Monday, December 5, 2016

Together

Honestly, sometimes I feel like I am living in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Last night was the annual Christmas Parade here in Keene. Our alumni board puts up a float every year, and so this year, of course, I was a part of the whole shebang. The City of Keene hosts a contest to see who has the best float and so we were all scheduled to arrive at 3:00 to throw our float together as judging commenced at 5:30.

And so, I arrived at the gym parking lot to begin the big setup at 3:00 sharp...but only two of my board members were present. Someone had dropped off the trailer that had the makeshift Mizpah gate on it and so Larry and I heaved and hoed to get the gate in its proper place...only to realize that we had the wrong sized trailer. And so, Larry made a call to Dennis, one of our other board members, who said he would be there as soon as possible with the correct sized trailer.

Now let me just say, it was cold outside. Of course, I have acclimated to Keene weather rather nicely. Sometimes, I will say to Jace once I've stepped foot outside...Oh my word, Jace! It's freezing out here! And he'll roll his eyes and say, Mom. It's 75 degrees.

But this was no 75 degree weather. It was cloudy, windy, and at least 50. And so, as there was nothing we could do until the trailer arrived, we all went back to our separate vehicles to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Finally, around 5:15 or so, just before the judging was scheduled to begin, Dennis arrived with the proper trailer. By this time, we had several of our board members present. Many of them are strapping big boys -- well over 6 foot tall, strong, capable men. And so, once that trailer arrived? That went to WORK and I just stood back and watched, amazed. They flipped that gate over to the proper trailer, threw those hay bales in one mighty swoop, strung the lights in nothing flat, and had that float ready to go in less than 15 minutes. It was a sight to behold!

Others had been there working on their floats for hours, and so, it was quite comical when the judges came by and presented us with the first place trophy for Best Float! The trophy was large and obnoxious but we proudly stood it on a hay bale for the world to see.

And then the parade began. We were towards the back of the line and so we all sat on our hay bales, holding bags of candy and began the trek down the street, around the block, and then down Old Betsy, the main thoroughfare through Keene. People lined the streets like they were coming out for New York City's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Honestly--I couldn't help but just chuckle to myself the whole way. Little kids scrambled and fought over thrown peppermint balls like they had never seen candy before. People, dressed in coats and scarves, and some huddled in blankets, waved and shouted Merry Christmas!...as well all drove by. Some people shouted, "Hey Vonda!" To me and I threw them their very own peppermint ball as a reward.

And then? Just like that? It was over. We parked back in the gym parking lot and once again those big strapping men went to work, dismantling that float in about five minutes while I hurried to keep up by simply throwing our Christmas hats in a box.

In the midst of our moment of mass destruction, a big boom lit up the sky as fireworks  were displayed over our very own Keene pond. And that is how I drove home, stopping momentarily to watch the show and smile to myself.

I love small town living where a community comes out to celebrate together. Somehow? I just think this is how life is meant to be lived.

One for all and all for one.

Together...

...even when that means huddling in the cold to watch average floats roll down the street and cheer like it's the best thing since sliced bread...

Because maybe, in fact, it is.




Friday, December 2, 2016

My Very Best Christmas Friend

I have had a difficult time getting into the holiday spirit this year. Normally Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. I love the Christmas carols, the holiday jingles, the lights, cozy breads, and Oklahoma family. Typically my tree is laden with gifts by now and Jace spends hours arranging and rearranging, counting how many are for him.

This year? Not one single gift is under the tree. It is December 2 and I'm still contemplating what to buy for who.

I think it's the weather.

It's difficult to be in the holiday spirit when it's 65 degrees outside. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who moved here from Vermont; she said it takes three years to adjust to a warm Christmas.

In the meantime, I will go through the regular Christmas motions in hopes that it jumpstarts me into gear.

We always put our tree up immediately following Thanksgiving. And so, last week Roy, Darian and I headed into town to purchase a tree. On the way there, we decided to get a fake tree as we are all tired of the hassle of the real ones.

I think I am getting old.

We settled on one we all agreed was beautiful and that we will enjoy for years to come. And then we came home, dragged out all of the ornaments and lights and house decorations and went to work.

This week our student workers filled the office hallways with Christmas decor. It's quite festive there. And this weekend? We have our Christmas parade down the main thoroughfare of Keene. Our Alumni office has a float and we will spend a few hours decorating it on Sunday before displaying it in all of its glory that evening in the parade. It will be a fun day and I'm looking forward to throwing candy to all the kids lining the road while wearing my Christmas stocking hat.

Time is marching on and December 25 is approaching quickly, whether my heart feels that holiday spirit or not. And that's a good thing. Savana and Guerin are coming to visit for a whole 8 days.

Eight days!

Of course, we will spend a few of those days in Oklahoma, celebrating with the people I love the most in this world. Savana says she isn't ready to give up on an Oklahoma Christmas quite yet and so she convinced Guerin to spend Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with ours. Of course, they (they being the Willliams family) are a close knit bunch as well, so it wouldn't surprise me if S and G alternate Christmas each year. But for now, Oklahoma is in Savana's blood as well.

That's a beautiful thing.

Thankfully today is Friday--my favorite day of the week. Friday means a half day at work--off at noon. It means long evenings filled with reading and journaling and hot baths. It means Roy and I contemplating how we are going to spend the next two days of freedom that are spread before us like a banquet.

And this particular Friday? Well, I do believe I shall spend some time with Amazon, my very best Christmas friend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Average Like Us

I am a cat lover. When I am old and frail, I will be one of those old people who is surrounded by more cats than they can count. My dad recognized my love for cats at an early age and by the time I was about ten years old, he gave me my very own cat to love. I named him Pepsi and I adored him. From then on, I have never been without a cat in my life.

For several years now I have wanted a Maine Coon kitten. Those cats? They are amazing. They are huge and fluffy and have some interesting characteristics that liken them to a dog. For instance, they play fetch and they aren't territorial like most cats. But after searching for several weeks, I couldn't find any kittens locally that are less than $1000.

One. Thousand. Dollars.

That's funny.

And so, I told Jace that getting a kitten is out of the picture because I am simply not paying that kind of money for a cat--specialty or not. Well, Jace happens to be an animal lover. That boy...the sun rises and sets in animals. He wants everything he sees. Recently he told me he wanted a ferret. I told him that's just fine with me ... as long as he doesn't live at home.

When Jace was about ten years old he was desperate for a hamster--one of those dwarf hamsters that is fuzzy and cute. And so, we bought all of the stuff and set the cage up in his room. I taught him how to clean the cage and how to play with the hamster because it was not too friendly and liked to bite. But of course, Jace was scared of it--and rightfully so--and so I was the one who worked with the hamster day after day...and then Jace was none too fond of cleaning that cage and so his room would stink...and hamsters are fragile creatures and so unfortunately we went through a couple of them...

So by the time the third hamster came around and Jace's room stunk and getting him to clean the cage was an act of congress, I finally said...

ENOUGH.

We gave the cute little fuzzy hamster and all of his toys and food and cage to one of Jace's little friends whose mom happened to be a sucker as well...and that was the end of our hamster run or any other pets outside of the dog or cat realm for forever.

Anyway, as I talked about a Maine Coon far too much and Jace's heart was set on a kitten, we began the kitten search. Now let me say, I am picky. I like long haired, fluffy male cats that grow up to be rather large. And those kinds of kittens aren't easy to find. But Jace? He just likes a kitten...that is the only requirement.

And so, we are the proud owners of a six week old female, orange tabby kitten. She doesn't have a particularly pretty face and I seriously doubt she will be large or fluffy. But she is ours and she is precious. She's a lover and can't seem to get enough attention. We are all fans...well, most of us.

Our other cat Sparti doesn't seem to share the love.

But for now this little girl is the star of the show. We all gather around and watch her drink her milk as she is so small she doesn't care much for anything else. We play with her for hours with a feather, and we sit, immobilized, while she naps on our laps.

Despite the fact she is glaringly average (kind of like the rest of us--so she fits right in...), we love her.

Welcome to the family, Sadie.

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Perfect Sort of Day

I love the holidays.

I have the entire week off and so this morning I am hanging in my living room, a candle glowing beside me, and the world is dark outside my patio door. This is my normal routine; however, this time I have no agenda that will propel me out of this chair in the next few minutes to prepare for a regular workday. I can stay here as long as I like.

Yesterday, this questionnaire that one is supposed to have one's spouse answer the questions circled through Facebook. We were driving into town so I asked Roy these questions and one of them was, What is something I love to do?

His answer? Get up really early in the morning to sit in a chair and do nothing.

Pretty much.

And so here I am, early in the morning, sitting in a chair, "doing nothing" and loving it.

As this week is Thanksgiving, we are headed to my sister Jessie's home in Norman, Oklahoma on Thursday. It will be one of those quick trips as we will just go for the day, but I am so excited for it. A couple of weeks ago, Jessie sent out a group text so we could figure out the menu. I quickly scanned it for the word "noodles" because a Thanksgiving in our family without homemade noodles...well, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving at all.

Through the years, we've spent many Thanksgivings apart from my family in Oklahoma. However, no matter where we have been, we've made homemade noodles. If we join friends at their homes? I bring noodles.

I remember when I was a kid and talking to my friends about typical holiday fare, I would ask them if they had homemade noodles as part of their holiday meal. After several friends looked at me quizzically, resulting in an explanation of what that even is, I realized that this tradition is unique to our family. I'm not sure how it got started--or even when it got started. Clearly it is a dish with German roots but beyond that, I have no idea how the tradition began.

Last night as I was perusing Facebook, I saw that one of my friends posted a picture of their 7 foot kitchen island loaded with homemade noodles spread out and drying. "Ready for Thanksgiving!" The photo boasted.

I was shocked.

 What? Who is this??

I quickly scrolled back up to see who posted the photo only to realize?...

...It was my cousin Steven.

Of course.

Meanwhile, I have three days spread out before me to delight in before our cherished Thanksgiving arrives. I intend to read some, watch Netflix some, play games some, and journal some. It is cooler these days so I am hoping to light a fire in the fireplace and listen to its crackle as I make dinner in the kitchen. My mom is visiting, and of course Darian is home; we will enjoy some fun meals around the table together.

It's getting light out now. The sun is beginning to rise and a brand new day is spread before me like a blank canvas. And I am still sitting here doing nothing.

My perfect sort of day.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

And So It Goes...

Jace is sick.

No really.

Jace is sick.

He was sick about 3 weeks ago and so I took him to the doctor who prescribed antibiotics and sent him home.

Done.

But he has had this hacking cough that has refused to go away and has gotten progressively worse. And so, on Tuesday, as he was too sick to go to school...again...I called the doctor's office to say, "So look. My son has a low grade fever and is coughing like a maniac and is feeling sick...I don't need to bring him in, right? It's viral?"

But of course, she said--Bring him in.

And so I did.

Pneumonia.

Jace has pneumonia. And so, once again the doctor sent him home with a plethora of drugs and a pat on the back as he walked out the door.

This kid...he gets everything. If it's going around? He's like a magnet. And so, I've spent the past 3 days juggling work and Jace. My job is such that it's impossible to really take a day off. We are an event-driven office and events are always just around the corner. So, a phone call here, popping in for lunch, a text there...that's about all Jace gets. But other than a few moments of...Gosh, Mom, I wish you were home...he's secluded in his bedroom, huddled under his covers, lights off. Occasionally I can coerce him into coming into the living room and talking to me...but it rarely lasts more than 5 minutes before he is dragging himself and his covers back to bed.

This whole Jace sickness? It reminds me a lot of our nation. Our nation is sick right now--utterly divided. I just sit around shaking my head. And my opinion is, it wouldn't have mattered who won. If Hillary won, Trump supporters would be throwing fits all across the nation. We've been throwing fits for 200 years now. It's what we do--every single election. Maybe this one is a hair-bit more prone to drama...but maybe not.

Thank God we have the freedom to have an opinion, the freedom to care, the freedom to have a voice.

Thank God for the freedom to protest, and the freedom to rejoice.

And so, rather than getting involved in all of the drama, I will just continue to sit back and shake my head.

It's what I do.

And thank God I have the freedom to do that.

Meanwhile, the sun will still come up each morning. Jace will get a little better each day, hopefully, and before long, he will be hoisting his backpack over his shoulder and heading out the door for school. I will wave to him as he slams the car door at the school's entrance, "Have a great day, Jace!" And he will mumble "love you" back at me.

And I will smile. Because that's my boy.

And meanwhile the sun will continue to rise each day and Christmas will come and go, and 2017 will arrive in all its glory.

And so it goes...and so it goes...

And most likely another four years will pass and we will have the opportunity to do this again.
And once again there will be protestors in the street and I will be shaking my head.

And so it goes...

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What To Do With Kim

Yesterday I was heading into the work room at the office when I practically ran smack into this beautiful, young girl whom I had never seen before, her hands cupped around a can of Dr. Pepper and a plastic cup filled with pub mix.

"Excuse me!" She said with a smile, her sad eyes crinkling, and then she walked on through the door and into the hallway. But her deep voice surprised me, made me step back a little, made me question...wait. Is she a girl?

My initial thought was that she was a new girl on the cleaning crew that came to our office periodically to spruce things up. But about that time, Tami said in a hushed tone, "Vonda, come into my office!" And she proceeded to tell me then how this girl, Kim, came up to her when she was just outside of the office, pleading for help. Apparently her roommate kicked her out and she simply had nowhere to go.

18 years old and nowhere to go.

What to do?

Clarissa immediately went to work trying to find a homeless shelter where we could take her for the night and hopefully help her figure out the next step. However, we quickly learned that the only shelter around was full and not accepting anymore stragglers until the next day.

It was cold outside--rainy and gray. Perfect weather for Kim's predicament.

And so, with the shelter a no-go, we decided to pool our money and rent a motel room for Kim.

During the in-between moments, we discussed what to do: should Tami take her alone to the motel? What if she pulled a knife? She seemed absolutely harmless--petite and beautiful and sad.

But one never knows...

We finally came to the decision to send Kim with Tristan and Clarissa as both Tami and I had a 6:00 appointment that was work-related and we couldn't miss. And so, Tami called the motel to reserve a room for Kim...

But this too was a dead end: they would not accept Kim unless she had ID.

She did not.

At this point, it was after 5:00. I had to run home and check on Jace who was sick and alone and had been that way all day. My day had been a frenzy--filled with one thing after another--and I never found a moment to slip out of the office and check on him.

Tami had to run home and let her dogs out as they had been alone in the house for almost 12 hours at this point, and she had to go into Fort Worth to meet family for dinner after our 6:00 appointment.

But what are we going to do with Kim?

Kim sat alone in the hallway of the office, smiling up at us with those beautiful eyes and freshly pinked lips from the lipstick she kept putting on as we whisked around trying to figure out how to solve her dilemma on a cold rainy evening with nowhere for her to go.

And then I had to leave. "Good luck, Kim" I said, feeling utterly ridiculous and helpless and having absolutely no words.

"Thanks," she replied, looking up at me, her holds folded neatly in her lap.

And I walked away into the dark night, leaving my friends to pick up the pieces alone.

I quickly ran home, checked on Jace, made sure he was alive and breathing, and then ran back to the Hopps Museum so that I could quickly set it up for a 6:00 meeting that was happening shortly. It wasn't long after I arrived that Tami arrived as well, and she gave me a quick update:

It turns out that Kim's mom is the one who kicked her out. Kim? She's actually Alex. And Alex came out and told her mom that she identifies as a girl and her name is Kim. Kim's mom was none too pleased with this news and told her to go, never come back.

But as Kim's reality crushed in on her sitting alone in the hallway of our office, she called her mom and pleaded for her to allow Kim to come home.

And she did.

I have no idea what transpired last night for Kim and her mom. Most likely? I never will. But my heart hurts for both of them. My heart hurts for a mom whose dreams for her son are held hostage in a reality she refuses to accept. My heart hurts for Kim who isn't comfortable in the body she was born in.

And I can't help but wonder: what would we have done if her mom had not come by and picked up her "wayward" child?

What would we have done with Kim?

What is the world going to do with Kim?

Sad, beautiful Kim...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What Then

This past week I flew out early Thursday morning to Washington, DC to host an alumni event that same evening. It was a quick trip filled with weaving in and out of traffic, getting a rental car, navigating my way in unknown, traffic-filled territory to a motel and then a restaurant nestled in the midst of wall to wall concrete, and then back again to the airport the next morning for a flight home.

It was fast and furious, but it was fun.

The event was spectacular. The people who attended were fun-loving, chatty peeps that made it all easy. And the icing on top is that the food was divine. So, other than my opening speech which was a major flop if ever I've flopped at an opening speech before, it was all good. I'm not sure what happened with the opening speech thing. I'll blame it on the weather (which was perfect, I might add). But it was a forgiving crowd and they didn't blink at my lack of ability to find simple words or the fact that I stumbled and repeated myself, or that I forgot to say many things that I was supposed to say.

That's ok. Next time I'll be on my A-game.

Hopefully.

I will say, the fall colors were spectacular and the crisp air was good for my soul. Ah--I do love fall. I'll have to adjust to Texas fall...which really isn't much of a fall at all...and do my best to schedule events on the east coast during this time of year so that I can get my fix.

But here is the thing that stands out the most from my trip:

Because it was such new territory and I had to return the rental car which included catching a shuttle to the airport, I gave myself far too much time for hanging at the airport. After it was all said and done, I had a whopping three hours for simply reading and perusing and such. Honestly, I don't mind at all. I'm a simple sort of girl and boredom just isn't my style. I can read, hang with a crossword, or just live in the midst of my head with the best of them.  

Anyway, as I was hanging there, this guy joined the crowd. Now this guy? He looked normal. He was probably in his late 40's, early 50's, dressed decently, and fairly nice looking. But he was loud and obnoxious and inappropriate. At first, I watched him with a skeptical eye: what is your problem? But as time passed, I realized that he most likely wasn't "all there." I'm not exactly sure what that meant: was he high on something? Or was he just, you know...affected in some way? But clearly there was a problem.

Fairly quickly another middle aged man interacted with this guy--we'll call him Charlie--and so Charlie sidled up to this guy and I began to wonder if they were somehow connected. Traveling together. Friends. Charlie immediately lay down on the floor where this other guy was sitting and occasionally Charlie would blurt out something. For instance, one time he overheard a lady say, "What did you say?" And so he very loudly said, "What did you say?"

He did that sort of thing. Over and over.

Eventually, we were called to board the plane and so everyone got in line, including this guy that Charlie deemed his friend. And that's when we all realized that, in fact, they were not connected. The guy got in line and Charlie was left lying on the ground. He immediately got up when he realized he had been deserted and, by this time, the line had grown exponentially and he found himself separated from his friend. "SIR!" He yelled.

The guy stared straight ahead.

"Sir!" He yelled again.

The guy continued to stare straight ahead.

And then Charlie got frantic: "Sir! Sir! Sir! SIRRRRRRRR!"

But the guy didn't budge, gave no indication that he even heard Charlie. And so finally, dejected, Charlie tucked his head and went to the back of the line to wait his turn to get on the plane.

We all, myself included, stared straight ahead and pretended that Charlie didn't exist.

And that's what has stuck with me since this all transpired.

Because, what about if we did acknowledge Charlie? What about if we did befriend him, accept him, encourage him to come along side us and get on the plane together?

What then.

What about, if instead of sneering at his inappropriate comments, we simply brushed them aside as harmless and talked to him? Treated him as one of us?

What then.

What about if, rather than acting as strangers, we acted as friends, all in this world together, all a piece of humanity joining hands and traversing its ruggedness in a united fashion rather than as islands, separate and alone.

What then.

Sometimes I tire of judgment. I tire of the polarization this country is experiencing in the wake of the election. And sometimes I tire of the fact that I am on this train wholeheartedly. The things I see that make me weary? It's in me too.

There must be a better way.

There must be a way this side of heaven that embraces everyone, that makes everyone feel included and important.

And if we all wrapped our thoughts around that, made the first step in letting go of judgment and embracing someone who isn't like us...

Well...

What then.