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A Love of Poetry

Robert Louise Stevenson illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith

* Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith *

I have always loved classic poetry. I am sure it is because my mother read poems to us as children. When my own children were born, I read the same poems to them in hopes they would remember and in some way bridge the generations to a grandmother they were never blessed to meet.

Today I came across one of my simple favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses – a book every child should have – entitled ‘Auntie’s Skirts’.

My aunts did not wear skirts. They grew up during WWII when many women left the home and went to work to support the war efforts. I am sure the beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith helped turn Stevenson’s words into a magical world for me.

I hope there is a new generation of writers who love poetry and celebrate the beauty and grace of the poets that made my childhood so magical. I close my eyes and imagine a the simple observations of every day life detailed with words spun of gold.

If you are a writer, I challenge you to write today. If you are a poet, I challenge you to pen beautiful prose that will inspire the imagination of readers and illustrators alike. We need you both for our future generation of dreamers and lovers of the written word.

Auntie’s Skirts

Whenever Auntie moves around,
Her dresses make a curious sound,
They trail behind her up the floor,
And trundle after through the door.

(Many thanks to Project Gutenberg for making literature readily accessible to millions.)

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Raindrop Mosaics

I could feel my heartbeat quickening. Just my luck it would start to pour as I pulled into the grocery store. Luckily, I was in my sweats and crocs so getting wet was really not a big deal. As I reached down to turn off the engine, I saw this image. Suddenly this world of dreary rain was transformed into a raindrop mosaic. I just sat there for a few minutes taking it all in.

Yes, I got wet. I couldn’t ‘run’ into the store – crocs are very slippery when wet and as a 64 year old woman, I don’t take those types of chances. Although a bit scraggly looking, I managed to get my shopping done and head back to the car.

My drive home is only about 15 minutes. The rain had stopped, but the show had just begun. The rain mixed with the heat of the day caused steam to rise out of the mountains. It was as if there were fire-breathing dragons nestled between the ridges of the mountains. I was flooded with memories of this same steam when I was a child. I am always a little surprised when childhood memories – locked away for years – decide to surface. We think we have forgotten these little slices of our life, but they are there. Carefully guarded little snippets of every place we have been, tucked away until we call upon them again.

As I turned into my driveway, the steam rising off the asphalt was almost like fog. It was magical. I did not engage my logical brain to try and analyze what what caused the steam, I just took it all in. Yes, magical indeed.

What started as a quick trip to the store under less than perfect conditions turned into what I like to call a ‘breathable moment’.

Breathable moments may be God’s way of telling us to slow down and relax. I need more of those in my life. The funny thing is they are around us all the time. We just get too harried and too busy to take note. My goal is to move a little slower, a little more deliberately.

As I undertake writing a blog every day for 365 days, I will be taking advantage of all the breathable moments I can get. I want to rest my analytical brain and activate my creative and playful brain.

Last night was a good start.

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My Mother’s Daughter – Becoming Me

My nickname is MagCindy.

It’s one of two names my mother called me. I think I have held onto this for over sixty years because it makes me feel closer to my mom. I was 19 years old, one year out of high school and already in the Air Force when she died. It was a devastating loss which I have explored many times, but not today. Today is about a woman I wish I had known as a woman myself. I think we would have learned a lot from each other.

MyMomI was never a risk taker. Mom always was. She was fearless. I was fearFULL. Earlier today I heard someone say that you are never safe in life. But in death, you’re safe. Let that sink in. Since my mother died, I’ve gradually learned to be more like her, but boy has that taken a lot of effort. But I don’t want to be safe. I want to FEEL, even if it’s risky.

Freida Mae Swift Shortt was a tough cookie. Being her daughter meant you had expectations. It wasn’t enough to be something to someone else, you had to be something on your own. It did not matter one iota what that was – but there has to be something. She supported everything I ever did. Civil Air Patrol nerd – check. Struggling artist – check. Waitress – check. Air Force airman – check. She was proud of her kids – each and every one of us – with every accomplishment, big or small – she was beaming with pride.

Mom was also a jokester, embarrassing to a young girl at times, but her intentions were always positive. My friends all loved her. Every kid in the neighborhood was welcome at our house. Whatever we had, she lovingly shared. When we moved from Virginia to Ohio, it was a hoot. We were quite the ‘country come to town’. Mom fried chicken, made biscuits and milk gravy, and made banana salad (banana sliced length wise, smeared with Miracle Whip and covered with chopped peanuts) for dinner. My friends loved to come to our house to eat – she was a great cook. Country all the way, though.

MyMom2Don’t get me wrong, Mom was not domestic-centric. She wanted to be outside and housework was the last thing she ever wanted to do. That was all left to us. We had a wringer washer and no drier. Clothes were hung outside on the line or in the basement. She didn’t have time to waste waiting on wash cycles and spin cycles. Wash, rinse, get out. No, not crazy about being inside, but outside – she was a force to be reckoned with. She played tag football in the front yard with us and loved being around all our friends. She was very much a people person – another way I wish I could have been more like her. She also enjoyed her quiet time, weeding her portulaca or pruning her bleeding heart.

MyMom3In the forty plus years since she passed away, I have learned more about her as a person. I have letters from friends in high school and her sense of humor was always evident. Pictures that have surfaced show her in a way I never imagined. I always knew she was full of life, but seeing her as a young woman with dreams of her own makes me wish so much we had been given the gift of an adult friendship to share. I know we would have been best friends.

Mom never got to see me as a wife, a mother or a grandmother. There would have been some tough talks along the way had she been there. When I made my stupid mistakes – she would not have shied away from those conversations. Mom wasn’t about hiding her feelings. All in all, however, I think she would have been proud of me. Especially today’s me. I hope she would realize that I attribute a lot of who I am to her and the lessons she taught me in those 19 short years we were together.

So how did this woman who seems to be my polar opposite impact who I am? This is a question I pondered for years and years for we are very different. Mom was a ‘you made your bed now you lie in it’ kind of mom on the surface. In actuality, she understood more than she ever let on. She taught me about honesty and speaking your truth, and doing what’s right. She taught me about being prepared to take care of myself should the need ever arise. She taught me how to exist in moments of silence and look my demons dead in the eye. She taught me about sacrifice. Most of all, she taught me about staying above the fray. That was a hard one and I admit I was not always successful at it, but her lessons are still engrained deep in my brain.

IMAG4468-1Moms never stop mothering – at least the good ones. I wish she had been there when my children were born. I wish I could have seen her rock my babies and sing to them. She taught me to sing the songs that would stay with them forever. The simple, easy songs. The ones that you never forget.

Down in the meadow in an itty bitty pool
Swam three little fishies and a Mama fish too
The Mama fish cried ‘now swim if you can’
And the ‘fam and they fam’ all over the dam.

I love you, Mom.

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Multiple Facets of Mother’s Day

I have been blessed with the best mother anyone could ask for. She was tough and smart and matter-of-fact. I watched as she sacrificed and understood early what it meant to be a good mother. Watching her succumb to cancer was a different lesson all-together, and one unfortunately, many children have witnessed. My strong-willed mother became weak as she fought with everything she had to give. It would take years before I could handle Mother’s Day. I remember my first one without her and it was beyond painful. I was 20 years old, away from home in the Air Force and devastated. It had only been 8 months and coming to terms with her being gone was more than I could bear. Somehow, in some way, we find the ‘thing’ that pulls us forward in life. I think for me it was becoming a mother myself. I still cried for many Mother’s Days and birthdays that followed, but I was on my way to healing the wound that losing my mother left behind.

I am now a grandmother. I have been blessed with years that my mother never got to experience. I am reminded with every call, text, email and FB message how lucky I am. My sister, Rosie, passed away almost 7 years ago, and my sister, BJ, just last year. We talked almost every day when they were alive and in many ways, they were my mothers as well as my sisters. I know the heartache and the healing that lies ahead for their children and grandchildren, and I only pray they realize how fortunate they are to have had them for their mothers.

For the next generation of mothers in our family, I hope you learn things that it sometimes took me too long to master. The things like unconditional love for your children are easy. But I also hope you learn to step back when you should and step up even when you haven’t been asked. I hope you look hard in the mirror and understand your responsibility to try and heal what is broken. We all play a part in family and loving and forgiving are the fibers that weave motherhood together. I hope you always laugh hard at the things that could normally stress you out. I hope you learn to wipe the tears that you yourself have cried. I hope you lean on someone’s shoulder when you need to and lean in when your child loses their way. Most of all, remember you do not need to be superwoman. Rather, it’s much more important to be there. If you’re ‘too busy’ or ‘too stressed’ or ‘too tired’ your children will look elsewhere for what they do not get from you. I hope you are always, always proud of every accomplishment and of every lesson that losing teaches. We don’t always win and we don’t always lose. Mom always told me to look around – there is always someone who has more and there is always someone that has less than we do. When we feel that we are on the top or on the bottom, trouble lurks just around the corner.

My family is so beautifully diverse and blended. I am SO PROUD of each and every person in my family. We all come from different places with different experiences but we blend together beautifully. I hope it is always that way. Acceptance and understanding are huge parts of being a family. Maybe some of the most important parts.

I also hope you remember and honor from whence you came. Our family made sacrifices for generations just to get us all to this place. There were long hard lives and battles fought and tribulations overcome. But time is fleeting. What is today will not be tomorrow. Enjoy every moment and talk about where you come from. Give your children and your grandchildren the foundation of knowing where they come from. We all only live on if we are remembered. I hope I am remembered with kindness and forgiveness for the things I did not know and the mistakes I made. One thing I promise you, is that through it all, I loved you with everything I had to give. I hope you can do the same.

For those suffering loss today, I hope you find comfort in your memories. I hope you find the path to healing and reach out when it becomes too much to bear. We were never intended to walk through this life alone – and I guarantee that no mother in our family ever wanted to see their children sad or in pain.

On this Mother’s Day I am filled with joy. I come from strong examples of motherhood and mothering. I know those that came before me are honored to see their legacy in action. I do not worry about any of my grandchildren and granddaughter-on-the-way – for they have the BEST mothers. For my nieces and nephews who lost their moms, I know we never have enough time. Your moms want you immersed in JOY and loving your children fully just as they loved you. For my great-nieces and great-nephews, I love you to the moon and back again. For we are all one. One family, one heritage, one blood.

I AM SO PROUD OF ALL OF YOU!

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Kicking 2016 to the Curb

To say 2016 was a difficult year is not giving enough credence to all that transpired. I have felt in upheaval almost all year. So many things have happened I can scarcely recall them all. Of course, life has a way of allowing sparkling moments in the midst of heartache and I must acknowledge there have also been some truly sparkling moments!

The year started with a dramatic change in lifestyle. It was a chosen change, but dramatic nonetheless. I was so excited to be near my sister after being so far away for so long. She had been fighting cancer for years and just being close meant the world.

img_2740Unfortunately, five months after I relocated, my sister lost her battle with cancer. Losing her was devastating. Her passing came at the end of a difficult hospital stay and all the family was lost. For me, this was the second sister we lost to cancer, so every sad memory from before resurfaced again. I still have not grieved the loss of my sister even after all these months. I have built a very big and ugly wall that keeps me isolated from my feelings. I know when the moment comes it will be extremely difficult. The funny thing when you lose a sister and there are ‘closer’ family members, I think some people may not realize the depth of the loss. I do not want to diminish the impact her passing had on each and every member of our family – it was SO hard for everyone. Maybe it is my wall, but I felt isolated and alone in my grief – I still do.

A few months prior to my sister’s passing, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was in treatment but did come to see her in the hospital. I know this loss has had a tremendous impact on him as well. Again, as siblings, I don’t think people understand the impact. We all lost our mother to cancer when we were young adults, and that witnessing and experience never leaves you. My brother and I talk almost every day and his wife is taking such good care of him. I am witness to yet another fighter – strong and defiant – but I know it has not been easy on him.

We also had another cancer diagnosis in my husband’s family so it has been a pretty tough year where family health has been concerned. We are steadfast in our love and support – the fight goes on.

img_7433We were fortunate enough to find a place we loved near the mountains. It has been glorious but even this had it’s challenge. This year we had a long drought and the mountains near us were burning. We had smoke, but thankfully we were never really at risk – others were not so fortunate. The good people of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, suffered tremendous losses. It makes you realize just what’s important.

My sparkling moments were spectacular – all my children and grandchildren together for the VERY FIRST TIME to help me celebrate my birthday. It was more than I could have dared ask for.  I watched them talk and play and just be here and that was all I needed. It was truly beautiful.

Another sparkling moment occurred when I met four beautiful souls I had never met in person. You would not believe the amazing connections we all shared. It was beautiful. SARK brought us together ages ago and the relationships were built over many years. Such long-lasting connections were not unusual in our group of online friends. Luscious and succulent and even more so in person! It was a beautiful blessing.

I was able to attend a family reunion this year and see cousins I have not seen in – oh – say 40 years or so. My brother was there, too, which made it extra special for me. I’ve learned so much about our family as I have taken the plunge into genealogy, so seeing everyone again and remembering our parents and grandparents was so rewarding. Looking forward to seeing everyone again in 2017.

Then there was the election. No political discussion on my blog other than to say my wildly beautiful and culturally rich family and friendship circles are worried about what lies ahead. If you are in my circle and love me, I expect you to stand beside me and fight for the rights of those I love if the need arises. Enough said. I have faith – for without it I would be lost.

And let’s not even talk about all the amazing musicians and entertainers we lost this year.

But back to the sparkle – I still get the sparkle.  Some of my most sparkling moments are very personal and very private – those protected moments are blindingly beautiful. They involve my heart and soul.

So, I prepare to say goodbye to 2016. It is with a heart that is both heavy and overjoyed at the promise of what the future holds, that I say goodbye to this year of my life. I look forward to 2017 with hope, love and unfailing faith in the inherent good in people. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I just know that I need to focus on the promise of a better 2017. Bring on the JOY!

Cleanse is my word for 2017.

“I dismiss _________ in favor of _________” is my phrase. (There will be a LOT of those phrases!)

theothersideOut with the bad – in with the good. Here’s to crumbling my emotional fortress and allowing myself to feel and grow. And in saying goodbye to this difficult year, I say goodbye to my sister. I really miss you, Sis. More than I think you ever could have imagined I would. My life is forever changed.

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Thanksgiving 2015

File Nov 25, 3 45 40 PMTomorrow is Thanksgiving. My husband and I will be together this year without any other family. We are both recovering from a cold and plan to have a scaled back meal instead of the annual production that normally accompanies this holiday. So instead of baking pies and making my grandmother’s cranberry salad, I am texting with my daughter who is making it for the first time ever and wants it to be perfect. Perfection on Thanksgiving is not something I ever aspired to. I am sure it will be perfectly delicious!

Someone asked me if I was sad to spend the holiday alone. Well, that’s funny, because I am not alone. I am with the man who has loved me for the past 20 years. No, we won’t have our parents or children or grandchildren or siblings with us, but we are not alone.

I imagine it must be similar to couples who get married and talk about their dreams for a future family over their first Thanksgiving meal together. For us, we will sit and talk about all the wonderful memories we have shared over these 20 years together. For me there is no sadness in knowing the people I love have other people who also love them. And as for my husband and I, well, we still have dreams for our future, too and they will be part of our conversations tomorrow I’m sure.

The memories have been flooding my mind all day. So many Thanksgivings, so many memories and so many blessings. The bottom line is I am SO thankful. Just having a few quiet days to reflect on the life we’ve shared is good for us – especially as we move into the next phase of our life together. Doesn’t mean we do not miss everyone – oh, goodness, how we miss them, but their happiness and their joy is everything to us.

This Thanksgiving the world is in such chaos and it is hard not to get overwhelmed. So many staunch ideas and opinions it is hard to just stay steadfast in your own beliefs sometimes. In a time when our country should be coming together as this crazy-quilt of different ethnicities, we are letting the world tear us apart. The hatred of Americans is all-encompassing – we all fall into that same bucket like it or not. Seems we would be better served to pull together rather than fueling the flames of hatred within our own people. I do not understand it all, but I think I would be insane if I did. How can you understand what is unfolding in front of us?

So, tomorrow, we will start our day with coffee and the traditional Thanksgiving breakfast of sausage balls. It will be a quiet but joyful day. We know we are blessed and we know that even with our own problems, we enjoy so much that so many people only dream of. Remembering that helps keep us balanced in an unbalanced world. And we will give thanks.

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Happy Birthday, Mom

Mom’s birthday blog. Take four.

The words are not enough. I do not want to describe my mother to people and tell them how strong she was and how hard she fought for her life. I feel like I should tell the world how wonderful she was and how much I miss her but there are no words to convey the emptiness and the void that have filled my heart for the 42 years she has been gone. It took years for the anger and the loss to subside and for me to be able to forgive myself for the anger I felt at her, at cancer and at God. Our family lost our normal when mom died and losing someone as special as my mother is not something you recover from easily or quickly.

MomMom would be 88 years old today.  88!  Wow, that is so hard to fathom. You see, my mom was in her 40’s when she died so she is always young to me. She will never be an old woman in my eyes and my heart. I close my eyes and see her jet black hair and that spark of mischief she had in her eyes. I see her smile and her laugh as everyone around her fell into her spell. Everyone loved her and growing up, all were welcome in our house. My friends came and went and she loved them all. There was always room at our table and no one was ever turned away.

This is not to say there were not ups and downs – of course there were. But those times are easy to set aside in favor of the love and joy in the every day moments of our lives.

As kids, we played records and danced to Chubby Checker in the living room with our parents. I can see Mom doing the twist and the jitterbug just like it was yesterday. I see her resting her chin across Dad’s shoulder and telling us that was how beatniks danced. We sang songs and played games on all our road trips. She always carried round pink mints in her purse on those long trips between Ohio and Virginia. What I took for granted I now know is something that many people never had. We were loved and we learned to love in return.

After Mom was diagnosed with cancer, money was tight. One year, I was invited to a Valentine Sweetheart dance. I was so excited to go and chatted about it nonstop for weeks. One Saturday, Mom asked me to run an errand with her. We got in the car and drove to a discount store (similar to K-Mart) where Mom told me to pick out a dress for the dance. I found a red and white peasant topped dress. It was simple and made of inexpensive fabric, but it was pretty and it was new and Mom made sure I got it. I think back and believe the dress cost $10 but it might as well have cost $200. It meant the world to me.

When I was in high school, Mom made sure I took drivers training although I did not get my license until years later. I was the kid that was terrified of driving and she had to force me to drive when I finally got my learner’s permit. I think she knew how important independence was and that was something she wanted for all her children.

While in the Air Force, I came home to fly to Virginia with Mom. She paid to upgrade my flight to first class (my first first-class trip ever – back then it didn’t cost that much). It made her feel so good that we could have a special moment together and relax and talk. I don’t remember much of anything about the flight but I remember being with Mom and how happy she was and that was all that mattered.

MomUniformMy biggest regret is that I did not have time with my mother as an adult woman. I missed the chance to talk to her about adult problems and just have every day conversations between a mother and her daughter. We did have a lot of conversations when I was in high school about some very deep and meaningful things, but she was busy fighting for her life and I was trying to just get by knowing my mother would not be there much longer. So many times I wanted to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ To have her with me when my children were born or to hear her read them the same poems she read to us would have been so amazing. And then to imagine her holding her great-grandchildren is more than I ever dreamed of.

Mom would be proud of the way her children stayed close. Even with distance and marriages and life problems we each experienced, we were always family. We came from a woman who taught us how to love and the importance of always being there.

Mom, a lot has changed since you were here with us but one thing has not. You are loved and you are missed more than you may have ever realized possible. Sometimes it’s a song or a memory or an ornament placed on the Christmas tree that brings me to my knees. But I get up. I remember how you fought and I remember how much you loved us all. For that, I am forever grateful.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love and I miss you SO very much.