Monday, November 25, 2013

The empty spaces

This Monday morning washes over me like a warm, fuzzy blanket. I’m curled up in my chair, coffee steaming beside me, while I contemplate my life and craziness it has been lately. Soccer season, for us and our senior son, is over. We went on a deep tournament run that ended one game shy of that elusive state berth. What a wonderful season it was, but as with anything that keeps us busy and happy--what happens once it’s over? 

It’s hard to look ahead and see what might be on the horizon because it’s easy to stay in the now. Now was easy--work, attend games, cook supper when I could, repeat. I didn’t really look ahead because I was enjoying all that was around me. After we came home Saturday night, mentally tired from the game, I sat on the couch and let the tears fall. Another milestone done, my baby the senior is done. I have watched my last soccer game as a parent. He will graduate in the spring and we will officially be empty nesters. Saying that it hit me hard wouldn’t quite get it right. 

When our kids are young, a lot of times we put off the dreams we’ve harbored inside. Our younger selves, full of ideas and dreams, are set to the side when children come along. At least this is the case with me. I was more focused on making sure my kids had a great childhood than focusing on me. There are many moms, I’m sure, who are able to do career and kids, but I wasn’t included in that. My make-up meant that I couldn’t go to work and yet give my kids the attention I wanted them to have. This was my choice and I would never go back and do it differently. Now, though, I am faced with that space that stretches after the kids leave. I can almost sense the solitude of the house, which I so longed for when they were little, and I’m a little afraid of it.

My husband ever so gently told me this, “Honey, now you will have me all to yourself!” I chuckled and know that yes, we are still young and are going to have fun rediscovering what WE like to do. It doesn’t need to involve anyone but us. So I’m faced with this barrage of lasts: Hunter’s last home game, his last tournament game, and his last day of school ever. These lasts are coming fast and furious, and that means I must face myself and what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life. 

My middle daughter, she of the sage words, told me this: “Mom, you’re going to find yourself and do what you’ve always wanted to do.” She may be right. For my birthday several weeks ago, I received three separate gifts that point me to what I should be doing full time. Selena gave me a journal; she said to write down my dreams, bits of ideas and make them happen. My sister gave me a wall hanging that says, “A dream not followed is a story untold,” and Belle gave me a beautiful bracelet with a pendant that has a fingerprint over the world--to make my mark, she said, because I make people think with my writing. 

How can I, after those pointed gifts, wallow in pity because my kids are nearly gone? My husband, my support and my rock, knows I have this in me and can’t understand why I’m not going for it. Why I’m staying safe in my little shell that I’ve created. He’s right, of course, and my thought process is slowly changing over to me--to Missy--to what I used to be combined with what my life has made me now. 

The drive inside me is finally revving up. I’ve been shown over and over the way my life is to go. People I don’t even know catch my eye as I’m going about errands. They say “I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” and I just smile and know that they have probably read my column. They probably recognize me from my picture in the paper. I had a lady in a doctor’s office in another town ask me if I was the lady from the paper and say how much she loves my writing. I’m reaching people in ways I couldn’t fathom. My voice is being heard. 

We need to embrace ourselves and the strengths we have. We shouldn’t be martyrs and say to ourselves that it’s cocky or immodest to use what God has given us to use. Just as He gives us gifts, He gives us talents that we are to use and use to the limit. Why else would we have them? To languish inside and be frustrated that they never got to come out? 

I should add to that birthday list a box of chocolates that Hunter bought for me. He knows me well. He gave me a huge hug and kiss last night and you know what he said? “Sometimes you just need a hug, Mom.” He knows me, knew I was sad about the game and the lasts I’m going through. Soon he will be gone too, but I can rest assured that my kids have been well prepared for this world. They will be fine and will flourish. The empty spaces they create in my house when they leave, the spaces in between, will allow me to find me. It will point me even further on the path I’m already on. My kids and husband know this about me because I gave them so much of myself. I can’t disappoint them by staying safe, now can I?

Monday, November 18, 2013

A dollar store and a town I once knew

You can find this article of mine on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter.
There’s been lots of talk lately in our small town about a dollar store that will soon be making its appearance. I’ve heard both sides of the story and from what I’ve gathered it’s split down the middle about 50/50 for approval. Sounds like a political divide, doesn’t it? That being said, the question people are asking is this: “Why does Berlin need a dollar store? It will make us look tacky!”

This is not my opinion. If you want my opinion, I love dollar stores and everything about them. Value, convenience, not walking 12 miles to get what I need in a giant store, and did I mention value? They have everything you need in a bigger store but packed into a tighter space. They also accept coupons -- what could be wrong with this scenario?

The argument is that our town will be tainted by the presence of a dollar store. That Berlin is too high end for one and that it will ruin what our town is. These feelings I have heard over and over in asking people in general what their thoughts are -- and believe me, I’ve asked a lot of people. That being said, I’m not sure what exactly this said dollar store will ruin about Berlin. Let’s go back to the Berlin I knew growing up.

I grew up in the third oldest house in Berlin. The alley behind our house had grass lining the center of it and we used to zoom our bikes up and down until we could go no more. This alley now holds many businesses like The Farmstead Restaurant, Killbuck Savings bank, and several big and fancy hotels. Needless to say I was sad to see my beloved alley become so big, but that’s progress. Uptown held many treasures like the Boyd & Wurthmann Store where I would bike to and purchase candy bars and a bottle of pop. It was a town a 10-year-old could ride through without fear of getting run over. About the only businesses uptown were the Quilt Shop, the restaurants, the bank, and the gas station at the corner of 39 and 62 where they would not only pump gas for you, but clean your windshield and check your oil all in one stop. The Berlin Sweet Shoppe still stood across from the school and I once got in trouble for biking down that far. The coneys, oh, the coney dogs they served there were out of this world and I can still taste them sometimes in my dreams. In my teenage years I worked there one summer and have fond memories. That building is now long gone.

I can still picture how it used to be coming down main street, and I’m sure many older than me can picture it with even less businesses. Stutzman’s car lot, the barber shop, Berlin square with the elevator still intact. That was the place to park and watch cars go by and see who was cruising through town. I remember when Kandel’s store stood where the coffee shop is now. I can see my 5-year-old self browsing the aisles and taking home a water gun without paying for it and mom taking me back in to give it back and apologize. Places where we grew up and learned lessons. All those places are now gone, only to be replayed in my memory.

So you ask me now, will a dollar store ruin our town? No, it won’t. It will simply be added to all the other businesses that line the streets of a town that only exists in my mind. It will be another place we can stop to pick up toilet paper, or poster board for a school project that our kid forgot about. What I mourn for will be the house that was torn down to make way for it -- I mourn for all the houses that have been torn down to make way for progress. I love Berlin, but the Berlin I knew has long since disappeared. It is now a town I drive through with blinders on. It is a town I avoid on a fall afternoon when I know the line of cars will snake past the Burger King. Even the back roads are full of tourists meandering their way around, driving with their tourist glasses on. We should be glad for the money they pump into our community, and we are. Yet I can see that place not so long ago when we could walk through town and still feel like we were a town full of life, full of our people, full of community. A town where we could gather at the old fire station uptown for a Halloween parade, all the of us kids dressed to the nines, and march down main street and end up at the school for our prizes and bobbing for apples. Those times are gone, along with what our town once was. Progress comes and expands us to the bursting. Progress comes and changes us. Progress comes along with dollar stores and big gas stations that pump our cars with gas. It comes and we keep moving along with it. We must preserve our memories though, of the houses that are now gone, the businesses that have moved along, and all the lost spaces in between. A dollar store will not ruin Berlin, because the Berlin I once knew is now gone.

“In those days, at least in my small town, parents didn't seem to worry so much about what their kids were doing as long as they made it home in time for dinner.”  ~K. Martin Beckner

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guilt, cooking, and a well-used crockpot

It hasn’t seemed much like fall lately, although the leaves are littering my yard in that lazy way that they do. The weather has been warm – downright hot – and when I get hot in October I start to get angry. Not at anyone in particular, just myself. I want to walk outside and feel a crisp breeze with just the right nip in the air. I want to clean my flower beds without breaking a sweat, and so far, I haven’t been able to do that. Come January, when the snow and winds are howling, you won’t hear me complain about the cold because I LOVE winter and everything it brings – snow, wind, blizzards – everything. 

Fall means crockpot time – soups, stews and cuts of meat braised for hours until fork tender. I haven’t much felt like using my crockpot because it hasn’t been cold enough. I know, I know – you can use a crockpot year-round and believe me I do. Maybe it’s just cooking in general. Ever get that feeling that your family may never eat a good meal again? That you might just set up camp on the couch and growl if someone asks you to make them something? This has been me lately, and I don’t like it. Granted, I’m not the mom/wife that hops up to make said family anything they desire at any hour of the day. I make supper, bake snacks, keep the fridge stocked, and when all is cleaned up you are on your own. Have you heard about the woman whose boyfriend told her that if she makes him 365 sandwiches over a period of time that she will have earned herself an engagement ring? Right around 20 sandwiches would’ve been my breaking point. I may have taken the bread, decorated it with ketchup and mustard, and slapped it on either side of his head. No one gets to EARN an engagement ring by making sandwiches – we are not slaves to the kitchen and the old-time saying that women belong “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” My love is freely given, as is the food I make with love, not earned with meat and bread. 

My dilemma, shall we say, is that I’m too tired. After work, my thought process has almost ground to a halt after answering phones at work all day. This is where I need to do a little prep work and have my crockpot do the work for me. I’ve said before that I need to plan out my meals, maybe just on the days that I work, so that I feel I’m accomplishing some sort of feat in the kitchen. I know, though, that I’m just not a meal planner type person and I don’t really want to be. That would be too cliché for me. I can be a good wife and cook without having fancy charts that tell me what I need to be popping in the oven. Case in point, it’s a Monday morning and I’m typing this column. I know I should probably get out a package of meat to use for the evening’s meal. Sometimes I forget if I’m in a hurry. As any good and frugal cook knows, there are ways to get around forgetting to unfreeze the meat. A myriad of good things can be made with canned tuna or chicken, ground beef quickly unfreezes as it’s frying, and beef kielbasa just needs run under water. If I was the canning type, I would can beef. We are a resourceful lot, us women, and we don’t let an empty frying pot or pan get us down. 

I may need to be satisfied knowing that my family does love my cooking, even if it’s not every night. I make savory enchiladas, stacks of gooey quesadillas, and spicy salsa that scalds the tongue as you dip into it. My mashed potatoes are smooth and frothing with brown butter, the chicken is tender that has been browned then simmered in my cast iron pan, and the rices I make, whatever flavor, are fluffier than cotton candy. We, as women, need to stop beating ourselves up if we don’t serve gourmet meals every night. We need to rest easy knowing that our families are being fed, home-cooked or not, and that no one will starve. I have a great repertoire of recipes that I can cull from on a moment’s notice, and I welcome new ones that I can add. Cooking is not the all-day affair that it used to be and we need to embrace that and create new strategies that leave us time to be with our families while feeding them just as well.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sandpaper people

Teacher Tom: The Tradition Of The Sandpaper Gingerbread Babies
You can catch this post on my column at The Holmes County Bargain Hunter 

Blinders, that’s what we need - like horses trotting down the street so things to the left and right of us don’t distract or upset us. So we can travel through this world blindly, untouched, unmoved by people and things around us. So our world stays sterile and unruffled. That’s what we need, blinders.

Our world, the one spinning on its axis as we speak, as it hurtles us round and round so fast that we stand still, has lots of different people in it. There are people that we love, the ones that we gather close enough to count the hairs on their head. They are the ones who exasperate us to the point of exhaustion, but our love and the commitment of life we have given to them keeps us in the game. It keeps us close to that burning fire of love we have, even though it sometimes dims to a flicker. We must fan that flame so it burns bright enough for us to see it even through the dim, shadowy places we walk. It needs to be there to pull us out. If it goes out, we may be lost forever.

People fill our lives. We have friends, acquaintances, “FB” friends, co-workers (many who we count as friends), spouses, children, people we want to avoid and people that you could consider “sandpaper” people – as my good friend and co-worker used to describe people that rub us the wrong way. Thank you, Angie, for this wonderful way of putting it. If I may speak for everyone, we all have a sandpaper person. Don’t even try to say you don’t have one. 

In our world full of hurting people, having a sandpaper person can take you to the limit. We’re going about our day, getting things done and bam – there is that person. Our childish minds want to flee, run, avoid and ignore. The adult mind, at this point, should step in and remind you to act as an adult. Too often, our adult side doesn’t kick in. Our minds start to falter and our shoulders fill with tension as our faces turn into an ugly grimace that just doesn’t seem to fade. We’ve let our sandpaper person get the best of us. It could be that FB person that posts their political views every other post, or the one that is constantly bragging about their expensive purchases. Maybe it’s someone that doesn’t have a lot of money that we see as being too needy and dependent, or it could be someone that thinks too highly of themselves and we want to knock them down. All of these people exist in the world. All of these people are put in our path for a reason. We, and I include myself in this at times, are failing miserably. 

Without God reminding me on a daily basis, I am a person without compassion. I want to run this race being perfectly selfish and only focusing on myself and what I need. Fortunately, the big guy upstairs keeps on whispering (mostly yelling) in my ear to get over myself. He reminds me that when my sandpaper person comes around to put my big girl clothes on and act like He knows I should. How do we know that the other person doesn’t need love in a big way today? If we round that corner at the store and run smack dab into them, then how can we avoid the fact that it’s for a reason? Why do we pass by people that are less fortunate than us, people that life has simply passed by, and think get off your butt and get to work? Maybe those people need a hand up, not a judging word uttered in pure disgust. We are failing at the things God is putting in front of us. We worry about military strikes in other countries, complain about who should get/deserve healthcare and sustenance help, when people are dying a slow death because our country is devoid of compassion. We’ve got our blinders on and are running fast and furious, straight ahead, without looking to the side. Those blinders need to come off. Those blinders need to be thrown in a pile and burned. We’ve got to scoop ourselves up, fill up our lives with compassion and love, and spread it around to the people that stick in our side like a thorn. If we don’t, we will shrivel away slowly without using the love God has put in our hearts. Take off your blinders and see the big world and all the people in it, sandpaper and all.