There is a fine line between optimism and unrealistic expectations and it might be time to have a come to Jesus with my orange tree. This year he really bit off more than he can chew. What is he thinking anyway, with all these blossoms? Surely he recalls I always forget to water him in the hottest months of summer? Isn’t it hard enough to be an orange tree in a patio pot, in Texas? Come on now? He doesn’t really think he can follow through with this outrageous number of oranges does he? Last year he had maybe 20 blossoms and 4 oranges, so I’m not sure what to think of this change of heart.

Yesterday, like the orange tree last year, I was too tired to do anything but the minimum, so rolled out of bed threw on clothes as close to pajamas as I could get, barely ran a brush through my hair, then whined all the way to work, then again all the way home.

I’ve been staring at the orange tree off and on for a few days now and scratching my head. Shoot for the moon and land on a star I guess. So maybe 10 oranges come out of the 500 blossoms on this tiny tree. I guess thats 6 more than last year, so I suppose he’s onto something.

I woke up this morning and painted my stubby fingernails in a burst of optimism myself. Why today, with no evidence to believe its going to be any easier than yesterday? In fact you look at my work schedule comparatively, its quite the contrary. But today I woke up, with a new heart, exercised a bit, put a little extra time on my hair and clothes, and sat down to write before work, because the orange tree reminded me, you get out of your day what you put in.

Thank you Lord for the small things, the lessons you’ve taught me in the garden, and this unrealistic little orange tree.

Mary Rose’s spinning dress

We were newly married and living on art and love. In other words, we were broke and had crappy credit. I was only 24 when Maryrose was born. I stretched meals for a family of 4 on $50 a week and sometimes didn’t even have that. As soon as she could walk, Rose started dancing. She didn’t need music, she made her own by taping her feet as she spun, always looking down to watch her dress spin. My kids only wore dresses because they fit for so much longer, starting below their knees and ending well above and by that time they were faded and worn. Every dress Rose tried on was twirl tested, to gage the princess potential, but nothing she had spun very well and I knew this disappointed her.

For Easter the year she turned 5, I set out to find a dress she would be proud of, but there was nothing in our budget. Finally, I decided to just make her one. I went to Macys and studied how the expensive dresses were made. We didn’t have cell phones then, so I relied on memory and a couple quick sketches made while standing at the rack. Walmart had the best prices on fabric and she held my hand and practically jumped rather than walked into the store. She was SO excited. We looked around and agreed on a delicate lavender material with darker purple flower petals. I didn’t know how to sew, but borrowed my mother-in-laws sewing machine, confident I could figure it out.

Rose never doubted me. I cut and pinned and tried it on her and sewed and refigured and tried it on her again.  This went on an entire day while she sat next to me patiently watching the entire time. If she left, it was never for long, before she came skipping back to check on the progress. The wait was killing her, so I finally gave her some fabric to cut on while I worked. She practiced wrapping it around different stuffed animals. The second day the dress was finally done with one exception. Early that morning before she woke up, I went to Walmart alone and found a little purple and pink butterfly patch. When I got home I sewed it inside a pleat inside the front of dress. No one could see it.  I didn’t show it to her until she finally put it on. It was our secret. No one would know it was there, but when she felt the butterfly inside the fold, it would remind her how much I loved her.

She wanted to wear that dress every single day. It spun and twirled perfectly, she was so proud of it. She told me after wearing it constantly for months that she didn’t want to ever grow up. When I asked her why, she said her spinning dress would no longer fit her. We both sat in silence and pondered this a bit. Even she knew the day would come it didn’t fit and life would become so complicated a spinning dress would be the last thing on her mind, but I told her not to worry I would always make or buy her another.

Years later long after the butterfly dress was packed away and she was driving, she stopped by my office and brought be a cupcake. A few days later I found a hastily scribbled butterfly on a post it note, taped behind the photo on my desk.  Recently Rose got married. She looked so beautiful in her wedding dress and as soon as she put it on, she did a little twirl that made my heart glad.


For as long as I can remember, dad called me mouse. He said I was so quiet he never knew when I was there. I tiptoed from room to room, looking for places to hide. The clothes hamper perhaps, or up in the magnolia tree, but I never thought of myself as quiet. The thoughts in my head were so loud I never realized I was supposed to be speaking. I preferred imagination to reality, but school was lonely.

It wasn’t until 4th grade when I realized making friends probably involved speaking. Conversations swirled around me all the time, but I only half heard them. By the time I realized I should say something, or interact in some way, the moment had passed. I couldn’t figure out how to be part of things. One day I was sent home from school early with a fever. Mom picked me up and we were buzzing down the highway in her red VW bug with the windows rolled down while she smoked a cigarette. The car couldn’t go past 55 without the whole thing shaking violently and she was pushing it. I kicked my sandals off onto the floorboard and the vibrations tickled my bare feet. I stared out the window chewing my lip and thinking about the problem. Maybe it was because I was sick and tired, but I finally decided I needed help. For me to confide in anyone was a huge deal. I just didn’t do that. So I began to explain slowly. To her credit, she showed no reaction. Foot up on the dash next to the steering wheel and arm hanging out the window she looked straight ahead and casually blew a line of smoke at the windshield. I could tell she didn’t want to scare the mouse and was debating a response. Soon the problem tumbled out of me faster and faster while I tried to make with her to understand the desperation and hopelessness of the situation. My brain might be broken I said. Whatever mental disorder I seemed to have kept getting in the way of being normal and making friends. I couldn’t figure out how to stop being absorbed in my own thoughts long enough to pay attention. It was too hard. My heart was a lump in my throat. The words had been jumbled up so long they came out in half sentences. Finally I stopped and waited. I needed her to understand and have a solution. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Until she yelled at me.

Mom had listened intently asking the occasional question until I was done. A long moment passed after I stopped speaking. I leaned toward her waiting for a solution begging for her to say something genius that would fix this. She waited thoughtfully, then squinted her eyes and took another long drag on her cigarette. Quickly as if she had made a decision she blew it out in a frustrated puff, smothered her cigarrette in the ashtray, then COMPLETELY let loose on me. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve EVER HEARD! You’re telling me YOU CANT CONTROL YOUR OWN MIND?! Do you think I can control your mind for you? What do you think I can do to help?! I can’t fix this for you! YOU’RE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN FIX THIS. If you want to talk- TALK, if you want to stop daydreaming all the time- do it dammit! LISTEN TO YOURSELF! You’re not stupid. FIX IT! YOU CONTROL YOUR MIND!”

I was frozen; Shocked. My mom wasn’t much of yeller and only cussed in dire situations, like when she dropped the cast iron skillet, or there was a rat in the house. Here I had poured out my heart and pleaded for help. I was pretty sure something was wrong with my brain and she was telling me to get a grip. She had not an ounce of sympathy and to make it worse- she was my last resort. If she couldn’t help no one would. It wasn’t the reaction I had expected to say the least. I cried all the way home. When we got there she pulled up into the driveway, jumped out of the car, grabbed her purse and slammed the door leaving me there to finish crying.

This sounds as harsh as I write it now but my mom was a strategist. Neglectful, but never intentionally mean. I didn’t realize it then, but she had given me exactly what I needed. She had freed me. As I sat in the car by myself I realized no one was going to come to my rescue. I had to save myself. She said, “No one was going to fix me, but me”. The next weekend there was a slumber party at friends house. I was only invited because she invited all the girls in class, but I was determined I was going to make a friend. I failed, but I took big steps towards it, and little by little I forced myself, through a sheer act of self discipline to take control of who I wanted to be. It was hard; but that year, I was voted class president.

Looking back now, I often wonder if my mother was talking to me, or herself, but that’s a story for another day.

What It’s Really Like.

I guess I’m supposed to say something lovely and inspiring about Valentine’s Day to go along with this mornings vignette. But I’m not a fan of unrealistic expectations. I’ve been married 26 years now, and while I appreciate flowers and candlelight as much as the next gal, romance has 0 to do with love, so the holiday doesn’t resonate. But I DO love an excuse to decorate and after the heavy jewel tones of Christmas I’m enjoying the lightness of pastels. So here’s my inspiring Valentines message:

Just because she’s pretty, doesn’t mean her farts don’t stink. Just because he’s strong and good, doesn’t mean he’ll never act like a wussy coward and lie to your face. Love is not a fairy tale. It’s morning breath and a messy house. It’s rocks, paper, scissors over who has to clean up the cat poop and “I forgot to pay that bill.” Love is waking up every day and loving someone, not because you feel like it, but because that’s what you promised to do, even when you’re not sure you should have. It’s seeing the good, not the bad and giving the last piece of pie, because you didn’t need it anyway. If you think you are going to be married 50+ years through thick and thin and never doubt, or wonder if you should have taken another road, you’re mistaken. After a few years you might not tingle every time they kiss you. There may be days you’re doing your grocery list in your head when your having sex.
The Payoff, should you decide to love someone more than yourself, is huge. One day you’ll wake up next to someone who knows what you want for breakfast, before you do. You’ll finish eachothers sentences and know their thoughts. You’ll argue over who gets that last piece of pie because you both want the OTHER person to have it. You’ll never be alone, even when you’re not together. You’ll see the world through one pair of eyes, not two and you won’t need words for you both to bust out laughing, at something no one else sees. Love isn’t about someone who is willing to die for you; It’s about someone being willing to LIVE for you and that’s a whole lot harder

More Than A Selfie.

This is my middle child Lilly. She’s stubborn, and beautiful, wild, crazy and kind, intelligent but simple. Don’t cross her or you’ll regret it. All the good stuff. She also takes a lot of photos of herself and it’s annoying sometimes; but if you read between the lines there is always a message.

I stared at this one a long time today. When I read the message I got tears in my eyes. It’s the typical vacation selfie, but more. This one says- “there’s this man who treats me like I’m special and whisked me away to hot springs and I love him. This is me looking happy. Me with the man I love. Me content.” Post more selfies Lilly. I can’t wait to see them.

For Laura

Who through no fault of her own was never taught to love a storm.

I didn’t know such a thing was possible until I was an adult. I had heard of it of course but people afraid of thunder seemed as mythological as people who hated you for your skin color. I was confused to find out both existed.

My mother wouldn’t let us fear a storm just as her mother wouldn’t allow her and hers would allow her. So the tradition of dancing in the rain was passed generation upon generation and only just now for the first time due to unfortunate twist of fate missed you. So I’ve written down my memories as best I can to try and describe how it’s done so that you can teach the boys and it won’t be lost to them. As far as I know this family tradition goes back hundreds or even thousands of years with our ancestors! I can’t imagine it ever being different. Somewhere in 1516 some kids in the Scottish highlands danced in the rain- then later became us and this is how it came about:

The second mom heard a rumble she loudly announced it was popcorn time and we all knew a storm was coming. Popcorn was ONLY made for storms and when the Wizard of Oz came on once a year. A storm caused the same festive excitement one would see in birthday or holiday party preparations only it was done much faster and without warning. If the house was a mess the second a storm was detected we hurriedly tidied up so that everything looked nice for the special event. Windows were cracked the screen door was opened and the house was filled with the scent of approaching rain. Someone might run out into the yard and take some rose clippings off the bush for the table if it was that time of year. We crowded around the stove to watch while mom made popcorn on the stove top, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but always with urgency, lest the popcorn not be ready in time and we miss the fun. Later the invention of microwave popcorn seemed like a miracle. It took all four of us; me my mom and sisters scrambling about to accomplish this fast enough to be outside so we wouldn’t miss it. Occasionally the storm came and went to fast and that we did. That was so disappointing! But the best times we sat under the porch eating popcorn while it grew darker and watched as the thunder and lightening rolled in. Sometimes if the thunder was REALLY loud it deserved applause and mom would yell and clap as lightening streaked the sky. She taught us to count how far the lightening was away. And while we ran back and forth sometimes playing in the rain sometimes eating popcorn, we always counted the time between thunder and lightening so that when it grew too close we new to sit under the porch until it was safe to go out in it again.

If we were lucky the rain gutter in front flooded enough to float leaf boats with tiny stick people in front of our home. We learned acorns were too heavy and often the water wasn’t deep enough even for sticks and that maple leafs make the best boats. We always prayed it would come down harder and that it wouldn’t end too soon. So a storm became a holiday in our home. The lightening a fireworks show. It was never loud enough, bright enough or came down hard enough.

You may remember me telling you before but I’ll put it down here again because it defined my childhood memories of rain. My last memory of my grandmother was a storm. She was only 52 when she died. I was 6 or 7 and we were visiting her in Dallas when a summer storm hit. “Hurry!” She yelled. Take off your clothes before we miss it!!” We knew the drill and all excitedly stripped down to nothing but our undies and undershirts with her in her bra and slip. Grandmother lived in an apartment complex so my mom wasn’t sure about the spectacle of us half naked in this environment, but grandmother wasn’t going to miss it. I remember my mom stayed behind and yelled after our figures retreating into the storm, “What will the neighbors think?” Grandmother already halfway down the stairs with us behind her half turned, then threw her head back to respond, and THIS- THIS is the memory of my grandmother thats etched into my mind forever. I can still see her frozen in time like it was yesterday, her long straight black, not quite wet yet hair fell to the middle of her back and lifted around her face as lightening streaked the dark sky behind her. She shouted, back, “They will think, ‘that crazy lady sure is having fun!’” And in that instant she became the best most perfect grownup in the world.

Finally when I think of rain I think of a night like many others when your sisters were little. Rose was 3 or 4 and horribly sick with pneumonia. It had been a very rough two days. Nothing made her comfortable and her breathing was labored. I was praying for the antibiotics to kick in and it might have been right around the same time of night it is now- 1:48 am and I’m listening to storm in Austin, while you’re hearing it in Cleburne. I wonder if the night I’m recalling to you, you might have heard the same storm in Dallas while it rolled into Austin 200 miles away. Roses fever was high and everything was so still and quiet in the house- I was tired and felt alone in my burden as one does in the middle of the night when these things occur. I was also sad Rose hurt. It seemed we were the only ones in the whole world; Just me, her and that horrible fever. She cried while I rubbed the perspiration from her forehead with a wet washcloth. That’s when to my surprise, I heard the rain start to fall. Suddenly, excited I got up and opened her window. I watched for a few seconds as her curtains blew back and forth gently and the familiar scent of goodness started filling her room. There was life in the house again and the air stirred. It felt like God sent us a gift. I crawled back in bed and whispered in Rose’s ear that a storm had come. She smiled slightly half awake. We laid there and listened in silence as the rain fell on the roses outside her window. Gradually her body relaxed, soothed by the sound of rain and low rumbling thunder. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I whispered, knowing that many of her memories of rain already mirrored mine. She finally fell asleep listening to the thunder and what would have been a very hard night suddenly wasn’t so bad.

So you see, there has never been a time our family didn’t love rain until now and this is my fault, but hopefully this helps you know how to teach the boys to love it too so they don’t live in fear of it as you have. Sending you popcorn today.

A Little Push

Today I saw a man and his daughter riding bikes together on a busy road in my neighborhood. The child appeared to be around 8 or 9 and was riding a hot pink bike. Her sparkly black tutu contrasted with her white tennis shoes and her long wavy hair, was more yellow than blonde and stuck out in streams from under her helmet. They didn’t ride on the side of the road out of the way, so cars could zoom past, but smack dab in the middle, blocking traffic, as if their two bikes equaled one automobile. It was either a brave, or foolish. In hindsight, it’s the only road from the community if you’re going to the ice cream parlor and they rode side by side, as one must with one so young, so I suppose there was no other option. I was directly behind them, so drove carefully, slowly, like I was carrying egg cartons on the hood of my car. Because I had no choice but to watch them, my mind quieted for a rare meditative moment while I focused on nothing but their slow progress toward a stop sign at the top of the hill.

As the incline started upward, I worried that she wouldn’t be able to make it, but just then, the man casually cupped his hand at the small of her back, and began peddling for both of them, adding his strength to her tiny legs and gently pushing them up the hill together. She didn’t seem to notice, never broke stride and her legs never looked strained. She didn’t seemed to feel the extra difficulty level of the incline. I wondered if she even realized what he did for her and how different it would have been had he removed his hand. As a child, I remember taking a few hills like that myself and more than once, to my embarrassment, had to get off my bike and walk myself the rest of the way up the hill. Heck, I think I did that last week, now that I think about it.

They went straight at the intersection and I turned right. As I drove off I wondered at how fortunate she was to have a father to give her that little extra push when she needed it. I wondered at her future, the times he would be there for her and the times he wouldn’t. I knew there would be plenty of both.

I thought of my own life and the times I needed the push. The times I was on my own and the times I wasn’t. I want to thank you Lord for being there for me when I needed it, sometimes through other people, but more often than not, just as an invisible hand at my back that I sometimes noticed, and sometimes didn’t.

1000 Yokes

I started the holidays hungry this year. Not in the literal sense, I’m well fed thankyouverymuch, but in the sense of longing for something intangible that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. If I close my eyes and really try to pinpoint the feeling, it’s an urge to stretch myself like a bridge over the generations. A desire to reach back in time to my grandparents and uncles and great aunts and all those ghosts of Christmas past, then pull them close around my table today. Sit them by the fire. Introduce them to my grandchildren and if it was possible to my great grandchildren and all the generations yet to come. I think of them too. I don’t know why this feels important; That’s a therapy session for another day. But when you look at my holiday table, you’ll notice I rarely set one China pattern. This year is no different. Three women sit at my table. Three in these photos. Three represented in the dishes they once lovingly chose to serve their family, before being passed onto me. When I set the table I think of them. I see a Christmas 30 years ago and another almost 100 years past. Someone I love dearly is in one and I see her setting the table with these then. She is with me when I set them today. My grandmother who died young, right after WWII is another, she’s here around our Christmas table too. Isn’t it strange that we all chose a similar pattern? Look how well it blends! Almost as if we chose it together. The generations are here today and it’s as much about honoring and loving them as it is decorating. I’ve thought often about where this China will go after I don’t need it anymore and I hope it sees as much joy in the future as it did in the past.

I Have Questions

I don’t wake up everyday with undying faith and a steadfast belief that everything the bible says is true. I don’t even wake up everyday believing 100% of the story of Christ. I have questions I don’t have the answers to.

Last night we had a huge rainstorm and in true Texas style, got 7 inches in a few hours. I sell new homes in a community under construction. First thing this morning, I got a message from an elderly neighbor that her trash can had floated off into one of the retention ponds. She sent me the photo below. What you don’t see, is that it’s at the bottom of a steep, slippery incline and you have to climb over a 7ft pile of sand, a waist high guardrail then scale a makeshift stone wall surrounded by poison ivy and all sorts of undesirables to get down there. It’s amazing the trashcan made it. She had no idea how to retrieve it and neither did I.

On top of that, I was supposed to be getting ready for a contract appointment and I didn’t even know which retention pond it was in- didn’t have the buyers address- and I wondered whether I was even strong enough to lift it out by myself- Not to mention whether I could lift it without actually wadding into the muck myself! Not that I mind getting dirty. I’m not prissy; Just practical. There was 8 hours left in my work day. And another thought-Will there be snakes? Having almost stepped on numerous vipers in my career, let me say, I’m not a fan. The problems were multiple.

So naturally I told her- No problem! I’ll go get it. Not a single ounce of hesitation. I didn’t have a plan. I just knew based on experience that things like this tend to work themselves out. I would answer questions one step at a time on my way down to the water.

Maybe I’ve got this- maybe I don’t. As we say in Texas- I was fixin’ to find out! So I went up the sand, over the fence and down the slippery slope. It really wasn’t that bad. Then I wobble/balanced my way across the stone wall that seemed remarkably stable considering it was held together by nothing but chain link. I concentrated on not tripping on the chain.

On my way across the wall, I imagined falling. Imagined the rocks breaking loose from their binding and us all tumbling down together. I calculated potential physical damage. I made up headlines: “She died face down in a retention pond, while trying to retrieve a trash can.” Topped the list, but I wasn’t concerned; not really. One. Step. At. A. Time.

Finally I was standing before the trash can when I saw the one thing that could have made a difference to my perspective, the thing I was too far away to see before. The thing I hadn’t looked close enough to observe in the photo. The ONE THING that would have boosted my faith in this WHOLE endeavor: A ledge! A foot hold down in the pond just above waters height. It was a perfect step to get down in there and lift the can out without getting in the muck- a miracle! After that it was all down…er.. uphill, across the rocks (that just happened to be the perfect width for her can). Until I was standing at the wall and I pushed her can that fit magically (to the inch) under. It was all good. I put it back in the yard and walked back up the hill to my office to prepare for the rest of my day, thinking about how much simpler that was than I thought it would be.

I know I don’t have all the answers. I know I’m either too close, or too far away to see the ledge. I KNOW- I don’t know! But I’m not worried. It’s all just one step at a time. And I’ll walk down to the waters edge.

Rainbow leaves.

You texted me photos of the “rainbow leaves,” on your campus this morning and suddenly I was there walking with you in your shoes.  With this one photo I realized we achieved for you my own dreams for myself at your age. You walk the leaves for us both sweet girl and every step you take, I will walk with you.

Continue reading “Rainbow leaves.”

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