Sunday, June 25, 2017

A New Day

Harvest happens every year towards the end of May or early June when the fields of wheat are golden, waving lazily in the breeze. Some of my earliest memories center around harvest time. I remember long days at my grandparents’ homes while Dad and Grandpa Nick were out in the fields from early morning until way past sunset, the purr of the combine engines rolling over the hills. 

I remember loading up the car with plates laden high with mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and cucumber salad and quart jars filled to the brim with iced tea and driving down country roads to the fields to feed Dad and Grandpa who would perch themselves on pickup truck gates and talk about how much wheat the harvest would yield while the san glared down and red dirt squished between my toes.

I remember wading out into the fields of waving wheat with Grandpa and Dad. They would pluck a kernel of wheat from the field and bite into it, determining whether it was ready to harvest or not. I tried that one time. But only once.

I remember the old truck with the deep bed that Grandpa had and when the combines were bulging with wheat, I would sit on the seat beside Grandpa while he drove over to the combine and together we watched kernels of wheat spill into the bed of the truck until the truck was filled to the brim. And then I would ride with him to Thomas, bouncing along on that old vinyl seat, sitting up tall so that I could see over the dash to the country road beyond us. When we got to the grainery, they unloaded the wheat and then Grandpa and I bounced back in that old truck, parked along the side of the wheat field, and waited for the next load. That grainery still sits in Thomas, its silver silos reaching to the sky, and every time I see it, I remember with a smile.

As the years went by, Grandpa retired that old truck and companies were hired to come in and complete the job while Grandpa and Dad watched from the sidelines. Many times during my teen and early adult years, I visited Grandma during harvest. And several times a day we would get in the pickup and head down to the fields, parking on the outskirts. Together we hung out there in the pickup, windows down, dust blowing, and watched the combines lazily driving in circles. Golden waves of wheat were cut down, leaving short stubby stalks that Grandpa and Dad would later till up from the ground, leaving rows of fresh red dirt, smooth and soft from the plowing. 

Sometimes, late at night, Grandma would say, “I wonder if they are still in the fields. Let’s go check.” And so we would go, and then watch the headlights of the combines circling in the darkness.

When harvest was over, conversation buzzed about the yield — whether there was enough rain, or too much rain. Of course, when we asked Dad about harvest in recent years, it was always a bust. “I’m not sure why you still go to the trouble, Dad, as clearly it never makes you any money,” I’ve said more times than I can count.

“I don’t know either,” Dad always replies.

But he knows. Deep down inside? He knows. It’s the land. Farming runs through his veins. Throughout my growing up years, Dad worked as a superintendent of public schools and then later as the State Director of Regional Educational Service Centers. However, every weekend he loaded up and headed to the farm where he plowed fields and counted cattle and talked wheat. I often went with him, hanging out with Grandma Nick while Dad wrangled barbed wire and drove the tractor. When Dad retired, he and Jo built their home on the very land where he was born, bulldozing his childhood home and building on top of it. And through the years, Dad has continued to  farm. 

I love going home. I love that Dad still lives on the land of my childhood. I love freshly plowed  red dirt, grazing cattle, and lazily waving wheat fields. 

I love harvest time, even when I’m not there to gaze in wonder.

For the past few years, Dad has threatened to give it all up. “I’m gettin’ old,” he claims, “and Jo has to do too much of the work by herself.” But we never believed his threats. It’s who Dad is. He is a farmer, a man of the land.

But this year Dad made good on his threats. He brought in the harvesters for the very last time. He has rented out his land and sold his equipment. Harvest time for the Nicholas family has officially met its end.

I’m not sure what to make of that actually. In fact, I’ve known this for a few weeks and yet I haven’t been able to quite put in words what it signifies for all of us — for my sisters, for our children. It’s the end of a legacy really.

I call Dad every Sunday evening and chat with him for awhile. The Sunday after harvest was over and after the last of the equipment had been driven off of Dad’s land, I was talking to Dad. “How does that make you feel?” I asked.

And pretty much Dad summed it up best when, without missing a beat, he replied…

Like hell.

When life brings change, sometimes sudden, sometimes subtle, we can balk, fight against the inevitable. Or we can look back with a smile while looking forward with a grateful heart-- at a beckoning future that forges a new way.

I am so grateful for my roots that are deeply planted in Oklahoma land -- in land that has been in our family since well before my birth. I am grateful for its heritage. 

I am grateful for memories of wheat and and cattle and red dirt.

I am grateful for harvest time.

But like Dad says...sometimes the reality of change, of a new day...

Sometimes it's just hell.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Remember Who You Are

We all have chains:

Religion
Family ties
Traditions
Beliefs

The list continues.

For many of us, we are born into certain chains. It could be that our family expects us to continue the religious practices that have been part of the family heritage. Or it could be that we are expected to marry within our culture, or our race…

And then there are the chains of relationships. We may be emotionally chained to people who don’t challenge us to be our best selves, or who keep us crippled and small.

We may be chained by fundamentalism…by our political affiliations…by our views on sexuality.

We may be chained in ways we don’t even recognize.

I discovered this concept of chains about six years ago. Now I will say, just because I discovered this concept does not mean I wasn’t bound. Quite the opposite actually. Six years ago I began a quest to rip off the chains and I have never looked back.

As a result of this, my parenting of Jace has been radically different from what the girls experienced. And it shows…sometimes in beautiful ways…sometimes in ways that make me shake my head a bit.

But that’s okay. Jace has a kind heart and in my opinion, that’s what matters most.

On Sunday, Roy and I drove Jace to the Dallas Love Field Airport where he flew to summer camp at Nosoca Pines Ranch – a small camp nestled in the woods of South Carolina. He was filled with nervous anticipation at the reality of flying alone: Tell me again how I find my luggage? Who is meeting me there? How do I know he’ll be there?

When Jace is anxious, the questions fly like bullets, repetitively. But I patiently answered over and over: Just follow the signs for Baggage Claim; if you’re confused, ask someone! DJ will meet you there…you’re going to be just fine, Jace.

Jace has attended this camp since he was 8 years old and it’s one of the highlights of his year. He eagerly looks forward to the next summer with anticipation from the first day back home once his fun-filled week is over. But this will most likely be his last summer to enjoy camp as a camper. So, in order to make the most of it, and get the most out of his plane ticket, he is there for two weeks of specialty camps: water sports and basketball.

As I hugged Jace goodbye one final time, just before he entered that long hallway that leads to the entrance of the plane, I whispered in his ear: Remember who you are.

Because Jace is 15 (as of next Sunday).

Because 15 year olds often forget who they are as their brains quit working quite a lot.

I know. I taught them for over 20 years.

But I also know that when you dive in deep, when you unmask the silliness and the off the cuff comments, kind hearts and deep thoughts emerge. And that, my friends, is what kept me in the classroom for many years – the unveiling of kids’ true selves: selves that are kind and compassionate with budding dreams just on the horizon.

Sometimes, we work hard to keep our teenagers in chains. We are anxious for them to adopt our ways, to be molded in our traditions. But teens don’t like chains. They, by nature, fight against them and question their logic. As a result, teens develop quite a reputation for their headstrong, ruthless ways.

But now that I’m a tad bit older, and hopefully a hair bit wiser, I embrace these questions. My philosophy is, please ask. Research and study and figure it out for yourself. Get to know yourself and learn what you believe in, where your passions lie, who you want to be.

Because in the end? That’s all that matters.

Yesterday I talked to Jacque for a bit. She is a teacher so she’s a bit freer these days as she’s on summer break. Our conversation drifted a million directions, as it always does. And somewhere in there, she shared this quote, penned by the late Psalm Isadora:

“The people making you feel guilty for going your own way and choosing your own life are simply saying, ‘Look at me. I’m better than you because my chains are bigger.’ It takes courage to break those chains and define your own life.”

I know that I am still bound by chains. We all are. It’s part of being human. But I am wise enough now to embrace the questions, to recognize that sometimes we don’t have answers, that being kind and living with compassion creates our best lives.

Sometimes, like everyone else in this world, I need the gentle reminder:

Just remember who you are.




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saga of the Stickers

I love country living. Nothing better than hanging on the back porch and watching the sun go down while throwing the ball for Piper and sipping on ice water. But it has one major drawback:

Stickers.

Otherwise known as sand burrs.

When we first bought this place, we noticed that stickers were all everywhere. Now in case you don’t live in sticker-country, they are brutal. Little thorns that cluster on a green blade that shoots up out of the ground, they create pain and agony to bare feet and critters’ paws. If they aren’t dealt with, they grow exponentially and can take over a yard in a matter of minutes.

Okay — that may not be true. But it absolutely feels that way. 

And so, Roy and I have been on a mission to destroy the stickers. We sprayed a pre-emergent in the spring and then we happened upon a poison called MSMA that we just sprayed this week. I noticed today that the sticker plants are actually dying.

Ah - progress.

Stickers’ favorite time of the year to come out and party is July and so we are hitting the time when they are in full bloom. As a result, I am leery of letting Piper run the back acre. Now let me say, there is nothing Piper adores more than running the back acre. He likes to galavant from tree to tree, chase a squirrel or two, bark at the air, and just have a grand time back there.

But when he returns to the fenced in area? Oh my…he is just a mess. And now we get to add stickers to the chaos. Piper’s coat is curly and long and apparently they love hanging out in all of that hair, as every time he goes out, he comes back with a sticker patch enmeshed in his paws.

This evening, Roy asked Jace and me to spread some poison on the ant hills which are a continual problem on our property. And so, I headed out to the back acre in search of little red hills and scurrying ants.

Poor things.

But I will say…I have noticed that they simply pack up and move when they encounter the poison. It’s like a game…where are they now?…as the number of ant hills has certainly not declined and we have been at this for quite some time.

Anyway, as I was heading out of the gate there in the back yard, Piper squeezed through in a mad dash before I had the opportunity to pull him back. “Oh well,” I shrugged to myself, watching him happily trot off to the back acre. As I had ants on my mind, I wasn’t too concerned.

Jace and I zig zagged around, spreading poison here and there, while Sadie bounced along behind us. She’s kind of like having a dog as she is never far away from wherever the action is. Anyway, suddenly it dawned on me that Piper was still missing, and so Jace called him and, strangely enough, Piper came running.

Normally, he takes his good sweet time about it. (And I find that rather annoying.)

Once Piper got closer to us, he flopped down on the grass and began to nibble on his paws.

Stickers.

And then he began to do this really weird thing with his mouth — this incessant licking and flopping his head around and licking in a way that appeared as though he had something on the roof of his mouth.

“What’s going on, Piper?” I asked him, as though I expected an answer, and then I propped open his mouth and looked inside. 

Sure enough. A sticker was lodged in his gums in between his front teeth.

Great.

And so Jace and I headed inside with Piper, still licking frantically and flopping his head around, where we wrestled Piper to the ground and one of us attempted to hold him still while the other attempted to pluck out the sticker with tweezers. After wrangling and wrestling and prodding and pulling for a solid 15 minutes, we made zero progress.

The sticker was stuck.

Jace finally got up to grab a drink of water when, hit with a moment of inspiration and determination, I grabbed Piper, firmly held his jaw with one hand, and reached in with the other, grabbing the sticker with the tweezers and pulling it straight down.

And to my utter shock, there it was, neatly cradled in the middle of the tweezers.

Figuring all of this maneuvering meant I wanted to play, Piper headed off to find his ball while I set the tweezers aside to sterilize.

Later I recounted this story to Roy who said,” Next time don’t let Piper out of the gate.”

Oh really? Hm. I hadn’t thought of that. What a genius idea.

Thanks, Roy. 


Classing It Up

During the summer, I travel around to different camp meetings and serve a treat to our alumni. Of course, the term alumni is used loosely as most the people I serve are most likely just people…not alums. But that’s ok. 

When Tami Condon and I were talking about what we should serve, she mentioned that we should change things up and offer strawberry shortcake; I thought that was a grand idea.

For years, Southwestern has offered watermelon — juicy, crisp, ice-cold watermelon. When Enga, our Vice President of Enrollment who attends these camp meetings as well, heard we were changing things up and offering strawberry shortcake rather than watermelon, she cautioned me to reconsider: These people love their watermelon, Vonda. You may get a lot of complaints.

I shrugged. Really? I can’t imagine it’s that deep, Enga. Besides, who doesn’t love strawberry shortcake? 

And so I charged ahead, ordering shortcake, whipped cream, and strawberries from the Arkansas cafeteria located on the grounds where the camp meeting was being held. A couple of weekends ago, my sisters (Tami and Lori) and I traveled six hours one way early Saturday morning, set up a table outside of the cafeteria, and offered dessert to the people as they passed by.

And of course, most were gracious: Oh thank you! This looks delicious! No watermelon this year?

No. We’re changing things up, I replied.

But once in awhile, someone would say, This looks good but I prefer my watermelon.

After a few of those comments, we began to ask people: would you rather have watermelon or shortcake?

Hands down the overwhelming consensus was…watermelon.

One lady summed it up the best when she said, I see you’re trying to class us up with strawberry shortcake! But you just don’t class up country folk.”

That made me laugh.

As soon as I got back to work on Monday morning, I contacted the director of Oklahoma camp meeting and changed my order to watermelon.

Enga was right.


You just don’t class up country folk.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rocking My World

I am not a shopper. 

When it comes to malls, I avoid them like the plague. However, they have always been a necessity in terms of my wardrobe. As a result, I am one of those people who goes shopping twice a year or so and spends far too much money on shopping sprees as my wardrobe has been depleted to rags. For years I chided myself about this, determining to add a piece or two every month to my wardrobe in order to avoid the binge shopping...to no avail. I am not a fan of lines, of dressing rooms, of scouring a store for bargains. And so, I procrastinate my shopping sprees until I simply must go.

I can remember many years ago when we lived in Wisconsin, I met a girl who did all of her clothing shopping for her family through catalogues. This was, of course, before the Internet was a part of our regular, and I can remember pummeling her with questions as to how she made that work. I envied her ability to avoid malls.

And then we moved to Texas.

The mall that is closest to where I now live requires driving through freeways in Fort Worth and wrangling traffic for about 30 minutes. That is just not acceptable. And so, I decided to attempt some online shopping for my clothing needs: JJill, Talbots, Kohl's, Stitch Fix...And it worked! I have successfully avoided a mall for one year now. 

For Christmas? Amazon.

But the one mode of shopping that I have never even contemplated removing from my life is grocery shopping.

Now let me just give you a glimpse into my weekly grocery shopping experience. It's a major production.

First of all, I have Roy's breakfasts and lunches to consider -- all of which is packed for him in a small ice chest that he hauls in his truck to work. Secondly, Jace gets a daily lunch for school. (Sometimes I feel like I spent an absurd amount of time packing meals for these two.) And then there is our Saturday meal that we eat with the Lewis family so I plan for that...I have always been a meal planner so that I know exactly what I am cooking over the course of a week. And then I create my list that is organized into sections: dairy, produce, freezer, canned goods, etc.

And so every Sunday morning, Roy and I load up and head to HEB where we both fill a cart with the necessities for the week...and a few other things, of course. Roy has his special items that he always likes to gather: sandwich meat from the deli, chocolate covered almonds, his cereals, etc. It is rare that he doesn't tag along for the adventure.

But frankly, I find it tiresome. It's a solid two to three hours every week that cuts into my weekend. I'm sure you feel my pain.

This last weekend, I had an alumni event in Arkansas which consisted of serving strawberry shortcake to our alumni. Tami and Lori, my sisters, both volunteered to go with me and help serve. Now let me say, this was genuinely kind of them as it was a solid 6 hour drive one way...all to serve shortcake during a one hour time slot. But we made it fun -- chatting it up, listening to Lori's music (which she proclaimed is the best music though I differ in opinion), and eating along the way.

And it was during the very last part of this journey home that Tami mentioned curbside grocery pickup -- that one of their friends did it and proclaimed it changed their lives.

"Wait a minute. What was that?" I asked, suddenly totally engaged in this story.

"You know--it's kind of like online shopping where you choose your groceries online, pay for it, and then go to the grocery store, pop your trunk and they load everything into your car."

"I've never heard of that!" I exclaimed. No really -- I exclaimed it.

"You've never heard of it?" Tami said, incredulous. "They've been doing this for years! My friend swears she has saved a lot of money with this."

And so that very day (Sunday), I got home and created an account with HEB, our local grocery store. I created my meal plan for the week and shopped away, searching for items, choosing amounts, and "placing" them in the online basket. Grand total? $71. Far cheaper than my normal weekly excursion. And then I chose a time slot early Monday morning to pick those bags up.

Folks, my world has been rocked. Rumor has it that Walmart even delivers to my door, free of charge!

I'm pretty sure I will never set foot in a store again.





Friday, May 26, 2017

I Am A Cat Lady

Missy lives a few houses down from me.

Missy loves cats.

In fact, she owns four of them and feeds two strays that have been abandoned by their families. 

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Tami told Missy (as they are friends from way back) about my cat/kitten dilemma as I am still caring for the abandoned cat across the street and her five very adorable kittens. Against Missy's better judgment, she came to visit one day and that was that.

She was sunk.

Since that day, I have often found Missy petting them, caring for them, cooing at them -- when I go over for one of my daily visits. It's a beautiful thing.

I really like Missy. Cat people? They are my people.

Since these kittens were a few days old, they have had some eye issues. Tami and I have struggled to stay on top of it. About the time we think we have conquered it, another kitten is stricken and we begin the struggle again. I have containers filled with remedies, cotton balls, and fresh water available on the porch for anybody who cares to visit and help out. But last night Missy dropped by with a prescription tube of antibiotic ointment for their eyes. 

Ah...maybe we will conquer this at last.

She also went to work finding them homes and I believe she has been successful. Next week all of the kittens will be doled out to their new "parents" -- all of which are quite fabulous, I might add. These are some lucky kitties. They will only be five weeks old which is quite young, but...we are all fearing a bit for their safety. A coyote meanders the streets at night. Large birds with peering eyes and deadly claws are often spied in the trees in the yard. And an owl lives in a tree just beyond that house. And so, for their safety, we're going to let them go a bit early. 

I will miss them.

I have gotten to know each of them and I can now relate to these people who sell kittens and create detailed descriptions of their personalities on the website that advertises them.

I could do the same:

This one is so independent! He is the smallest of the litter but he was the first one to open his eyes and crawl out of the box. He is my adventurer, my independent one...

Oh, this one? He is terribly lazy. He just likes to eat which is evident by the fact that he is the largest and the roundest.

This one is a squawker. She cries pitifully when anything seems a tad bit wrong with her world. 

And so on...

I almost named them all...but then caught myself for fear I wouldn't be able to let go when the time came. I'm not sure how supportive my family would be of a box of kittens that I proclaim are here to stay.

We already have two...and that's enough.

But these kittens have provided a lot of joy each day. In the evenings, Tami and I faithfully visit, making ourselves comfortable on the concrete porch while kittens pounce and crawl and explore. They are all over us, peering up with bright blue eyes. And mama cat patiently nurses them, cleans them, and hauls them back to the box at any sign of danger (like a lawn mower).

It has been a fabulous four weeks and I will always be grateful for this time I had to enjoy a litter of kittens. What began as a tragedy as the family abandoned the mama kitty, has turned into a great blessing in my life.

Yesterday I ran across this statement:

Life is always in your favor. Even the dark times lead to new revelations, new beginnings, greater wisdom, greater joy.

I like that. 



And I believe it.