Category Archives: family

Pans And Patience

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And a misplaced tradition…

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there were women in my family who made magical sweet treats and savory dishes.  My cousin Judy carries on her own version of the family culinary heritage.  I thought of her today as the first snow of the season fell, because on the first snow day every year, Judy likes to make a fruit pie.  I hope she enjoyed baking today and looking out at her beautiful snow-covered farm.

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WAY back in the day, both of Reed’s and my grandmothers, and also Aunt Martha, made apple stack cakes.  Apple is the only flavor I ever remember them making, at least.  I also remember the apples for many of those cakes being dried on window screens inside a shut-up car in Mamaw and Papaw’s yard.  Granny never referred to dried apples as apples; they were always simply called “fruit”.

Reed had the foresight to ask for lessons in stack-cake-making from both Mamaw and Aunt Martha.  The recipe itself is not a difficult one, but the making of a stack cake is a process.  I remember Reed saying that Aunt Martha told him it just takes pans and patience.  (I might add that counter space would be really helpful!)

It’s strange how so many of my food memories have become less about the food and more about the hands that prepared it.  Of course, every tooth in my head is a sweet tooth, and I do LOVE me all those yummy treats, especially the rare, special-occasion ones.  A few years ago at Christmas time, Reed got a hankering for a stack cake, but did not have the desire, pans, or patience to make it himself.  Fortunately, we have a high school friend who at that time owned a highly-acclaimed local bakery (she has since sold it to her niece, so it remains in good hands).  Reed mentioned to Peggy that he sure would love a stack cake, and Peggy said something along the lines of, “I can hook your a$$ up!”

And hook it up she did.  He brought this humble-looking, beautiful creation to Christmas Eve at Dad’s house, and eventually we tore into it.  The moment I took a bite, I burst into grateful tears.  Decades disappeared, and my mouth and mind were flooded with the flavor of nostalgia.  Once more, I was reminded that tastebuds and heartstrings are directly, and closely, connected.

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People of faith often talk about Heaven being a wedding feast, or a banquet.  I like to believe that this is true.  And I like to imagine the tables there, laden with something to satisfy every craving, and plenty of room for everyone to share in the marriage supper of The Lamb.

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(I shared this recipe for a church cookbook shortly after I was married.  The amount of fruit needed was not specified, it’s just something you have to eyeball…but more is better.)

Rewind

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If I could turn back time…or place…

Do you ever wonder what would happen if you could turn back time?  I indulge in such fantasies now and then, particularly when my life does not seem to be going the way I would like it to go.  But if I had the ability to rewind my life, how far back would I want to go?  It’s a rabbit hole I could fall into and never come back from if I let myself dwell on it.

Maybe I would go back to when I was about five years old, before Becky Ezell drowned and my little life had not been touched by death yet.  Even at that young age I understood that the lifeless form in the casket only resembled Becky, but it was not really her, not anymore.  It was just the package she had lived in before she died.  She was about 12 years old when she drowned, but I have never forgotten that she was sweet to me.  It’s a big deal when an older kid is nice to you.

Or perhaps I would return to the first time I ever sang a solo in front of people.  I was in the Herald Children’s Choir at my church and Becky Kidd, our leader/teacher (and phenomenal church organist) had me sing a solo in a little musical we put together and practiced diligently to offer to our church family.  I think I was nine or ten years old.  So many times in so many places I have offered up songs since then, a gift for which I give thanks.

I think about the many turning points along the way, sometimes wondering, “What if I had chosen differently?”  Just one step in a different direction alters the entire trajectory of a life.  Would I go back to a decade…a year…a moment…for a do-over?

The whole last two years of Mama’s life…I’d definitely do those differently.  I screwed some stuff up there.  Probably the first two years after she died, too.  Worrying about other people’s grief kept me from properly processing my own.  It cost me in ways I am probably still paying for.

Or would I just go back to the first of this year, when my dog was still alive and I had plans that I felt would fix a lot of things for the people I love?  Wondering about it serves no purpose, I realize.  But sometimes it is difficult not to.  There is an old adage that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Perhaps these tangents are my way of trying to learn from history, and trying to look forward.

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Catching Dreams

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Or even remembering what mine used to be…

Last year after returning from a vacation trip to Houston for our niece’s wedding, a friend at work asked me, “Didn’t I hear you say something once about collecting feathers?”  I responded that, yes, I indeed collect feathers.  He mumbled something and shuffled to his desk a few seats over from mine.

A moment later he returned with a gift that surprised and warmed me to my core—a Native American dreamcatcher.  I yelled, “Squeeeeeeee!” And hugged him so hard I think it startled him.  He explained that he donates to a mission/orphanage out west somewhere and they had sent him this beautiful dreamcatcher as an appreciation gift for his contributions.  He wanted me to have it.

I was floored, humbled, and touched by his thoughtfulness to share such a beautiful item with me.  This guy has always been a friend to me, but his exterior can be gruff.  He does not like people to get too close to him.  I have often described him as a “cactus with a marshmallow center”!

The legend of the dreamcatcher is that a person is supposed to hang it over their bed at night.  The woven web in the center catches the sleeper’s dreams, trapping the nightmares while allowing the sweet dreams to flow down the strands to the feathers below, allowing them into the mind of the sleeper.

I have always heard tell that my Mamaw’s Grandma Sayne was full-blooded Cherokee.  I have never been able to verify this, although with technology evolving all the time and so many records available online now, it might be possible to do so.  A first cousin I have never met in person reached out to me on social media hoping to learn more about our family, and he might be the person to unravel this branch of our family tree.  Even a tiny portion of Cherokee in my lineage would make sense of a lot of things about me, how I see my world, and the things I value.  Perhaps confirming such a family history would help me to remember the childlike dreams of my past…those days when I thought anything was possible.

As it is, I look at this sweet gift, a reminder of a friendship from a workplace Shinsky and I no longer share, but memories I will value for a lifetime.  I will pray that both of us will conjure and fulfill new, meaningful and happy dreams moving forward.  I will give thanks for his heritage and for mine, for years of shared work and a future that I cannot yet see.

Purposeful Planning

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Pages and passages…

I have always been a sucker for a pretty calendar.  Decades ago when I first discovered Coach leather goods, I purchased a navy leather organizer that contained an address book.  The address book is still inside it, along with all the addresses I have penciled in (including those of people who have died. I’ve never been able to bring myself to erase them.  It’s just too sad.)  There is space on the other side to tuck in a small pad of paper or a calendar.  My preference is for a calendar, one with monthly and weekly spreads, and with enough space to write down things like birthdays, appointments, musical events, etc.  I color code the items so I can quickly identify what is going on and coming up.

My calendar serves as a hybrid volume: a planner for what’s coming, a journal for what has come and gone, and a mini-scrapbook for my memories about both.  A couple of months ago I posted a query on social media asking my friends who are “planner people” which planners they use and like, and what features they appreciate.  My current work assignment as a temp got me thinking that I needed to branch out a bit and try a vertical daily calendar layout, and I wanted some feedback on what my friends were using to schedule their lives for efficiency and productivity.

I received numerous replies suggesting all kinds of planners at various price points, and with lots of interesting and helpful features.  The one I ended up choosing for myself has a lot going for it, but the main selling point for me was its disc-bound format that allows me to add and remove sections as I need/want/use them.  Ultimate customization is ultimately appealing!  It offers plenty of space to write, add stickers and washi tape, and the paper is good quality with no bleed-through.

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As much as anything else, my hope is to plan and document my life’s passages, and the life passages of people I love, in a creative, meaningful way.  I have kept my calendars for years, looking back over them with gratitude for a written record of events as they have happened.  An electronic calendar works great for some people, and at some point it might work for me; but I don’t think I will ever be able to part with the old-fashioned-pen-to-paper tool that I’ve used all my life.  The simple act of writing things down feels good to me; it reminds me of both the things to come and the ones already done; it gives me some accountability to see my goals in writing; and ultimately I hope it will help me to become more productive and effective as I try to live a meaningful life of service to God and the people around me, navigating my life’s passages with joy, wisdom and purpose.

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The Stories

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And why they matter…

I have asserted countless times, in my everyday life and this blog, that I am a collector, of objects and of memories.  My home is filled with little items that might have no value to “normal” people, but they are priceless to me because of the memories attached to them…because of their stories.  My hope is that, piece by piece, I can photograph these objects and share their stories, if for no other reason than to make someone pause to think about their own similar little treasures.  Those little treasures can often open the floodgates to deeper levels of history.

For as long as I can remember, a small, round, ornately decorated trinket box sat on Granny’s dresser…then it became Mama’s dresser and trinket box after Granny died. After the move from the Ford Street house, Mama and Dad picked new bedroom furniture, and that little box found its home on a different dresser.  After Mama died, the little box came to live with me.

I don’t know if it was a gift to Granny from one of her children, or a friend, or maybe even from Granddad before he died.  I never thought to ask about its story prior to my own awareness of it.  It was just pretty and shiny, and it played music.  Now I wish I had learned more about it.

That is how I feel about so many things now…I wish I had asked a million questions while Mama, The Aunts, Granny and Mamaw, were still here to answer them.  Recently a first cousin on Dad’s side, whom I have never met, found me on social media and connected with me, hoping to learn more about our family history.  And once again, I find myself feeling sad that I never bothered to learn more from those who knew the stories best.

I can’t change the past and ask the dead all the things I want to know, but I can pick Dad’s brain while he is still here.  I can do research online.  I can share what I know and hope that, moving forward, it can benefit the younger family members who might someday want to know about their past.

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Pilgrimage

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Soulful sounds, hallowed grounds and Guardian Angels…

My last couple of posts here have documented some of the high points of my post-work-road-trip-adventure, which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Having never embarked upon a trip like this before, and likely never having the chance to do it again, I set out to keep thorough records of the people and places I visited, the music I chose to listen to on the road (as well as the times when I chose to listen to the sounds of the road itself), the memorable meals I enjoyed and all the other little—and not so little—details of my time on the road.  I was very intentional in the planning, knowing that I needed restoration of heart, mind and spirit.

I am firmly entrenched in middle age, and as a middle-aged woman, some of the music I chose on the road was in my phone…and some was on CDs, in the actual old-school CD binder that I STILL carry with me in the car.  Old habits die hard, what can I say?  Don’t judge me.

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In addition to listening to soulful sounds to empower me, I knew that I needed time with my Guardian Angels, namely my Aunt Helen and my cousin Debbie.  These women have, for as long as I can remember, been in my corner with unconditional love, support and encouragement, believing in my when I have not believed in myself.  These are both ladies from Mama’s side of my family, and the Williams is strong in them both.  They are both eternally young, beautiful, with sparkling personalities and enormous hearts.  In my entire life I can honestly say that I have never felt judged in their presence.  This is beyond priceless.

After visits with Aunt Helen and Debbie, I took the opportunity to see something new to me, in a town I had never visited.  The side trip to visit Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, was a revelation.  I hope to return in different seasons and times of day, to see and photograph the marvels there in varying degrees of light, shadow and color.  The stillness there, punctuated only by birdsong and breeze, quieted my soul and set the tone for the next step of my pilgrimage.

I knew that I also wanted to visit the church that Jeff and I attended when we lived in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, when we lived down there between 1987 and 1990.  First United Methodist, DeFuniak Springs, provided us with a safe, loving and accepting church family, welcoming us into their choir and asking (and TRUSTING!) us to teach senior high youth in Sunday School.  As many times as we both sang in that beautiful sanctuary, I never thought to photograph the space.  I intended to rectify that on this trip, and I did.  My friend Vicki’s mom Marsha, still lives there and faithfully attends the church, so Vicki told her I was going to be there and to look for me.  She rolled out the welcome wagon, re-introducing me to a number of the folks I remembered from there who are still among the faithful members of the church, including Nancy, who now directs the choir.  And it was a delight to learn that our friends, “Miz Mary” and “Mr. Buddy” Pinckard, are still there.  Miz Mary is to this day one of the best piano accompanists I ever had the pleasure to work with, a consummate musician and a genteel Southern lady in the finest tradition.  We exchanged letters for years after Jeff and I moved back to Tennessee, but a few years ago I lost touch.  I hugged her close and sat next to her in worship, tears trickling down my cheeks in gratitude and joy.  During the service, she jotted down a note on her bulletin and handed it to me—her email address!  This lady must be near 90 years of age, and now, we pen-pal online.  Everyone asked about Jeff, and made me promise that, next time we are in the area, we will BOTH attend services.  It will be a happy promise to keep.

Next stop (after a brief detour to The Donut Hole Bakery and Cafe, home of The Best Key Lime Pie On The Planet and another piece of hallowed ground!) was a nice long visit with #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, and his little dog, Boris.  Martin is, like me, an artist (he’s an actor/director to my musician/writer) and he possesses a unique understanding of the crazy places in my soul that I tend not to share with most people.  We cooked and ate, laughed and cried, and rested.  Despite Martin’s health issues, dialysis and diabetes and all that comes with those conditions, it still feels like he’s the one who props me up more often than not.

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From Martin’s in Orlando, I traveled north to St. Simons Island, Georgia, to visit some other hallowed spots.  I arrived on Friday afternoon in heavy rain, ordered supper, did laundry and relaxed for the night.  Saturday morning began with a visit to GJ Ford Bookshop, an independent local bookseller (and bookworm destination) when we are there on vacation.  From there I trekked the short distance to Christ Church, an historic landmark that I’ve always wanted to see inside but never made it during open hours, until this trip!  A wedding was scheduled there for later in the day so I was able to catch a couple of sneak photos of the happy couple as well.  The sanctuary is small but glorious, with exquisite stained-glass windows and a gorgeous organ.  The docent gave a brief but detailed presentation about the church’s history, adding to my awe of standing in that holy space.  I hope to attend services there at some point when we make our way back to the island.  Before heading to the pier/village/shops/beach, I grabbed a snack at Palm Coast Coffee, a place we discovered on our first trip to the island. It is now a “must-stop” part of any trip there as well.  My day on St. Simons Island was packed with “doing the things”, and left me feeling grateful and grounded.

From two nights by myself on St. Simons Island, my next leg of travel was to Candler, NC, and a little cabin there that backs up to a creek, for a couple more nights of pure solitude.  I planned this time purposefully, the quiet serving as a buffer between the trip and my arrival back in Knoxville, to my sweet husband and dog, the job hunt and the realities of everyday living.  While in the cabin,  I listened to the rushing water, enjoyed soaking in the hot tub, rested, wrote in my trip journal and prepared to go Home…perhaps the most hallowed spot of all.

 

Preparation, Packing Up Patsy, And A Pause

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Fixin’ to get started…

In my last post here I began to describe my post-work road trip adventure which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Getting to the nuts and bolts of actually leaving took a little more time and preparation than I had originally planned, but trips often start with a hitch or two.  So mostly I was able to roll with the unforeseen events as they unfolded.

My first task was to empty Patsy, my car, completely.  I had carried so much stuff back and forth to work for so long that it was imperative that I remove everything and start with a clean slate for packing.  So I took an afternoon and a couple of storage bins, and set about loading the bins and hauling them into the house.  After this I washed and vacuumed Patsy and got her looking and feeling pretty spiffy.  No longer could she be described as The HoarderMobile…at least, for now!

Usually when we take trips, we drive my husband Jeff’s car, which is always less cluttered than my own.  As a result, packing up the car is usually an easy and well-organized task.  My trip, by myself, in my car, was a bit different.  First of all, I needed to get Patsy serviced, including addressing a safety recall on her front passenger airbag.  No big deal, I reasoned, and it was important for her to be safe and road ready.  The dealership that had to replace the airbag, however, neglected to inform me that this would be at least a twenty-four hour turnaround, which meant not only a delay in packing, but that I would also have to drive a LOANER.  For the record, it makes me twitchy and anxious to drive any car other than my own, including my sweet husband’s.  I am sure it’s a control issue on my part.  Deep breaths…still plenty of time to pack.

A pause in the process happened the night before I was to hit the road, and a somber reminder of how short life is, and how important the people are who make up our circles.  The Sunday before road trip time, I received a call from a college friend and classmate named Kim, asking if I could sing for her husband’s memorial service on Thursday evening.  Her husband, Dave, was also a friend and classmate from school, and to learn of his passing was a shock for all of us.  Kim asked another of our schoolmates, Keith, to preach the service, which turned into a mini-reunion, bringing smiles, hugs, tears, memories and gratitude for Dave’s life, talent and legacy.  At the conclusion of the service I drove home knowing that packing up the car was not a priority for the rest of the night.  I would load up in the morning.  And I did, and that was fine.

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Friday morning came and I was literally throwing stuff into my suitcase (and overnight bag and plastic bags from Walgreens) and into the car.  This is NOT how I typically prepare for a trip!  But I felt reasonably sure I had everything I needed, even if I was not precisely sure where it all was.  I had time to reorganize while I was on the road and if I truly needed something I didn’t pack, I could buy it.  So after a quick visit with my cousins Alan and Susan, their daughter Katelyn, and HER brand new daughter Breann, I was ready to hit the road for real.  #OperationTakeAMinute was off and running on Friday, February 8, 2019…and so was I.

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