Category Archives: Relationships

Ditch Picnics and Poetry

BooksThe spring my granddaughter, Kaylee, was five we took lessons in reading outside of the box. I, of course, had years of reading behind me. But she had only the alphabet and a handful of three-letter words at her command. Together we ventured by way of a picnic of cheese sandwiches into poetry and friendship.

My book club had met for a year or two when we settled on George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind. In the story, death is personified as the mystical, gentle, and yet fierce North Wind who takes the young boy, Diamond, on night excursions that foreshadow his impending death. Sunny and silly poems temper the solemn subject matter in the children’s story. The prose is light and lovely, devotional in nature.

In a new move for our book club, Jana, who has an English degree, wanted to read aloud a poem from Diamond’s idyllic day at the seashore. I remembered the one—birds flying, lambs skipping, daisies growing—sweet, but a little repetitive.

Jana thumbed through the book to find her place and began to read. Her voice of silver and earth soon dissolved the room. Meadow flowers overhung a brook crossing at our feet. Birds wheeled on the wind, diving fast with wings spread, celebrating the gift of life. Lambs stumbled and balked, then nosed each other before skipping away to beginning their worship anew.

Jana’s voice wavered with emotion. Tears came to our eyes while the daisies waved, showering thankful petals on the breeze.

I don’t know if I got all the details exact. But that’s due to time, not because I didn’t see it clearly then. Jana’s voice transcribed the poetry into pictures. Her emotion made them magic.

Tea Party

Tea Party

A day or three later, I was playing picnic with Kaylee. I sliced plastic donuts on petal-pink plates with a tiny plastic knife and fork. Kaylee poured pretend tea from her silver pot and looked up at me. “Couldn’t we have a real picnic?”

“Well…I suppose we could make sandwiches.”

“And can we go outside?”

The grass was damp, so we folded the old tan bedspread with the modern art flowers double on the flat grass above the drainage ditch that cuts across our hilly lot. We nibbled our potato chips and quarters of granny smith apples, pouring juice from a Popples thermos that had belonged to her mother.

With lunch finished we poked sticks into the gully, snagging winter-rotted leaves as they hurried for the pond that would be their grave.

When I retreated from the water, I grabbed my book and called Kaylee back to the blanket. “Do you want to hear a poem?” I asked, hoping to share the magic of the book club with her.

Kaylee plopped down to listen and lay very still, her feathery hair floating with the breeze. She seemed mesmerized by the song-like words. But when I got to the end, she bounced up without a word to pick the flowers, small as seeds, that littered the lawn.

Maybe she was a bit young.

At lunchtime the next day she brought the tea set downstairs. “Can we have another picnic?”

Her pleading eyes sealed the deal. I headed for the kitchen to make the sandwiches, but she called me back. “Don’t forget your book.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThough we had read Dr. Seuss and the Grimm Brothers all her short life, the ditch picnic marked the beginning of our literary friendship. We returned to the ditch and the George MacDonald poem more than once.

But soon, Kaylee was off to school and bringing me things that she liked. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo were two of our favorites. Later, we fell in love with A Bridge to Terebithia and Inkheart. Discussion questions sometimes led to thoughtful conversation we might have otherwise missed. And we celebrated too, rewarding ourselves with movie premiers or video rentals.

Kaylee has grown a lot. Our discussions turn now on the writing style of The Wind in the Willows, the faithfulness of The Hobbit movie to the book, or the moral issues in The Hunger Games. We continue to share our discoveries, but in addition  we encourage each other in our writing adventures as well.

We learned lessons in reading and listening outside of our little boxes that spring. And I learned that my granddaughter makes a thoughtful companion. Our picnic and poem inspired what I hope will be a lifelong legacy of friendship through books.


Cure for the Crabbity

Crabbity Morning
Crabbity Morning

Ever wake up crabbity? You know what I’m asking, even if you’re uncertain about the word.

I planned to take full credit for inventing crabbity, but after checking some sources found the Scottish adjective crabbit meaning grumpy or annoyed—more or less like crabby.

What I wanted was a word to define a milder, less cantankerous state. So here’s the difference: while the crabby grouse at you until they have a cup of coffee or a shower, crabbity people aren’t aggressive. They just whine about the light or how cold it is. They burrow in deeper and try to ignore the world.

I confess to being crabbity. I have a bad relationship with alarm clocks unless it’s Saturday and I’ve slept in. And singing “This is the day that the Lord has made” only 14.3 percent of the time isn’t exactly a success in the joyful noise department.

But I got a Christmas present that changed my mornings.

Extremely fragile and yet durable, it’s one of the few things you can take out of this life. It’s the stuff of relationships and scores high in the legacy department too.

Of course, I’m talking about the gift of love. And guess what.

It comes in cans.

My husband and I received a coffee can decorated with ribbons and sea shells and filled with love in the form of tiny hand-written notes. Tied in pairs, one for each of us, there were enough for a couple of months of morning smiles.

Love in a Can

Love in a Can

Our granddaughter did all the writing and decoration, but the younger one’s fingerprints are all over his messages—things like “I love you because…you play Legos with me,” or “I love you because…you rake leaves for me to jump in.” Her notes revealed more mature sentiments like “I love you because…you raised my Mommy,” and “I love you because…you are interested in my life.”

I smile every morning when John brings me my daily dose of canned love. I savor both of our notes to the last sweet drop. Then, I get up with a smile, or even a song.

The anticipation of a note from their special can or box could make mornings easier for crabbity child and mom alike. Or maybe your spouse wakes up well, but could use a little tender encouragement.

There are lots of places to leave love notes. I’ve hidden them in lunch boxes with small treats, propped them against the pillow, and even put one in the freezer with the food I left when I was going out of town.

Love notes can deepen and add fun to our relationships, change your morning or your life.

Do you have a cure for the crabbity? Where do you hide special notes?

Run with the Donkeys

Donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Games are serious business. Psychology tells us they play an important part in childhood development.

Time out while I do a memory check; it’s been a few years.

Yes, my daughter-in-law, who has a psychology degree, confirms the above statements are still true. Beyond basic mental development, games are beneficial, not only to children, but also to adults because they help build relationships within friendships and families.

So we should break out a board game or run down to the basketball court for a little bonding. Or we could conjure up a game of our own. From peek-a-boo to parting rituals, from inside and practical jokes to feats of one-upmanship there are a lot of possibilities for connecting with each other.

But some games are the stuff of legend.

Sara was out on her daily, OK, not so daily run. She had just moved from the country to the city, where pavement was no longer a random acquaintance. Veering around one of the plentiful green garbage bins, she turned onto West Rose Avenue and stumbled onto a field in the middle of town.

And there, standing near the tree, was a donkey.

“Hello, Donkey,” she said, approaching his fence. Her fake British accent, rounded by a southern drawl, wasn’t good, but at least it was better than her brother’s attempts at an Aussie tour guide.

Then Sara noticed the two unshaved men standing in the shadow of the shed, their eyes fixed on her.  The jaw of one hung open in disbelief.

Guess they weren’t fans of Dr. Doolittle.

She gave them a feeble smile, then stretched out her stride, hoping to get around the corner before she busted up laughing.

We laughed too. Enough that, a few days later, her sister texted her a picture of Donkey from Shrek with the caption “Hello, Donkey.”

Since it was the holiday season, Sara responded in like spirit with a photo of a Nativity donkey  taken outside a nearby McDonald’s.

“You don’t think they serve donkey burgers, do you?” asked Nicole, batting it back into Sara’s court. (I’m hoping the donkey burgers were not a prophetic utterance.)

The escalation of the fledgling game led to a grand tour of Christmas Nativities and search engine images as texts flew back and forth between the two. Pictures of Samaritan’s Purse pledge animals, children’s storybooks, flannel graphs, cement yard animals, sale merchandise, flea market finds, and coloring books, as well as live video entered the fray, as donkeys became a subject of ardent pursuit.

Double DonkeysWe have discovered double donkey (pairs, including the original, since it turned out he had a companion Sara didn’t spot that first day), faux donkey (Nicole’s cat with paper donkey ears affixed) and three iterations of donkey down (a dropped manger donkey, a stuffed donkey chewed by a dog, and the famous, or infamous, Google truck mishap and rebuttal).

The game is now in its fourth month and shows signs of attaining the status of family legend, so I decided to appropriate Nicole and Sara’s “run with the donkeys” as a name for any game in which the participants run with a theme or idea for an extended period of time. The actual game itself is unimportant.

A recent news story highlighted a game of tag played over a span of 23 years. Four men, now in their 40s, continue a game they started in high school with cross-country ambushes and 2:00 a.m. break-ins. It’s a little more work than it used to be, but they haven’t thrown in the towel. You have to admit that’s quite a run.

Kaylee Donkey smallThe great thing about both of these games is that they nurture long-distance relationships by sparking creativity and encouraging communication. As a bonus, personal interaction is multiplied when family members get involved as cheerleaders and accomplices. In our family, everyone waits eagerly for the next round, sometimes hoping to score a donkey or be featured in a photo.

It’s not hard to spot a potential donkey, if you keep your eyes open, because donkeys are social creatures by nature. Any slip of the tongue, inside joke, or coincidence might prove to be the fodder you need.

So find a donkey and start a run of your own. You just might have the makings of a legend.

Out of the Gate

Christ Church College gateSo what would my life look like if I really believed a thousand generations could be blessed because of what I do?

A lot different than it does, I’m afraid. Life seems full enough without worrying about the alien landscape of even twenty years from now. Most days I barely accomplish the urgent. That black stuff under the shower mat blooms overnight. And how does tax season wheel around so quickly?

But worse, I feel the threat of imminent neglect looming in all my relationships. It is as if I’m juggling everyone, diving to catch first a friend I haven’t spoken to in a month,  then reaching to connect with the daughter who has moved away while simultaneously nabbing my husband in mid-air.

And I don’t have the excuse of a demanding job or family.

My problem is focus.

I will never have enough time for all that I would like to be and do this side of heaven. So how do I pursue the important? And what qualifies?

For me, the goal has narrowed to one word: people.  If a job, activity or hobby doesn’t build relationships, help others or further God’s kingdom, I need to rethink my committment to it.

Some things I gave up long ago, like couponing. Cutting, sorting, then throwing most of them away two months later, there just wasn’t enough return for the time I spent.  But I’ve added other things to my life. My husband and I started kayaking two years ago because we needed something to get us out of the house together. With the children gone, we needed to forge new connections in our relationship.Kayaking

So where does a blog fit in, since it consumes more of that precious time?

First, I plan to chronicle successes (and failures) to inspire others. If you find an idea you can use, it will help redeem my time. If I should steal a good idea from your comments, it scores a double coupon.

Second, I intend the blog as a written legacy to my children and grandchildren of some of the good things we have lived—sort of a “Remember when…?”

Now that I am out of the gate, next post I’ll change perspective from distance to foreground. I hope it will make it easier for you to spot the donkeys in your life.