my 16th. It's when my parents gave me my piano, and when I received my first diamond (from my grandmother). Music and jewelry -- what's not to love?

4. Birthdays make me feel: relieved. It could always be otherwise.

5. The worst birthday I ever had was: 54. The first without my mother.

6. When I was born: it messed up my brother's 7th birthday party. He's never entirely forgiven me for that, I don't think.

7. So far my favorite age has been: right now. 

All this seemed a little bit appropriate at least because although my own next birthday is not until spring, my amazing daughter-in-law is celebrating her 30th one today!   I will be forever grateful to her parents for raising such a loving, funny, wise, generous person. My husband always wanted a girl, and we got one finally -- full grown!  

She has added so much to our lives, and I can't remember what we were like before she was part of us.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pimiento Cheese, Mama's Way

It never fails to amaze me which of my Facebook posts gets a whole lot of attention, although by now I sense a theme that runs through them all: home/hearth/nostalgia.

Or maybe it's just food.

Last night I posted a picture of the ingredients for a bowl of pimiento cheese I was making as a surprise for my husband. See, my Mama used to be able to get him do her bidding by promising him a making of it. I was sometimes allowed to carry it to my house from hers -- but she would always call to double check that he had actually received it.

He loved my Mama so,and the feeling was more than mutual. They were thick as thieves, the two of them. I think being the only two folks at family gatherings who actually knew what rabbit tobacco was might have had something to do with it. I've told the story before of how I actually brought him home to meet my Mama as the fellow I chose to be my escort for my debutante ball, thinking she would be so put off by his lack of polish that she'd let me get out of following through with it.

It didn't work out quite that way. She fell in love with him right then and there, and in the months that followed, I did, too.
Phantom Host Ball, February 1979

Wedding Day, December 1979

I have gotten off track again.

So. We've made it through nearly a year of missing Mama at all the "firsts." It's usually me who gets quiet and pensive, and needs to take a deep breath, but July 4th it was Henry's turn. They always had a deal about ribs, and Mama'd slip him "a little extra folding money" to make sure he had enough to buy her a good slab of them to throw in his smoker. It wasn't enough that she'd pay for the ribs, there was always a little container of pimiento cheese that would find its way here within a week or two.

This year, my husband really missed my Mama hard. There were no ribs, and there was no pimiento cheese.

Until last night, when I decided to make him some. Yes, it's ridiculously easy, but he never wanted me to make it because that was something he and Mama stayed in cahoots about. I posted the picture on my timeline, and folks seemed to enjoy the picture and the conversation, and one even asked me for the recipe, so heck. Why not?

Mama's No Frills Pimiento Cheese

There are so many fancy versions of this, but my Mama was not given to fancy. What you see up there is everything you need.

An 8 ounce block of sharp cheddar.  (If you buy this preshredded, you will be shot at dawn.)
A good glop of mayonnaise. (That would be between 1/3  - 1/2 cup, depending on the state of your arteries.)
A little jar of diced pimientos (.4 oz is sufficient)
Cayenne pepper

Shred the cheese. Glop the glop of mayo in there and give it a good stir. Always start with a little - you can add, but you can't subtract mayo. If that looks about right toss in the pimientos (DRAIN FIRST!), and just a dash of the cayenne. Again, you can always add more, but once a dish has been over-cayenned there is no going back. 

That's it. The mystery of the South's finest pimiento cheese, revealed.  

Every Southern family has their own variations, so you should feel free to take this basic recipe and change it up, or put Sunday clothes on it, or whatever. Just do not go all low-fat on me. Some things just need what they need, and if you can't eat it that way you oughtn't bother. 

Henry says this was almost as good as Mama's, but I should probably make it again every week or so, just to get it perfect. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An exercise in kindness.

When I go out walking/wogging/jalking (a new term I am swiping from somebody else) in the mornings I have a couple things I am sort of obsessive about having with me: my phone and a big handkerchief or bandana.  I have a neat belt into which my phone slides and stays put, and I slip the handkerchief/bandana through it, at my right hip.

I started doing this some time ago when allergies were plaguing me. While that's not a problem right now, I continue to do so because I think it makes me a little more visible to passing motorists. More than once I've yanked it out and waved it when it was obvious a driver was distracted, just as a way to catch their eye.

I have an assortment from which to choose each morning:  blue, pink, or red bandanas, and a large white linen handkerchief that is reserved for special occasions.  (I carried it with me when I participated in the 2011 half-marathon, in honor of my mother who had been diagnosed two days earlier with late stage small cell lung cancer. White is the "color" for lung diseases.)

But, in regular fashion, I digress.

This morning I took a longer jalk than I often do on weekday mornings. It was horribly humid during the last mile when I turned onto Fernway from Greenpark. There's a really nice shady span there and I needed it. I pulled my bandana from my belt, wiped my face -- sweat was getting in my eyes! -- and stuck it back in the belt, then proceeded to jog past a couple houses. (I noticed a couple people were fixing to pull out of their driveways, and I'd rather get out of their way so they don't have to wait for me.)

As I jogged past the second house, I realized my handkerchief had slipped off my belt. Had it been earlier in the walk I might have circled back, but I've had some issues with dizziness lately, and bending over sometimes brings on bouts of it that I'd rather avoid, particularly in public. Mostly, it's like having my own private roller coaster in my head. Free thrills!

Anyway, almost a block down the road from where I had lost my companion I noticed an SUV coming up on me, and slowing, and when I turned my head to figure out what the deal was, the woman in it waved my red bandana at me, and said, "You dropped this!"

I do not know this woman. I have no reason to suspect she knows me. She had to have pulled over, gotten out of her SUV, picked up a sweat-drenched bandana, gotten back in her SUV, and then bothered to return it to me.

I'm part of an online community of women who have gathered together daily for almost 8 years now, in a virtual neighborhood, and one of our rituals for the past few years has been setting Thursdays apart to highlight Three Beautiful Things we each have witnessed or experienced in the past week. Some days the lists folks come up with are trivial (which does not make them less important) and sometimes not.  I had listed my own before I headed out the door for my exercise this morning, in fact.

So to those, I add one more beautiful thing:  the kindness of people, particularly when there is nothing to be gained by their having exercised the art of it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Her Monument

Statue of children reading in the Bowling Green town square.

Mama was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and although she didn't spend much of her life there we had a running joke about the monument to her that surely must be there.   Until just over a week ago, the closest I had ever been to Bowling Green was passing its exit sign on the interstate in a bus loaded with teenagers, when I was a chaperone on a youth choir trip.

My husband and I took a road trip to Columbus, Ohio late in June, to see our son who's been there for nearly a year working with Habitat for Humanity. He'll be coming home in a few weeks, but we were eager to see this place he'd called home for so long before he left. It was a great trip: we toured all the pertinent places in Columbus, met the co-workers and friends he's enjoyed, and took in a whole lot of local color in general.

On our return trip, with a little time to spare and legs in need of some good stretching, we stopped in Bowling Green. I had been unable to find any documentation before we left that might have provided an address to the home her parents lived in when she was born, so we just decided to follow the signs leading to "historic downtown."

It was a charming town square, reminiscent of so many with a common park around which were built the primary businesses. The park featured a fountain of Hebe, which was a surprise. The Court Square Fountain here in Montgomery is also of Hebe. (Turns out, a little research when I got home revealed she was pretty popular in the late 19th and early 20th century for fountain sculptures.)

I decided that since I had no idea where she and her parents had lived when they were there, I could at least be reasonably sure that they had passed through this square a time or two, so I focused my attentions there.

Fountain featuring the goddess Hebe in the Bowling Green town square.

Fountain lilies

 I like to think that maybe my Nannaw and Grandpappy
might have seen a show or two here. 
So, that was it. All the years of joking with her about a monument that we both knew didn't exist - done. As we pulled out of our parking place I let the tears come - I don't try to hold them back when they come since each one is a gift -- and after I'd regained my composure and imagined the conversation Mama and I might have had when I got home and showed her these pictures I began to chuckle to myself.  See? Mama never talked about living in Bowling Green, only about that being where her folks lived when she was born. I'm not sure she would have any memory of any of the buildings I photographed, or any stories to tell about anything or anyone there. If I'd brought these back to show her, I could see her in my mind's eye saying, "Huh. I don't remember any of this."

After we got home, and I began to dig through the family records again for any information about her time there, I stumbled across story after story she had recorded in the database my father compiled (to which she added notes). I recalled stories of Oogie Pringle and Luigi Capone (the greatest dog who ever lived), and chinaberry trees, and Jeanie Beanie Bad Egg and her prissy cousin who was famous for saying, "I don't caaarrre for any," and the particular way Mama always told us about that prissy cousin. Stories about rabbit tobacco and getting tossed out of a movie theatre when she was in college for crying so loudly it disturbed the other patrons.

A few days later I was babysitting my granddaughter, and I sang "My Sweetheart's a Mule in the Mine" to her, and she and I played "Great Big Buzzard" which always gets the giggles going, exactly the way I remember Mama doing those things with me when I was little, and with each of her grandchildren in their day.

I will tell her stories. I will sing her songs. One day, maybe Rosemary will share them with her children and grandchildren.

That will be the monument to Mama.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Life is..

Last summer my Mama wanted badly to go to Peach Park up the road about 45 minutes for nothing but a big bowl of homemade peach ice cream. Every time she and I would agree on a date, something would thwart our plans, and we never made it.

I've thought about this so often since her death in October. I especially thought about it yesterday when I told my sister that it is so much worse to regret something you did not do than the things you DID do.

So today, Henry and I loaded our granddaughter up in the pickup truck and set out up the road.

We're on our way home as I type this. The Eagles are playing on the stereo, Henry's wearing one of his ridiculous Hawaiian print shirts, and Rosemary is chirruping out another reading of The Very Quiet Cricket from her perch in the back seat.

This one was for you, Mama. And for us.

Life is sweet.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Capful of Memories

Memories of Saturday mornings on Montezuma Road in the early to mid-1960's come with a soundtrack of calls of "DEWberries!  Niiiiiiiiice, fresh DEWberries!," courtesy of a parade of black women who offered fresh produce for sale, sauntering gracefully up and down the streets of my neighborhood. They called out what they offered in a sing-song fashion that I will never forget. It sings to me of simpler times.

It harkens back to a time when there actually was a milkman who left bottles of milk, eggs, and butter on the front porch and the clank of those glass bottles against the wire carriers that held them; when buying bags of crushed ice was unheard of because you bought a block of ice and chipped it with an ice pick yourself; and when the only clock for which we had use, as kids, were the streetlights. They told us when we had to go home after a day of being outdoors, out of earshot and range of our parents, seeking adventure in drainage ditches (where would you come out if you started at the park on Cloverdale Road and kept walking for a few hours?), or the playground in front of the school that had real metal jungle gyms on which we could hang upside down or fall from onto the hard, cracked earth underneath without a parent ever giving any thought of suing the school system if we'd come home bleeding or broken.

It was the days when front yards came complete with stickers that hurt like hell when you got them stuck in your foot. We had some defense against that, too -- we'd burn the soles of our feet on the hot asphalt over and over until they built up callouses that were impervious not only to those things, but most shards of broken glass as well. We made fun of kids who wore shoes in the summer. If you wore shoes, you were Dill to my Scout.

Oh, dear. I've digressed, haven't I? 

This entire post was inspired by my husband's presentation to me, just a few minutes ago, of a re-purposed ball cap full of these, harvested from our front yard:

DEWberries...... Niiiiiiiiiiiiice, fresh DEWberriessssss.....    

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Little rituals. Big gratitude.

A couple weeks ago my husband asked me why I wasn't wearing the cross he gave me. I wondered when he -- I wondered when anyone --  might notice. I always wear a cross. I usually wear the one he gave me several years ago commemorating a particularly important landmark in our lives together. If not it, I wear another from my collection. 

Except during Lent.

During Lent, I don't wear a cross. That's been my heretofore private Lenten ritual for a long time. A cross necklace isn't just an ornament to me, it really is a statement of my faith. Sometimes it's a reminder of how far away from my faith I feel.

The past year and a half has taken a toll on me, the full extent of which I sometimes don't realize until it catches up with me at unexpected times. Those who know me know the trials, so I won't belabor them here. We all have them - nothing about mine sets me apart from most anybody else, that's to be sure.

During all these months, holding on to my faith has been hard. I've wrestled with the angels -- sometimes to make them hold on to me, sometimes to make them let go of me. I have the bruises on my soul to testify.

But today is Easter and like a moth to the Flame, I took off the decorative necklace I've been wearing for 40 days and I put this one on its stead.

This was one of my Mama's. I wore it the day I got married, and when Henry and I had been married for 25 years she gave it to me outright.  It was purchased for her from an antique jewelry dealer, so I have no idea how old or fine it might be. I don't wear it often - the little chain of tiny pearls is fragile, and I don't want to risk breaking it. I've made a tradition of wearing it on Easter Sunday mornings since it was given to me, and so I did today.

I had expected this day to be full of tears. Even now, our family is in a state of flux. My father had to be hospitalized just over a week ago, and was released from there into rehab, and will move this week to Angels for the Elderly, a residential home for those dealing with dementia and Alzheimers' disease.  My siblings and I have cared for him, all day and night, every day and night, since Mama's death, and going through this transition has been very difficult for him and for us.

Our preacher's sermon was so powerful, so much what I needed to hear during this period of deep drought. He reminded us that Easter calls us by name, puts aside the sadness, casts away the darkness, and calls us home to the joy of the Resurrection. Thank you, Dr. Bryan. The right words at the right time may have really helped this spirit to begin its real healing now, and although I teared up a little during the Hallelujah Chorus, had a "moment" when I got home through which my husband sustained me, I am now counting all my blessings again with genuine gratitude.

My friends, who have walked beside me every step of this journey.

My sister, brothers, and their spouses who, with us, continue to walk through these days with honesty, and respect, and humor, and tenacity.

My children, who are remarkable, somehow, and who make me proud -- and a little awed -- to be their Mama.

My Daddy, whose gentleness and humor - and occasional obstinacy  --  continue to remind us who really is
still boss.

And little girls in white dresses, who take their own Daddy's hand and walk with him to find what joy the day ahead holds for them.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him, all creatures here below. 
Praise Him above, ye heav'nly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 


Monday, March 26, 2012

Eleanor Lucas shared an Instagram photo with you

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"Biggest strawberries ever. "
(taken at Pop's)

The Instagram Team

Friday, March 23, 2012

With Gertrude as my witness....

.... I shall never buy celery again.

Well, I probably will, but only because what's in my garden won't be ready for harvesting.

My cousin's wife posted a little tidbitty thing on Pinterest about what to do with that part of the celery that very conveniently holds the stalks together:  stick it in the dirt, and then stand back.

Henry, the chief gardener around here, said, NAH -- it'll never work.

So I handed him that bit of the celery and encouraged him as gently as I could to HUMOR ME.

Whaddya know?   See that green stuff there on the right?  That was from the doohicky celery thing after less than a week.  The white thing on the left is another celery doohicky thing that he put stuck in the dirt just a day or so ago - and it's already sprouting.

For sure and certain, we may never achieve usable stalks like what you get in the produce section, but I'm going to keep you posted.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Unintentional Companions

Perhaps the truth depends on a walk.....
   ~Wallace Stevens

I lost my heart for many things when Mama died in October, chief among them my joy in  walking. I suppose a counselor would have a field day with that: the last time I heard her voice was when I called her to tell her that I had just finished my second half-marathon. 

Reasons turned into excuses, as they often do though, and the hard work I had begun in 2003 to get my health and my girth under control began to slip away.  I made a couple false re-starts with manufactured enthusiasm, and even now I can't say I've got my groove back.

But I am getting back to the park now at least a few times a week. I'm walking these days with no purpose (save getting back in some of my summer clothes) -- no thought of how fast or how far, just walking until I decide I don't want to walk any longer, listening to whatever music finds its way from my iPhone to my ears.

The picture up there was taken from the parking lot of Vaughn Road Park, just before a good, long walk this past Wednesday afternoon. That church is where I had cast my vote the day before, the one whose outcome left me incredulous, and more than a bit dismayed. (My disclaimer: I am a moderate conservative, which basically means I have nowhere to go most of the time, politically speaking.)

But this isn't a post about politics. This is a post about community.

The park was full of folks that day, and I enjoyed watching families out enjoying a beautiful late afternoon, and passing elderly couples strolling on the path (the only people I CAN outpace anymore!).  

As I was nearing the end of an hour, my legs were growing tired, and as I approached the final rise on the track I began to match pace and walk side-by-side with a young African-American man, dread-locked,wearing those godawful low slung pants, having a conversation into seeming air via a Bluetooth device).  I could not get past him - he was at a stroll, but his stride was long and these short legs just didn't have the gas left in them to speed up.  

It's odd how uncomfortable I feel walking side-by-side like this with someone I don't know, but I think it's probably a universal feeling. I have no doubt that as strange as I felt, he must have felt the same, and yet neither of us could or would do anything to escape the situation. And so we walked, side by side.  He finished his conversation, and we continued to walk -- together -- and after several minutes he began to break off to step into the park itself and he said, "I enjoyed the walk. You take care, and be blessed."

There are lots of things that do and will forever separate that young man and me, but for that parcel of time we were unintentional companions,  walking together.

It's what we need to remember when we are divided by political issues, and race, and religion, and education, and socioeconomic class: we only have here. We only have now. Whether we like it or not, we are walking this time together. 

Enjoy the walk. Take care. Be blessed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What I'm Loving Wednesday - Making New Memories

When I was a little girl my Grandpappy would take us to Ligers Bakery in the Normandale shopping center just to get a gingerbread man.  I can't honestly say whether we did this 5 times or 5,000, but the memory is etched on my heart regardless.

Yesterday afternoon Rosemary and her Mama came over to spend some time, and just on an impulse we decided to go to Ligers, which is no longer in Normandale but which is ridiculously close to my house for me to admit I don't go there very often.

As much as I wanted to get her a gingerbread man, the cake pops they had in the display were just adorable. I selected two slices of cherry pie for the grown-up dessert (to be divided into 4 servings), and they and a strawberry cake pop came home with us, in Ligers' traditional white paper bag.

We had a really nice supper, and then it was time for dessert. I think it is safe to say that as far as Rosemary is concerned, Ligers' Cake Pops were a hit.

We will do this again. Maybe even 5,000 times.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Lunches

I enjoy fresh food, freshly prepared, as much as the next person. I'd really enjoy it every day for lunch if there were someone here to prepare it for me. No matter how hard I search my house when I get home for my lunch hour, though, there no one ever seems to be here offering me a plate of something they just whipped up.

So, I go for quick and easy. I heat a can of soup, reheat leftovers when available, slap some tuna and a pickle between a couple slices of bread -- that sort of thing. But when the grocery store runs a big special on frozen meals I happen to like (as part of a balanced diet, of course) I go armed with good coupons and really stock up. 

My Dad seems to actually like some frozen dinners, and I will confess that when I am on night detail with him they can be a real help. He eats well earlier than I ever do, so preparing a real meal for the two of us can be problematic.

When I fix one of these for him I plate it and add a little something else to balance things out nutritionally: a bit of fruit, some extra vegetables. I began to notice something after doing this for all these weeks: there was more food in those single serve meals than it seems. Until a few days ago when I would zap a frozen meal I'd just eat it out of the little plastic tray. None too elegant, and quite often I just didn't feel like I had eaten. 

So this week, using my fine china (which is now my everyday china because life is too short to save the good stuff for some other time) I have begun taking stuff like this: 

.... and putting it on something like this.

Well, you get my point. 

What's in Photo #1 one looks like a frozen meal bought on sale with a coupon, but what is in Photo #2 looks at least a little more as if someone went to the trouble to fix lunch for me.  I found I took my time eating it, and when I was done it felt more like a meal than a mad food dash. I've heard it said that we eat with our eyes first, and there is no doubt that the difference in perception between those two views, at least in terms of quantity of food, explains why I felt more fed haven plated and supplemented the dish with a little (gasp!) bagged salad. (I know my foodie friends and family are squirming. You are on your own to deal with it.)

Another new habit for 2012?  Most definitely!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I'm Loving Wednesday - BUGS!

Not all bugs, of course. It's hard to get all warm and fuzzy about most of them, most of the time.

Ladybugs are different. Maybe it's because we meet ladybugs in verse when we are little, when we encourage one of them to flyaway home to check on her children. Anthropomorphism does wonders for one's early appreciation of nature, doesn't it?

Let's face it: ladybugs are just cute. I mean, they are polka-dotted, for goodness' sake! And they are very beneficial. We welcome them in the garden because they have a big appetite for bugs who are not so nice. (Maybe those bugs didn't have nursery rhymes written about them, and have "issues" arising from that?) 

My granddaughter's house plays host to a benign infestation of ladybugs every year. The first time this happened her parents were understandably bothered, but as they have gotten used to them, and as they have learned that they aren't there to do damage, it's become more a source of bemused irritation.

Ladybugs are said to offer protection, and luck. While I am not overly given to superstition, as long as some of the people I love best are living in that house, I like the idea that these little friends keep coming back. 

Cloverdale Road Ladybug