Saturday, September 24, 2016

My Civic Duty

So this past week I did my civic duty: Jury duty.

And to be quite honest, after it was all over and done, I felt like I had just walked straight into the middle of the book To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is how it went down:

I arrived at the city hall here in Keene at 5:55 p.m. Monday evening. A large crowd had gathered on the lawn in front of city hall so I knew I was in the right place. Earlier, I had asked people if Keene actually had a court, and especially a court that required jurors from time to time. Nobody had ever heard of such a thing...clearly they were all misinformed.

I hung there on the lawn with several other people from Keene for the next hour. Occasionally a girl ran out to tell us not to be discouraged--we would be called in soon enough. It was 94 degrees, and most of us were standing there in the heat without water. But...you know--no worries.

I noticed that one of the men was elderly and struggling to stay upright and so eventually I knocked on the door to see if I could get him a chair. I could see lots of people in the foyer of the building--just hanging there in the air conditioning, chatting it up and such. They looked at the door, talked quietly amongst themselves and then looked at the door again: should we answer it? should we not??

I knocked again.

Finally they took a chance that I wasn't a cold blooded killer and barely opened the door enough to just see my face through the crack: Can I help you?

"Umm...yeah--there's an elderly gentleman out here who needs a chair??"

And there are 50 of us that need some water maybe?

Anyway, they quickly obliged my request for a chair and as I offered it to the gentleman, he shouted, "Hallelujah" to the rooftops.

No. He really did.

And then we all waited some more.

Finally they called out 12 names...and I was one of them. And so they took us back to this little room in the back where we could see the judge, and an attorney, and an older man who was the defendant. The attorney explained that we had been summoned as jurors for the defendant who was contesting a traffic ticket. It was our job to determine whether he was guilty.

And then we were dismissed to wait again while they decided which 6 of us 12 would serve on the jury.

And so, we all shuffled out through a narrow hall and into a tiny waiting room that held a total of 4 chairs, where we huddled together and waited yet again...

And lucky me. I was one of the six.

So, back to the tiny courtroom I went. The defendant was probably in his late 60's, maybe even early 70's, and he was from the Good Ole Boys Club. You know...he had on his boots, his hat, his button down shirt, and his blue jeans.

The policeman was there as well.

And the video that showed the actual stop.

And so, the policeman told his story. It seemed like a basic traffic stop--nothing interesting nor exciting.

And then the defendant had his turn.

He began to tell his story, to attempt to find holes in the policeman's story, to prove all kinds of things that made me cock my head a bit...

He rearranged the room to show where certain cars were, where the policeman was ... (even though we had already seen the video)...

And then he questioned the policeman, and threw in a few accusations...

And finally, the attorney had enough, stood up, and shouted in frustration, "I. Declare. A. Mistrial!!"

He said it a few times, motioned with his hands for us to leave, apologized for wasting our time...and then shooed us out the door.

We dutifully left.

Stunned.

When we got back outside where we originally started from, I looked at one of the other jurors who had the privilege of serving with me, and said, "What was that all about??"

She just laughed and shook her head.

And then the defendant came out, his chest puffed out like he had just won the world championship, and he declared, "See? I was winning! That's why it was declared a mistrial! Because I was winning and they won't let me win!" He laughed uproariously while the girl hanging on his arm smiled up at him proudly.

He looked directly at me and said, "Don't you think I would have won?"

And I just stood there.

And then I didn't. I quickly turned around, headed to my car, and drove home.

I might have looked in my rear view mirror a couple of times to make sure he wasn't following me.

And I might have checked my phone to make sure that I wasn't In a time warp and that it was, in fact, 2016.

Texas.

Who knew?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shelling Peas

Yesterday was a long, slow day--one of those days that seems to go on forever, when one looks at the clock, thinking, "It's probably 5:00 by now!"...yet it's only 2. It was one of those kinds of days.

Those rarely happen anymore. It got me to thinking about what life used to be for adults before this new age happened--back when my grandma was alive. I can remember hanging out on the front porch of my Grandma Helen's country home and shelling peas, or sorting apricots that were picked from the tree out back and the afternoons seemed to lazily wind on and on. We sat out there for hours, my grandma sipping iced tea, and chatted about the weather, about the wheat crop, about the horses.

Grandma Helen lived way out in the country and we had to traverse dirt roads for miles to get to her house. Grandpa's health was failing most of my childhood years until his death when I was in high school; I only have one memory of him walking and that was when I was about 3 or 4 years old and I rode with him in the pickup down a country road, while one of his thoroughbreds ran beside us. Grandpa loved the race track and he and Grandma often had a horse they were training. During the summers, they would head off for Denver where they rented a bungalow and spent their days on the track. For our family vacations, we joined them for a week or so and I spent my afternoons walking the aisles of the barns and checking out the various horses behind stall doors.

Those were fun days.

People knew how to be present back then. They knew how to sit with their thoughts and let them brew for a bit rather than stuffing them down via email or texting or games on smart phones.

People knew how to be quiet.

Savana introduced me to a YouTube video recently called From the Amazon to the Garden State. It's about a man who researched the people of the Amazon and so he lived with them for awhile in order to really get a grasp on their culture. These people are far removed from our modern day ways as they live off the land and their lives are ones of simplicity and tradition. Anyway, this man fell in love with a girl from the Amazon and brought her home to New Jersey where together they had 3 children. I won't ruin the story in case anyone wants to watch this YouTube video. It's fascinating and thought provoking...but the one statement I took from the video is when this Amazon girl comes to America and notes how people pass strangers in the street with no acknowledgement, how people run to and fro, constantly busy...and she said, "People weren't made to live this way."

I have often wondered about that actually. It seems our lives are artificial: artificial air as we live in manufactured heat or manufactured cold; artificial light; artificial houses built of brick. And yet, knowledge has expanded greatly with our artificial lives.

I am not complaining. I'm happy with air conditioning and a comfortable home that keeps me safe from the elements. I love driving to see my parents and arriving in a matter of hours though they are hundreds of miles away. Our modern conveniences make life grand in many respects. But sometimes I wonder if we've lost our ability to enjoy life because we spend so much time filling it.

And so yesterday as I hung in my living room and the hours seemed to be passing slowly by, my first thought was, What should I do? I need to fill this time with something...

And that stopped me in my tracks.

I changed course and decided not to fill my time but, rather, to just sit with it for awhile, to be quiet for a minute, to just be.

And it made me wonder, did people's lives of yesteryear seem to last longer? Maybe their years were shorter in number, but longer in quality, in time well-spent.

Maybe their days were filled with moments lived rather than moments squandered.

Maybe I need to -
 ...put down my phone and look up.

Maybe I need to shell more peas on the front porch and talk about the weather.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nail Proof

Twice a year Keene has Trash Pick Up Day. This isn't the normal once a week gig where they empty the trash cans. This is the Bring Whatever Junk You Have to the Curb and We Will Dispose of It day.

Out behind our house is a large tin building that could be used for storage. We recently figured out that this tin building is actually the trailer to a semi minus the wheels and minus a back door. Then someone built a front to it, added some electricity, and there you go--a storage shed. Roy hates the front addition and intends to tear it down someday because it looks a bit tacky. But there was a problem with the trailer part of the shed, and that problem is this:

It was stockpiled with JUNK. And I do mean junk. It was just left there by one of the two previous owners--no idea who, and it really doesn't matter--but it was more than Roy could stand. All of that junk weighed on him. And so, when he heard about this Bring Whatever Junk You Have...day, he determined that he would use it to his gain and get rid of it all.

Which sounds great.

However, Roy has been working from morning 'til night with his job--literally. He leaves by 5:20 every morning and has not been getting home before 8:00. Once he is trained, life will slow down a bit but in the meantime, he is a busy boy. And so, by the time Roy pulled in Monday night (and the trash pick up was Tuesday), it was pitch black outside.

As we live outside of town, we have no street lights to guide the way; it's pure country out here. But of course, Roy was not deterred and so the three of us (Jace included) with flashlight in hand gingerly walked out to that tin building and scoped out the massive amounts of junk inside. And then we got to work.

While Roy worked the trailer, Jace and I stood outside with large black trash bags and stuffed what Roy threw out into the bags. It was hard work and it was disgusting. We all kept one eye open for a slithering rattlesnake or a scurrying mouse but, sigh of relief, it never happened. I'm not sure why as the inside of that trailer was a haven for such critters.

Anyway, Roy worked at lightning speeds and Jace and I struggled to keep up with him; and then it happened. Roy let out a yell and suddenly stopped, pulling up his foot.

"A nail just went through my foot," he said.

"You're kidding me," I replied, panicking a bit.

"I'm not kidding. I need your help."

And so, with Jace on one side and me on the other, we managed to help Roy hobble to his workshop where he sat down on a bucket and held up his work boot for me to inspect.

Sure enough.

I could see the head of a nail securely fastened to the bottom of his boot.

It was evident that Roy was managing the pain as he breathed purposefully in through his nose, out through his mouth, in a determined, repetitive fashion.

He instructed me where to find the pliers and then, after I brought them to him, he inched out the nail just a wee bit--enough to be able to grab it with the pliers.

"On my count, pull it out," he said. "Pull it straight out."

For the record? I am an English major. I like books, writing, candles, and sunsets.

I do not like blood, wounds, or nails in feet. Medical stuff makes me nauseous. One time, Roy had a procedure done on his back and, being the supportive wife that I am, I hung in the room while the doctor cut on Roy's back.

And I went down.

I sat down in time so that my head didn't flop on the floor...but nonetheless...it sent me over the edge.

If you are having a medical emergency, I am not your girl.

And so, this nail in Roy's foot? It took everything in my being to stay in that shop, pliers in my hand, reaching for the nail, grabbing it, and then pulling. Straight out.

I would have preferred running straight out.

But I didn't.

I am the hero in this story.

I got the nail out, leaving a hole in Roy's foot. And we have no idea the last time he had a tetanus shot.

Great.

But no matter.

Because Roy is Roy? We went back out to that tin building and Roy went back to work. I yelled, and I complained, and I grumbled about the stupidity of it all as I was convinced Roy would get another nail in his foot...but he was determined. 35 very large black trash bags later, the tin building was empty and we threw as many of those bags into the little red pickup--and several on top of it--as was physically possible and drove them to the front of the house where we dumped them by the curb...

And then repeat.

Yesterday Roy went to work and mid-afternoon he sent me a text telling me how yet another nail plunged through his other boot while he was at work. This one, however, missed his foot.

Clearly Roy needs new boots.

I sent a text to Dr. Bob, our Doctor friend from North Carolina, asking for his thoughts on the matter, and he said, "Woman, get your husband a tetanus shot! Lockjaw might be good for you but not for him!"

Yeah. He's nice like that.

And so, after a bit of research, I learned that CVS provides immunizations, including tetanus shots, and so on the way home from work, Roy stopped by.

Meanwhile...

Roy's fellow inspectors told him about some boots that are nail-proof. I think we'll check those out.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Worth It

My cat is happy I am home. He is sitting on my lap and kneading my belly because it is squishy and he likes that.

Great.

I am home from an incredible weekend in Oklahoma--the home that forever holds my heart. When Roy and I first got married, I was so excited to begin our adventure in Colorado with the grandeur of the Rockies; in our later years, I adored Wisconsin; North Carolina was awe-inspiring. But? There is no place like home. On our way back yesterday, Tami said, "I would enjoy living in the mountains of North Carolina with its perfect weather."

I just smiled. Because I know...she wouldn't last long. She would be just like me--pining for the plains, longing for wide open sky and pickup trucks with trailers behind.

Our trip home was a fast one. We left at 1:00 Friday afternoon, stopping along the way to meet my precious Auntie Buggsy (Hi Muggs) whom I haven't seen in a few years, but now she only lives about an hour away. And then we zipped on to little Tommy-Town (Thomas), home to the Bulldogs and country roads with potholes to dodge and two big dips in the center of town with a "DIP" side beside them. Back in the day, Tami used to say to me, "Look, Vonda--they have a welcome sign for you!"

And back in the day, it made me angry and I would cross my arms, sullen.

Because I was 8.

My mom made scrumptious potato soup because she asked me what I wanted for supper and that is one of the dishes that is just so Mom. She used to tell me stories about how when she was growing up, the kids would pile in after milking the cows and Grandma would have a large pot of potato soup simmering on the stove. Clearly potato soup spelled home for Mom as well.

After we ate, we all (Mom, my sisters, and me) headed for the track up at the school and walked circles while gazing at the sky. The sun had gone down by the time we got there, leaving streaks of gold and hues of pink, and a large cloud loomed above us, creating a conversation piece as lightning sparked inside: What is the deal with that cloud?

It was a perfect evening.

I spent Saturday with Dad and Jo. They were part of their church "garage sale" and so I hung quite a lot with Dad on an ugly gold couch that probably haled from the '70's, as he joked and teased with passersby. He has a good buddy named Eddie Royalty that has been his friend since time began and Eddie and his wife Dorothy were there most of the time as well. They left occasionally to pop some popcorn that was passed out free of charge to those who came to the "garage sale." As we sat there on that ugly couch, Eddie reminded me of how when I was a little kid in elementary school, we would play dodge ball and I would hang in the very back corner for the entire game rather than getting up there in the front and participating.

No surprise there.

I was probably thinking, I would rather be reading a book...

Yeah. I was one of those.

After the garage sale, we headed to Clinton which is about 20 miles away or so for lunch and then the County Fair so that Jo could pick up all of her first place (and a few Champion) submissions. Jo is a master at crafting--her work is second to none. She and Laurie Worth would have a grand time chatting it up and comparing their pristine artwork that leaves me baffled. Because no matter how I try, my crafting looks like a kindergartner put it together.

Every single time.

While we were at the County Fair, a few ladies from Seiling, the little town where I grew up, walked in and we chatted with them for a bit. I haven't seen them since I was literally ten years old so that was fun and crazy and left me shaking my head at where does the time go.

Jo and I made cinnamon rolls that afternoon--24 large, gooey, pecan-filled rolls that burst in the oven. We smathered them with icing and then we all divulged ourselves, savoring every bite. And then felt miserable afterwards because that is just what we do.

We had a bit of excitement later in the afternoon when Dad, rifle in hand, went out on the four wheeler to shoot a road runner that was after the baby bunnies. Jo loves her bunnies that hop in her yard--that is more like park than a yard--and she guards them like a hawk. But Dad didn't have any success as the road runner hid behind the edge of the house and watched Dad ride slowly by; then the road runner took off the opposite direction when it was safe.

I watched it all from the window.

But that road runner better be careful. I'm betting his days are numbered.

Around 7, Tami and Lori came over and the house was filled with chatter and laughter and the smell of cinnamon...

It was perfect.

And when we hugged Jo and Dad goodbye, Dad said, "So. Was it worth it?"

Over that 24 hour period, I watched a king cab pickup truck hauling a beat up cattle trailer down the road.

I saw children playing in the street, their feet filthy, without a care in the world.

Cows lazily picked up their heads from grazing and watched as we drove on in the car.

I stood on the land that has been home to my family since 1927.

I ate at the table with my amazing mom on her best dishes.

I sat on Dad and Jo's couch, watching tv, and chatted with my precious Dad and Jo about nothing and everything.

I gazed at fields newly plowed from sewing seeds for next year's wheat crop.

Yes, Dad.

It was worth it.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

One Day at a Time

We are having an Open House for the Advancement Department this next week and so yesterday, we all converged in the Work Room of our department and went to work. It was a mess. And so, we all rolled up our sleeves and heaved and hoed and pushed and pulled and rearranged.

Tami's husband Lloyd is an architect and he drafted a new layout for the room that would make the most of the space. We added a modern tv stand for our large flatscreen that will be used for videos and such that are always in production with the marketing team. We discussed this large space on the wall that will be used for keeping track of all of our events and projects.

It was constant motion and discussion and laughter and sweat. But three hours later, we had a brand new room that is energizing, exciting.

In the midst of all of that chaos, Janelle came by loaded down with Dr. Pepper from Sonic Happy Hour. She whisked in, passed out styrofoam cups filled to the brim, and whisked out! But she was a delight--and we were all delighted. Love that girl.

And so, it was a productive day. I didn't get one thing accomplished that I had on my list, but no matter. Today is another day...

I intended to go to Hobby Lobby yesterday evening after work and get a few things for my office. It's in need of a little pick-me-up. You know...a plant in the windowsill, some frames scattered around, maybe a clock...And so, in the middle of the day I sent Roy a text to let him know and of course, he wanted to join. But there was a catch: endless shrimp at Red Lobster is in session.

When I got home from work, Jace immediately came out to join me and proceeded to tell me what a great day he had at school. He has a crush on a little girl that is, admittedly, adorable, and so he informed me that life is looking up.

Oh boy. Here we go...

And then Roy got home (a tad late as he hit traffic) and we took off for Red Lobster. We had an adorable little waitress named Mari that just graduated from college with her Journalism/Communication degree. She is living at home and said that she loves home, no big desire to leave any day soon...but she is preparing her resume and hoping to work for a small news company one day and work her way up to the Big Leagues.

I think she'll make it.

One of these days we'll turn on Good Morning America--or something of that caliber--and there will be Mari -- that beautiful smile radiating, informing the world in her infectious way. And we'll say, "Hey! She was our waitress at Red Lobster that one day! Remember?"

But most likely we won't remember.

Because we're both bad about that sort of thing.

Anyway...

We hit Hobby Lobby at exactly 8:01.

They closed at 8:00.

So the very reason that we initially went to Burleson?

Well...

And so, we drove back home, Roy talking a mile a minute about all of his work stories.

He is happy.

We were home before 9:00 and we both fell into bed and were sound asleep before 9:30.

Yesterday was just a day--a regular, normal, nothing out of the ordinary day.

This morning the alarm rang at 4:30 and Roy bounded out of bed. I sluggishly followed him about 15 minutes later to pack his lunch and send him off with a bowl of cantaloupe and toast.

Another regular day is on its way.

Well, hopefully...

Because one never knows when life will change in the blink of an eye.

One never knows when an unforeseen phone call or event will throw life off kilter and catapult us in an entirely different direction.

And so...for all of the regular days? The days that glide by with nothing spectacular, nothing really to talk about?

Or write about?

We have to commit to being present, to enjoying the moment, to soaking it all in...

We have to commit to living...

...one day at a time.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Imperfectly Perfect

Last night I took a bath--a long hot bath with lots of bubbles.

I love baths. It is in those quiet moments of reflection when it is only me and bubbles and water up to my neck that the light comes in. Some of my greatest truths present themselves and I am able to leave the bathroom a bit more settled in my heart than I entered.

And so, last night as I soaked for a bit, I thought about how life has come full circle, and I thought about how all of my posts appear like life is just perfect.

And of course...nothing is ever perfect.

I despise that actually--the appearance of perfection, making others feel inferior in comparison. One time this past spring when Jace was in soccer, I got to know one of the other moms and I just really liked her. Her name was Tami and she had two older kids--very similar to me. One time when we were talking she told me how both of her older kids struggled. Her son was on the streets and her daughter had just moved with her boyfriend to Colorado because marijuana was legal. And then she asked me about my older kids. I felt embarrassed reporting on mine in comparison. Her heart was torn as she wrestled with self-blame for her children's struggles. And so, as I briefly told her about my own adult children, who appeared so successful in comparison, I assured her that they are all just kids, finding their way. That the outside appearance may look good, but when it comes to our hearts, we are all just people doing the best we can.

Recently I ran into a mom of kids that we actually taught several years ago. This mom and her husband had an air of perfection that they groomed in a carefully guarded manner. I haven't seen these two people in well over 15 years and so much has happened to their kids since we taught them. One is in prison for life and the other is experiencing some major struggles. Their air of perfection is broken and as I spoke with this mom, her guard down, we connected in a very real way about the pain of life and yet, it's joys in the midst of heartache.

Recently I read a book that talked about how we don't connect with people when we share our successes and our joys nearly so much as when we share our pain and our struggles. And that hit me with its truth. We all like to know that we aren't in this alone, that when others go home at the end of the day, they don't necessarily always go home to light and laughter and dazzling sunshine. Struggles define us and struggles keep us connected at their very core.

Last night I participated in one of those Facebook "games" that tells you who you are at your core based on posts and such. I play those games all of the time but very rarely post them because they seem to be a "beg" for a compliment. But this particular game--or whatever it is called--seemed to be spot-on as the message that it claimed I stand for is experiencing life in all of the good and in all of the bad. And I was impressed. Because truly, that is what I want to do--that is what I strive for--to truly live life each day, whether life is good or life is painful. Because I believe that the only way to get to true happiness is to experience true sorrow when painful experiences come our way. And so, I posted it. I thought it would be a way to share with others so that they, too, could participate and see what core message they give out to the Facebook world. However, a friend of mine commented and said, "Go Vonda!" And I realized that the message I was putting out into the world is that I am "all that and a box of chocolates." And so, I immediately took down the post.

Life is never perfect. But I believe life is beautiful and tragic and painful and joy-filled--and sometimes all of that in one day. We are all doing the best that we can and sometimes our best may not be what others perceive our best should be.

But? What others think is really none of our business.

What is important is that we make each day count, that we live our best life, that we watch sunsets, we laugh with friends, we celebrate people, we cry when our hearts are hurting, we create traditions, we eat good food, we strive for balance...

...that we are authentic.

...that we are part of the greater good.

...that we do the best we can, one day at a time...

...imperfectly perfect.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Letting Go

Yesterday I mowed.

Mowing around here is a big deal because the yard is huge. And there are lots of trees with big roots that one has to maneuver. And so, I made wide circles around the places that looked a bit treacherous and left them for Roy which, of course, made mowing quite enjoyable! No navigating...just around and around, watching the circle get smaller and smaller...

I love mowing--always have. I don't even mind pushing a mower. There is something satisfying about a clean shaven yard, the earthy smell of grass wafting up, the backdrop of blue sky.

Once I "finished" the back portion, Roy took over and I headed over to the track to meet Tami so that we could get in our 3 miles. She was a tad late arriving and so I walked the path alone for a bit--just Piper and me--walking a 3/4 mile track that has a large loop followed by a smaller one. We used to walk the roads but the sun sets earlier now and it's pitch black by the time we're done. And so, we've opted for a safer setting.

As I walked the loops--enjoying a bit of "me" time--I thought about a phone conversation I had earlier in the day. On September 16 I am hosting an event in Orlando for SWAU Alumni and we recently sent out invitations. One of our alumni received the invitation and called to RSVP.

And then she said, "Do they have any job openings in Texas for teachers?"

The question took me by surprise, made me shake my head a bit. "Do you mean in the Adventist system?" I asked.

"Yes, I am wanting to relocate and was hoping I could find a job there as a teacher."

"Oh!" I said. "I would recommend checking the NAD website as they list their job openings there."

She assured me that she has checked it several times but nothing is listed currently.

And so I said, "I totally understand your position. I was there a few months ago. So I am just going to make a suggestion. Tell God the desire of your heart, and then let go."

We talked a bit more about it, and then she said, "I am so encouraged. Thank you."

It was one of those conversations that doesn't happen very often--one of those off the cuff connections that one doesn't see coming. And truly, I am normally not so bold, especially with someone whom I don't know. And I am not patting myself on the shoulder, like -- look at me saying just the right thing.

Because normally?

Normally I stumble.

Normally I have no words.

Normally I have no answers.

But the past year has taught me...again...that stress about one's future is a waste of energy.

That the desires of our heart do not go unnoticed.

That we must keep our hearts open for opportunity--

    Our eyes open for those uncanny coincidences...

And then let go...