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Snow, Sinuses & Starbucks

Last Thursday we woke up to the birthday boy turning fifteen and no hint of what was ahead of us that day.  Nadine had a doctor’s appointment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to get a CT scan of her sinuses.  It was something that we really couldn’t reschedule, and I wasn’t worried a whole lot about the weather.  She was a champ, and we got these images back, along with the news that she will be having surgery in January to remove a polyp.  Yeah, that mass of grey on the right should be black.  Sinus issues seem to like our family, and we’re praying this is an isolated issue.
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When we left the house, the sky barely looked like snow.  As we left our appointment, however, there was a mini blizzard going on outside.  Elsie was with us, and we had been planning on grabbing a bite to eat in the city before heading home.   We scratched that idea as it looked like the roads weren’t plowed one smidge and google maps was showing a whole hour longer than usual to get home.

As we snailed our way out of the city and onto the highway, it didn’t really get any better.  Maybe exiting the highway to take a “short cut” off the beaten path was a bad idea.  It was showing 47 minutes faster, though, and we had already been driving almost that long.  The math was very simple: every minute, the commute became a few minutes longer.  So I exited and made my way across completely unplowed roads.

Cars were beginning to slide down hills and into ditches.  Mind you, I was in our huge Sprinter van.  In the back of my head was the one time I had dropped the big kids off at school last year.  To leave required driving up a steep hill, and I realized too late that it was pure ice.  Our van started to slide backwards, with all my little babies in it.  It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. After a few attempts, I did eventually make it out, as a guy threw salt under my tires and I had the pedal to the metal.  That ordeal was all I could think of as we twisted and slid a few times, avoiding cars which had completely crashed or slid into ditches and trees or eachother.  My body was shaking so badly, so when the opportunity presented itself, I pulled into a Starbucks parking lot.  I promptly put my head down on the steering wheel and cried.
So grateful to be in one unscratched piece, we got out, ate at Olive Garden, and spent a couple hours in Starbucks until I felt courageous enough to venture back out.  We finally arrived home at 7pm.  Only 6 hours after we had left the city.
Why do I tell this story?  No reason really, except to say, sometimes we have do things afraid. I seriously wanted to sleep at Starbucks.  I didn’t want to subject myself to more fright.  I wanted to be safe, warm and cozy.  But I had to get home, so I drove, hands shaking perhaps, but moving forward.
I know you have uncomfortable, even scary things which are facing you right now.  You’re not alone.  But it’s so important to stay the course and not pull over forever in a Starbucks parking lot.  Slow down, but don’t quit.
The end of our drive found me in front of our house, the boys shoveling out a parking spot for me.  It was beautiful.  I think another reason really challenging seasons come to us is so we are put back into a place of gratefulness and not taking advantage of how amazing and glorious it is to have another minute to live and breathe.  Hands shaking, maybe, but there is oxygen flowing.  Even while the snowflakes are falling.

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The Gift of the Peach

The peaches tasted like candy, and that was the best part of my day.

It’s ten o’clock at night.  My intention of spending an hour or two at my desk writing went out the window as soon as I scooped Harry up this morning.  Burning hot, he was never more than a few inches from my arms.  I definitely feel the drain of nursing fevers for two days in a row.  I took out some of my frustration on the weeds which threaten to topple over our fence.  Frustration at sickness.  At fights.  At more dirty dishes than I thought were possible even for a family of eight.  How many cups does one need in one day, anyway?  Frustrated at the fortieth millioneth towel on the floor.  I seriously just washed, dried, folded AND put away every single one of them three days ago.  And not everyone even showered!  How is that mathematically possible?

During Harry’s nap time I took a little drive to pick up a grill for Matthew’s father’s day present.  Ironically, I drove right past the place where I met Matthew for the very first time.  He was only fifteen.  The following summer was when I truly noticed him and fell in love forever.  This literal drive down memory lane soothed my ruffled feelings from the day.

When I got home, Harry was awake and still fevered.  He had a cooling bath and more frozen blueberries.  He kept drinking and peeing, so I knew he was going to be okay.  As the afternoon wore on, he perked up a little bit.  This is when I started to pull weeds.  I paused from weeding to start the hamburgers and light the new-to-us grill.  Not long after that is when Harry started to melt down from exhaustion.  After another cool bath and some snuggles, he went straight to bed.  I got back to the hamburgers and chicken grilling and had plates all made when the boys got home from riding bikes with their friends all afternoon.  It was obvious their friends were staying.  I had made exactly enough for all of us and lunch for tomorrow.  So I was feeling a bit stingy.  Nadine, in her generous and gracious spirit asked if she could make a plate of food for them.  “I can cut them some peaches, Mom!”  We had both had a taste of their delectable goodness.  There was a part of my heart which rebelled at sharing them.  There is a deep-rooted scarcity mindset which God is gently pulling out of my heart.  I think it’s gone, but then it pops up again.  The thought of, “this is my last peach,” or, “this is the last piece of chicken,” causes me to hoard and save it until sometimes it’s too late and rots in the fridge.  My children and husband are so kind to remind me to enjoy things now.  Share.  Give.  Enjoy.

She cut the peach into small slices and spread them beautifully onto a plate.  She set it in front of the boys and they looked at the slices.  “Is that an apple?”  We told them it was a peach.  “A peach!” he exclaimed excitedly.  “I’ve never had a peach before!”  And I could have wept.  All this fuss in my heart and mind almost stole away a beautiful moment.  A gift.  The gift of watching someone, ten years old, enjoy the taste of their first peach.

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Ruby Romper

Have you ever been flabbergasted? That happened to me a few times today.  I’m not sure which moment tops them all, but it’s somewhere between the romper and going upside-down.  This evening Jack and I went to Elijah’s last basketball game of the season.  Afterwards, the boys wanted to go to the mall.  This has been a twice or thrice yearly occurrence in our household, in my estimation.  I’ve been wanting to try on a pair of jeans for a few weeks now, so thought I’d utilize this opportunity to do so.  I grabbed what I thought was a super cute shirt to try on as well.  Since I was there.  It was super challenging to pull over my head and felt very twisted around.  After taking it off and examining it a little closer I found out it was indeed a romper, not a shirt.  I had stuffed my entire body through one of the legs.  I kind of felt a bit flabbergasted to be wearing a romper.  I think the last time I wore one, I was my daughter’s age.  But it was cute and the red color made me think of another moment of shock I had today.

It was the afternoon chaos of snack time and getting myself ready to head out the door to Elijah’s game, when my cell phone rang and the caller ID read “Arizona”.  I almost always answer my phone, because you just never know who might call.  My surprise wore off about five seconds before I hung up the phone.  So basically, for the entire call, I walked around with a big grin on my face while making wild and crazy hand motions at my kids.  Harry was crying in the background.  It was Plexus corporate calling to congratulate me on last month’s rank up to Ruby.  There was a whole room of people cheering for me and I just stood there dumbfounded and shocked.  I knew it had happened, but the past two weeks have zoomed past me like a bullet train and it hasn’t sunk in for real yet.  What a special treat to receive such a fun phone call!2018-02-12 21.08.25Every day I’m flabbergasted by the insane amount of growth I see in each of our kiddos.  Harry especially makes me chuckle and sigh all in the same millisecond.  He trots around with confidence and can’t decide whether he loves books or snacks best. 2018-02-11 14.12.20-1He loves to drag things around, like heavy bags of rice, or his little toy train attached to a string.  Ninety percent of his vocabulary consists of the word, “buggah”, with the inflection on the “a”.  It means everything from hungry to bagel, to water, to milk, to every other food besides banana… which of course is “nana” or “noo-noo”.  His lips make the most darling “oooh” shape and always get a kiss when he says it.  His baba is his pacifier and his bobo is his elephant.  His elephant which I hope we never lose, because it is no longer made or sold by the UK-based company.  He takes after his brother Jack by eating a man-sized portion of oats every morning.  I have never used soap on his skin before, since we only use water and everyone has their own special body cloth for all of their showering/bathing.  This week he got a bottle of shampoo, which I thought was empty, and there happened to be some suds left in it.  I peeked over to him crying in a pile of bubbles, unsure of what was going on around him and scooped him up laughing.  Fifteen months old and he’s never had a bubble bath.  2018-02-08 15.51.55Another flabbergasting moment today was when I found myself actually flipping upside down in the basement on our pull-up bar.  It’s been a couple years since I did that move.  The best part?  When Elsie exclaimed, “Mommy’s still cool!”  Then Jack looked at her and said, “She’s always been cool, Elsie.” Insert as many laughing emoji’s as possible here.  What a way to make this mama feel amazing!  Because at that particular moment, every muscle was yelling at me for the strange contortion I had put it through and my inner ear buzzed a little at the notion of being upside down.  But this mama has goals, and they don’t happen by being sedentary.

There is always more to write, but I need sleep like I need that romper… or something like that.

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Fearless Overcomer

A few times now our high-schoolers have gotten themselves on the bus. Our bedroom is right above the front door, and I’ve been jolted awake by the bang of the door closing behind them.  Ninety percent of the time I wake up before them, but every once in awhile Harry’s teeth bother him through the night or some other reason makes me turn off my alarm.  The front door will wake me up every single time.  From taking full advantage of our flexible homeschool schedule to waking up by 6am each morning and getting out the door on time every day, they truly are some of the coolest, strongest, best teenagers I know!  I love hearing all about their day, and seeing them grow.  2017-12-23 17.21.132017-12-24 11.08.30Last night while I was out with Jack, Nadine pulled out the cookbook and made chicken parmesan from scratch.  It’s difficult to describe the feeling of weariness and hunger being met by a delicious aroma wafting through the door, before you even open it, and knowing that aroma came from the loving labor of your own daughter.  On the flip side, it’s strange for me to be in the thick of toddlerhood once again.  I am swiftly being reminded how much disaster a tiny two-foot person can make in five seconds flat.  It’s been six years since Betty was at that stage, and she wasn’t ever that messy.  It’s been ten years since I had a little BOY that age, and I am getting daily flashbacks of how Jack used to be.  From painting our freshly laid wood floor with white paint, to swimming in mud puddles, sometimes it’s hard to believe this strong, disciplined young man is the same person.  Take hope, young mamas!

Jack is in the middle of wrestling season and was chosen to be on an all-star team this weekend.  He is the only elementary kid from our school district to participate.  It’s been so much fun watching him get stronger not only physically, but mentally too.  2018-01-13 11.49.52We’ve had a mild case of the stomach bug floating around our house.  It seems to have worked its rounds thoroughly, and it’s wonderful to be feeling strong again!  Betty had it last, and sometimes I wonder at her strength.  She is a running commentary of hilarious tidbits and comical statements.  She loves to help and has just about mastered making pancakes all by herself.  All on her own accord, with the encouragement of Elsie, she decided to stop sucking her fingers.  So they cut off all the “taggies” on her pillows, stuffed animals and blankets, to help her break the habit.  It’s been a month, and she is doing fabulously.  I’m so proud of her determination.2018-01-07 08.27.08-1Elsie is beginning ukulele and voice lessons next week.  She has been waiting a very long time for this, and we’re so thankful to at last be able to open this door for her.  She practices constantly, and when she isn’t practicing, she is sweeping the floor.  Ever since Matthew refinished our downstairs floors, they have remained spotless, thanks to this girl.  She is the epitome of helpfulness.  She can make Harry giggle (which is hard to do) and has a beautiful voice.2018-01-03 11.55.48 HDRWhen Elijah gives me a kiss, I’m taken aback every time.  Not sure how this teeny tiny boy grew up and surpassed his mama in height.  How his soft baby cheeks have the hint of manly roughness to them.  I am so grateful eyes never change.  He still has the same gorgeous blues, so I can feel for at least a moment, the same way I felt the first time I locked eyes with his and was in complete awe that this little boy was mine.  I say that loosely, because I know none of them are truly mine.  They belong to God, and He has blessed us to raise them, then release them like arrows into whatever He has planned for their lives.  Watching them get on the bus every morning has been a small taste of that letting go, and it fills me with the oddest concoction of feelings.2017-12-22 19.07.26Matthew has had a whole round of doctors appointments this week.  He had pre-op yesterday for surgery on Monday.  When his doctor scoped him Tuesday, he found his sinuses to be clean and not needing any cleaning on surgery day.  This was good news!  The trouble he has been having catching his breath and breathing is all due to scar tissue and shrinking of the subglottic area of his throat.  So he will be sedated (not put under!) and they will balloon open his airway and laser some of the scar tissue away.  He has never had the laser done before, and the last time they did the balloon was 4 years ago.  For it to have lasted this long is fantastic.  All of his blood work came back great yesterday!  So, even though he sounds and feels tight, thankfully (according to bloodwork and examination) the disease is not active right now.  I don’t think either of us have been THIS excited for him to go to the hospital before.  They said he should feel immediate relief.  2017-12-24 11.06.10This year I have cried many times.  There have been so many unexpected blessings, even through an intense month of work for Matthew.  We haven’t even celebrated our 16th anniversary yet, but we will.  I’m keenly aware of the battle for our marriage, and am so grateful for the challenges we’ve experienced which have brought us closer.  This year my word is fearless, and his word is overcome.  I am bursting to share more, but it will have to wait a little longer.2017-12-24 12.14.38

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Hidden Burritos & Poly

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving.  It began in a very non-traditional way.  Usually we have a delicious breakfast and relaxing morning.  This year we moved our table outside into the yard and every other object out of the two downstairs rooms.  It’s been on the list to refinish the floors for a very long time, and the time worked out to begin.

Thankfully we were able to enjoy some family time at Matt’s brother’s house that evening.  2017-11-23 16.05.37-2

The rest of the week has been spent sanding, staining, and polyurethane the living room and dining room floors.  It’s been a puzzle, figuring out the timing of when to be home and when to be out. One morning, the oldest two went to school and Matthew finished the second coat of poly, while I stayed upstairs with the short crowd.  We didn’t have a ton of food, because I didn’t think it through very well, but we survived until the floor was dry enough for us to venture downstairs and leave the house.2017-11-26 19.58.26

Every Thursday the street cleaners clean our side of the street where we live, and we have to move our van from 10-noon.  I remember getting a ticket when I was 9 months pregnant with Betty.  Matthew was in Haiti, and I drove my pregnant self over to the police station to beg forgiveness, because we were that broke, and twenty bucks was almost at tank of gas.  Ever since then, I’ve been pretty vigilant about Thursdays.

Today, as I moved the van to the other side of the street, I glanced down to see an eighth of a burrito in a piece of foil on the floor of the van.  I grabbed it and went to the bathroom to get my shower.  I’m sure no one else has pulled this trick.  I hunkered down in the bathroom to “take a shower”, when in reality I just sat on the footstool with the five bites of burrito.  It was delicious, by the way.  Reminiscent of my hurried date with Matthew the day before, when I delivered a tool to him at work and brought him a better-than-chipotle-salad from our favorite Mexican joint.

I finally did shower, and by the time I was finished, Harry was awake.  This is kind of when things started spiraling rather quickly.  It might have been the clean laundry spilling onto the floor from the overflowing baskets (who’s idea is it to do laundry during a renovation??) or maybe the cans of polyurethane, or the broom handles, crumbs, coats, and papers which all acted like they had magnets built into them… the floor being their greatest attraction.  There was probably one more question asked, one more whine, voicing what was welling up inside my own spirit all day long.  I don’t even remember.  But I yelled: “Mommy needs a timeout!” and ran to my room.  After throwing some of the aforementioned clean towels around, I sat down and started to fold them.  I cried and complained about living in such chaos.  Then a quiet little knock on my door.  A kiss from Jack.  A smile from Harry.  A note from Betty.  A freshly baked cookie from Elsie.  Tears were dried, apologies were spoken, forgiveness was given.  We set out for a coffee shop to soothe the cabin fever which felt smothering to us all.  Because acknowledging the problem is ok and helpful.  But staying there is not.  2017-11-30 13.09.29

We’re all definitely ready to get the piano out of the kitchen (sounds cute, I know, but definitely not practical for our house, unless it doubles up as a bar stool for the island).  We’re ready to sit down together at the table again.  To have our couch back inside and not go to bed with the smell of fresh poly wafting up the stairs.  Will all this chaos and mess be worth it?  Absolutely!  If I’ve been reminded of one thing, it’s been this: every difficult thing we go through produces something beautiful.  If we let it. Some of the most beautiful things we enjoy have been forged through fire, heat, friction, water, repetition, monotony, blood, sweat, tears, and time.  And if I may add: sandpaper and polyurethane.

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The Day I Almost Sold It

Her stomach had knots in it as she strode down the street of Philadelphia.  She was alone, without her four children, and her husband was at work.  He worked so hard and so long without complaint.  Maybe what she was about to do would ease the burden just a little bit.  Her thumb impulsively twirled the diamond ring on her left hand, like it had done for the past ten years, and she remembered the day he proposed.  After a silly argument the previous night, they were standing on their special rock in the middle of a stream.  He had the ring in his pocket.  His plan of proposing on the rock was thwarted when it began to rain.  So they ran over slippery rocks to some shelter, where he popped the question.  The argument from the night before faded into forgetfulness.  Never had she seen anything so gorgeous.  So much hard work and saving had gone into it, and she wore it with an incredible sense of awe.  It was square, just like she had hoped it would be. The way it sparkled made her think of the brilliant stars in the African sky of her childhood.

She stepped into the doorway of the first shop on Jewelers Row.  It was where her ring was first bought.  She nervously took it off her finger and asked the jeweler if he would buy it back.  A feeling of relief swept over her when he said he wouldn’t.  Then just as quickly, the knot formed again when he pointed her to another shop that might.

She gulped past the lump which was forming in her throat now and walked back onto the city streets.  What would he say when she told him?  The man of her dreams, who worked so hard for their family.  She had already sold her favorite camera he had given her their first year of marriage.  And almost anything else she could get her hands on to help contribute to their ever growing family.  He wouldn’t yell at her, she knew.  He loved her far more than any material possession they owned.  Yet, what would be his reaction?  She had been thinking about this for a long time, and hated to think about how he might feel.  So she didn’t think.  She walked straight into the second shop and held up her ring.

How much is it worth? She asked, knowing the answer they gave her wouldn’t match what was her heart was screaming back in answer.  Three-hundred dollars, he was telling her, while her mind kept saying: Priceless.

Three hundred-dollar bills.  They would buy groceries for the next month.  They would take a small load from her husband’s shoulders.  But they would swiftly disappear, and she would stare at her naked finger for years to come.  She thanked the man and walked out onto the street.  Her heart was pounding.  She didn’t know how God would provide for them that week, but she knew she had made the right decision.  Tears streamed down her cheeks, as the glorious reminder of sacrificial love sparkled back at her from her left hand.

That young bride?  She still wears the ring with much gratefulness.  That young bride is me.

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Cheveux Blancs

Yesterday we went to an auction for the kids’ school.  It was full of incredible things to buy and I found myself more than once getting caught up in the heart-pounding adventure of raising my little number and making eye contact with the auctioneer.  A quick nod to stay in the running.  Swifter and less complicated than figuring out if a credit card is facing the right way and much faster than signing my name.  Then the words, “SOLD!” and a nod to my trembling little self as I REALLY hoped I followed the auctioneer’s sing-song voice correctly.  Yes, I paid twenty dollars for two homemade pizzas.  Not one-hundred and twenty.  Big sigh of relief.  A few times I wasn’t positive.  Or I was sure the number was at fifteen when it in fact had soared to FIFTY.  I didn’t walk away with a few of the items I had my eye on, but some delicious pizzas and a home-cooked chicken BBQ dinner to be picked up in a couple of weeks, were some of my claims.  Harry fell asleep on my chest, lulled by the smooth cadence of the auctioneer’s voice.  I found myself toe-tapping a few times because it was just that catchy.

Speaking of school, Nadine and Elijah absolutely love it.  They are making friends and growing deeper in their own personal ways.  It is a joy to watch.  Their teachers are incredible and it’s very evident they love what they do.  The bus comes bright and early for them, and that’s been a nice break for me to not have to drive them each morning, but I still pick them up occasionally, because it’s a consensus that the drive home is one of our favorite parts of school.  To hear about their day, talk about deep teenager things and debrief about life.  In a year someone will be practicing to get their driver’s license, and I know this job won’t be mine anymore.  My stomach kind of does a weird flip flop when I think about that.

Nadine is playing junior varsity soccer after school every day.  She is a fantastic babysitter on the weekends, and is an incredible big sister.  She knows how to make her little sisters feel loved, whether it means asking Elsie to help her with her homework (which is her cup of sweet tea!) or reading Betty a story.

Elijah has a natural bent towards photography, and is enjoying taking a class about it in school.  He is even acting as a pinch-hitter for the toothfairy… who kind of retired about five years ago.  And he’s much more creative too, leaving teeny tiny fairy-sized notes.  Last month we had the privilege of having my dear sweet childhood friend, Nadine, for a night.  It was a joy-filled 24 hours.2017-08-06 17.33.19

Jack practices his math skills, then works on flips.  He reads through his spelling list, then works on flips.  He plays with legos, then works on flips.  He eats an apple, then works on flips.  About half of his day is spent in flipping motion. IMG_4048[1] His hand is all healed from the last break, and he promptly did the trick which broke it in the first place.  A living breathing example of not letting our fears of past failures paralyze us from action.  Wrestling started up again, and it’s a privilege to have this one-on-one time with him when I drive him to practice.  He has a favorite play list of songs and I can guess which ones he will pick for our drive.  The other night he told me he wanted to treat me to a coffee after practice.  So we drove through Starbucks and he bought me a drink with his own money.  He’s practically my size, but how did it happen so fast?  I’m sitting here on our living room couch with his baby blanket wrapped around my legs.

Elsie had her hair cut this week for the first time in a long while.  She also got new specs, which make her look older.  It’s hard to believe in only 6 months we will have FOUR children in double digits.  Right now we’re sitting at half and half, but the ratios are changing and our tribe is maturing.  Elsie keeps me inspired.  She loves order and neatness and has always had an eye for design.  She rearranges furniture like a pro, and I’m not sure between the two of us, who is more excited for our living room renovation to be completed.  2017-09-21 22.30.51

Betty keeps our world going around, with her practical no-nonsense self and sage-like wisdom.  She can’t be intimidated by a messy diaper, a blood-gushing wound, or a stomach bug.  However, keep her up past her bedtime and things can unwind rather quickly.  2017-09-12 17.07.20-2She cracks us up with her dry sense of humor.  The other day I remarked about Elsie being my right hand girl, since she had been cleaning all day.  Betty replied in her dry way, “She’s a lefty.  I’m a righty.”  I about died.  She snaps her fingers too.  This morning she woke up with a smudged rainbow sneaking out from under her bangs from the fair yesterday at school.  She’s trying to “collect money” which is why she is “trying to loose teeth”.  2017-09-20 13.56.36

Harry.  Just saying his name makes me smile and chuckle and wonder what he will learn and pick up today.  Every day it’s something different.  He can communicate when he’s hungry, say please and thank you in sign language, and blows us kisses.  When he says thank you, he swings his arm vigorously against his cheek or ear.  He knows so many words!  Banana, bath, ball, bus, hot, and can mimic everyone’s names… although most of them sound like “Elijah”.  He is a huge fan of Alexa, the Amazon Bluetooth speaker.  Sometimes he yells at it with a smile: “A-le-le!” and when we tell it to say, “Hello, Harry,” he can hardly contain himself.  He loves to purse his lips and whistle.  I’ve never had a baby who can whistle, and he surprises himself every time.

He loves to eat everything.  Enchiladas, chili, curry, sweet potato pancakes, guacamole, African food, bagels, yogurt, kefir, crepes, fruit, peppers, lemons… he loves to eat.

And all the praise hands: he is sleeping through the night now, for about 11 hours.  Not exactly sure how it happened, but about a month ago he just did.  Right around the time when I started weaning him.  He nurses once a day now.

Matthew’s work is going very well.  He has had a lot of doctor’s visits as well.  We’re actually excited about having another surgery at the end of October to dilate his epiglottis which will hopefully help his breathing improve!  We had a lovely experience this month called Dîner en Blanc.  It was a magical night in a cleared out section of someone’s backyard forest, with long wooden tables and white lights strung throughout the trees.  Everyone brought a picnic supper and we shared our table with friends dressed in white.  2017-09-14 09.15.40That’s not the only thing that’s white around here.  As I type, Betty is brushing my hair.  She keeps me humble with her honest chatter: “I just saw a GREY HAIR!”
I asked her: “What do you think about it?”
“Weird.” Then she yelled across the room:  “Elsie! Mom’s growing white hair.  What if dad is??  You’re both getting OLD!”  It is our motto, after all. Grow old with me.  Old and white-haired and better by the day.  I’ll hold up my number to that every day, heart pounding, until my dying breath.