No Empty Chairs

We put up the Christmas tree. It was all glowing, and at first I felt lighter. No, my scale still tipped at the same alarming poundage. It was my soul. My soul felt lighter.

It took me awhile to figure it out. More than color and twinkling lights, more than cheesy ornaments and memories, more than being my favorite holiday, the tree this year offered me a new perspective. It filled a corner where I last saw my son alive.xmas tree

A lovely burgundy wingback chair usually graces that corner. Alma sat in it many a night on his way home from work, stopping in to chat. It remains my last memory of my son. The advent of the tree removed that last vestige and it didn’t take long for the pendulum to swing back and smack me in the face.

Putting the chair in another place didn’t banish his memory, for I think of him with every breath and with each beat of my heart, but it removed all hope of finding him there some morning, dropping by to say hello. It removed all hope, period.

I find I am no better off than the atheist who doesn’t believe in life after death, who believes that when a person dies, he’s simply gone. I know. I believe in life after death and all, but on this side of the veil, I’m no better off than the atheist. My son is gone. I never got to say goodbye, and I have no talisman to ward off overwhelming grief.

Something will have to change, for life at this point is unsustainable. I need hope. Only hope can bring an easing of the heartache. Only hope can make it easier to breathe, cause my heart to cease its palpitations and stop the tightening in my chest when I try to eat. I need to live again, for a part of me died last March. I am waiting for that empty corner of my heart to be healed, made new, filled again. The empty chair, empty heart ends at some point, right?

 

Odd Numbers and When to Celebrate

ann347. It’s an odd number, isn’t it? Not quite golden, but close. Very close.

We opted for a big shindig on our 40th, never realizing a third of our family would be missing at our 50th–so glad we didn’t wait! I always thought I’d die young, so I’ve tried to squeeze a lifetime into each moment. Now I find the unthinkable has become my new reality. I live, yet the bones of my bones lies dead. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted it the other way around.

Being real, this is my story. My life. And 47 is a great number, because it symbolizes 47 years of learning to be one, surviving our ups and downs, trials and blessings. In this arid desert we tend to grieve better separately, at the same time, but each in our own way. We’ve learned to give space and to seek solace, and our advice to our friends is simple–celebrate now. Never wait. Loss can strike viciously, suddenly, with never a chance to say goodbye. Celebrate life every chance you get.ann1

Here’s the important point: We celebrate together. We celebrate life. We celebrate the family we have, both here and beyond the veil. Bill, I love you. I loved our evening out. Here’s to another 3, anyway. Let’s be golden!

 

Always Find Time to Smile

The world gets whacko sometimes, doesn’t it? We thought road rage was bad, but that devolved into interpersonal aggression in every corner of the country. Between wars, threats of terrorism, Facebook bullying and politics in general, life gets grim…but look at that as all the more reason to smile.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart: The simplest antidote to all this pent up rage is the application of a smile. Paste it on if you have to, but find it. Wear it. Share it. This is the time and the place to do just that!

As a guest columnist, I’d like to share with you one of the things that makes me smile. My second book has just been released, and writing has brought me more pleasure than you can imagine. I started writing the books because I cherish five granddaughters and certain life lessons needed learning without preaching. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with my heroine.

Christine is a girl, every girl, your girl. Perhaps she is you. Born a commoner, she finds herself a princess being trained for royal duties. Doesn’t that just describe each gal on the planet? We do the mundane. We sweep. We cook. We fold laundry. Yet in our hearts we know we wear invisible crowns. We know those simple acts serve a greater good and to the little minions we treasure, we are heroines.

Living vicariously through Christine and her adventures draws me from the sad notes in life and restores my joy. Seeing my granddaughters enjoying the books puts a sparkle in my soul. Do I see myself writing more books? Of course!

And that is my challenge to you, dear readers. Find those grace notes that bring a smile to your face, and put them consciously, intentionally into your life. When you share your smiles, you’ll find others smiling back, and who can be spewing rage when faced with a smile bubbling up and overflowing?  We exercise no control over the world at large, but we each influence a small corner of the world where we hang our hats. So smile and clean up your corner of the world.

The Common Princess 005 book 2 cover aaron

 

Sometimes You Just Don’t Get What You Wish For

This will be the first time Alma has missed my birthday.  When he was alive, he’d stop by several nights a week on his way home from work.  He’d walk in the back door and sit down in the corner chair and say, “What’s up, Mom?” or “Whaddaya need, Mom?” In the past nine months I’ve looked at that chair countless times, hoping to see him sitting there, that lazy smile on his face.Image 002

I got up extra early this morning, just to see if he’d drop by, maybe be waiting in that chair to tell me “Happy Birthday.”  That was the present I wanted most. I guess he’s busy elsewhere.

So what is he up to?  I mean, Alma never liked to sing, and I can’t see him in choir rehearsals all day long.  I’m fairly certain there’s nothing to blow up in heaven.  No cars to fix.  Nothing to weld.  He should be here. What a slacker! He was never idle when alive, so this is a certainly departure from the norm.

All of it begs the question: What happens when you don’t get the one present you’d hoped to get? I’m old enough I can’t remember how I coped as a child when that happened, though it inevitably did…I just can’t remember. A recent verse has been worming its way into my consciousness…and a friend at church quoted it as “give thanks for all things.” I looked it up, because I’m nowhere near giving thanks for losing Alma. Yup, that’s what it said in my Bible.  I had to close it so I wouldn’t throw it across the room.  Then another friend posted a different version…”give thanks in all things.” It’s a much better translation for nomads like myself.

I can give thanks for the love of my family and friends in this time of desert wandering.  I can give thanks for the Lord, who collects and counts my tears.  I can give thanks for the good times to come, because surely this desert ends at some point in life.  And I can give thanks for meaningful work.  Writing has become a solace for me, and I am ever thankful for the support of friends and loved ones who encourage me.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking over at that chair, ever hopeful and ever longing to have that final goodbye with my son.  Do you get to subtract a year and a candle if you don’t get your wish?  Ha! I know.  Bummer!

Thanksgiving is Easy When You Approach the Holiday Like It’s a Tactical Invasion

I love Thanksgiving. I really do.  I love all the foods, love having my family hang out, love the idea behind it.  It is my favorite holiday until about 6:00 pm on Thanksgiving night, when the Rhoads family Christmas tree goes up. But Thanksgiving for the uninitiated can be quite daunting…hence this blog.

If you are new to preparing the family feast, you’ll find it much easier if you approach the holiday with the tactical precision of a military commander planning the invasion of Normandy. I kid you not. It takes military genius to pull this thing off.

If your turkey isn’t already thawing, go now. Right now. Buy a fresh one. It takes 4 days to defrost an 18 pound turkey in the fridge. If yours is smaller, you may still have time. I keep mine in a picnic cooler with a thermometer. As it thaws it keeps the cooler about the same temperature as a fridge…but I have to watch if the oven is on too much. Sometimes I toss the cooler outside if it isn’t freezing, sometimes it moves in an out over the course of a day…I know, it’s a pain. But hey, that’s a lot of refrigerator real estate to fork over when it’s already jam-packed with everything else.

Tuesday morning dawns with my preparations in full swing. I make my mashed potatoes on Tuesday, using cream cheese and sour cream to keep them creamy and delightful. I start drying 2 loaves of bread for stuffing, and I organize ingredients with spices across the dining room table. Tuesday evening is cranberry sauce. Wash your berries, taking out the ones that float. I use the recipe on the package and even though Bill is the only one of the family who likes them, I make a double batch every year. If there’s a lot left over, I can always make more Jello, lol.

Wednesday is pie, jello and stuffing day. I bake pies and try to move them around so they don’t freeze while staying the appropriate temperature. Let me just sat this: Mother Nature, I want a steady 45 degrees through Thanksgiving! Morning; While the pies are baking I’m cooking giblets. Pumpkin pie requires putting everything into the bowl in the proper order so your spices don’t clump, but making them from scratch is huge. The canned pie mix is too bland or me. Afternoon: Jello time! I usually make a blueberry concoction with a nice frosting, but it was Alma’s favorite, so I’m exploring a new recipe this year. There’s no sense in crying through the day. Evening: By Wednesday night you need to have chopped and mixed the stuffing.  Don’t skimp on the sage. I mix it up and taste it an hour later to be sure it’s savory and perfect. If you can’t farm out the sweet potatoes, make those Wednesday evening as well.

Thursday morning starts at 5:00 am, when we stuff the turkey and stick it in the oven. I know. You aren’t supposed to stuff the bird, but hey, stuffing just isn’t the same in a casserole dish. I can always taste the difference, and since it’s one of my favorite things, it simply must get stuffed. Finish the Jello by 10:00 am. If your dinner is noonish, the potatoes go in the oven by 11:00. Make sure you take your turkey out a half hour before you’re ready to carve. Spoon out the stuffing.

Carving the turkey: First remove the drumsticks. Systematically remove the thighs and wings. Now cut down the center of the bird to bisect the breast. Once you’ve lifted it aside, it can be easily sliced. Do the same with the other side. Fill one half of the platter with white and the other half with dark.

Gravy time! Start with the appropriate stock, skimming off excess grease. Season it. Make a slurry of flour and water, and add it to the gravy, whisking like a madwoman. Continue the process, letting it cook as it thickens.

Image result for images thanksgivingThankfully, other family members are bringing sweet potatoes, rolls, appetizers, a vegetable casserole, and extra desserts. So happy about that! Trust yourself. You can do this. Just have a plan, and make it very specific. It makes Thanksgiving easy and your family will be so impressed. And thankful.

 

How to Cure a Dawdler Without Strangulation, My Five Tips

Passive aggressive children (coworkers, siblings, roommates) suck the energy right of you, don’t they? People don’t wake up one day and decide to be passive aggressive. No, they act that way because of years of practice, but it begins in childhood. It is most often seen in a child who is given a job–be it getting dressed, cleaning a room, or doing schoolwork, and who then dawdles through it. The child professes to be working at it so shouldn’t be chastised, but in reality is ignoring it, and it drives you to the point of pulling your hair out. That’s the key point in diagnosing passive aggression. If it doesn’t make you crazy, it isn’t passive or it isn’t aggression. But when you see it, before you reach the crazy stage, implement character training. It must be weeded out before it takes root and becomes a way of life.

We see this in the lives of people, not animals. First of all, no mama rhino would let her child be non-compliant. And secondly, dawdlers in the animal kingdom are eaten when the lions chase the pack. Therefore they cease to exist. The mama rhino knows that and trains it out of her offspring. Let us do likewise!

In us humans it’s different, and all too often we make allowances for it. Sometimes we think we can reason it away. Nope. The child (and counterpart adult) seldom voices the reason for passive aggression, and may not be cognizant of it. Thus scolding, talking, reminding and yelling are all ineffective. In our household this week, passive aggression came in the form of a young miss who just sat and did no math, while professing three hours later she was doing it but it was just so hard. (sob, sob) Sound familiar? (Let me just clarify here that when forced to do it, she completed her work in less than 15 minutes. Let’s not fall prey to tears, feeling sorry for the tyke. No, she was dawdling.)

Obviously a spouse, sibling or coworker acts outside the realm of your authority, so you cannot compel a change. Only influence can be brought to bear. But a child is your responsibility.  Your primary job is raising up a righteous generation, and refusing to deal with dawdling hurts not just the rhythm of the present day, but will impact your child in future years. No one enjoys being around a passive aggressive person, no employer likes to hire a passive aggressive person, and few spouses remain married to a passive aggressive person. Fail to deal with it, and your child will pay the price for a very, very long time.

Ready to fix the problem? These are my five tips for dealing with dawdlers:

  1. Move the child next to you. Children who see constant eyes upon them finally dig in and get the job done. K did her math in minutes once I had her within arm’s reach and kept my eyes on her. Of course it upsets your day and requires your attention, but putting in the required time pays off in the end. It’s your job. Just do it. Be the rhino. Everything else can wait when your child needs correction.
  2. Reward dawdling with consequences. K had math, math, math, math, math for all her subjects until I saw a change of attitude and performance. Only then was she allowed to work independently (away from my side) and then still on math, until she proved her good workmanship. In the words of an old song, “Let the punishment fit the crime.” For another situation it might mean cleaning the bathroom and the hall and the kitchen after the original chore was accomplished (with mom lounging in full view with iced tea in hand.) Life has consequences. Don’t thwart that natural order if you wish to raise a responsible child.
  3. Apply the Word. Scripture study and memorization of applicable verses reaches the soul. There’s the heart of the problem, right? Apply eternal light to a little speck of darkness. One of my favorites is 1 Samuel 15:23.
  4. Talk. Inspire. Praise. Passive aggressive children–after consequences have been applied–need a heavy dose of conversation. Why do you suppose you didn’t do your math? and Did it make you happy to be disobedient? and How do you feel now? Many of us act unconsciously when upset until we are able to sit down, ponder, and figure out what made us feel that way. If we have trouble pinpointing a problem as adults, surely we shouldn’t expect that same self awareness in a child. Focus on the situation at hand and let your child grow up a little before you try psychoanalysis, lol. But talk. A lot. Growing love inspires a child to be obedient.
  5. Do this as often as necessary. Your child needs to know that he/she will NEVER win the war of passive aggression. Clear the calendar as often as necessary and get ‘er done. Expect recurrences. Never let your child win in the game of dawdling.

be the rhinoParents, be the rhino! Of course if you home school, this is easier for you. You aren’t racing off with a non-compliant child to be on time somewhere. You can devote yourself to child training. Your reward? A few weeks of happy compliance before it starts all over again. But those few weeks? They’re worth all the hassle.

Let me encourage you, parents, to do your duty. Take the raising of your children as your primary source of employment, and do the job thoroughly. It takes time and effort, but you’ll love that youngster all the more as an adult, an adult who isn’t passive aggressive.

What To Do When Capitalism Goes Awry

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in capitalism over all other national forms of economic structure. I do believe, however, that something has gotten our economic system out of whack.

Right now the old aphorism that it takes money to make money has never been more true. Entrepreneurs, inventors, craftsmen and authors find themselves disenfranchised when it comes to getting noticed or marketing their products. It takes a hefty bankroll to break into the public consciousness.internet

Social media leveled the playing field for a short time, but then Facebook began manipulating the posts, so no one knows who actually receives what is put online. The ever mysterious metrics on Google make reaching people on the world wide web more a case of hocus pocus and less a marketing strategy that anyone can implement with precision. The slow demise of the printed newspaper has compounded the dilemma. Even catching the eye of a reporter is difficult when the electronic age insulates them from from unwanted solicitation. The cost of advertising on any of these platforms also favors the lucky recipient with a bankroll.

The result cheapens the market because we see is not necessarily the best of the best. Cream doesn’t always rise to the top in a manipulated market. And it’s not up to you or me to judge the difference…that’s been done for us and we’ve been spoon fed what we are allowed to see. The invisible faces of people pulling strings do that for us.

My question is: How long are we going to let the invisible entities muddy up the waters? It’s time to rise up and figure a way around the stranglehold. I have ideas. Pockets of people could create accounts for startups and we could finance ourselves. The successful startup would then pay back for the next recipient. We really need to get behind a new and more transparent form of social media. And finally, we need to champion the worthy causes we see around us.

internet2It isn’t easy, I know. I am one of the sisters organizing The Ultimate Expos. I see fabulous artists who go largely unrecognized despite our every attempt to showcase their work on Facebook. We commit ourselves to advancing their careers…we just have such a twisted and tightly regulated medium in which to do it.

I welcome other suggestions. It’s up to we the people to change things. What are your ideas?

How to Lessen the Impact of Loss

God’s people have never been strangers to grief. They lived in captivity more often than their spurts of sovereignty, which were plagued with treachery and warfare. Jesus was thronged by desperate people because their lives were punctuated with disease and grief. One of my favorite scriptures comes from such a time. “By the waters of Babylon we  laid down and wept, and wept, for thee O Zion.” Their own trail of tears marks the path of my personal loss.

Life in the good ole’ USofA suburbia insulates and protects most of us. Modern medicine reduced morbidity until many only experience death as the loss of an aging grandparent. That feels normal. We expect it. Sudden or traumatic death affects few of us personally. Since it’s more of a vicarious adventure we forget and really don’t wish to remember the grim reaper stalks at will.

For now let’s put aside the reaper…remember that even blest lives experience loss. The loss of a beloved family member fractures the heart, but loss of a job, a difficult move, a pet who dies is just as real…loss isn’t measured on a scale to be real or significant. And so the question that applies to us all is a simple one: How do we deal with grief?

Scripture invites us to taste of the goodness of God. Sadly, many choose to chaw on large of wads of bitterness. But here’s the thing–bitterness spreads through your soul like a cancer, darkening, mutating your joy into despair. In contrast, thankfulness for what does remain in your fractured heart is like planting seeds that will grow and blossom in due season. I practice gratitude daily amid all the heartache, hoping for a bountiful harvest. Do I see any good yet? No. I see no evidence of healing, but this is the winter of my grief. Spring cometh! In the meantime I will continue to plant seeds of gratitude and water them with my tears.The seed lies buried in the fruit

How To Save Time & Money with the Q.O.D. Meal Plan

As adults, certain chores get repetitive, don’t they?  Chores like meal planning and cooking 3 squares a day just burn my grits..  Eating occurs a little too predictably at our house, but I learned a secret.  The Q.O.D. meal plan saves me time and money, so it’s a win/win.

What is it you ask?  You didn’t take Greek or Latin in high school?  I did, but darned if I can give it to you in any particular language, just medical-ese.  Any nurse will tell you it refers to a medication administered every other day.  Yes, Q.O.D. means every other day.

When applied to my kitchen, it’s a prescription I find quite appealing.

  • Cook Monday, enough for two meals.
  • Cook Tuesday, enough for two meals.
  • Wednesday eat Monday leftovers.
  • Thursday eat Tuesday leftovers.
  • Friday date night go out for a bite.
  • Saturday eat light while prepping Sunday dinner

Bgrey and black pen on calendar bookoom! I cooked three times, stretched my meat, and saved money on my grocery bill in the process.  Adapt my Q.O.D. meal plan to any variance of days in the week and it still works.  Cook Sunday/Monday, reheat Tuesday/Wednesday, cook Thursday, date night Friday, reheat Saturday…it adapts to any schedule.

I know, I’m fortunate my husband likes leftovers.  As a matter of fact, he thinks they taste better the second time around. (His momma trained him well.)  I live in the fast lane on a fixed income.  Saving time and money ranks right up there with winning the lottery.  Remember: Q.O.D. and score big!

How to Debunk the Flat Earth Theory

Let me begin by qualifying my blog with the acknowledgement that not very many people subscribe to my little epistles.  Thus the scribblings of an old woman don’t affect all that many of you.  You may find this blog helpful in dealing with loss, but even if you don’t, writing serves as a catharsis for me, and so I write.

I always wondered why the ancients believed in a flat earth.  As a young child I saw hills and valleys and knew the earth held form.  Why didn’t they?  What was wrong with them?  I finally figured it out.

Since Alma’s death, new truths assail me daily.  As an adult, I know that the current life expectancy is a 20th century phenomenon.  The ancients lived with death.  Without antibiotics they lost their children to disease.  With crude hunting tools they lost their mates to hunting accidents.  Their resulting emptiness and flat lives colored their perception of the world.  I totally get it now.  They lived grief stricken lives.

Yet even now death steals loved ones away, stealing our joy in the process.  This weekend another tsunami of grief overwhelmed me.  I suddenly realized birthdays and holidays loomed before me…7 momentous days in the next two months, seven momentous days without Alma.  I felt like someone pulled the plug on my reservoir of joy and I couldn’t stop crying.  I felt empty.  Flat.  Luckily (or unluckily) I was at church when this hit me.

The natural tendency is to pull back.  Isolate ourselves so we don’t cause embarrassment or judgment as yet another wave of grief overwhelms us.  And that is the exact opposite of the approach we should be taking.  I somehow got funneled to the very front row last Sunday, so I was pretty visible and as much as I tried to hide my tears, I’m sure I was a spectacle.  The ministry of my church family, their support and prayers, lifted me over that initial wave.  In the afternoon my oldest son helped us map out a way to get past Alma’s birthday.  You see, it’s people who help us get over losing people.

So my antidote to the flat earth is a simple prescription of love from those closest to you.  If you know someone struggling with grief, just give the poor soul a hug.  Save your words for prayer.  Be the form and substance that lifts a person from the flat earth they are experiencing.  Be a mountain of strength for another.