Hope

Ella two years ago at the Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive. She’s a serious birder.

There is a birding bond between my granddaughter, Ella, and me that helps us keep in touch even though we are now long distance. Ella will turn 13 next month, and ever since she was a toddler she has been fascinated by birds. At an early age she could identify all the backyard birds that visited our feeder. None of this red bird or blue bird stuff for her. She wanted to know their proper breed names.

We have taken her and her older sister, Mia, birding a couple of times. Ella loves it. She is an excellent spotter as well, picking out birds hiding in bushes and trees far better than I.

I’m never surprised when she or her mom, my daughter Dena, sends me a picture to try to identify a newbie. I was surprised to get this picture.

This poor little guy flew into their sliding glass door. Ella was crushed and quickly scooped it up and laid it in their vacant bird-cage. Since her mom wasn’t home, Ella texted this picture to her. Dena sent it to me as she was not in a position to help. Ella and I began to facetime each other. She was convinced that the cardinal was still alive, so I had her wrap it in a cloth to keep it warm in case it was in shock. Ella held it and tried to will it to live. She named it Hope.

While facetiming I also was interacting with the rest of the kids. For hygiene’s sake, I asked did anyone else touch the bird. Mia, who was holding the cat way too close for comfort to our little patient, scrunched up her face like I had suggested the unthinkable and said, “No!”

Layna, who is six, showed her concern by reiterating that the cardinal is the state bird of North Carolina. I’d say what a poor little thing it was, and she would say, “I know and it’s our state bird.” Such concern over the potential loss of so proud a symbol of their state mixed with pride over knowing this important fact was impressive.

But Jett’s mind presented the most interesting prospect and potential problem with helping this beautiful, red cardinal. “What if it explodes?” he asked. I think he’s played one too many games of Angry Birds.

Meanwhile, I told Dena that she could give it a couple of drops of whisky from an eye dropper when she got home. If there was any life left in it, that might help. Unfortunately, they only had Vodka. I’m not sure that made a difference.

Finally, it was decided that Ella should put Hope in an open shoe box and tuck it under some bushes to see if it would revive. Alas, Hope died.

If love alone could have brought Hope back, he would have flown away to live on. He left behind a sad Ella, but I believe he taught her a few things, too. This was not the first bird that she has rescued, but it was the first one that didn’t make it. Life is full of learning from things like this. On the other hand, at least it didn’t blow up. I don’t think she could have handled that.

 

First Father’s Day

After someone important to you dies, you go through a series of firsts. Firsts that they were always a part of. Firsts that leave a little hole in the day. I know that this is completely normal.

In my case, because my dad died at 94 after suffering with limitations that strived to define him, which he fought bravely to conquer mentally if not physically, it has been easier than I thought that it would be to go through this series of firsts.

Father’s Day was a BIG first that I wondered about, but I made it through. And it wasn’t too hard. Watching someone age and get ready for Heaven changed my perspective on my dad’s death. Truthfully, the dad that I knew the last few years was a representation of the dad who I had for most of his life. The thought of Dad in Heaven is a happy place in my heart. No limitations! Yes!

Dad retire at 50 years old, so he spent almost as much time on this side of retirement as the other side. Bob, my husband, has never worked close to home. His commute has varied from 45 minutes to 2 hours. So, when the plumbing was gushing up through the toilet or a tire had flattened, I’d call Dad. (These things happened more often while Bob was at work. I think that’s part of the mechanical-things-fear-Bob deal.)

That is the Dad that makes me smile. I hold both versions in my mind, but one has a bigger place in my heart. One has the bigger file of memories.

As I type this today, I’m smack in the middle of the second BIG first that I have wondered about. Today is the 70th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I wondered how Mom would get through that. How would I get through watching Mom? The floodgate of memories was sure to break.

But you know what? Those memories washing over you can be pretty refreshing and special. That’s what I’m experiencing today (and she is, too), and since you’ve been so kind to listen to me in the past, I thought you should know. There are more BIG firsts down the road, but why borrow trouble? God really does supply the grace needed for all of life’s moments – big and small. Some will be harder than others. That’s okay.

I do miss my dad. He’s come up a few times in my blog, and my book ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC, is based on his life. He got to read it before he lost his eyesight, before the final edit. I’m thankful, even though I know he struggled with the fact that I fictionalized his life. I guess that would be weird for anybody, but he was proud of me and happy to have stories of his life preserved. That, too, makes me happy. In a lot of ways, you never stop being your dad’s little girl.

Here are a couple of pictures I’d like to share with you. Hope you enjoy them.

Dad the magician, the early years

Dad always liked animals, but he was happy to have this friendly guy out of their Florida lake.

Dad with my first son, Jesse. He loved his grandkids.

Survivor Finale – Spoiler Alert!!!

Image result for free pictures of jeff probst

Photo Source: tvseriesfinale.com

Sacred TV time. That statement is wrong on so many levels, except that is how I “view” my Survivor television watching. Survivor is my absolute favorite TV show. My kids know this. Some of them watch the show, too; so last Wednesday night when Bob and I sat down to watch the finale an hour and fifteen minutes after the scheduled time, I texted my kids to let them know we were just then starting. I couldn’t risk a kink in my plan to find out who the sole survivor would be from watching the show, not from my kids lack of knowledge that we were watching delayed. (more…)

Happy National Park Week!

Sequoia National Park

It’s National Park Week, and even though I was mildly traumatized in one as a kid, I still love the parks.

I was nine and just completed the third grade. Our family of six did the cross-country camping thing during summer vacation. Dad converted our ’65 Volkswagen Microbus into a camping wagon, replacing the middle seat with a side seat so we kids could look at each other and play games while on the road. People didn’t wear seatbelts back then. We were used to being thrown around the car whenever it swerved or if Dad had to slam on the brakes. It was part of toughening us up and another way to promote togetherness.

It happened in Sequoia National Park in California. My dad and brother always pitched the three-room tent and my two sisters and I would help Mom by getting water, brushing off the picnic tables, and the like. Our campground had a nice fire pit area to cook on and warm ourselves by in the cool night air. The woods were amazing. Those trees! Well, their majesty even awed a young girl like me.

One of the cardinal rules of camping is: use the outhouse before you turn in for the night. Another rule of camping with children is: they don’t always follow the rules.

We had barely snuggled down in our sleeping bags when I regretted my decision not to use the bathroom right before bed. I mean, I had just gone thirty minutes earlier and it was a little hike down to the outhouse. I knew I’d be fine. Except I wasn’t.

I knew my mom would already be sleeping. Dad had often commented that she could fall asleep while running for a bus. So, I whispered, “Dad, I have to go to the bathroom.”

Of course, he replied with the line every parent uses, “I told you to go before bed. Why didn’t you go then?”

“I didn’t have to.”

Dad asked me if I remembered where the outhouse was and I said I did. We obviously didn’t yet know that I was directionally challenged since I had never put that lack-of-skill set to the test.

He handed me a flashlight and turned me loose in the darkness. Now, I can only imagine that my parents had quite the argument over this after my mom woke up, but meanwhile there I was standing outside of the tent armed with a flashlight and a full bladder, all by myself. I was petrified. I walked a few feet away from the tent and stood there in the black of night. There was no way I was going alone (so to speak).

After waiting a few minutes, I went back to the tent and lied to my father. “I can’t find it. It’s too dark.”

He solved that by handing me a second flashlight. To this day I don’t know what he was thinking, but I mustered the courage to walk down the road in the direction of the outhouse. Only I never came upon the outhouse. Who knows – maybe I was close, but I couldn’t find it. I backtracked my steps and told Dad the bad news. I was sure he would come out and lead me there, but instead he forgot I was a girl and told me to go out behind the campsite.

At this point I was practically scared peeless (is that a word?), but I figured if I didn’t take care of things I’d be in big trouble, so I managed. Yuck!

No sooner had I zipped up my sleeping bag when we heard a horrible sound. It was like someone was taking a crowbar and beating our van to pieces. That woke my mom up! All six of us peered out of the tent to witness an enormous bear throwing garbage cans around our campsite like they were confetti. Needless to say, it was a good thing that I had emptied my bladder or else I would have right then.

That was my first close encounter with a bear and my last time going to bed without visiting the outhouse. I believe two things happened that night. Number One. And, my unhealthy fascination with bears was born. I guess a third thing happened too, but I never did hear the argument between my mom and dad.

So, Happy National Park Week. Get out there and explore. Bob and I are heading to Utah on Saturday to do just that. I’ll keep you posted. By the way, I will not have to worry about outhouses at night anymore. No more tent camping for us!

My eight-year-old son enjoying Sequoia National Park when Bob and I took the kids across country in 1995. I’ve camped enough now.

Family Game Time and The Streak

Game-player genes are strong in my family, especially on my mom’s side. My childhood memories are full of badminton and croquet in the backyard and epic Monopoly games complete with outlandish trades. As I grew older, Scrabble was added into the mix. My mom was always part of those games – well, maybe not Monopoly. What homemaker has time for a board game that becomes a three-day event?

There are no other people in the world that I would rather play games with than my family. We are a competitive bunch, and this month as we gathered together to celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday, she led the way to the game table. She loves to play Scrabble and she plays to win. It is from her that I get my love of words. As a matter of fact, during one game my mom received a phone call and continued playing as she talked. Without batting an eye, she managed to accumulate two triple words while we just stared in disbelief. She is amazing.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

This trip, most of those Scrabble games were played with Mom, my sister and brother-in-law, and myself. We played a lot, and everyone was victorious at least once, except for me. It was getting embarrassing. Not because I couldn’t win, but because I couldn’t stop winning. I was on fire. I hate to toot my own horn, but since none of them have a blog, I am left with no other choice. Not only that, I don’t think my brother-in-law is talking to me.

Seriously, I was one with the tiles. The letters seemed to rearrange themselves on the tray and lift themselves effortlessly onto the scrabble board. Two games in a row I used all seven of my tiles. In the next game, my mom did something I had never seen before when she got a double/double word. It was amazing and we knew she would win the game, until once again I used all seven of my tiles and chalked up another victory.

I knew I was in trouble, but I was on some kind of bizarre scrabble streak and, even though I felt a little bad about it, I was loving it. I also knew it wouldn’t last. Streaks are made to end. The real challenge was to get them to keep playing and not lock me out of the house. The last several days of our time together were spent at the beach, where I continued my reign of terror. After my last victory there, everyone got away from the table for a little while. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I’d leave them a note to let them know that my heart was heavy and that I felt bad, but I didn’t want to sound condescending. Plus, we were almost out of paper, so I improvised.

I’d like to say they graciously accepted my apology, but they just reinforced what I already knew – Scrabble is not for lightweights.

The Pencil Sharpener (There is a Point to this Story)

I may not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer, but I can sharpen those pencils.

As we prepared my parents to move into our house and say goodbye to living autonomously after 69 years of marriage, I learned a few things. Life is unbelievably hard when you are old. Giving up control is one of the most challenging things a person can do. Pencil sharpeners may hold hidden meanings.

We moved Mom and Dad into our Florida home two days before Hurricane Irma hit. Six weeks later, Dad graduated to heaven. He was ready. His body was worn out, as was his hearing. His eyes that used to sparkle so blue had clouded over and gave way to blindness.

His legacy includes being an efficiency expert. He was a micromanager, which was my biggest challenge. He wanted to inspect each and every item that they owned to judge its usefulness and potential in their new home with us. And being raised during The Depression, there were a lot of items.

There were 13 telephones hidden in various places, plus 2 in use. When asked about this, he supposed my mom was the responsible party. He even grasped at the straw that someone had been stashing phones in their home. Certainly, a foul plot was afoot!

My dad was sharp until the end. His mind had to derive an option that did not include his inclination to never throw away anything that might have some future use. We didn’t bring up the eight razors or the seven pairs of TV ears. He didn’t need the frustration.

But the pencil sharpener fit into a category of its own. Possibly Dad loved this office supply more than all the telephones put together. He was determined to bring it with him. I lamented our lack of need, for we had a sharpener, not to mention that I personally have not used a pencil since 1967.

That began an all-out search. At Dad’s direction, I called my son to see if they needed a top-notch sharpener. I asked my daughter. I called my brother in New Jersey. Sadly, it looked like this sharpener would be reduced to living on the streets.

Dad ultimately accepted that the sharpener was no longer needed. Its usefulness complete.

I did not see the parallel in this story until weeks after Dad’s death when I tried to sharpen a pencil with our sharpener, and it failed to work.

I guess Dad got the last laugh. His beloved sharpener was retrieved and has a place of honor in our home. It took me a while, but I finally got the point. May it sharpen our pencils forever.

 

Today I’m Sharing a Loss with You

My dad, Arthur Manning

It has been two jam-packed months since I’ve posted a blog, and that hardly seems possible to me. As I told you way back then, Bob and I moved my parents in with us on September 8. And then we had Hurricane Irma blow through. Both of these events generated a lot of work, but we were happy and relieved to have Mom and Dad with us.

We were all making the adjustment just fine, and Mom and Dad were feeling settled, when on October 2 my dad began to decline. Just the week before, Dad, who was 94, told me he was glad they were with us. That was a big deal, because moving wasn’t his idea. But it clearly was God’s timing and his amazing grace and mercy for them to be in our home.

On Thursday, October 19, Dad breathed his last and was ushered into the presence of God – the God he loved and gave his life to over forty years ago. I am confident of where Dad is now, and I am grateful that he has a new body. His old one was clearly worn out. Dad was very hard of hearing and had gone completely blind over a year ago. The last weeks of his life he could no longer walk or even stand. The VITAS Hospice group were our constant companions, and we are forever grateful for their support.

In many ways, I can’t believe he is gone. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he would call out, “Hey, Bon-bon,” when I entered their house. It’s a weird time. I miss him.

Things are calmer now. Family has gone home. The meals, which our dear friends brought to us, have stopped coming. We are finding our footing in the midst of grief. There is a peace that passes understanding that flows through my soul as I slow the pace of my life down and walk through this with my mom, but it is not easy to slow that pace. My natural inclination is to get things done so that they are done and I don’t have to give mental space to the many details. Frankly, that doesn’t always work!

I have to remind myself that “normal” is a fluid concept. I have a new normal that is in the developmental stages. I am not particularly fond of transitions. Change is hard and can be stressful, but it is within those transitions that I am reminded of how much I need Jesus. I have to lean not on my own understanding and wait on God.

Dad had a practice of asking everyone who entered their home if they knew Jesus as their personal savior. I did not know of anyone who was bolder. My dad was not a big man, but he filled a room. He had a big personality. He loved to tell stories and he loved to entertain. He was an accomplished magician and brought joy to a lot of people through his illusions. That man could control a deck of cards.

Knowing that my dad is in Heaven with no more limitations makes me happy. Watching my mom lean into God encourages me. Experiencing grace for things that I never thought I could remotely do, builds my faith.

I guess there really isn’t a lighter side to this post. I just wanted you to know what’s been going on and why I’ve taken some time off. I’m back now and expectant that once again, God will show me the lighter side of things and I will share them with you. Thanks for reading.

Nobody Likes You Irma (Part 2 of 2)

Irma was an unwelcome guest, but there was no stopping her from blowing through. I thought I would share what it was like for me and my family as she came knocking on our door. Looking back, we got off easy compared to a lot of folks, but my story is the only one I can tell. I tell it mixed with prayers for those who have truly suffered through this storm and the many other “natural disasters” that are going on in the world today.

By 11:00 Sunday morning we were hunkered, which is a word we used liberally during the entire ordeal.

Hurricane Warning

By 2:20 PM our phones were going off like crazy with alerts. Watches turned to warnings. (Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for the storm. Warnings come when the storm or flood is imminent.)

The first rain bands arrived before 3 PM.

The wind significantly picked up by 7 PM. By 8:30, those winds became downright scary as they gusted over and around our house.

By 10 PM the rain was coming down in torrents. We experienced minor flooding over our front sidewalk. And the eye of the storm was hours away. FYI, we did not board up our house.

Our front sidewalk in the light of day. It took 3 days to dry out.

We decided to go to bed and get some rest. The worst was supposed to come around 2 AM. My parents seemed to go right to sleep on the other side of the house. Bob and I lay in our bed listening to the weird noises that the wind was making. I thought our roof was going to come off. I told Bob that I couldn’t sleep with all that noise. He said that he could.

And he did! I went to the center of the house and tried to rest in a recliner, but by then it was raining even harder and I could hear the dripping in the chimney while the weird noises continued. The wind whipped through our screened pool enclosure making eerie howling sounds. This was the first time in a long time that I can remember being legitimately scared. So, I ate some chocolate chip cookies.

The entire household was sleeping through this (minus me, of course). That amazed me, but I was thankful somebody was getting some rest! It was now clear that the storm was going to go right over Orlando. With the wind picking up even more, a little before 2 AM, I prepared the hall with cushions and chairs for my parents. Our phones, computers and car keys were placed in Ziploc bags. I was ready to take the hunkering to a new level.

I was awake and praying or chatting with other hunkerers on Facebook through most of the night – manning the conn from our recliner in the center of the house while eating the occasional chocolate chip cookie or three. I’d peek outside toward the east and look at the weird lightning and watch the trees bend in the glow of it. The water in the pool, though Bob had drained several inches from it twice, was over the edge. Irma was loud and violent, and the rest of my family slept through it.

With everything in place, I returned to my recliner. I must have dozed off, because I woke up around 6 AM and realized that it was over, and we still had electricity.

We live in the back of our neighborhood, which has 450 homes in it. A tributary of the Little Wekiva River flows through the center. Typically, it is a creek of about 8 feet width. Monday morning it was a raging little river.

The front of our neighborhood looked like a war zone of fallen trees and debris. They were without power. Our end of the neighborhood never lost it. But there were a lot of downed trees and fences and a new lake in our neighbor’s backyard. A wonderful neighbor had a front-end loader and went up and down every street clearing a path. Everyone was outside working and checking on each other.

Our next-door neighbor’s backyard

Bob looking at all the debris – our neighbor’s newly formed backyard lake in the background

Our damage was so minimal it doesn’t even count. I told my mother that we had an extra blessing from God because they moved in with us.

Bob and I put on our sneakers and leather gloves and got to work. Trees are no respecters of property lines. We have the neighborhood border wall behind our house. There is a vacant, treed lot behind us, so we got lots of debris from that. When I set foot in the yard, I was surprised to be up to my ankles in water. But there was no damage and nobody was hurt. We were amazed and grateful to God for that.

One of our sons and family showed up in the early afternoon. They were safe but without power. By nightfall, theirs was restored. Our other son and his wife were not so lucky. Theirs was out for nine days.

My parents’ home sustained no damage, but that area was without electricity for five days. It may be September, but it’s still close to 90 degrees every day down here.

 

     There are piles of debris along the roads that are taller than I am. And there is a subtle, funky smell in the air that is like a mixture of old diaper and chicken farm. Thankfully, the garbage truck removed the regular garbage today, so that may improve. Mass spraying has begun to combat mosquitoes. The sound of frogs in the morning is deafening as they take up residence in the newly formed ponds. We are keeping our eyes open for snakes. Alligators have been reported in some yards and pools. Flood waters are cresting along the St. Johns River. There are still some who have no power and others who can no longer stay in their homes. But we give thanks for being on the other side of this. It has been a blessing watching neighbor helping neighbor and churches joining together to serve. A lot of the differences that tend to divide us have taken their proper place, and we see each other simply as people going through something together.

I thought about being afraid in the middle of that night. I thought about how rare that is for me, and I was thankful. Now I think about people living in fear of storms real and imagined and how that affects their lives, and I pray that they will call out to God because He is there.

 

A Pick-up Line in a Pick-up Line?

Pick-up Line

Bob and I were waiting at Subway (the sandwich shop not the mass transit system), trying to figure out what delectable delight we’d feast on for lunch. From across the not-so-crowded room, I saw him. His back was to me. Without hesitation, I walked right up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and asked, “What are you doing tonight?”

Think me brazen if you will, but I had to know.

I stood there gazing up at this tall, young man, who was easily young enough to be my son, waiting for my answer. What was he going to do tonight?

He smiled and replied, “The same thing I do every night – try to take over the world.”

Well, that made my day. You see, I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg. You may have heard of him. I understand he has produced numerous, notable films. But if you have not had the pleasure of viewing his animated TV series, Pinky and The Brain, while sitting next to your child or grandchild, you are clearly missing out on some serious fun.

I spent many hours watching with my kids. Brain is a genius mouse who is set on taking over the world, and Pinky is his insane sidekick (according to the catchy theme song and obvious to all who view). Every day Pinky asks Brain what they are going to do tonight. Every day Brain replies, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

Just the thought of Pinky driving Brain crazy makes me smile. The thought of watching with my kids does, too. And, that day in Subway, I smiled as I engaged with a fellow fan and thought that if we all tried to take over the world with fun, love, and kindness, that would really be something amazing. Pinky would love it!

The 2017 USA Total Eclipse of the Sun (for your safety, please read before viewing the eclipse)

Me preparing for eclipse viewing – practicing not seeing things in the dark

Oh, Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017, you’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you. I could deny it, but why bother. This is about you! Today, you’re the star! (I mean that metaphorically and literally.)

There is no need to fly a Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun. It’s not there this time. I could simply drive to South Carolina. But I won’t.

At 2:50:58 pm, from my very own, easy to get to, front yard here in Central Florida, 85.6 percent of the sun will be obscured by the moon. That sounds like a solid “B” to me. I will be satisfied, though a little sad, to stay home for this event. Even though I hate missing anything of this magnitude. And, the realization that just a short eight-hour ride up the road is a potential “A+” total eclipse (depending on whether the weather cooperates) might make me crazy if I let it, but I won’t. I don’t want to be a lunatic over a solar eclipse. That seems wrong.

I understand that (possibly) this is a once-in-a-lifetime event – a total solar eclipse going from coast to coast. I should be more excited. I should pack a cooler and my ISO approved solar viewing glasses and go. But the thing that I keep going back to is that I can’t actually look at it. Not even a little bit. So, the thought of hurrying north to not watch the eclipse confuses my thought patterns – especially when I realize that I am very tempted to go. I want to not see the sun and experience darkness in the daytime, just like everybody else.

Engineer Bob, my sweet husband, brought home a pair of the viewing glasses for me – a gift better than flowers (though not as good as jewelry). I think he knows how tempting it will be for me to look at the sun and he is looking out for me and, I might add, himself. Both of our fathers have gone blind in their old age, and Bob is hedging his bets to keep my eyesight. We look out for each other that way. We have seen the future and we want to be able to see in it.

So please enjoy not watching the eclipse. It will be a memory of something that you didn’t actually see that you will enjoy for years to come.