Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bursting Wide Open

Friday was the last day of "regular life" at our little office here in Keene. And so, we planned a big bash at Tami Condon's house that evening. We were celebrating several things: first of all, our workers who have kept life moving and interesting in the office; secondly, Clarissa who is moving on in her life to bigger and better things. Clarissa has been my office neighbor since I arrived last July. To say I will miss her would be a ridiculous understatement. We have laughed and chatted it up and whined and laughed some more. She is just a gem. But, she's only 24 years old and on the verge of so much greatness. She's marrying her love in October, starting her Master's in the fall, and just got a real job in her field of psychology. And so, we are sending her off on a great adventure and so excited to see where life takes her.

But gosh I'm selfish right now. I just want her to stay.

The party at Tami's was a raging success. Tami has a large, welcoming home and she opened her arms wide for all of us. It was a grand time. We had over 30 people there, a crazy amount of food, so much laughter, and stories in every corner. Kids were scattered around playing games both inside and out.

It was a good time.

Recently Jace and I were talking about life and emotions and coping -- all of that fun stuff. Jace made the comment that good times are rare and in between, that joy is hard to find.

Of course, his definition of joy is attending a professional basketball game, or hanging out at Six Flags with a couple of buddies. And those kinds of experiences just don't come around every day.

And maybe from a 14 year old perspective, that is joy. Maybe it is.

But of course, I countered his argument.

Joy is hanging on the porch and watching Sadie scale a tree.

Joy is gazing in awe as the sun paints the sky red during its descent.

Joy is a soulful conversation, unexpected kindness, Piper's enthusiasm when you walk through the door.

While I was at the party yesterday, Jace called. The first time I let it go to voicemail as I was busy, but he immediately followed it up with a text: MOM!!!

And so I called him back: what's up?

Raymond left his cat.

About a week ago, Jace's good buddy Raymond moved to Alaska. The night before he left, he called Jace: Do you want my cat?

No.

Well, we're leaving it then.

Jace told me about this conversation the next day, and I asked him -- do you think he'll actually leave it?

Jace didn't think there was a chance. But yesterday evening, he walked across the street to Raymond's house that now sits empty, and there, hanging on the back porch, was the cat, now skinny and desperate for attention after a little more than a week of neglect.

A bit later, I received a notification of a text on my phone, and a picture rose up that Jace sent. It showed two bowls side by side -- one with food, one with water.

"She doesn't want me to leave," Jace texted. "So I'm petting her. Can you make sure Animal Control picks her up tomorrow? I can't stand this."

Joy is...
...when the terms 'fellow employee' and 'friend' are synonyms
...when you've grown to love someone so much that goodbyes are painful
...when your child shows so much compassion that your heart swells up too big for your chest

And sometimes, Jace? Well, sometimes joy breaks our hearts, filling them up to the brim until they burst wide open.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How Lucky We Are

I love Fridays.

In the Advancement Office where I work, we close our doors at noon so I have an entire afternoon to prepare for the weekend. Typically I clean the house but this particular Friday I had an appointment for a massage in Fort Worth.

My friend Shirley is getting her massage therapy license and part of that process includes clinicals -- which translates into, free massages for Shirley's friends!

And so, she called me a few weeks ago to schedule a free massage.

Why of course I'll come in for a massage! That sounds like a beautiful thing!

I eagerly anticipated this day for weeks as it has been quite some time since I had a massage. I can't even remember the last time actually. I think it was when we lived in Missouri. The time before that was when we lived in California. My friend Jacque bought a massage for Roy as a congratulations for job well done on something -- a bike ride maybe?? -- but the lady who was giving the massage was a friend of Jacque's. Jacque brought her over one time before this scheduled massage and this friend had no qualms about showing her interest in Roy. We drove somewhere and she immediately sat herself in the front seat next to Roy, flirting the entire drive, resulting in me sitting in the back, fuming...

And that was it for me. I ended up with the free massage rather than Roy.

Thanks Jacque!

Anyway, a couple of days before this past Friday, the massage school called to give me directions to the school in Fort Worth and to give me some specifics about everything. I wrote down the detailed information -- in an old school manner as the girl failed to give me the actual address...and I failed to ask for it.

So, I left in plenty of time on Friday to arrive for my 12:15 appointment...only to drive and drive and drive...never seeing my exit. Finally, at 12:30, I called Shirley: Where is this exit?

I was given the wrong directions: the girl on the phone said take 20W rather than 20E.

...sigh...

By the time I finally arrived, it was 12:45 and the school informed Shirley that I missed my appointment.

And so I headed home, wallowing in disappointment.

Yesterday evening, Tami and Chas came over. We hung out on our porch, watching the sun go down as hues of reds lit up the sky in a brilliant sunset.

"Let's go check out the property," I said to Tami shortly after Roy and Chas walked over to check out the foundation of the Lewis home that is scheduled to be poured on Monday.

And so we walked out to the back two acres, my half grown kitten Sadie following along like a dog. Those two acres back there are largely overgrown with tall grass, wildflowers, brush, and weeds, but we managed to count nine peach trees, laden with miniature peaches, and a couple of pear trees ready to produce as well. Of course, the fruit won't be salvaged this year as we didn't do any preparatory work on them; but we are hoping to prune them this fall and do some research so that next summer we can dream on the porch, peach juice running down our chins.

And then we walked back to the Lewis home, Sadie chasing a defenseless rabbit for a few seconds until I yelled at her and she actually stopped.

It was probably a coincidence...

We scoped out the Lewis porch and turned north, checking out the view that they will have from their own porch someday soon.

"I really like this property," Tami said. "I like it a lot."

Yeah. Me too.

How lucky we are ...

...to live on our own little piece of paradise, on the outskirts of Keene, in the country where coyotes howl at night, where night is black as midnight and stars burst through the darkness.

... even when frustrations color our days.

...even when disappointments color our vision.

...even when life is complicated and difficult.

How lucky we are.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Waiting for Someday

Roy and I have been burying stones recently. Not large rock kinds of stones but, rather, stepping stones. Roy made a countless number of them when we first moved into our house because he has a deep aversion to mud. So, as it rains on occasion, he decided that he would create enough stepping stones to go from the house to the shop, and from the shop to the storage shed, and from the storage shed to the metal storage shed that houses the lawn mower.

That's a lot of stones.

Burying these stones is a bit of work. All of these stones have been in their calculated position for a few weeks now, but we aren't able to mow over them as they are too high for the lawn mower and the concrete breaks the blade (been there, done that). So here is the process:

Edge around said stone.
Flip stone over and dig out the dirt underneath it in order to set the stone inside.
Flip stone back into hole and check for uneven dirt that causes the stone to wobble.
Even out the dirt by adding dirt in lower spots. (I gave up on this part and gave Roy 100% responsibility for this.)
Add dirt in the cracks to set the stone in place.
Move on to the next stone.

Jace, Roy and I have all worked on these stones but Roy is so darned fast at it that he can put in triple what Jace and I can do together.

It's obnoxious.

And so, Roy and I have now figured out a system that lets us bury the most amount of stones in the least amount of time. We capitalize on his skills and my skills (that word "skills" in this context and in reference to me is a very loose interpretation) and away we go. And in typical Roy and Vonda fashion, we talk a mile a minute because...well, that's just what we do.

Thankfully we are almost done. We have 11 stones left and the yard will be complete.

(Thank. God.)

On Sunday Roy, Jace and I went to Gina and Eric's for Easter. They have quickly become family to us, and we love getting together with them. Their kids work diligently to engage Jace. They talk to him, ask him about his life, take him upstairs to play pool, throw a ball outdoors in their amazing yard, and offer a host of activities that they think he might enjoy. And all of their work has paid off. He has finally let down his guard and actually laughs with them on occasion.

Go Jace.

But really? Go Cali and Ciara and Jared. Those are some great kids.

Anyway, as we were driving there as they live about 30 minutes away, Roy said, "Let's make a list of everything we have done to the house so far."

Originally, I turned up my nose. Nah...let's not.

But after a bit, I decided that was lazy of me (one of my favorite things to be)...and so I pulled out a notebook and began to write as Roy happily rattled off a trail of things we (though it's really "he") have accomplished in the yard: pruning the trees (we have a pile of wood in the back that is rather monstrous), fixing the water pressure, adding stones to the outside faucets...and on and on.

I shall spare you.

But needless to say, the list was long. And as we looked at it, line after line of accomplishments, I couldn't help but be amazed at how far we have come in six months.

And then Roy said, "Let's make a list of everything we want to do to the house."

And so we did: remodel the kitchen, fix the fireplace mantel, and so on.

And again, we ended up with quite a long list. We have discovered that when one owns their own home that includes a bit of property, the list is endless.

But that's okay. It just means we will never stop stretching.

Recently I have been working on a Lifebook. This is a book that is all about goals in 12 areas of life. It's based off of an online class that Jacque found and shared with me, and it is inspiring and fun and thought-provoking. One of the tenants of this class is that we should always be moving forward, becoming better, stretching.

I like that.

I'm not sure how good I am at holding myself accountable. I tend to get inspired and work hard for a minute...and then return to my lazy ways after a bit.

Case in point: If it were up to me? Those stones would be stacked somewhere out of sight, waiting for "someday."

But of course...it isn't up to me.

Roy doesn't believe in someday. Roy believes in get 'er done.

And so this evening, I will be out in the back, edging stones, and then sweeping them off after they are leveled.

Because that's my area of expertise. The sweeping off part.

And sometimes that's what life is about: focusing on what I can do well, even if the only gift I bring to the table is holding a broom.

Because really...there's room enough for everyone in this world.

Even a broom holder.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Same World

"Where can I register?"

I looked up from a table where I was sitting with some visiting alums at a shriveled old man who'd just walked through the doors of the Hopps Museum.

"Right here!" I said cheerfully, hopping up from the table and heading over to the computer so that I could add this gentleman's name to the list of attending alumni for Homecoming weekend and print off a name badge him.

"How are you doing today?" I asked.

He peered up at me with a scowl. "I came here yesterday to register and it wasn't open," he growled.

"Hm...when did you get here?" I asked, smiling at him in hopes of deterring his negativity.

"In the morning," he grumbled.

"Well, we didn't open for registration until noon, but I am happy to register you now!"

But this man wasn't having it. He had a lot on his mind, none of it happy, and he was ready to shed his disdain.

"I hated the banquet last night," he sneered.

The previous evening, we hosted our annual Alumni Banquet and, if I say so myself, we pulled it off flawlessly. Our chef made a beautiful dinner of southern fare, the decor was pristine, and the entertainment was delightful, featuring a 13 year old fiddler named Ridge.

"We had pasta for dinner. Pasta!" He exclaimed. "Pasta isn't southern."

"It was macaroni and cheese," I countered, cocking my head.

"Yeah," he said adamantly. "Pasta. Who ever heard of pasta in Texas."

I just nodded thoughtfully.

"I hated it," he continued. "I won't be back next year."

"I understand," I said as kindly as I could muster. "Sometimes you just gotta do whatcha gotta do."

He grumbled and complained until I handed him badges for him and his wife (poor thing), and then he slowly staggered out the door.

I ran into this poor, sad man several times throughout the weekend. And every time, he had some bitterness for me -- despite my futile attempts to shower him with cheerful smiles and happy eyes.

Sometimes I watched him from the side, wondering, What happened to you, little old man, that made you so miserable? So sad?

On Saturday we had a potluck in the gymnasium of the University for the alumni. The gym was packed with cheerful chatter, tables laden with meatballs, salad, and rolls, and chairs set out in a circular fashion. This potluck is organized like a well-oiled machine by Karen Putnam, one of the matriarchs of Keene. She has organized this event since time began, I am pretty sure. Anyway, once I went through the line, I headed over to sit by my adorable friends, Debbie and Carlos, whom I have known and loved since the early days of college. And sitting there beside them in her wheelchair was Elizabeth.

We went to school with Elizabeth as well...back in the day. Shortly after she graduated, this tall, blonde, gorgeous girl was out in the "field" as a social worker when one of her clients went on a shooting rampage and shot her in the back, leaving her a paraplegic. She lives in Burleson now -- a town about 15 minutes away -- and continues to practice social work while operating her nonprofit for crime victims.

Elizabeth chose the high road.

The other day I was whining about someone who was frustrating me. This girl? She is a sweetheart of a girl -- she really is...

She is also perfectionistic and sometimes that presents as twenty questions instead of one; as anxiety instead of confidence; as deer in the headlights when I need action.

And so I complained.

But yesterday I was scrolling through Instagram, or Facebook...or something of that nature when I came across a quote that said...

"Loving people live in a loving world; hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world."

Sometimes I am petty.

Sometimes I complain.

And sometimes I say -- I'm never going to that banquet again.

But here's the thing:

I can see strength and possibility and courage.

I can see shriveled and hopeless and worthless.

It's all up to me.

Same world.



Sunday, April 2, 2017

A New Agenda

Recently Tami and I hit upon the idea that we should plan something out of the ordinary on a monthly basis. We tend to do the same things all of the time: eat together for lunch on Saturday, take long naps on Saturday afternoon, watch a movie in some fashion on Saturday night. Well...let me clarify: Chas and I watch a movie on Saturday night while Tami and Roy sleep.

Unless we go to the theater...

Then only Roy sleeps.

Poor guy. He's tired.

Anyway, our first adventure was Four Day Weekend, an improv comedy team located in Fort Worth, in February. When we initially walked in, Roy wanted to sit in the front row.

No way, I said. They will pick on us and I don't want to be picked on.

But Roy was insistent and so, we sat down. "I've sat on the front row before and they didn't pick on me," the lady sitting next to me assured me.

When the show started, a member of the team came out to greet us and get the audience revved up. He immediately looked at me and said, "What's your name?"

"Vonda," I replied, groaning inside.

I knew it! Here we go....

"Vonda? What kind of name is that? What does it mean??"

"I have no idea!" I replied.

"How did you get that name?" He asked.

And so the conversation continued. I told him I was named after Miss America 1966. He told me I was old as dirt. And then he wanted to know what I do for a living and when I told him I was an alumni director for a small university...oh my word. That got him going like none other. And then he called his team out of about 5 members total and they made up a song about me on the spot.

It. Was. Hilarious.

The entire evening was a raging success and, even though I was picked on, it was pretty darned funny.

For the month of March, my friend Jacque and sister Lori came down and we went to Cleburne State Park for a picnic. That evening, we went to the Plaza Theater in Cleburne to see a live play of Singing in the Rain. It's performed by local talent but one would never know that they aren't professional. So impressive and fun and delightful. The entire day was a hoot.

But the really cool part about that play? They have a drawing at intermission and pull one of the attendee's names out of a hat for two free tickets to the next play. And? I won! (I am thinking I should play the lottery...)

April is just around the corner. It's the guys' turn to plan as Tami and I have taken the lead on the previous two.

Recently Chas said, "Does bowling count as different?"

Roy said, "How about looking at old cars. Does that count?"

Yes it does, we said. Anything but a movie.

Roy mentioned last night that he is thinking we need to hit the hot rod derby in Dallas for the month of April.

Our lives may never be the same.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Shards of Glass

I am in the throes of preparation for Homecoming weekend, happening April 6-9. My life is consumed with lists and checking each item off one by one. I'm pretty sure that for every item I check off, I add an additional 17. It's never-ending. I don't have enough time in my day, enough hands, enough of me.

My desk is a giant pile of papers, scattered and strewn from one side to the other. I barely have time for lunch and I have even forgotten to eat a couple of times.

What??! That hasn't happened since I was 21!

When Roy and I were newly married and I went to school at the University of Northern Colorado, we lived on pocket change. Roy's salary amounted to about $17000, if I remember correctly, and we barely had enough left over for groceries at the end of the month. I can remember one time that Roy wanted to buy an $8 tool, and we sat in the parking lot, discussing whether we should wait another month to purchase it.

But I will say, I think every married couple should start out like that. It didn't hurt us one bit.

But my point was, I never bought a lunch -- I would simply wait until I got home from school to eat. But sometimes when I got home, I simply forgot...

And then later I would think, I don't feel so good...

Oh yeah. I think I forgot to eat.

Roy often made fun of me for this strange phenomenon. I mean really...who forgets to eat? I certainly don't.

One time my sister Lori was visiting and she went to school with me. Now I will say-- the three of us girls were all created from the same mold. Food wasn't an issue for any of us when we were young. (I have solved this issue.) And so she happily obliged my daily routine of going all day without lunch and then eating once I got home. But by the time we got home? We were starving.

Hangry.

We quickly worked together to make Chicken Rotel -- a spicy concoction comprised of cream of mushroom soup, chicken, onions, tortillas, and topped with a can of Rotel tomatoes. It's comfort food at its best. I threw it in a glass dish and popped it in the oven.

And we waited, stomachs growling.

By the time I pulled it out an hour later, we thought we were going to die of starvation...

We both eyed it hungrily as I grasped it with my oven mitts and pulled it out of the oven....

....and promptly dropped it, sending it crashing to the tile floor and shattering.

But no worries...we simply scooped it up and ate it anyway.

Yeah. We did that.

Glass and all.

It was delicious.

For the record, I haven't forgotten to eat in well over twenty years.

I. Love. Food.

I don't anticipate it happening again in the near future...though if it does, I shall rejoice.

Meanwhile, I am headed back to the office today...back to my desk laden with papers, back to my lists that continue to grow exponentially, back to my dreams of comfort food (minus the shards of glass).

Friday, March 17, 2017

Chatt Adventures Part 1

I flew to Chattanooga on Monday afternoon for an alumni event the following Tuesday evening. It was a fast trip as I flew back early Wednesday morning, but it was a beautiful thing to spend some time with Darianna. She had just gotten back that morning in from a whirlwind trip from Europe where she toured Norway, Scotland and England, so we had much to talk about. We spent many hours hanging in the motel or in her apartment perusing photos on her computer.

It was fabulous.

But I have two crazy stories that I want to share. I probably shouldn't. They definitely aren't my best stories...but they are...well, they are just so me.

On Tuesday afternoon, I had lunch with a dear friend and then rushed to Walmart for some chocolate for my event. While there, I decided to pick up a few groceries for Darian as a surprise. And so, I wandered the aisles, found some things that would go together and create a few different meals, and checked out. By the time I left Walmart, it was hazy out and very cold. I popped the trunk and began to empty the bags of groceries into the car when Roy called. And so, with the phone clutched to my ear with my shoulder and the thoughts running through my head that I needed to hurry so that I could catch Darian (who was heading back to the motel from class), I quickly slammed the trunk shut, gave the cart a hefty shove so that it would roll back into the cart cage, and jumped into the car -- talking to Roy the entire time.

Walmart is just across the street from the motel; however, one has to go through two stoplights to get there. And so, I made my way back and pulled into a parking spot just as Darian pulled in beside me with DJ, her boy. I was excited to see DJ as I haven't seen him for several months, and so, with the intention of getting out to hug him, I reached for my purse to slip my phone inside....

WHERE. IS. MY. PURSE!!!!

I frantically looked in the backseat...not there.

And then I froze.

I left it in the cart.

I rolled down the window, my head spinning, and shouted, "Get in the car! I left my purse at Walmart!"

And so, DJ and Darian ran like two crazies out of the little red pickup and dashed in the car while I threw it into gear and sped off.

My head was spinning, like it was going to burst at any given moment.

Oh my word.

My wallet. My credit cards. My driver's license. How am I going to get home tomorrow??!! I need my ID to fly!

"Maybe it's still there," Darian said encouragingly.

Walmart. Like seriously. Have you SEEN the people at Walmart?? There is an internet site devoted to posting pictures of the people who shop at Walmart.

And then we arrived in the parking lot. I knew exactly where I'd left the cart and so I drove that direction, my eyes zoomed in on the carts, hoping to see a glimpse of blue and white stripes.

Nothing.

We got closer.

Still nothing.

My heart sank. I was stuck in Chattanooga forever.

Darian and DJ leaped out of the car, Darian throwing out the words, "It's not over yet, Mom. Maybe someone turned it in."

Right.

This is Walmart.

While they went inside, I scoured the parking lot. Maybe I didn't remember correctly where I'd left the cart. The parking lot is quite large...

But...no success. And then I saw them -- Darian and DJ -- walking out of Walmart with my purse held high over their heads, giving the thumbs up sign.

Ah...sweet success.

I get to go home after all.

Turns out one of their employees who is in a wheel chair spied my purse in the cart and rolled out to save the day. "That thing is heavy," he told the kids when he handed it over. "I don't know what she has in there."

You know...just my wallet, a few odds and ends, the kitchen sink...

Thank you, Mr. Walmart Man.

You are my hero.

(Stay tuned for the second story...it's even -- well, more of me...coming right up.)