Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Hard Candy Christmas

If there is one Christmas album that I remember from my childhood, it’s Kenny and Dolly. I know all the words to “Christmas to Remember” and “Christmas Without You.” Someone pulled out the CD and played it on Christmas Eve this year. Konnie, Mom and I sat on the couch singing “Hard Candy Christmas” at the top of our lungs. Mama looked at us at one point and asked, “What does that even mean? A hard candy Christmas?” We didn’t know. We just kept singing and laughing.

The next day, Mama would get in the car for the long drive to see Grandma Shelby.

When I got home, I finally looked up that phrase. Whatever it meant. I’m not sure how reliable my sources are, but some seem to suggest that a hard candy Christmas was when money was tight and times were hard that all folks could afford to give their kids for Christmas was hard candy. My sources date this to the late 1800’s through World War I and the Great Depression. It makes sense to me, true or not.

I know a lot of folks today who, while they can afford more than just hard candy, still feel that perhaps the past few years have truly been a hard candy Christmas.

It was the day after Christmas and Dad had made some cookie dough on Christmas Eve that we hadn’t cut out and baked before he and Mama rushed off to see Grandma Shelby. I rolled out the dough and snapped a picture to text to him. As the oven pre-heated, my brother, sister and brother in-law all migrated to the kitchen to take part in the cookie decorating and eating.  And then my phone rang.

It was Dad. He called to tell us Grandma Shelby had passed away.

We knew she was no longer in pain. Finally free of the cancer she was diagnosed with in August. We hugged each other there in the kitchen. And we finished those cookies. We’ll say goodbye next weekend. But I wanted to thank you all for your prayers for Grandma Shelby. Your love and kind words meant so much to me, and to her.
Maybe a hard candy Christmas is a phrase for more than just the money strapped. Maybe it’s a phrase for those who’re missing a loved one over the holidays. I’m sure that come next Christmas, my voice will crack when I sing that song and think about what we didn’t know yet on Christmas Eve 2012. But I’ll also think about all the people who prayed and cared for Grandma Shelby and loved her through her cancer. 

(You can read more about our incredible Grandma's life here.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

being the drummer boy

Squeezed into the back seat of Grandma Shelby’s car, I’d rather be anywhere else. She's riding shotgun and wants to go shopping on Black Friday. I want to hole up in an empty room all by myself. Shopping has never been my thing, but always hers.

Auntie Linda plays the role of the chauffeur, one of Grandma’s caretgivers, she takes the wheel and maneuvers through the traffic. All day long, the sky has unleashed a never-ending pounding of Seattle rain. My sister Konnie sits beside me holding Grandma’s purse at the ready to help with any whim or request.

I think about my cold, wet feet. Wish my rain boots weren't locked in the trunk of my car back at the hotel. Wish I hadn't been so concerned with fashion this morning to opt for my color coordinating but impractical flats. I hate being wet more than any other feeling.

Auntie turns the dial on the radio.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

“I forgot that this station plays Christmas music starting today,” Auntie says.

A new born King to see, pa rum pump um pum

“The Drummer Boy. One of my favorites,” she said.

Grandma agrees.

“Don’t you know how to sing?” Grandma asks us.

“I didn't know you wanted us to.” I glance over at Konnie and we softly join in,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum. When we come.
Grandma Shelby with all the girls

I know instantly this moment is one I’ll want to remember. Packed away with all the other memories of Christmases past at Grandma’s house. The tree covered in angels surrounded by a white picket fence. The mounds of presents. The 13 stockings Grandma sewed with a name for each of her grandchildren. The ham and stuffing. The Star Wars movie marathons. Uncle Greg and Dad getting up to do the twist while sister Ashley and I are forced to reenact our school Christmas program singing “Rocking around the Christmas Tree.”

Today, Konnie and I sing, off key and words jumbled , through Seattle’s rain and Black Friday traffic. We are the drummer boy. Singing to honor her, hoping to see her smile. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

To the Twinkie: an epistle

Plain, fried, butter dipped 
unique as those who love you.
photo from wikipedia
Remember you and I in troubled
times. The last bite eleven
years – has it been? Two days 
after national  tragedy. From minimart,
to hotel room.  Baby sister’s
sweet sixteen.

She's grown now.
The nation still at war. 
Today it mourns
you.  A rush on grocers,
minimarts alike, ‘til shelves
left bare. A final taste 
of your big delight 
in every bite. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Update: Rodents and Good Company

Do you remember how I worried about setting poison to kill the mice? How I feared my basement would end up a graveyard for all the suicidal critters who ate the stuff? The managers in charge of the place where I live assured me that would not happen. So we set the poison.

Guess what? Last week, I traipsed downstairs to put something away and can you imagine what I found there? A rodent splayed out, as if it had died mid dash across the room. Thankfully. And luckily for me (because we all know I don't like to clean up dead rodents), Mr. Maintenance Man was set to arrive later that day and he promptly hauled the decomposing fellow off to the trash bin. (You can all thank me for not taking photos.) And Mr. Maintenance Man finished the rest of the sealing needed to keep future invaders out of my cupboards (fingers crossed).

I began to feel better about the whole mouse situation at an impromptu gathering with neighbors. People who've heard about my neighborhood liken us to Mayberry. I met up with the neighborhood when I walked down the block for Sunday's Veteran's Day Parade. When the flag-waving ended, we gathered at a home mid-block for coffee and tea and baked goods and hot soup. Slowly over the course of the afternoon, everyone told a story about the mice problems they've had this year, and what they've had to do to get rid of them. I did win the worst place to have mice awards with mice in my silverware drawer (silverware will never again live in that drawer -- the one and only drawer in my kitchen). At least now I know I'm in good company, and who to call if faced with another invasion.

Of course if this mouse problem continues, I'm going to have to learn how to do this, just so I can share with you all:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rampage and Janey

Anyone who knew me as a child, may remember how desperately I wanted a nickname. Shelby was never shortened to anything good. At least nothing that satisfied me. Even today, the most common way people try to shorten my name is by calling me Shelbs, which if you count the letters, isn’t even shorter. So obviously that does not qualify.

In response to my whines for a nickname, my own father started calling me Shelb-belb-on-a-doorknob. He persisted in calling me this over all my protestations. None of us ever figured out where he came up with this name or why. He now denies any recollection of this much-detested nickname. I guess it cured me of my whining though, which I suppose may have been his plan all along.

As I got older, I gathered a rather large collection of nicknames. Ranging from the rather common misheard pronunciation of my name as Chubby, to the ode to the Ford GT500 Mustang. A brother-in-law, who nicknames pretty much everyone he meets, has a rotating list of names he calls me. I was just getting used to being called Rampage when he switched to Dee.  Now obviously, Dee is sort of my name. I’m used to hearing it run together with my first name, as if my name were BillieJo or MarySue. But not usually as a stand-alone name.

Still most people call me Shelby. Which is my name, and one I am proud of. Both my names really. I have the honor of being named for both of my grandmothers.
Both wonderful, strong ladies

But I never knew that Grandma Shelby had nicknames too. I mean, I’ve heard Mama say that she and her friends used to call Grandma the Dragon Lady. But I’m pretty positive they never utter that name in her earshot.

A few weeks ago, as us girls were sitting around the room with Grandma, she started to tell stories. I ran fast into the other room to grab my notebook and a pen. I’d never heard Grandma Shelby tell stories before. Not stories of when she was younger. If she was telling stories, I was writing them down.

“Dave called me Janey,” she said. “He almost never called me Shelby.”

We all smiled and laughed, and cried out why?

“I don’t know why he did that.”

I’m not sure if Grandpa David came up with nicknames for everyone the way my brother-in-law does. We’ll never know why he called her Janey. If there even was a reason, or if like my dad, it was just something he pulled out of thin air. But I’m glad she’s telling stories, and am honored to be a listener. It’s in the stories, the place we live on, even after we are gone.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

bonus day

Have you ever had a day where events beyond your control resulted in a bunch of free time you hadn't planned on. Yesterday was that day for me. 
I work in a small office right next-door to a bakery and a tea shop. The tea shop chose yesterday to do a little resurfacing of their floors. They are the only one of the three businesses open 7 days a week, so I guess it didn't occur to them to remodel on the weekend. They also must not have anticipated the affect their floor redo would have on those around them. 

I'm not trying to bash the tea shop here. And won't even name them. (Although last week they served me the most foul chai latte I've ever had, and I'm still not sure if the milk was sour or if they scorched it. Needless to say, I won't be going back.) But anyway. I don't know if it was the fault of whoever arranged the remodel or the Joe they hired that the lack of ventilation in the building was not accounted for prior to the start of the project. 

It started gradually shortly after I arrived at the office. A foreign smell wafting through the door. It didn't take long for that smell the permeate the entire building. I'm not sure what it was exactly, but I can tell you it smelled and tasted like I was swimming in a vat of paint thinner. 

There are no windows that open in this building. There was no way to ventilate or air out the place. There was no escaping the smell. The headache, the stomachache, the burning eyes. 

Thanks to my bosses, we closed up shop for the day. And I got to spend a sunny fall afternoon, running in the park and meeting up with friends. Isn't it great when one decision takes a day from bad to awesome? 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

in retreat

I run. I'm not a quitter, but I don't like conflict. I tend to avoid it if possible. I do my best to skirt around it. When life gets tough, I don't quit, but I tend to retreat. Withdrawing from difficult, dangerous or disagreeable situations. I retreat into myself. My comfort zone. I hole up like a turtle in his shell.

Comparatively, my life isn't that rough. I get it. I know that. But I was talking to a friend last week who said, "Life is hard." And even if comparatively I'm pretty lucky, some days are still just plain hard to get through. But I still feel pretty silly talking about my hard days when I know other people have lost their jobs, are facing homelessness, are struggling with health issues.

I've been doing devotionals with the ladies over at #SheReadsTruth for a few months now. Two verses have really stood out to me recently: Ephesians 2:10 (we were created to do good works) and Galatians 6:9-10 (don't grow weary of doing good, let us do good to all people). And you know what I'm learning? This retreating, this hiding, it's not what I was created to do. Hiding out helps no one. Not even myself.

It's OK to have a bad day. It's OK to struggle. It's OK to recognize life is just hard. But then what? Do I give up? Continue to hide until something changes? Do I grow tired of doing good? Usually I do. Usually I'm ready to give up. To hide until circumstances change.

But a friend unexpectedly brought me coffee the other day. And it set me to thinking. How often do I do the unexpected for my friends? This week--today--I'm looking for ways I can do good for someone else, even in the midst of this hard life.

Has someone changed the course of your day with an unexpected surprise? What have you done for others?  

***Grandma Shelby Update: Thank you for your prayers. She is through radiation and has started chemo. It's been two months since her diagnosis. But life is hard this week. And we appreciate continued prayer.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the smell of coffee

I am not a coffee drinker. It’s one of the things that makes me stand out in this mountain town with 6 coffee shops in 3 blocks. I love coffee, just not the taste.

My favorite part of working in the grocery store in high school was sweeping the floors. I’d linger a little longer where the coffee beans spilled over the floor. It was my favorite aisle. The coffee aisle.

After chucking stale beer cans across the bottle room where I counted refunds, I’d smell like a weekend drunk on Monday morning. The bottle room stunk so bad you could smell it before you could see it. I learned to hold my nose and breathe through my mouth, a habit that over a decade later, I haven’t gotten over. On rainy days, my new job driving the Cycle Pub smells just like that.

Pushing that giant broom across the white and tan tile floors until I got to the coffee aisle almost made up for the stench of bottle room duties.

The aroma sends me to Grandma Shelby’s house. The one she lived in for so long. With the big basement where she did her paintings and us kids would gather to watch movies. The house where the Christmas tree stood each December decorated in an array of angels, with the best one lit up on the very tip top.

Grandma Shelby’s house always smelled like coffee early in the morning. Walking down the hallway to the kitchen, I could smell it. I’d turn the corner and find her with a cup of coffee and a slice of toast or a biscuit.
I still don’t drink coffee. And Grandma sold that house a number of years ago. The cousins don’t gather for Christmas now that we’re all grown up. But when I’m walking through the grocery store or past a freshly brewed pot of coffee, I remember the smell of early mornings at Grandma Shelby’s.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

life on the edge

Between fighting off the mice last week, I received some tough news. Harder news than mice living in my cupboards and eating my food. Harder to fight off too.

For those that don’t know, I wasn’t named after the Shelby Mustang. Though Grandma says we’re both sports models. Grandma Shelby was the first to use that line. The second of her seven granddaughters, I was blessed to be given her name. Shelby is an old English male name that means keeper of the ledge estate. But I’ve taken to adapting that meaning to living on the edge.

This week we’re hanging on to that cliff. Grandma Shelby went to the hospital last Friday with a headache. That headache turned out to be six brain tumors. That turned out to be stage 4 lung cancer. The winds are blowing pretty strong on this cliff as we live on the edge of this diagnosis. Grandma’s the toughest lady I know, but us Shelbys, we’d really appreciate your prayers right now. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

mama's got the magic

No more mice have been seen or caught. My fingers are crossed that I stopped the only rascal who has been sneaking around my house. I did spend the bulk of the day Saturday looking like this: 

Cleaning and sanitizing. After some inspection and confirmation from a second set of eyes (thanks Da!), we think we've narrowed down the point of entrance. I still have traps set in wait for any other Jerry who tries to take up residence.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Glimpse of my quilt 
After a night filled with dreams about mice running over my new bed quilt, the brightly colored one I just made and am so proud of, because, seriously, ya'll, I made a big quilt, not a baby sized one, but one for me. But the dream mice were running over it, with me in it! Scary. They were also mysteriously running across the top of the door frame. I don't want to even think about how they got up there. Especially considering the evidence suggests they currently only have access to one cupboard. But this was admittedly a dream, and we can thank my pesky little sister and imaginative mama for the image of mice running over my bed while I sleep. Dreams. I can handle dreams.

So I was running a tad bit late this morning. But just had to check my trap before I left. I pounded on the counter and kicked the door of the cupboard as is my new custom before peeking behind the door. It's my way of announcing myself to my house guests. A way to say, "Hey, you better back off, 'cause I'm coming in." Kind of my fee-fi-fo-fum moment of the day. I opened the door slightly, and the first thing I notice is my trap that had been set flush against the cupboard wall was now a few inches from its original placement. And the dial on of the trap was pointing not at the green "Set" position, but had spun to the red "Caught" indicator.  Immediately I shut the door. I had trapped my first mouse.

But this is a self-contained mouse trap. My mind immediately starts running through the possibilities of what if the trap just thinks it caught it but the pesky mouse somehow escaped. But then I remembered that when setting the trap initially I'd accidentally tripped it and it simply went back to the "Set" position. I opened the door again. And realized this time, the rice I'd sprinkled as additional bait to the peanut butter inside the trap was mostly gone. And that the trap wouldn't have moved at least two inches on its own. And so I convinced myself that I have indeed caught my first mouse. Using a paper towel, I lifted the trap into a garbage bag and hauled it out to the outside garbage bin. And set the next trap with additional rice for my next catch.

The mice may have won the first night. But we're tied now.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Welcome to Jonestown. Can I get you drink?

Some days seem like one massive fail after another. Yesterday was one of those days. The night before I had discovered the presence of some unwelcome house guests (who very likely have been living with me longer than I initially realized). How many guest is yet to be determined. 

They aren't exactly the social sort. And they certainly are not ideal guests. You know the well-mannered sort that pick up after themselves. Keep clean. And pitch in with meals now and then. No, sir. This fella, or fellows, hide out in their quarters and (thankfully) have yet to hold a face-to-face conversation with me, their host. They eat my food and they do not clean up after they've taken care of their private business.

Ewww! So gross! Am I right?

Bear in mind, I am the girl who used to store cereal in the refrigerator to keep it away from the ants, but that's another story altogether. Rest assured that I am not eating anything at my house at present. I am the girl, who cried and had to get creative to bury a groundhog because she would not touch the dead rodent with a 10-foot pole. And now, I am the girl who has live rodents living with her. At least the groundhog carcass was OUTSIDE. 

So what made yesterday a fail? First I cut myself on my razor. I got makeup all over my sweater at work. I dumped my water bottle in my purse. I spilled ketchup down the front of my white dress. I cut my finger with a knife trying to build a better mousetrap. (I was able to set store bought traps) And I did not catch a single mouse. 

The maintenance guy is supposed to set poison and hopefully soon. I am somewhat nervous about stumbling upon the scene of a mouse mass suicide after they all drink the spiked Kool-Aid. But if it keeps them out of my cupboards, I might be able to live with it. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The disappearing act

I was going to post this. In MAY! When the lilacs were actually in bloom. And then I didn't. And then life happened. 

Hands down, this sight is my favorite thing about the month of May. I wait in anticipation for those purple fists to open. I hold my breath when cold nights threaten to freeze the tiny buds. And finally the pedals uncurl, releasing the sweet fragrance that tells me I am 9-years-old again.

There I am, sitting in the lilac hedge behind the playhouse. A tree small enough just for me. One that won't hurt me if I fall out. I lean my back against the sturdiest branch, shielded by the thick green leaves. Nature's embrace. Here is where an introvert in a house full of people finds a place to think. To recharge. To seek solitude. Here is where I find my peace.

No matter what the world around me says, when I see those purple blooms and get a waft of their scent, I know that all is well.

And that was all I'd written back in May. And now I have no idea what else I was going to say about lilacs. 

A whole lot of life has happened since then. Baby showers. Birthdays. Trips to sunny beaches. Hikes up tall perches. Baby births. Quilting. Working. And every day one sweet auntie of mine checks this page. To that Auntie: be prepared for a few more updates coming. They may or may not include a recent development with unexpected house guests. 

Ortho 0320110 Home Defense Max Kill & Contain Mouse Trap - 2 Pack

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

feeling tall

For the last few months, Saturday mornings have found me learning something new. I am a fair weather runner. I don't usually run in the rain or the snow. I don't run when it's too hot. And when I run in April, I wind up sick. My allergies flare up the first week of April ever year, and it's all over. 

I don't like treadmills, and have never motivated myself enough to get to a gym. But then someone I knew started to teach a boxing class. 

Now, I have said countless times that I need a punching bag for when I'm upset or frustrated, so I jumped at the chance to learn about boxing and get my exercise in at the same time. 

Anytime I learn something new, I feel strange at first. Awkward and insecure. I was sore for days after my first lesson. But I haven't given up. And it feels good to get up and have somewhere to go on Saturday morning. To start the weekend full of energy. It's been a few months since I started. Now, when I walk out the doors, sweaty and tired, I feel taller. Often still sore. But somehow tall. And for someone who is only 5'4'', that's saying something. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

remember the broken

It’s heartbreaking some times. Not every day. Not even most days. But on occasion, sitting in the front row of other people’s hurt, well it hurts. That sick to your stomach, ache in your chest, kind of hurt.

Yesterday was one of those days. A day when in the time it takes to sign a signature, the mood of the entire day flips. One minute, I’m not even thinking about who is going to walk through the door. I’m sending a congratulatory email to a friend who has just sent exciting news. And the next minute, I’m handing out Kleenex and taking deep breaths to keep my own emotions in check.

The signing of paperwork is routine around here. I’ve drafted and signed these documents countless times. And that’s what makes days like yesterday so difficult. It’s knowing that most days I’m oblivious to the brokenness. Most days I don’t think twice about it. Most days I don’t see the tears. Most days I don’t know the hurt. Most days I forget. 

On the one hand I’m glad most days aren’t like yesterday. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do that every day. On the other hand, I pray, Dear Jesus, help me not forget the brokenness. Mine. Theirs. Even when on the outside the people I meet act like everything is OK. Help me remember their hurt.   

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

knowing birds

© Maggie Lee, Louisville, Kentucky, December 2008
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at is my site of choice

I dared to walk to work today. Knowing it would rain. I have a rain coat. An umbrella. I am willing Spring. Daring warm days to string together uncountable. I am ready for the sun to warm my skin, all the way down to my bones. But it’s only April. 

It takes ten minutes to walk to work. Often longer to walk home as I stop to talk to one neighbor after another. I’d hardly made a block this morning when I noticed the birds chirping ahead of me. As I approached they took off toward the trees. But one caught my attention.

There are usually just sparrows here. Brown, flecked birds. But this one, it was so much tinier than all the rest. It perched on a thin branch at a height just above my head. I held my breath in hope that it would not fly off. I wanted a closer look as I passed by.

 I did not stop, for fear I’d scare it. And as I passed, I saw the faint yellow of its belly. I guessed it was a goldfinch. Just beginning to change out of its winter coat. Uncle Flash would scold me for guessing and not verifying. If he were still here, he’d throw the bird book at me and tell me to look it up. To find out for sure. To stop my guessing. 

I tried to look it up online when I got to work. But I’ve never been as good at knowing birds as he was. Still I am convinced the little tiny bird was indeed a goldfinch.

Even though it'll rain on me today, the walk was more than worth it. To see up close the tiny bird with the barely yellow belly and know that Spring is here. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

attitude: two sides of the same mirror

I sat by Mirror Pond on a park bench, sandwich in one hand a book in the other.  I’d been there for some time when load voices behind me distracted me for a moment. Three teenage girls were walking down the grassy hill behind me. Talking loudly. One exclaimed over an item she’d forgotten to bring with her.

As I glanced behind me, I saw they were on their way to meet up with a larger group of teens walking from the other direction. The girl who’d forgotten something, shouted even louder to the other group about how she’d forgotten it. Whatever it was, I’ve since forgotten, it had no significance to me. As the groups met about twenty yards over my left shoulder, I tried to return to my book, but could not concentrate to finish a sentence.

From the moment I first heard them approaching, I could hear their language seasoned with f-bombs. Loud. Purposeful. Every. Other. Word. I could hear the anger and indignation as they talked about their teachers and the assignment they’d been given.

I was startled. I looked around. I didn’t know if I should interject. Ask them politely to speak more kindly. I scanned for children who might be hearing this assault of language, a mother who might step in. Part of me was relieved there were none. I knew these teens, who showed no respect for their teachers, the authority figures in their lives, would simply laugh at me or cuss my out if I stood up and asked them please. So I said nothing.

You might think I’m prudish for being bothered my their harsh language. But I have to tell you, I think cursing has a place. I’d be lying if I told you I never, ever curse. I do. I try to limit it to my internal dialogue, or when no other ears can hear. But sometimes I slip. Just don’t tell Mama. She likes to think that I am still sheltered from the evils of this world.  But the reality is that I think curse words can be a valid form of expression. Sometimes “darn-it” and “fiddlesticks” simply aren’t strong enough words to express the depth of emotion.

But these teens, they weren’t using their words to express emotions. Their attitude showed they used these words to make a show. To say, “I can do anything I want. No one else is the boss of me. Just try me.” But they weren’t proving any point to me.

The book I held in my hand was about a teenage girl. Not much older than any of them.  A girl who left her home to work in Uganda. A teenage girl who would adopt 14 daughters before she was old enough to drink in the States. And she did all this because she knew Jesus called her to love. To love just one. Each one she met. And every day she strived to say, “Yes” to that call. (You can read about her here.)

The difference between the teenagers in the park and the one I read about were stark. Opposite sides of the same mirror. Long after those angry teens moved on, I put my book down and prayed for the baby that the girl who’d forgotten something pushed in a stroller. I prayed that baby would know more love than anger. More grace than pain. More joy than sorrow. 

Each day we have a choice to make. We can choose love or we can choose anger. We can choose joy or we can choose disappointment. Which choice will you make today?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

good start to a new day

I woke to the sun shining through my window. 
The first time I've seen it in days. 
I dared to wear my favorite skirt in the cold mountain air. 
I scraped last night's rains off my frozen windshield
I had to leave earlier than usual. 
I dropped my car off at the shop to get my tires changed. 
I walked to the nearest coffee shop for a pot of tea.
I had time to kill.
I smelled the varieties before making my choice.  
I chatted with the little boy at the table next to me. 
He picked pecans out of his granola and offered them to me.
Finally, I had to say goodbye.
But was reminded what joys can come in even the smallest change of routine.   

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

a reason to celebrate

Mama was in town last weekend. She had meetings with the KIDS Center. On Friday, we huddled together in the snow flurries as local children sang "Celebrate" to kick-off National Child Abuse Prevention month here in this mountain town. 

Wearing coordinating outfits, Mama, little sister and I sat in a row at Sunday service. Mama remembers my first Easter dress. I've seen photographs of the pink dresses and white hats she dressed us in. (And by us, I mean my twin sis and me. A side-effect of being a twin is speaking in the plural.)

I remember later Easters. A new dress each year. Hats with elastic bands the cut into the skin under our chins. And pulling on that band with my white-gloved hands in between group photo shots. 

I remember Easter egg hunts with my cousins. And finding forgotten eggs weeks later while pulling weeds in the garden. 

I was baptized by my grandpa in a little white church on Easter Sunday. That was 18 years ago.   

In college I attended a church that would frequently hold baptisms during service. I remember the pastor's words each time he'd dunk someone into the water and raise them up again. Those words repeat in my head even now when I witness a baptism. 

"Buried with him in death. And raised to walk with him in newness of life." 

As each believer emerged from the water with those words, the congregation clapped and cheered in celebration. 

Standing in the cold on Good Friday, listening to the voices of children sing celebration songs, I felt uncomfortable. I was confused by songs of joy juxtaposed with the reality of child abuse. But on Easter I remembered. We celebrate not the death of our Savior, but the of the hope that it brings.  He stood in the gap for us and rose to walk again. 

The songs were not a celebration of death, but of the hope brought by those working tirelessly to end the abuse of children. The songs were for the social workers, the doctors and the volunteers and for everyone who stands in the gap for the abused. 

It's time we all started working together to end child abuse so we really have something to celebrate. What are you doing to stand in the gap for the children in your life? 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

child abuse: america's hidden crisis

Sunday was April Fool’s Day. How many of you got tricked?

Yesterday was free ice cream day at Ben & Jerry’s. I missed it this year.

But April is an important month for another reason altogether. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  

According to a recent BBC report, one child dies in the US every 5 hours as a result of abuse or neglect. That’s nearly 5 children every single day. Did you know that?

The BBC calls this our “hidden crisis”. We have the worst record in the industrialized world. For a nation who likes to win, we are big losers when it comes to protecting our children. These children are not only being let down by their abusers, but every single one of us who doesn’t step in fails these children as well.  

We have got to take responsibility. We have to become better protectors of our children. We need to educate ourselves about the signs of abuse and how we can better protect children. Each one of us has a responsibility to end this crisis.

My mama’s a writer. She’s the author of the just released A Silence of Mockingbirds. The story of the murder of 3-year-old Karly Sheehan.  This book is a must read. Not because I’m biased and the author is my mama. But because, every one of us needs to open our eyes to the real problem of abuse and neglect in this nation.

Some of you may cringe, and say, “But I couldn’t possible bear to read such a book.” And to you I quote Flannery O’Conner : “The truth doesn’t change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Child abuse is real, and by closing your eyes and plugging your ears to the reality, you contribute to the problem.

Mockingbirds are fierce protectors of their nest. They will take huge risks to defend their young. They have been known to dive-bomb larger birds, animals and even people who threaten their nests with a goal to chase the predator as far as possible from their nest. We need to take a lesson from the mockingbirds and learn to protect our children. 

Take the first step to becoming a protector and buy A Silence of Mockingbirds

Monday, April 2, 2012


My apologies for disappearing on you all. I've been spending time behind the steering wheel.I'm one of the few lucky grownups (if I can be considered that) who still gets Spring Break even though I don't work in education. And when I'm on break, I more or less unplug. 

I don't carry a fancy phone, don't even own one. My computer time on the road is limited to the time spent in coffee shops, and seeing as how I still haven't developed much of a taste for coffee, well you get the picture. 

While I dream of one day traveling to places where the sun actually shines in March, Spring Break for me means road trips, car food (pretzels), visits with friends old and new, yummy meals, frozen lakes, and time with family. And with the right company, there is beauty even in the rain. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

friday fancy

I'm not sure how many of you all wear TOMS Shoes. It's a great cause. You buy a shoe and they give a shoe to child who needs 'em. They're pretty comfortable too. I was gifted a burlap pair last year to take on my trip to Cambodia (which you can read about by visiting the "elsewhere" tab at the top of the page). They were the only shoes I wore my entire time overseas. Seriously. 

The trouble is, and any of you who wear the classic TOMS know this, is that if you wear them hard enough or long enough, the fabric will begin to fray. And soon your little piggies will start to poke out the front. The thing is, except for the holes at the toe, the shoes still have plenty more wear. I suppose we could all start walking around with our big toes exposed, or we can find a fix. 

Ashley over at came up with a little tutorial for a custom repair. Her blog is worth a read for all sorts of creative inspiration. Photography. Crafting. DIY shoe fixes. And last night I finally used her tutorial to fix my sad looking TOMS. 

I didn't get a before picture for you all, but this was the quick shot a took with my phone on the way to work this morning. I'm not sure that I'm in love with the fabric I chose, but I figure it's an easy change if I decide to go with another color or print. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

i run

I am a runner. I admit it's been awhile since I last put sole to pavement. But I still identify as a runner even when I've taken a few months off. (I've woken up to snow and ice the last two mornings in this mountain town. Can you blame me for taking the winter off?)

I don’t remember when I first started running. I was in 7th grade when I first joined a team. My brother ran cross country and I wanted to be like him. My parents had a rule for junior high aged children: participation in a sport was required every season. So it was natural for me to join the cross country team after spending so much time watching my brother run.

I don’t remember a lot about that year. I don’t know what my times were. I don’t remember my first practice. I don’t even remember everyone on the team.

I do remember the candy bars and notes of encouragement Mrs. Anderson would leave in each of our lockers on race day. They always corresponded to the race. Like Rocky Road on a particularly hilly and muddy course. I do remember the one time I came in dead last (who forgets something like that?). But mostly, I remember the piece of paper Mama gave me to slip in my shoe for my first race.

It was just a slip of white paper. Like a fortune found in a cookie. But it didn’t contain advice or promises of good luck. Printed on this paper were the words of Isaiah 40:31.

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I don’t think it made me run any faster that day. But I’ve had the verse memorized ever since, and it comes to mind at just the right moments. The moments when I know I’m not strong. The moments when I’m simply tired-out. The moments when I can’t see what’s up ahead and I’m not sure I want to keep headed in that direction. The moments when I need hope.

Has someone ever given you words of encouragement that have stuck with you in tough times? 

Monday, March 19, 2012

of lying faces and operatives

I’m a terrible liar. Along with his looks, I inherited something from my dad that we call the “lying face.” Really truly. We call him out on it all the time.

“Not so, Dad! You’ve got your lying face on. I can tell,” we chide him. Typically over something highly inconsequential.  Often something he is teasing us about.

He’s convinced he doesn’t have a lying face. But he does. It’s something in the way his eyebrows raise and his mouth curls. 

I don’t look in the mirror when I try to tell a fib, so I’m not sure what my lying face looks like. I just know I’m not very convincing when I try to weasel out of something or attempt to evade the truth. I’m just not a very good actress. My true feelings are like a neon sign flashing across my face.

Now, I kind of like spy shows. The trouble is after I watch them, I often wake up from dreams in which I’m speaking languages I don’t know, in countries I’ve never imagined traveling to, while eluding big burly captors to complete my mission. It makes for a restless night of sleep to be sure.

My only conclusion is somewhere in the recesses of my imagination I must have a desire to conquer my lying face and inability to act and become a covert agent.

Are you one of those people who remember your dreams? Do you think they reveal anything about your hidden desires? Or are they just a result of eating the wrong thing for dinner?  (Liverwurst and buttermilk anyone?)

Friday, March 16, 2012

friday fancy: chasing rainbows

In preparation for St. Patty's Day, I've got my green on and Irish Pub music playing. 

Friends have been posting photos of rainbows all week. Although it's been raining and I've heard there's been at least one rainbow gracing the skies of this mountain, I haven't seen one yet. (I do have some poor cellphone pics of a rainbow I saw a year ago.)

When I was growing up, I lived in a farm town. Whenever we'd see a rainbow, Mama would load us kids up in the minivan (if we weren't already strapped in) and we'd go chase the leprechauns. Seriously. We wound our way through wheat fields and kept our eyes on the end of the rainbow. Mama said we might see leprechauns. At the end of the rainbow, she promised a pot of gold. But in all the times we chased it, we never did find the end of the rainbow. 

How do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day? 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

breaking free of isolation

I used to live in a big city, or just outside it. It often took 30 minutes to drive 3 miles (for comparison’s sake, let me point out that I can run that far in less time). I lived with two girls who I rarely saw. And even though the apartment complex I lived in was full of people, I didn’t know a single neighbor’s name.

I’d ride the train system into the heart of the city and not say a word to anyone. No, “Hi. Have a nice day.”  No, “What’s your name?” It wasn’t just me. People road the train with their headphones on or their noses in books. They walked with their heads down or gaze averted. They strode with purpose always rushing off to the next thing. And I soon learned that same behavior. Don’t smile. Don’t make eye contact. Mind your own business.

I was surrounded by thousands of people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, but I had never felt so alone and I grew tired of that isolated life. I was ready for a change of pace when I moved to the mountain town where I live now. 

This town offered a place where I could walk to work in 10 minutes. A place where I might not only learn the names of my neighbors, but visit with them about life and family over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

The funny thing is, even though I interact with far fewer people on a daily basis and I don’t have roommates splitting my rent, I feel less alone than I did amidst all those people. It’s not an easy thing to break out of isolation. It takes work. It requires intention. But it can be learned.

Just as I once learned to walk with my head down, I now have learned to smile at passersby. To strike up a conversation with a stranger. To seek out people when I’d otherwise be alone.

I came across an Oswald Chambers quote today that says to beware of isolation or you will become an oddity, “Something utterly unlike what God wants you to be.”

Are you living an isolated life? What do you do to combat it? 

Monday, March 12, 2012

a silence of mockingbirds

Calling all book clubs and readers out there. If you didn't know, my mama writes books. Yes, some people say writing is in my blood. The good news is, Mama's new book, is available and being shipped. It also was recently selected to be the Baton Rouge community read book. 
If your book clubs is looking for a new read, or you're looking for a book to curl up with during these last few stubborn weeks of winter, check out A Silence of Mockingbirds

Karen Zacharias files a crime story readers won't put down and will never forget. A SILENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS will open eyes, raise voices, and save lives. - Winston Groom, New York Times Bestselling author

If you're worried the book will be sad or hard to read, let me remind you of Flannery O'Conner's words: "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." 

Maintenance Note: I understand some people were having trouble leaving comments. I've updated the format, and hope that it simplifies the process.  Do let me know if there are still issues with this. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

friday fancy

When I was in junior high, the other kids used to say that I sounded like an "old lady." I'm not 100% sure what they meant by that. I used big words? I spoke in a proper fashion? My voice was shaky? At the time, I admit I was more prone to say, "Oh dear," when startled or upset rather than something more salty. Honestly, though, I don't know what it means to talk like an old lady. But I apparently I did. 

This week I was again accused of being an "old lady." Why? I went to a quilter's guild for the first time. And it was pretty inspiring. 

I'm kind of a learn by trial and error type of person. I'll generally teach myself something before I take a class or ask for help. Sewing isn't something I've been doing long. And while I am generally a rule follower, I have a hard time following directions when it comes to cooking and sewing. I tend to guesstimate and "wing it" (a lot). 

I am working on a project that I can't share yet. But I was inspired by all the unique and different quilts in progress. I was many times more productive at the quilter's guild, then I typically am at home. Plus I was surrounded by people who know oh so much more than I do. When I ran into a problem, I simply had to turn to my neighbor for help. 

Photo by Kayla at Central Oregon Modern Quilter's Guild
I had to crop it to hide my project. No peeking!

Who or what have you been inspired by this week? Do you have any creative projects in the works? 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

tough ladies

I come from a long line of strong women.

Women like Grandma Shelby. Widowed at 28, she was left to care for and raise three young children. She went back to school to get her GED and eventually her nursing degree. For as long as I can remember she worked as a prison nurse. She’s a tough, tough lady.
Grandma Shelby and me

Women like Grandma Gwen who took two children into the jungles of Ecuador with her husband to minister to the native tribes. Then welcomed another son into this world while in country. She’s the one who could be found on Sunday morning’s alongside her minister husband playing music or singing, teaching Sunday school or cooking meals.

Then there’s my own mama. I remember falling asleep to the clicking of her keyboard many nights, then waking up the next morning to the same sound. She uses her talents to speak out for those who can’t. To speak out against issues like child abuse.

I’ve had an easy life thanks to these women who worked hard to make a better life for their children. I’ve had opportunities so many young girls don’t. I was encouraged to go to school and to pursue my own dreams.

Maybe it’s because I know how they struggled to create this life for me. Maybe it’s because I know not every girl gets the chances I got. Maybe that’s why I care so much about women’s rights. Maybe the reason the girls at Transitions Global mean so much to me is that I know every girl ought to have the chance I got. Every girl deserves to be protected.  To feel safe. To have a chance to pursue her dreams.

Today is International Women’s Day. Who are the women who have shaped your life? Who have encouraged you to pursue your dreams and passions? 

And check out some other strong women I know doing important things at Someone's Child.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

gut pains: justice conference 2012

My close friend from my college days was a non-traditional student who came back to school when her girls were teenagers. She worked, she went to class, she raised her daughters, she cooked dinner for her husband, and took her poodles for long walks. And if that wasn’t enough, she was also the editor of the school newspaper.

Our friendship didn’t happen instantly. I remember the first class we took together. I was 20, and she sat on the other side of the room and always got the answers right. I didn’t have near as many responsibilities as she did, and still she had better grades. Being in the same class hit a competitive nerve. As much as she challenged me, she also inspired me. Gradually, we got to know each other and she opened my eyes to issues that at 20 and 22, I wasn’t even considering. Issues of child abuse and neglect and food insecurity.

Food was a big thing for her. She was always feeding people. She worried that I didn’t eat proper meals and skipped breakfast too often. She brought nutrition bars that I didn’t like but tried to eat anyway. She talked of swapping eggplants over fence lines with neighbors. She passed along recipes for granola and broccoli casserole. And on our walks, she’d point out where she’d plant a community garden if she owned the land and could.  

As I sat at the Justice Conference the other week and listened to Max Finberg the director for the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships talk about the hunger issues students in America face, I thought about my friend and her passion for the hungry.

According to the USDA millions of American households face food insecurity each year. And children who receive free or reduced lunch during the school year, often go hungry on weekends and school vacations. Have you walked into a grocery store lately and noticed all the choices? Not only can we in America choose to buy apples, we get our choice of a dozen varieties.  Not to mention organic. Or maybe you’ve noticed your grocery budget has increased. Have you thought how the rise in prices have affected those already struggling to make ends meet?

At the Justice Conference, Walter Brueggemann said that the Greek for the word “compassion” indicates an emotional upheaval in the gut—to get upset. Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief, said that seeing injustice in the world should “call us to a collective scream.” And when your passion is awakened, Bauman said, “Don’t be a slacktivist.” Get deep into it. Choose one thing and do it.

Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei Community in Portland, also spoke at the conference, and said that it is up to each one of us to cry out against the injustice in our own communities.

My friend has a passion for the hungry. She concerns herself with those whose gut pain comes from going to bed without dinner.  Where is your passion? What are you going to do to about it?