Tears of Joy (Memory 40)

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I pledged this year, being 40 and all, to write about my 40 favorite memories.  The reality is, at any given moment in time, we are all only just a collection of our pasts.  None of us knows what the future will hold, or if an open door will even present itself.  Sometimes it’s nice to pause and remember the best of the past.  The best memories re-assure oneself that, if the future is not to be held and it is, indeed, time to cross over, this earthly life has been “enough.”  Oppositely, should the door open, the best memories prepare oneself to step across the threshold and face the challenges and wonders that lie ahead.  Either way, reflection is good.  Reflection has purpose.  What’s most interesting, as I have been making my list, is that most of my best memories are of the small things…something said, something felt, something beautiful my eyes have rested upon.  The best, oddly, are never the biggest.

One of my best memories is one of the more recent.  On Friday, August 28, of this year, just about three weeks shy of my 40th birthday, J. and I drove together to pick up N. from kindergarten.  I think he was a bit surprised to see both Mom and Dad in the carpool line.  You see, I had been in Houston wrapping up details on the sale of our existing home there…a lovely 1910 Victorian that we restored with much sweat, several arguments, a few days of giving up, one or two injuries and an extraordinary amount of love.  The house was set to close on August 31.  I don’t think N. expected me home yet.

In the midst of all of this, J. and I had looked at a house in Dallas’s Historic Belmont Addition, just one week prior.  Being Dallas natives, we had moved back to be closer to family.  I wanted N. to have the kind of childhood that I had, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all around.  J. wanted N. to have the kind of childhood he never had, as his entire extended family remained in the northeast.  We both walked out of the grand, old 1926 Tudor/Craftsman saying to each other, “I think this could work.”  If J. and I both can say this, then that, in and of itself, is something…like stars aligning, or a double rainbow or finding yourself caught in a storm when you happen to actually have an umbrella in the car.  It was a moment of which to take note.

The crazy thing was, I had seen this home online the spring before, when we weren’t ready to even buy, but, of course, I was shopping.  I thought it lovely and gracious, at the time, but then the owners pulled it off the market at the start of the summer.  Sigh.  Unbelievably, though, it was placed back on the market in August, just a week or so before we booked the appointment.  Had she been waiting for us?

The problem was, we really hadn’t planned on making an offer on a home until our Houston house was fully settled and the money was in the bank.  We both just wanted certainty behind the whole thing.  I’m a real estate broker, so I made a second showing appointment for myself that Sunday, on my way to Houston.  I walked through the house, in full silence, just listening to my own steps on the hardwood floors, gazing out through the waves of vintage glass, and I thought, “This could really work.”  I contacted the listing agent directly and let her know of our interest and to keep me posted on any activity.  After all, our Houston house would be closing in only one week now.  Maybe she would sit at least that long.

Wednesday morning came, and I answered my cell in Houston.  The house had multiple second showings over the weekend, and another agent was submitting an offer for her clients that day.  We had the opportunity to submit by midnight that night, and the seller would review all offers on Thursday morning.  Great.  After multiple calls with J. and multiple decisions, I was preparing offer paperwork at 9:00 p.m. that night.  So much for certainty.  It was time for faith.

Then, we waited.

Thursday afternoon came, and I answered my cell in Houston.  It was the listing agent.  She congratulated me and said, “The seller accepted your offer.  No counter.  It’s done, fully signed and I’ll send you over a copy.”  We had bought a house, unexpectedly, not really planned.  I mean, J. had only seen it once!  We had to think and act so quickly.

You know what that meant?  That meant it was likely perfect.  More often than not, the decisions in life that require fast movement, through a gut trust, are the best ones made.

So, Friday came and I drove home earlier than planned.  We decided to pick up N. from school together and surprise him.  The house we were buying was only blocks from the current house we were leasing, so we would travel the normal route until arriving at the last few turns.

Sure enough, we passed the main turn to the right to go home.  N. had been jabbering from his booster seat in the back about school, and this friend, and that friend, and fun projects, and playground infractions against him, and then he stopped, “Where are we going?”

“I just want Dad to drive by this place,” I said, casually.

“Oh, I know what we’re doing.  We’re going to drive by aNOther house.”  Clearly he was used to this M.O.

“I just want to take a look at something.”  I wasn’t budging.

We turned down Skillman and passed Tietze park, one of N.’s favorites.  It was well-known by all the neighborhood kids for the fabulous low branches of its majestic, old trees, fantastic for climbing.  We went a couple of blocks further and turned to the right.

“Hey buddy,” I said.  “Would it be cool to be able to ride your bike over to Tietze Park?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“What about Benny’s right down the street?  Would it be fun to get up on a Saturday morning and just walk to Benny’s and grab a bagel?”

“Yeah!  I love Benny’s,” he participated further.

By this point, we were at the stop sign, with our new footprint staring down on us from the next corner.

As we pulled through the intersection I said, “What if we could really do all those things?”  He looked puzzled as we came to a stop in front of the house.  He looked out the window and up the hill to the tall brick facade above him.  As he did, I turned around from the front and said, “Well, buddy, we can…because Dad and I just bought this house.”

A vibrant smile came over his profile and he slowly turned back to look at us.  He was crying.

My child was five.  I had seen him cry time and time again as a mother.  I’d seen him cry when he was hungry, cry when he needed changing, cry when another child took away a toy, cry when he had to leave and stop playing, cry when he had fallen and scraped his knee, cry when he thought life was unfair, cry when he didn’t get his way.  The first five years of life are full of crying; but, I had never seen a cry like this.  It was a welling cry, where the tears just pooled in his eyes and only a couple tiptoed down his little, plump cheeks.  These were tears of joy.

It was the first time in my life that I had actually seen my son cry out of sheer happiness, and it brought me to my knees.  I reached back and placed my hand on his soft little boy knee.  We were now both crying, and we all three laughed hysterically.  It was the best of memories, and, in those few minutes together, sitting in a car at the curb, the three of us were already home.

J. and I had been together for almost 25 years, and I could only count on one hand the number of times that I had actually seen him cry.  I knew, in that moment, that I had been granted the opportunity to experience something truly miraculous.  I knew, that as this little boy would grow into an adolescent and, finally, into a man, that few women would ever witness what I just had.

I felt so very honored to be the first.

-Amanda

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What to Think of 40

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Hello.  My name is Amanda, and I’m 40 (today, actually).

I wonder how that sounds?

I’d like to think that phrase sounds empowering, like someone might respond, “Wow!  You go, girl.”  I’m smart enough, though, to know better than to try that statement on anyone under the age of 15, or I’m likely to get a “Whoa” instead of a “Wow.”  (I remember when I thought people who were 40 were super old.  They were my parents…and my parents’ friends.)  Really, I’m not that smart.  I already experimented on my own kid.  I know the results.  I did try it out on friends of mine today at lunch.  I’m the youngest of the group, so that gets you the, “Meh.” It’s the, “I’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” response.  Understandable.  They’re not fooling me, though.  They still have that shirt.  It’s just been washed a thousand times now and is FINALLY to that beloved state where the threads are so soft you could care less that it might be shredding in a few places.  You can honestly think of nothing better than to slip it over your head and fall fast asleep.  I hope I end up with a t-shirt like that someday.  Those shirts are the best.

I don’t know.  Maybe the phrase sounds more like an addict making some sort of confession.  Lord knows I have plenty to confess to.  Thankfully, though, by the time you’re at this point, stepping into that booth and shaking hands with the voice on the other side, you can at least revel in the knowledge that the varnish on the confessional seat became dull long before you ever sat on it, and, as you close the door, you can see a lovely line of suckers behind you, winding their way through the sanctuary and out into the narthex.  They assume they’ve come to gaze at the sun, streaming through etched panes of colored glass.  You devilishly laugh.  You know better.  Eventually they’ll end up meeting the priest too.

Honestly, in all my cumulative years, I haven’t given 40 much of a thought.  Age has never really bothered me.  At the end of kindergarten they said to my parents, “She’s reading at a second grade level.  You should really move her ahead;” So…ahead I went, skipping first grade entirely.  I began college with tons of advanced placement credit, always took summer courses, and found myself with only 20 hours left at the start of second junior semester; So…ahead I went, finishing my undergraduate work in only three years and on to law school at the age of 20.  They had to give me a special wrist band at the first Student Bar Association mixer, because I wasn’t old enough to drink.  Wrap your head around that one.  I don’t necessarily suggest this path.  You might want to take the road more traveled.  You get a cocktail a lot easier that way.

So, you see, my age never really matched my peers.  I was always living in “older,” so the concept of age meant very little to me.  I’ve spent most of my life pondering what I was DOING next and rarely calculating days until my next birthday.  In fact, I had an instance, somewhere around the age of 33 or 34, where I completely forgot how old I was, gave a doctor the wrong age and even made myself older!  Who does that?  Exactly.  Actually, what weirdo WOMAN does that?  Exactly, yet again.  I just never really thought that much about it.

Maybe I’m lying a bit, though.  I did think about 40, now and then, but it always appeared to be at a comfortable distance.  40 was always approaching…sometime…but it was seemingly at the end of a very long road, a road, down which, I had all the time in the world to travel.  That road somehow came to an abrupt end today, and I turned around to stare into a distance far behind me, a landscaped distance painted with every form of terrain my life had offered me.

I started seriously thinking about 40 around 2 years ago, as I began witnessing my closer, yet older, peers move over the hump.  Some leaped like ballerinas.  They were beautiful, gracious, radiant.  Others rolled smoothly across, as if being pulled along in shiny, red Radio Flyers, little flags waving at each corner.  If you listened closely, you might hear the muffled sounds of a small parade…drums, whistles, the neigh of a horse.  Then, horridly, there were those who appeared to stagger across the hump, bleeding and dragging hole-laden burlap sacks filled with jagged stones, stones slipping precariously through those holes.  That lot was a sight.  They were the ones whose names congealed with whispers of phrases like “mid-life” and “crisis,” and the poor souls along with them for the journey were either constantly trying to gather up dropped rocks, or they were cutting their own feet on them, having missed the fact that they had slipped from the bag in the first place.

As I started watching this “40” thing, I found it to be a remarkably strange phenomenon.  It was this awkward stage where you were suddenly REAL adults, raising kids, juggling schedules and having serious careers (careers where you were forever “on track” for something, yet never seemed to have enough time left in the day for dreams).  It was this odd point in your personal history where some of the people you had always known as the REAL “adults” were now even older and DYING, and some of the people your very own age were springing phrases like “breast cancer” and “rheumatoid arthritis” and even “brain tumor” on you at 10:37 a.m. on any given Tuesday.  It was this devil of a moment where you started to grumble to yourself and say things like, “What have I really DONE?  How much time do I really have LEFT?  Does this person that I’m sharing every breath with day after day really DO it for me?  Will my wick of life extinguish before I even get the chance to…?”  Well, no one really says “wick of life,” but you get the point.  It’s like you wake up, all of a sudden, in this world where, ironically, you actually “get” your parents, and topics of conversation around you center on things like elementary school rankings, soccer shoes and bucket lists.  Before you know it, you’re standing there scratching your head and thinking, “What the hell happened to Friday Night Videos, Muppet Babies on Saturday morning and trip the dip in the back yard?  Weren’t we just doing that like last week?”

Well, all that aside, it’s here now.  There’s not a dad-blasted thing I can do about it.

So, I’m Amanda and I’m 40.  How does that sound?

If you ask me, it sounds like a statement.  I think it’s just a fact.  It’s nothing more than a mere measurement notch on the yard stick of life.  40 is kind-of like the truths about money and size.  There will always be someone richer than you and always someone poorer.  There will always be someone rounder than you and always someone thinner.  Why get all bent out of shape over it?  So, I think 40 is something that just “is” and not something you “define.”  It’s involuntary, like breathing or blinking.  It happens, it’s gone and you just move on.

So, I’m not going to sky-dive this year, and I’m not going to run a marathon.  I’m won’t be writing a novel, and I’m not taking a sabbatical to India.  You won’t see me stepping on a scale every day, and I won’t be trekking off to have anything filled, lifted or tucked.  I won’t do one darned thing just because of a number.

What I WILL be doing this year is what I believe to be a helpful exercise at any age.  I’ll be reflecting.  The one truth I know about age is that it gives a person two irreplaceable gifts…memories and lessons.  So, this year, I’m going to spend my future re-visiting my past.  For the next 12 months I will be writing about the 40 most memorable experiences of my life and the lessons they have taught me.  I already have my list made.

My hope is that, someday, when my mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, my joints really ache and dinner is at 5:30 p.m., I can read back through these writings and remind myself of who I am.  My prayer is that, someday, when I am long gone and my grandchildren are 38, they’ll dig these entries out from somewhere and realize that, to at least one person, 40 was just a digit in a string of numbers, and what mattered most was everything that led up to that point in life.  Maybe they’ll realize that 40 is only a hump if they make it that way.

So, I hope you join me for my future journey into my past.  It will be a fun ride!

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Today I am Rich (Chew #1): The “Allowance”

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I was fortunate enough to recently stumble upon the book “Today We Are Rich,” by Tim Sanders.  This fantastic read landed in my lap because my husband J. opted to read it, not long ago, when he found himself going “sideways.”  I picked it up, while on vacation this summer, and realized, “Huh…we all go a little “sideways” from time to time.”  Regrettably, there are some of us that stay “sideways” for most of life.

The premise of the book is that each and every one of us is rich in life when we have enough of something, enough of anything, to share (and that “something” is not limited to money).  It is the continued recognition, then, of this richness that allows one to “harness the power of total confidence,” as Sanders puts it.  Early in the book he talks about his grandmother Billye and what he learned from her:

“Being rich is a decision that stems from a sense of confidence.  It’s right up here,” she said, tapping her forefinger on the side of her head.  “Listen to me:  Confidence is rocket fuel…It’ll fill you up and make you believe there will be enough of what you need.”   (Sanders, Tim. Today We Are Rich. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2011. Print.)

I see this as a vicious cycle, but a vicious cycle for good.  The more you recognize your rich life, the more confidence you gain, and the more confidence you gain, the more you propel yourself forward to an even richer life.  That’s a snowball ride I want to jump on.  Who wouldn’t???

Sanders sets the stage for becoming rich with a call to action for each and every one of us to first have a positive, healthy, mind diet.  Because I find myself to be an introspective person, one of the more poignant subcategories of this call to action was Sanders’ note to be mindful of the cud we chew.  People, quite simply, are just like cows.  We call up old memories, on a daily basis, and we chew, chew, chew on them.

If you know anything about cattle, they actually chew their cud to digest the feed more thoroughly.  So every time we, as humans, regurgitate memories of fear, pain, negativity, resentment, worry, anxiety, regret and the like, all we are doing is processing those components even more effectively into our psyche.  If a memory does nothing more than to move you sideways, or WORSE backwards, you need to just spit it out.

In keeping my cud in mind when thinking about my own mind food (no pun intended), I am beginning a series on this blog about memories…my memories…the good ones…the ones I am selectively calling up to propel my life forward.  What I’ve come to realize too, the older I get, is the more that I propel my own life forward, the more those around me are compelled to move forward as well.  Granted, there are some nuts that are tougher to crack than others, but, for the most part, progress breeds progress.  Perhaps some of my own memories will strike a positive memory chord in you?  I hope so.

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My memory for today came to me as I was driving a sobbing four year-old home from McDonald’s.  Now, before you go and rake me over the coals for feeding my kid fast food junk for lunch, just understand that sometimes a woman needs one hour of meal sanity to sit quietly alone in a fiberglass booth and eat something, anything, in silence while kids are occupied on a playground.  Why there are no health food eateries with playgrounds is beyond me. Maybe that’s what I should invest in?  That’s a billion dollar concept.

Anyway…the sobbing manifested itself after two other boys brought remote control cars into the play area just as I asked my son N. to put on his shoes.  I saw disaster in the making from the moment that yellow Camaro with the black racing stripes whizzed past my foot.  “Mom, can I just ask him for a turn?” He pleaded.  “Not now.  We are putting on shoes to go home,” I replied.  “But I just want a quick turn,” he retorted.  “Another time.  Get your shoes on,” I prompted.

Fountain tears a-flowing.

As I buckled him into his booster seat, he continued to sob saying, “But I want one of those cars.  I only have a remote control helicopter.  I want a car too!”

“Do you know that there are children who don’t even have enough money to eat dinner?  And you have a remote control helicopter!  You have plenty!”  I remarked, as I shut the door.

Yep, I had done it.  I had just, most assuredly, sounded like a parent.  I had just, in fact, sounded like my mother.  For her generation it was “starving children in China.”  For my generation it was “starving children in Ethiopia.”  For N.’s generation it was just “someone is starving and it isn’t you.”

As I walked around to get into the driver’s seat, I thought about how I would handle this remote control car thing.  J. and I do not buy toys throughout the year.  N. will get little gifts here and there if J. travels for work or we vacation together, but we both kind-of think buying toys throughout the year does little to bolster N.’s sense of value and patience, and it does zero for our sanity when it comes to space in the home.

I climbed into the driver’s seat, started up the car, and turned around to look squarely at him, “You have three choices with this remote control car.”  He stared at me intently, monster tears still rolling down his face.  “You can ask for a remote control car for Christmas.  You can ask for a remote control car for your birthday.  Or (brilliant of all brilliance)…we can start making up a chore list and you can begin helping around the house to earn allowance.  Then you can buy the car yourself.  Those are your choices.”

He sat there quietly, pondering this new information and his plethora of choices, as we pulled out of the parking lot.  I prompted the conversation, “What do you think you could do to help around the house, maybe, to earn some allowance?  What are you capable of doing?”

“I could help you fold clothes on the bed!” He answered eagerly.

“Great idea!  What else?”

“I could pick up my toys and put them away!”

“Yes!  What else?”  This was getting good.

“I could help Dad when he trims trees in the front yard.”

“Great idea!”  My zest disguised the fact that I hadn’t seen J. trim a tree in about two years, and I doubted that this would land him much coin.

Then the list started to spiral…

“I could sit still at the haircut place when I’m getting my hair cut.  I could also tell Lily to get down when she is trying to eat my food.”

“Yes,” I laughed, “all of those are good things, but I’m not necessarily sure they are things you get paid for.”

We continued for home, and I could see in my rear-view mirror that his wheels were turning.  Never once did he fall back on Christmas or his birthday.  Instead he was thinking of how he could accomplish his goal a lot sooner by working for what he wanted.

I recalled memories of my allowance days, as we were pulling into the driveway.  I remembered it exactly as if it were yesterday.  

I had my own room growing up, and our house was on a pier and beam foundation with the air conditioning registers on the floor.  I had two vents in my room, and you could lift the grates right off of the carpet and peer down into the ducts going under the house.  I had a flint-stone colored suede bag with a long, dark brown draw-string tie.  I had skillfully tied that bag to the inside of the air conditioning register just under the window in my room so that it dangled below into the duct…genius plan to hide it from burglars, if I do say so myself.  I loved that bag and the earnings that it possessed.  It wasn’t until I began writing this piece, though, that I realized I couldn’t remember any of the chores that I did.  I couldn’t even remember anything that I bought with my money.  All I really remember was what that bag represented…something tangible that I had worked for, and something that no one else controlled.  In that bag was freedom. 

As N. and I entered the house, he wanted to go immediately to his piggy bank and count the money he had on hand.  Most of his change was in a ceramic pig that he had painted with acrylic paint that we had never glazed.  We dumped the coins, and one dollar bill, out onto the floor and began our study in counting money (valuable Pre-K learning opportunity).

$9.62.  That was the total.

“Do I have enough to buy a remote control car?” He questioned, and I could hear the anxiety and fear dancing on his words.

“I don’t know.  Now we need to get online and see how much a remote control car, like you want, will cost you.”

He raced to the computer and we pulled up various choices, of which he selected either the Ferrari 458 Italia or the 1967 Ford Mustang, both in red, both obvious winners.

I did the math and showed him that he still needed $11.37 to purchase the Ferrari and $9.68 to purchase the Ford.  He opted for the Ford (fastest path to his dreams, I guess).

As we walked toward the bedroom for nap time, he began sobbing, “I don’t want to take a nap.  Can’t we just start on chores now?”  :-)

So, this weekend we will be making our first chore list in our house.  This will be a big event.  While N. dreams of a 1967 Ford Mustang when he sweeps, I will be working to instill in my son the same love of accomplishment that I once held in that suede bag suspended in a dusty air vent.  What I will strive for even more, though, is to help him balance what he is to DO with that accomplishment, something that my own memory lacks.

When I was growing up, I mostly heard the words “save” and “tithe.”  While these are both worthwhile terms, I don’t believe they fully flesh out how life is to be lived.  If you believe in God, and even if you don’t, I believe that your life is meant to have balance, in all areas.  When it comes to his earnings, I hope to teach N. to work to cover his needs, to also fulfill some of his wants, to always invest, rather than simply save, in order to see his earnings grow, and, most of all, to forever share his wealth with someone else in need.  I want him to see all of the amazing opportunities around him to share, whether it be through a church ministry, or a charity organization, or simply offering a homeless person a meal.  We are all given daily situations in which to share.  The question is, will we seize them? 

If you continuously pile everything up on the “self” side of the scale and never balance that with deposits to the “share” side, eventually the scale will simply topple over.  After all, we are only stewards of what we are given anyway.  We can’t take any of it with us.  The moment you share of yourself is the moment you feel the most rich.  It is the moment you feel the most free.  

That suede bag is my memory.  It is my chew for today.  I’m glad I could use it, some thirty years later, for more than simply a hiding place.  

In that bag, most certainly, today I am rich!

– Amanda

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2012 In Review

Photo courtesy of socialbusinessnews.com; "The Four C's of Change Management...," Jennifer D. Dubow.

Photo courtesy of socialbusinessnews.com; “The Four C’s of Change Management…,” Jennifer D. Dubow.

Well.  Here it is.  January 5th.  Five days into the New Year and I am just getting around to reviewing 2012 (and fighting embarrassment over this blog, which I haven’t contributed to in over 6 months).  Hey, that’s not like me…or is it?

I was standing in the kitchen of our new home on January 2nd, where it seems as though I spend most of my waking hours these days, and it hit me.  I had been feeling like something was missing from my New Year transition, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then, as if from the far reaches of my mind, wriggling its way to the forefront of my stream of consciousness, there it was.  I realized that this was, quite possibly, the first year in my adult life when I had not set goals for the coming year.  And I hadn’t even reviewed the goals that I set for 2012.  Did I achieve any of them?  Some I know I accomplished, but I can’t remember my full list and, what’s worse, I can’t even find it.  My initial response and cursory scold of myself went something like this, “What’s the matter with you?  Have you lost all sense of self?  That’s not like you.  Or, is it?”

You see, I’m a goal setter plain and simple.  Ask me what I plan to do next week, and I’ll enlighten you on that and then bore you to death with what I also plan to do five years from now.  As my brother-in-law C. says when something is totally lame…ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

It’s a double-edged sword, living life like that.  On the one hand my life is like an intricate game of chess, where I stealthily craft moves four and five steps ahead.  Very smart indeed.  But, on the other hand, an abhorrent and intrinsic characteristic of the game is that it is exceedingly tricky to honor the move I just made and simply revel in the pawns as they appear on the board in that moment.  In short…carpe diem for the planner is difficult.

Could this be it, though?  Could this be THE moment in my life when I am actually seizing carpe diem?  I mean, I didn’t plan a darned thing for this year.  That speaks volumes, right?  The angel on my right shoulder is saying, “You are doing it!  Your spirit is growing!  You are enjoying more of what life has to offer today and not over-exerting yourself so much on what life should bring tomorrow.  Hooray for you!”  Then there’s that devil on the left sneering, “Well, now you’ve done it!  You’ve completely gone and lost it!  You’ve become just a shell of your former self…,” and, with a disapproving sigh, scoffs “…a self that once had so much promise.”  And then there’s me retorting back, “Hey!  Cut me some slack.  I live with a two year-old.”

A FB friend of mine, NSM, recently posted that her marriage mentor had challenged she and her husband to re-write their marriage vows.  She was polling her FB friends for input.  I thought about what I would write and what would be most important to me, looking back now.  My input went something like this:

“I accept that you will grow and change and that I will do the same, and I vow to embrace and honor those changes as a component of life’s God-given riches that we will share together.”

That’s really the crux of most of our discontent in life, you know…aversion to change.  Say you lose your job and have to dip into savings just to get by for a while.  The natural tendency is to be averse to this financial change and lament about what you could have done with that money or worry about how you will gain it back.  You experience a health set-back and suffer through the reality of what your body IS versus what you EXPECTED it would be.  You lose someone special in your life, and now you grapple with how to fill a void within your being.  And you wake up one day next to someone you have been with your entire life and feel as though you don’t recognize him or her, or, worse yet, you wake up and feel like you don’t recognize yourself.

Why is this so troubling?  All it is, is change.  Picture the word “CHANGE” in your mind.  Now picture it cloaked in a shroud that says “FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN.”  If we can just strip it down to its bare bones, expose it for what it really is, and remove the burial shroud of fear that we love to wrap it in, then all that’s left is the one, simple, singular syllable…change.  It’s there.  It will always be there, for no day will be like the day before.  So if we stop being so surprised by it, maybe we will finally uncover the key to contentment.  Maybe, just maybe, we need to all re-write our vows to ourselves.

The reality is, I’m not a shell of my former self at all.  I’m just a new self.  I’m now a mother, and that has changed me in ways that I never even knew existed.  My days are now filled with caring for someone else, seeing that someone else’s needs are met, and, yes, planning for someone else.  As I was more and more honest with myself on January 2nd about who I am now, I actually came to the enlightened conclusion that I had been planning all along for 2013.  The funny thing was, it just hadn’t been in the form of written goals on a piece of paper that had to do with me.  My planning came more in a list of thoughts for the year about our son N.  Thoughts like:

“I want to sign him up for small fry soccer so that he can try out a sport.”

“His verbal skills are really good.  I think I want to start speaking more Spanish to help him learn a second language.”

“It would be a great idea to start a Fun Friday outing this year where I spend time doing something new with him each week.”

“What can I do to help out more at his school garden this spring?”

“What if we use the iPad to learn something new each night in addition to reading our regular stories?”

“Will he be old enough to start working more with music and art?”

And on…and on.

I had been planning all along.  I just didn’t recognize it, because it had taken on a new form.  It wasn’t about me, and, consequently, I was no longer the same me.  My planning has changed, and, thus, so have I.

But, have no fear, I do “plan” to continue this blog.  I have missed it, and, after initially kicking myself over what I deemed a “blog fail” due to lack of consistency, I stumbled across this 2012 annual report compiled by WordPress, and, I won’t lie, it made me smile.  3500 views? 30 posts.  Viewers from 32 countries?  Crazy.  My first year in this project wasn’t a fail.  It was merely a reflection of me changing into me.

So, here I am.  I’m ready to move forward.

I am change.

You are change.

Let’s change together and simply embrace it for once.

*******************************************************************************

Enjoy the 2012 annual report for this blog:

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Summer of 1000 Things – Koozies, Kitchen Compromising and VHS Tapes

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks now since we started our summer project of getting rid of 1000 things.  When last we left, we were 87 items into this project with 14 weeks left to go.  Well…then we took a trip to Key West, then we dawdled around the weekend after that, and now, here we are, three weeks later and we haven’t done jack squat.  What do they say?  “The best laid plans…”

So, if my math serves me correctly, that meant by the end of the weekend we should have gotten rid of 268 items total to be on track.  Oh dear.

In a bit of a panic, I started thinking about where I could quickly gain ground.  Without batting an eye, I knew it was time to head to the kitchen.  But could I REALLY come up with 181 items in there?  Then, like the Grinch who smiles with a “wonderfully awful idea,” I recalled the large middle kitchen drawer with 1/3 of the space devoted to koozies.  Yeah…you heard it right…koozies.

As I opened the drawer, with the vast array of colorful, plush beverage insulators staring cheerfully up at me, I pondered, “What does it say about two people when they have 1/3 of a huge kitchen drawer filled with koozies?”  I thought about the many answers one could give, kind-of like the “top five answers on the board are…,” but then I just settled on, “They must be so fun.”

This koozie drawer has been the bane of my existence for a while.  So it was with great pleasure that I unloaded the pile of cuties and spread them on the dining room table for inventory.  How many, you ask?  49.  Who in their right mind has 49 koozies???  You’re talking to her…right here baby.

So, now we would begin the discussion of which koozies were worthy enough to make the move with us.

The whole “which koozie is cooler?” thing seems to be more of a guy issue.  At least for my husband J., there is this whole process of envisioning himself sitting in a lawn chair waiting for his turn to play the winner in the next round of washers and his buddies commenting, “That’s a cool koozie.”  For me…I’m like, “Does it keep my beer cold?  Does it not fall apart?  Is it easy to get the can in and out of?  Check.  Check.  Check.  I’ll use it.”

To my surprise, we were pretty quick at culling koozies.  After about 12 minutes, we had narrowed our pageant winners to 12 koozies (a 75% reduction in the inventory).  Pretty good, I thought.

So, who were our pageant winners and why?  The 12 lovely contestants, 6 in the flat category and 6 in the stand-alone category, making it to the finals were…

Texas musician koozies honoring the former Steve Tenpenny Band (my brother’s band) and Kina Lankford.

Wedding koozies from two of our couple friends, both who made awesome decisions to get married in Mexico.  Fun times we will always remember.

Two koozies from places where people (including us) have had a lot of fun and a lot of beer.

Jim’s Place koozie from Lake Fork, Texas…because J. says its just “solid,” and shouldn’t a picture of a bass just BE on koozie?

The Univeristy of Texas Ducks Unlimited koozie…because who would throw that away?  Hook ’em.

The U. S. Customs Service koozie…because J. says “that’s pretty bad-A.”  (Nevermind that YOU don’t actually work for the U. S. Customs Service.  Somehow holding it makes you a little bit cooler.  I guess.)

The Talladega Superspeedway koozie.  I was actually in agreement on this one.  This was a purchase we made when we went to the race at Talladega.  If you don’t know anything about racing, it’s actually a really fun gig.  And some of the best people watching EVER!

Then there’s the Delta Gamma 1996 Crush koozie.  And why is it that I need to keep this?  I’m pretty sure all it says is, “I was in a sorority.  And, yes, I’m getting old.”  Nevertheless…it made the cut.

Then, last but not least, we kept this little biker chick gem (and by “we,” I mean “J.”).  Why?  Because this koozie is, in his words, “so quality.”  I could go a lot of different directions with this, but I’ll just let sleeping dogs lie.

We did have one honorable mention.  A nod back to one of the great burgeoning companies in the computer industry.  Any of you out there work for this former great like J. did?  Here’s to you old friend.  You were worth taking a picture of, but not quite worth keeping.

So, that was it!  The koozie clean-out alone got our count up by another 37 items.  But we had a lot more road to travel.

I rolled up my sleeves (actually I wasn’t wearing sleeves).  What I really did was pour myself a beer (so appropriate), and I started in on the other kitchen drawers.

We have this HORRIBLE drawer of kitchen utensils where you are constantly digging to find something.  And then, in the remaining space of the koozie drawer, like 100 dish towels (most of which are majorly stained…so glad I just got some nice new ones from my friend L.R.) and hot pads.  This was going to be fun.

As I began to clean and sort, I had to shake my head in amazement.  I hollared in to J., “Why do we have 5 pizza wheels and 3 ice cream scoopers?!?!”  The last time I checked I wasn’t running a Domino’s® or a Dairy Queen®.  Good grief.  (We’re keeping the new Cutco® wheel and scooper we got for Christmas this year.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

“That’s probably why I can’t ever find a dang thing in that drawer,” he said.  “I can’t find the freakin’ pizza wheel for all the pizza wheels in the way.”  Oh, so true.  I had to laugh.

And then, there were the oven mits.  8 oven mits?  Seriously???  There are NEVER that many people helping me in the kitchen.  We’ll keep 3.  (Sorry C., the TCU mit isn’t making the cut.  It has charred fingers…which DOES mean it was used well, though.)

I bagged up hot pads and multiple utensils left and right.  Two people do not need 5 whisks, or 3 potato peelers, or two garlic presses, or NINE spatulas, or TWELVE hot pads, or multiple wine stoppers (okay, considering the koozie drawer, maybe we DO need multiple wine stoppers…but just a couple).

And then there’s my personal favorite…the broken, melted, random category.  Chopsticks?  Who are we kidding here?  Here were 11 items to chunk.

And then there’s THIS.

I have NO idea what this is.  (J.W., my kitchen guru, do you know what this is???)

J. says, “It’s for stirring.”  But I’m like, “What are the holes about.”  He’s like, “So liquid can go through them.”  I’m not sold on this answer, so if anyone out there can help me with this, it would be much appreciated.  I’m holding onto this because I’m afraid I might have something really awesome and I’m just too dumb to know what it is.

We did have to compromise on a couple of things.

J. hates the wine opener on the left, but loves the wine opener on the right.  I just never feel saavy enough to use the one on the right, so we’re keeping both.

And I just flat out hate this awkward spatula thingy.  I don’t think it’s pliable enough.  But J. likes it.  He uses it when he makes hummus, so we’re keeping it.  (Actually, I have to come clean on this one.  I sort-of think this is a utensil that neither of us has been using properly, and we’re BOTH just too dumb to realize it.  What are those prongs on the other end for?  And why is the spatula end not curved and it’s asymmetric to boot?  Bueller?  Bueller?  Anyone??  Anyone???)

And then, there were my 5 absolute favorite things in the drawer.  There was no way in heck I was parting with these.

(1)  The melon baller.  Use this all the time, especially for my son N.’s favorite watermelon.

(2)  The egg separator.  Love it.  It just makes me feel good to use it and end up with that perfectly round yolk just resting on the top.

(3)  My favorite mini-spatula in the whole wide world.  It is so tiny and cute.  It cuts the perfect brownie squares out of the pan or lifts up the perfect single slice of quiche.

(4)  The “no boil over” utensil.  This thing is awesome!  You put it in the bottom of a pot of water, or anything that you plan to boil, and it won’t boil over.  Science and engineering at its best!

(5)  My 1/8 measuring cup.  Hang on to one of these if you ever get one.  A lot of the standard measuring cup packages never come with the 1/8.  I’m pretty sure life might cease to exist without this.

And then, there was the one thing that I never use, but I just can’t part with.  My grandparents’ nut cracker set.

This reminds me of hunting pecans in the fall under their huge pecan trees and cracking them on the little end table in their living room in between the sofa and the recliner.  Why don’t we sit around and crack nuts anymore?  I think because it takes time.  Maybe we would all connect a little more with one another if we just sat around and talked and cracked nuts.  That’s a bygone ritual that needs to come back, in my opinion.

So I tallied up the koozies, the hot pads, the oven mits and the utensils, and could not believe what I was seeing.  81 items!  If you read my first post on The Summer of 1000 Things, that was EXACTLY the number of items that we got rid of on the first “official” weekend.  This was getting weird now.  Even weirder…that left exactly 100 items to go before the end of the weekend.

I was getting tired of this kitchen, and, if you can’t stand the heat… So, I brilliantly moved, yet again, to our master bedroom and our collection of…drum roll…VHS tapes.  Cha-ching.  The motherload.

Here’s just one drawer, and we’ve got two people…filled to the brim with purchased VHS movies and, yes, oh yes, movies that I recorded off of the television in the ’90s.  Sweet.

The unloading began, and our son N. was totally involved in this.  I would say, “Let’s look at the words and read whether or not we need it.”  He would pretend like he was examining it and then got really good at saying, “Nah,” and throwing it in the sack.

Final tally…59 purchased VHS tapes and 22 tapes with movies I recorded (typically 3 on each tape).

But there were a few I couldn’t part with…Disney (because we have a 2 year-old now), Doris Day (because I always wanted to sing like her as a kid), Jimmy Stewart (because you just can’t get rid of a Great until you have replacement DVDs), and The Eagles:  When Hell Freezes Over (a different genre of Great, and I’m not sure if they have this one on DVD…they probably do).

Oh, for the love of God!  I was still 19 items short!!!

MMmmmmm….

There!  You beauty!  You fantastic woven creature housing absolutely nothing purposeful.  Yet ANOTHER stack of magazines in a basket (you might recall the 42 magazines we threw out the first weekend).

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6………19, 20, 21, TWENTY-TWO!  It was party time!!!

184 items all in 1 afternoon!

And, I even found two missing pieces from one of N.’s puzzles at the bottom of that magazine basket.  (I had been stressing over that dadgum puzzle for at least 4 months.  I was certain the cleaning ladies had sucked those pieces up in the vacuum cleaner.)

Everything was right with the world.

Now, can somebody pass me a koozie?  ;o)

– Amanda

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Here’s to Snap Decisions! (You Should Make One)

This post happens to mark my 30th entry in the blogging world since I started at the beginning of this year.  I kind of like stats and math so, of course, I had to do some calculating.  It appears that my “post” production occurs about every 5.46 days.  Not awful, but not great either if I am supposed to be getting myself in the habit of writing every day.  It’s certainly not that I am lacking in material.  Sometimes I literally have to go through an elimination process in my brain to decide what subjects should emerge above others on any given day.  No…my dilemma is never one of topic, it is always one of time.

How apres peau, then, that I should write today on snap decisions, those little choices that miraculously stare down time and say, “You will not get the best of me.  You will not win this battle on this day.”

Anyone who knows me REALLY well (and few really do, for I tend to carry a selection of masks in my handbag to be worn as necessitated by the situation…don’t we all?) knows that I firmly believe that many people walk a dangerous line by allowing themselves too much time to make decisions.  There’s a saying in real estate, “Time kills all deals.”  Often, I believe, this also applies to great decisions.

Now I’m not advocating completely throwing caution to the wind.  I firmly believe in the concept of prudence.  I have to use it in my world every day…in my career, in navigating the waters of raising a child, in maintaining a meaningful relationship with my husband.  The problem arises when people equate the concept of prudence with the length of time it takes to make a decision.  I feel like I see this problem every day, where people have all of the facts in front of them but are so hindered by a “perceived” risk of the outcome that they allow themselves to ponder the decision to death and NEVER act.

My husband J. will tell you that I like to approach many situations and decisions with the litmus test of “what’s the worst possible outcome?”  If I can live with the “worst possible outcome” and the potential reward is worth that risk in my mind, then I’m going for it.

I performed this litmus test last Wednesday and made one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.

Last Wednesday morning, I surprisingly settled a case that had been agonizing me for almost a year and a half.  I don’t actually like to talk a lot about what I do because being an attorney and a real estate broker is, to put it bluntly, often daunting.  What the general public unfortunately doesn’t get anymore, because years of shortcomings in these industries have caused onlookers to gaze upon them with a jaundiced eye, is that most professionals enter into these lines of work because they are wholeheartedly interested in helping people…interested in being good stewards of their own time and talents to the benefit of others.  The problem with this is that you spend your days carrying the concerns, problems and worries of other people on your own shoulders.  The endings to their personal sagas often hinge on your very words, your very actions.  There is only so much weight that a spine can carry.

So last Wednesday, when at least my right shoulder received a little relief, I made a snap decision.  I was working from home and looking after my son N.  It was almost 10:30 a.m. I had other work to be done on a couple of files and could look in any direction and see items that needed to be packed for our pending move at the end of the month.  But, instead of plodding along, I very simply asked myself, “What’s the worst that will happen if I don’t?”  The answers:

(1)  I might have to get up 30 minutes earlier or go to bed 30 minutes later over several days to make up the time;

(2)  I might have to give up a little of my weekend “free” time to do some work; and

(3)  I might not have everything packed on moving day, which means a couple of extra trips back in the car, four hours each way, for odd and end items (we aren’t selling our house until next spring so all the stuff can just sit, if I so please). 

I didn’t need the Magic 8 Ball to figure this one out.  I looked at N. and said, “Hey Buddy…you wanna go to Kemah?”  He didn’t even know what Kemah was, but responded with utter glee, “Sure Mama!”

Kemah is our coast’s example of a boardwalk.  So, on a Wednesday morning, I made the snap decision to grab swim suits, sunscreen, beach hats, a hundred bucks and make the hour trek to the boardwalk.  The best decision I’ve made in a long time.

We drove down the highway, the anticipation building in his little brain as I explained all about Kemah and what we would do.  I made the turn onto Nasa Road, and before long we began seeing water and sailboat after sailboat.  He hollared out with excitment, “Look Mama!  Out your window!  Look at all the boats!”  We talked about all the sights and then came the big bridge over the water leading to the entrance to Kemah.  He screeched with delight as we began our climb and he could finally look out to the left and see nothing but bay water for as far as the eye could see…and boats EVERYWHERE! 

The great thing about the boardwalk on a Wednesday, even during summer break, is that it isn’t that crowded.  We found a parking spot right on the front row, which I have NEVER done at Kemah, and as we pulled into the slot and I said, “You ready buddy?,” he replied, “Rock and roll Mama.”  His smile said it all…that he was so excited to be there with me in that moment.

We walked toward the entrance, and he was immediately pointing and chattering about all the sights and sounds.  I was intent on buying daypass wristbands so that we could just ride the attractions to our hearts’ content as many times as we pleased.

There was absolutely no doubt what we were riding first…the train.  Trains are an absolute FAVORITE in our household!  So “all aboard” we went.  I told him, “Buddy, let’s take our picture to send to Dad.”  He LOVES how you can see yourself in the iPhone® when you are taking a picture.  It fully satisfies his little two year-old narcissistic nature.  I think this will remain as one of my favorite pictures for life.

We must have ridden that train six or seven times throughout the day!  He was especially anxious to see the “REAL gunfighters” set up in one of the old saloon tunnels (“REAL”…as in mannequins dressed in old west outfits with fake guns). 

Second on his list of multiple rides, the mini-airplane ride.  He was just a hair under the 36-inch requirement, so what did that mean?  You got it.  Mama had to accompany him.  Squeezing my 5’8” frame into that mini-plane in a short dress was quite the sight.  I’m sure I gave the 17 year-old ride operator a little show Britney Spears style (well, not literally…I DO wear underwear).  That’s okay.  My kid wanted to fly an airplane.  Again, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Answer:  I might give a teenager a little excitement during his sweltering shift filled with hobbits and something to laugh about later.  I’ll never see that ride operator again, and N. got to be a pilot for the day.  No harm, no foul.  (Brings to mind another good rule of thumb:  Don’t get hung up in embarrassment over something if it means letting that stand in the way of making someone you love really happy.  Dance, even if you suck at it.  Kiss in public when you are in love.  Show your goods if it means that your kid gets to fly.)

We did it ALL!

We rode the zebra on the carousel. 

We rode the rabbit on the carousel.

We fed like a ka-billion catfish under the pier with dog food (although I think the most exciting part for some people was putting the quarters into the dispenser).

We weren’t quite tall enough to peer through the telescope, but that didn’t matter.  Climbing up and down the steps was victory enough.

We had an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet.  We ate pretzels.  We drank Icees™ (if you’ve read previous posts, you know that’s a childhood favorite of mine!). 

I think there might be a genetic propensity to crave Icees™. 🙂

And I let him play games.  I knew his limited dexterity wouldn’t allow for a win at most of them, but who cares?  The fun was in seeing him play not in carting home a bunch of prizes.

We did end up with two significant winnings, though…a shark we named Sal and a frog we named Frankie.  Glorious.

In the end, it was an absolutely perfect day.  Had I allowed myself ten or fifteen minutes more to think about it, though, I might have talked myself out of it.

If I die tomorrow, then so be it.  But I’ll die knowing that I took my son to the boardwalk and that he had an amazing time!  And he might not remember it, but thanks to a man named Steve Jobs and a lot of amazing developers who I will never have the opportunity to thank personally, I have an iPhone® holding the pictures for him to remember us by…

To remember that we had an awesome day and that he had a mom who was ready to “Rock and Roll” with him ’til we could dance no more, leaving only the roller coaster behind us in the rear view mirror.

– Amanda

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