Rediscovering Beauty

A few days ago, I slowed down.

While this might not sound like much of a news flash to you, it was a big deal to me. Because I rarely do it.

Our days are full. We wake early and start hustling to get out of the house on time for school and work. While the kids are in school, I run errands, go grocery shopping, do housework, work on our rental properties, visit nursing homes. Afternoon carpool usually comes before my list is checked off, leaving the undone tasks for the next day. After school it’s homework, dinner, often more homework. (If you’ve been around for a while, you know my son is dyslexic, so he needs more assistance than most kids his age. So I’m not done til he’s done.)

Baskets of laundry often line the walls upstairs, and piles of mail await attention. I have a hard time overlooking all the undone work and relaxing, so when I’m home I’m usually in motion.

I tell myself that it’s this phase of my life. That I will be able to slow down one day. One of my boys is in college, another heading off in the fall. That’ll leave just one kid at home. And before I know it, he’ll be grown, too, and I’ll have all the time I need to finish my to-do list. But for now, I’m just too damn busy.

Busy

Too damn busy to notice what’s going on around me. Too engaged in action. Too full of distracting detail. Too preoccupied to notice the beauty around me.

In a slower time, I was very good at “everyday beauty.” I’d linger at the corner to take in the field of clover or pause to admire the clouds. I took pride in my garden and home. I helped neighbors. I sent hand-written birthday cards, baked cupcakes, did good deeds.  I made it my mission to see beauty in every day, and to share it with others.

But I’ve become so busy I’ve forgotten to pause and see it.

I’ve reduced myself to a “get it done” life.

And it has taken a toll on me.

So last Sunday, I was forced to slow down. My son had a choir concert, which is a very big deal to him. We kept our church clothes on (which made it feel like an even bigger deal) and went across town to hear him sing.

After we arrived, I fumbled with the program to make sure my son’s name was spelled right and resisted the urge to pull out my phone and check Facebook while we waited for the performance to begin. I just sat. Still and quiet.

I looked around at the church and admired the architecture. I stared out the window at the clouds. I looked at my nearly-grown son sitting next to me and marveled at how handsome he has become. Things slowed down.

The children took the stage and started singing. And the words that flowed were the very words I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“Let me know beauty in my mind, in my sight, let it brighten my daytime, let it comfort my night. Let my mind know the beauty that the world has to give, O let me know beauty for as long as I live…”                                                             — Allan E. Naplan

I needed to be reminded of this. I needed to be reminded that beauty and joy and happiness are out there for the taking. But they don’t come to you if you aren’t open to receive them. Whizzing by in a hurry leaves them sitting there, waiting for the next taker. 

So I’m going to slow down, recognize the beauty around me, and let it become part of me. I’m going to look out of the window more. Admire the architecture more. Listen more intently. Take it all in.

Because beauty is out there. It’s up to me to slow down and discover it.

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Do you find yourself too busy to see the beauty around you? If not, tell me your secrets, please.

And do you check the program to see if your kid’s name is spelled right?

 

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NOLA for Dummies Rookies

St Louis Cathedral

Special thanks to my friend LeslieAnn for the great photo!

My beloved city has been getting a lot of press lately. Camera crews are everywhere preparing for the Super Bowl. Talk shows are broadcasting live from the French Quarter and media credentials have been issued to reporters from over 200 countries. 

And as soon as the Lombardi trophy is handed to the game’s victor, we’ll shift gears into our biggest tourist event, Mardi Gras. After that, festival season kicks in, with event after event booking our weekends until the summer heat drives us indoors.

All this press will surely make a few of you yearn for a trip to the Big Easy. So I’ve prepared this little primer for traveling to New Orleans. Read it carefully before packing your bags.

Let’s Talk

First, let me address the name of our fair city. It’s New Or-luns. Not New Or-leens (unless you are singing a certain song where things must rhyme), and not N’Awlins. If you’re insecure with the pronunciation you can just say NOLA. We will respect you for trying, but we will love you for getting it right.

While we’re on the subject of word pronunciation, here are a few more you may want to practice.

The tiny, lobster-like crustaceans we love to eat are called crawfish (rhymes with draw fish). Not craa-fish (like in “Hey fish”).

Following that same pattern, the delicious sugary treats made in the French Market are called pralines (praw-leens, again, first syllable rhymes with draw), not pray-leens.

The nuts inside the pralines (remember, praw-leens) are called pecans (pa-cahns), not pee-cans. A pee-can is something completely different. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

And street names. Ahhh, street names. Don’t even try to pronounce Tchoupitoulas if you’re not from here. Just point and ask for help.

It will also behoove you to know that here, we ride in street cars, not trolleys or cable cars. And ordering a sandwich dressed means it will come with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. When you’re ready to leave and you haven’t finished your drink, ask for a Go-Cup. Yes, they’ll pour your beverage (even an adult one) in a disposable cup and you can take it with you. Just don’t drive with it. That we take very seriously.

Cocktail Culture

Here in the birthplace of the cocktail, we love to raise a glass. (Please don’t judge. It’s just our way.) Locals don’t maintain a tourist’s pace every day. That would be deadly. But be prepared for a prevalence of adult beverages during your stay, and know what you’re getting yourself into.

For a list of 10 Classic New Orleans cocktails and where to get them, click here.

My suggestions: Make sure you try a Sazerac, the original cocktail. It’s a rye whisky drink with a fun history that you can read about here. It was developed by an apothecary in the 19th century, so you can claim it’s for medicinal purposes. They’re served all over town, but the legendary Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel is the place to go for the real thing.

I’d also recommend trying a Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing, relatively low-alcohol beverage best enjoyed at the Napoleon House. Skip the Hurricane and Hand Grenade, unless cheap liquor in large quantities is what you’re after.

Another pioneering bit of New Orleans cocktail culture is the daiquiri machine. These sweet and potent concoctions are kind of like an alcohol-laced slurpee. Daiquiri bars will boast more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, with machines lined up behind the bar to entice you. They’re great on a really hot day, but I’d skip those in favor of something a little more sophisticated.

The cocktail has become such a revered part of our history and culture you can now take a walking tour through the French Quarter bars and restaurants that have become famous because of their libations. Wear comfortable shoes and designate a driver if your hotel isn’t within walking distance.

When you have to “go”

Finding a restroom in a drinking and walking city sometimes presents a problem. During special events it’s nearly impossible. So city planners and event organizers will put out banks of portable toilets for the public to use.

Let me make this perfectly clear: If you are unwilling to use a Port-O-Let, you should stay home. When the number of tourists exceeds the population, there’s no avoiding it.

Watch your step

After a night of revelry in the French Quarter, a certain blend of “liquids” accumulates along the edge of the streets. We call that liquid Party Gravy. Never, ever step in the Party Gravy. Most of the time it’s harmless, just spilled drinks and the leftover puddles from our tropical showers. But sometimes people get a little carried away when they’re here, and forget their good manners. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Don’t discuss your footwear with strangers.

Unless you actually want to pay someone to shine your shoes, do not engage the shoe shiners. They will ask you in a somewhat polite manner if you’d like your shoes shined. Once you make eye contact and speak to them, they set the hook. Then it will go something like this:

“Want your shoes shined?”

“No, thanks.”

But he will not give up.

“Well, then, I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes.”

“Sorry, no thanks.”

Still he will persist.

“I betcha five dollars I can tell you the exact street where you got them shoes.”

If you pause and make eye contact, you have accepted the bet. Certain that the dude has no idea where you purchased your shoes, you will engage. The shoe shiner will then announce that you “got them shoes on your feet” and that “your feet are on Bourbon Street.” There will then be a loud confrontation where he demands his $5. If there isn’t a cop within 20 feet you will pay the creep the $5 to get away.

Pace Yourself

No one comes to New Orleans to eat a turkey sandwich. Our food is rich and plentiful. And when it’s chased with a cocktail or two, you get easily fall victim to over-indulgence. Know your limits, and then only exceed them by a little. You gotta have fun, right?

If you decide to trek down to NOLA, give me a shout. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to make your visit memorable. And maybe even join you for a cocktail.

Have you been to New Orleans? If you have, did a shoe shiner ask you where you got your shoes?

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Disclaimer: This amusing description does not even come close to what New Orleans has to offer. It’s a great destination, full of history, culture, and energy. For more comprehensive information on travel to New Orleans, click on of these links. Then pack your bags and head on down!

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau — http://www.neworleanscvb.com/

Go NOLA — http://www.gonola.com/

Louisiana Tourism – the official tourism site of the state of Louisiana — http://www.louisianatravel.com/new-orleans

Through My Eyes

Image

He even rides a unicycle.

My youngest son is twelve years old. He’s small for his age, with a high-pitched voice and tiny hands. He looks out of place among his peers.

He’s different in other ways, too. His small stature means he can’t compete physically with other boys his age, so he sits on the sideline for team sports, chosen last at pick-up games.

He has a quirky personality. He gets lost in his thoughts sometimes, unable to articulate them to others, coming across as goofy and aloof. His short attention span often gets him in trouble.

He doesn’t care about clothes like a lot of kids his age. He has a handful of favorite t-shirts and shorts, and wears them when he wants to, regardless of how they look.

He has trouble organizing his thoughts. Information doesn’t line up in his brain in a linear manner like it does for most people. Instead, his mind is a kaleidoscope of ideas, whirling around in a manner that makes sense only to him.

He doesn’t handle stress well. When he’s anxious, he’ll pull the right side of his shirt collar into his mouth and start chewing. When I see him doing that I’m grateful that he’s moved on from his other nervous habit: hurting himself.

.  .  .

This is how the world sees him.

.  .  .

This is how I see him.

He’s small, just like his brothers. He’ll probably be a late bloomer just like they were, but he’ll catch up to the crowd eventually.

I’m glad he likes running cross-country. It’s a team sport where you compete against yourself. Your own improvement is what really matters, at least at this level. He’s growing stronger, running faster, developing self-discipline.

He comes up with the most impressive thoughts. Really out-of-the-box things – like designs for machines, concepts for movies and lyrics for songs. He has taught himself sound production and movie-making on his own. Someday he will create something really amazing, or invent something new, because he thinks so big.

He’s attached to things that mean something to him. The t-shirt he bought when we saw The Lion King in the theater is his favorite, and he loves the shirts from the races he’s run. He wants them close to him as often as possible.

When his mind starts racing, I wish I could get inside it with him, because I know he’s coming up with some pretty amazing stuff in there. He’s getting better at expressing himself verbally, but the words still fly out faster than I can grasp them. Written expression is still miles away, but he’ll get there. I know he will. Because I won’t give up until he does.

He’s still afraid of failure. Who wouldn’t be if they walked in his shoes? He can’t read on grade level, can’t make a decent oral argument, has handwriting no one can read (not even himself). He stinks at sports and doesn’t have many friends. But he’s handling anxiety better now than he used to. I  tremble when I think of the days he used to bite his arm until it was purple, or hit his head on the floor out of frustration. I will always watch him closely, because I fear he’ll be the one who cuts himself.

For the rest of the world, my boy wears a lot of labels. Labels like ADD, dyslexia, dysgraphia. Runt, girly, immature, weird.

But to me he only wears one.

Son.

My son.

And I long for the day when others see him the way I do.

______________________________________________________

Is there someone in your life who is often misunderstood?

Finding Grace in the Candy Aisle

Thank you, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.

Thank you, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.

As usual, I was in a hurry. So when he made eye contact with me in the aisle at Walgreens, I shifted my attention elsewhere. I hoped touching the bags of Christmas candy would indicate that I wasn’t in a chatty mood, but he approached me anyway.

“My grandchildren love those.” A shaky hand pointed to the bag on the shelf.

“My kids do, too,” I replied with a smile.

“I have eight grandchildren. Two sets of twins.”

It was too late. I was in.

“How old are they?” I asked.

“Oh, they range in age from two to twelve.”

“Sounds like a lot of love.”

“It is. It is.”

I picked out the candy I wanted and smiled again as I turned to leave. Then I dropped the whole mess on the floor. Clumsily, he bent down to help, and our smiles met again. For his generation, a gentleman always helped a lady. And a gentleman he was.

As I gathered up my things – purse, gloves, and candies, I noticed his hands. Chapped from the unseasonable cold, their thin skin revealing bruises and old scars. His face looked much the same.  On his head he wore a knit hat, the kind most folks who live in the balmy South don’t even own. In his hands he clutched a brown paper bag. He had a grace about him.

They don’t use brown paper bags at Walgreens… I started to wonder what he was doing there.

“You know, 68 years ago, I was freezing my can off in France. I was in the war.”

“Wow.”  I paused to think of what to say. “Thank you for your service.” These words pop out often these days. People say it often to my husband when they learn of his military service. They seemed safe enough.

Then I looked at his face, and his eyes filled with tears.

“In all the years since then, you’re one of only a handful of people who’ve ever said that. Who thanked me.”

I had no words. So I did what I do. I hugged him.

“Merry Christmas,” was all I could say.

“Thank you, young lady,” he replied. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

And he turned and walked toward the door without purchasing anything, the brown paper bag still clutched in his hands. He pulled on his collar as the cold air hit him, and walked toward the adjacent neighborhood.

I paid for my candy and left the store a better person.

Keepsake Handprints

For the last few weeks lots of folks have been visiting my blog after searching for instructions on how to make handprint plaques like the ones in my photo.

So if you’re looking for a great gift (either for someone else or for yourself) that will be cherished forever, and your kids are still small enough to fit their handprint on a plaque, click the link below.

Instructions for Keepsake Handprints.

I promise you this: if you make these, you will cherish them forever. Mine are over a decade old already, and they are among my most prized possessions. Because their hands will never ever be little again.

Toilet Water with a Wine Chaser

Yesterday we left the youngest home alone for a little while. Upon returning, I notice a spill on the kitchen counter, on the opposite side from the sink and fridge. Not a spot where we usually pour drinks or spill ice cubes, so it was a bit unusual.

And, as everyone knows, in order to clean something up effectively, you should know what it is. For example, if it was water, I would have wiped it up with a paper towel. If it was Sprite or some other sugary beverage, I would have used a wet rag. If it was wine, I would’ve probably used a straw.

But the location of this had me puzzled, and I really didn’t know what it was or how it got there.

So, like any crazy practical woman would do, I dipped my finger in the spill and tasted it. Water. Good. Wipe it up and go on, and no point wondering for too long how it got there.

But a few minutes later, there was more water on the counter, so I looked up. I noticed some water on the bottom edge of the upper cabinet. My mind is trying to figure out how water got there. Did someone smack a cup or bottle of water on the counter, causing it to shoot up? Had it been a carbonated drink, the kid might have had a gusher, but it was water. Where was water coming from?

I looked further up, and there it was. Water dripping through the ceiling. Must be the water heater. Mr. Wonderful and I dash up the stairs and into the attic, but that’s not it. We move into the bathroom.

But the bathroom floor is dry. So we check under the sink. Dry. Then I feel the wet rug, and all the pieces of the puzzle fly into place in an instant. The boy overflowed the toilet. The boy tried to clean it up so we wouldn’t know. I just tasted potty water. Dirty potty water.

Yep. I drank what came out of one of these. (Thank you, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.)

 

So now I have a new item on that list of Things I Never Thought I’d Do.

I drank a glass of wine to sanitize my mouth calm my nerves.   Then I got out the mop and bleach and cleaned it up. And now my kitchen and bathroom smell Clorox-fresh, and I’m out of wine.

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This post was submitted to Yeah Write!

The Two Women

The young woman on the inside is strong and vibrant. Self-sufficient and capable. Beautiful and lively.

The woman on the outside, with her greying hair and thin skin, is tiny and frail. She breathes with the help of oxygen and spends her days confined to bed or chair.

Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully, each unaware of the other’s presence.

The discord comes when the two meet. When the woman on the inside tries to stand, but finds she’s unable. Tries to answer questions about herself, but gets even the basic facts wrong. Tries to place food in her mouth, but instead finds it in her lap.

Frustration sets in, because the woman inside knows she is able. But her physical body is no longer in synch with her mind, and the two do not cooperate with one another.

“How are you today?” asks the nurse. “Fine,” she replies, unaware that oxygen is flowing through a tube beneath her nose.

“Do you have any pain?” asks the doctor. “No,” she answers, not remembering that she can no longer stand after breaking her hip.

It’s hard for us to know how to feel. Because of the woman on the inside, anxiety levels are lower. But it frustrates the woman on the outside, because she doesn’t understand. And the two can swap places without any warning. So you never know which one you’re with at any given moment.

The rhythm of her breathing is comforting. It is a reminder of her physical presence. But everything else creates unease. Each new report from the doctor, each change in her physical status brings more questions. But since she is unable to contribute to her own care, others must make decisions for her.

Others must also bathe her and feed her. The lively young woman lies helpless in a bed. Long gone are her dignity and privacy.

Occasionally, the woman on the outside perks up. She watches television, or replies with one of her signature quips. Those moments are rare gifts. And every week there are fewer of them.

At some point, she will need peace. And we will be left with memories of both women. I hope the memories of the woman on the outside fade quickly, leaving us to reminisce with joy about the woman on the inside.

The woman on the inside, with her handsome, young man.

For all of it, I am thankful.

It was 1999, and I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with my cart full of groceries, when I picked up a Family Circle magazine. I flipped through, browsed a couple of recipes and some Thanksgiving decor. Then my fingers turned to the back of the magazine, where I read words that changed my life.

I always thought of myself as a positive person, and it was easy to be thankful for the positive things. My family, my job, the vacations we enjoyed, the new house we had just moved into. What I hadn’t yet grasped was the concept of total gratitude.

Gratitude for the whole package of life.

And I read these words that rocked my world. They stayed on my refrigerator for a couple of years. (In fact, they stayed there til 2005, when a certain hurricane left things a little damp inside my home.)

So I sought it out on the internet, and typed it up to put back on my fridge. And I’m posting it here, in case you want to print it out for your fridge, too.

 

I hope these words come to mean as much to you as they have to me.

Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for you.