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Baby and bread and bicycles 

Yesterday was a rare second day off in a row, and I had some big plans for the day that involved grabbing some coffee at my favorite place, researching some gyms and yoga studios around town, updating my blog, and then going home to clean and attempt a new bread recipe. 

My sister, however, couldn’t take my nephew to his day care yesterday because he had a 5th ear infection, and she couldn’t take off work, so my plans were rearranged and my nephew spent the day with me!

I don’t know how my sister manages to go about her life with baby in tow because boy is it tough. 


We started the day with some playtime and a big nap (during which I tried out a simple yeast-free bread recipe that turned out like an unsweetened muffin texture), made it out to Panera for some lunch, and then went on a grocery store run for some yeast (I was out, hence the first bread recipe). 

Later, my nephew got to try out his new water table on the back patio (this kid was born to be a swimmer, I swear. He’s like a fish in th water) before taking another quick nap during which I tried my hand at making baguettes. (They were divine.)

Then that evening, the boyfriend and I went on our usual run/bike ride as the sun went down. 

I know I say it a lot, but I am one lucky girl. 

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A portrait of my grandfather

I love to draw. I’ve been doodling as far back as I can remember. There’s something very soothing about the sound and feel of a pencil on paper, and I could sit for hours while I create a drawing from start to finish. It had been a while since I had drawn anything though because I let life get in the way, and I made excuses about how I had other things to do. But I was upset I had let it go for so long. 

However, I was reminded the other day that the things that are important to me are never a waste of time, and that in order to do those things, I just have to…do them. 

So I did. 

Here’s a portrait I made of my grandfather. 

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The Missing

I miss my grandmother.

I had the privilege of being close to her, if not always in proximity, then at least knowing that she was always just a phone call away.

I should have called her more.

I always loved her laugh, and I loved listening to her stories, the way she told them in her languid Southern drawl, reminiscent of humid Georgia days spent sipping sweet tea out on the front porch.

I should have listened more.

I loved the way she would slowly retreat into her own self after a while, knowing that she was becoming overwhelmed with people and socialization, but also knowing that she gave that trait to me.

I should have held her hand more.

I loved the eyes she had for my grandpa, always rolling to the ceiling in exasperation, always floating back down with so much love for the man who called her his bride.

I should have watched her more.

I loved the way she loved us, knowing that I could always find solace on the couch sitting next to her, as she would brush my hand with her beautifully crooked fingers, a little space of quiet in my grandmother’s presence.

The more I miss her, the more I love her.

On and on it goes.

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A Letter

To whom it may concern,

They were all right, you know. Your mothers and your fathers. Your grandparents, in the way they could see right into your future. They’ve been here already, you see. Right in the shoes you thought belonged to only you.

Your mother had her heart broken into beautiful pieces like that boy did to you all those years ago. Your grandfather gave his hands to his work the same way the callouses on your palms grow bigger by the day.

You’re important. What you do and what happens to you matters. But don’t go out there thinking no one could possibly understand what’s swirling around in your mind.

Let people in. Let people understand. Because they’re the ones who are going to help you through.

With love.

 

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5 Things My Mother Taught Me

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  1. It’s better to have and not need than need and not have.

    • My mom is always prepared. In her car, she always has Advil, band-aids, paper towels, plastic shopping bags, an umbrella, a hairbrush. You name it, she probably has it. This made her one excellent Girl Scout leader and child wrangler for 13 years.
  2. Don’t be late. Better yet, be 10 minutes early.

    • Her watch and every single clock in her house is set 12 minutes early just so she’ll be ahead of schedule. What some would consider impractical, she has lived by her whole life. And it’s something she has instilled in both me and my sister, so that in college, I was always early to my classes, and I have never been late to work.
  3. Know the difference between a flat head and a phillips head screwdriver.

    • My mom has never let new furniture, a flat tire, or a clogged toilet get in her way. I grew up knowing my way around the tool box, and it’s something I know I will never regret. My mom taught me that women are strong and can do anything, no matter what social expectations may exist.
  4. Make time for your family and participate.

    • I have spent my whole life attending family reunions, visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, and the like whenever we go on vacation, and I have been to so many graduations, plays, sporting events that my sister or cousins have been in. Family is important. I cherish the time I have spent with my grandparents. I love their stories. I love my crazy extended family. I don’t know what I would do without them all.
  5. Don’t let a schedule keep you from doing something spontaneous.

    • Every Saturday growing up, my mom would take my sister and me on a Saturday Adventure. She wouldn’t tell us where we were going or how long it was going to last. Once, she picked us up early from school, we packed our suitcases for anything, and we hit the road. Later she told us she hadn’t planned anything. She just headed east, and we found ourselves at the Outer Banks in North Carolina for the weekend.

I know Mother’s Day was a few weeks ago, but I hope I never let my appreciation for my mom be restricted to just one day out of the year. I value any moment I spend with her. And I know that no matter how long I’ve been away, or even how often I’ve been home… Home is my favorite place to be.

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Accidental Injuries

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How’s your arm?

Oh, still a little sore. I feel a little better. I lit myself on fire. I didn’t know I was on fire for a minute. Saw the flames, but I didn’t know it was on my damn shirt. And I had my suspenders were over my shirt, and I couldn’t get my shirt off. About burned me up.

I do stuff like that all the time. There was a time I about chopped my fingers off. See the black marks there? I was out in the driveway working on the steam cleaner one day. Weren’t nobody home, and then the thing slipped and come right down on my fingers and about chopped my fingers off. And then I was covered in dirt and everything else. About to pass out, and this old rusty piece of metal about cut me. Thought I’d get lock jaw or something. Went in the house and I got me a dish pan. And I dumped everything I could find in the kitchen sink. I stuck my hand in it, and it about burned me up. I figured it’d kill all the germs. And then I passed out on the floor. And your mom came home, and I was laying there, and there was blood all over the place. And she thought I was dead. She panicked, [laughs] and called the ambulance, but I was okay.

Down in Key West that time, I was digging that ole tree stump out. And then a big limb broke off, and it was real hot outside. Man, I was really sweating and everything, limb broke off and smacked me right in the head. Busted a big ole place across my head, and run into the house and said, “Go run and get your mom, and run me to the hospital.” I was bleeding all over the place. Your mom standing there and said, “That looks like Kool-Aid!” [Laughs]

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When your Grandfather is More of Rebel than You

I lived in a dorm room for the first two years of college, and I had way too many things to actually fit inside said dorm room, but I was too stubborn to leave anything at home. So most of my childhood bedroom and all of my Pinterest DIY’s came with me. This led to an enormous organizational issue that I’m sure my freshman roommate judged me for, and even though we had to share a room, she was kind enough to pretend that I was not actually a borderline hoarder. All I had to contain my possessions was a desk with three drawers, a dresser also with three drawers, and a wardrobe with two shelves and a small hanging rack.

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One evening, I had gone to my grandpa’s house for dinner and we had the following conversation about my predicament:

Grumpy: What do you have to do tonight?

Erika: Well, I gotta go do some homework tonight and clean my room a little bit more. It’s kind of a mess.

G: It’s not very big, don’t take too long.

E: No it shouldn’t, but I have to find places to put things. Because I don’t have a lot of places to put things.

G: Maybe you need some shelves.

E: Well I don’t know where I would put them. I can’t drill into the wall or anything.

G: I can.

E: No, you can’t.

G: Sure I can.

E: But I’d have to pay for that at the end of the year.

G: No, you won’t. Just tell them, “It was here when I come here.” Just tell them you don’t know where it came from.

Flash forward a few days later, and my grandpa arrives at my dorm to measure the wardrobe because he’s going to build me another shelf. He pulls out his measuring tape, takes a few notes, and then is gone almost as soon as he gets there.

A couple more days go by, and he calls me to tell me he’s finished my shelf and he’ll be stopping by to install it. The shelf fits perfectly, but the studs won’t fit into the pre-made holes inside the wardrobe, so my grandpa decides that he’ll just make them bigger. By drilling more holes into the sides of the wardrobe. With the electric drill he just happens to have in his truck. However, the cheap siding on the wardrobe splits immediately and chips off on the inside, exposing the inside of the wood. Undeterred, my grandpa continues drilling until the studs fit snugly inside, my new shelf perched safely inside my wardrobe. He steps back and admires his handiwork.

I, however, see a bill in my future for damages to my dorm room.

Later, I was very grateful for the new shelf, and I just painted over the damage with my art supplies and hoped that my RA would never find out.

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Sunday School

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My grandpa is one of the most important people in my life. He’s known as Grumpy in my family because he’s one grumpy old man. When you really know him though, you can see that he’s kind and loving and he values his family. When I went to college, I got to live in the same town as my grandpa, and I made regular visits to see him throughout the week. We’d go out for dinner, or I’d go to his house and bake him his favorite cookies, or sometimes he’d show up at my dorm room on the weekends at who-knows-what-time in the morning to show me the latest project he’d been working on. Since I graduated, I haven’t been able to see him as much I’d like (which is partly my own fault).

But I recorded a few of our conversations on my phone to save for later. So I could listen to that gravelly voice full of quiet laughter and years of hard labor and decades of stories, memories, and love.

. . .

We used to have a song when I was in Presbyterian Sunday school called something about “bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t even know what a sheave was.

I don’t either.

Well it’s a bale of hay. I found out later. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was a good idea to bring ‘em in. And then we’d sing “All the Christians” and I liked that one because you got to stomp your feet, march around. Went to the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school at a little ole wooden building – I don’t think that building was much bigger than this kitchen. Seemed like it was big ‘cause we was little. And it had a big old pot belly stove in there in the winter time, and it had an ole upright piano that was bad out of tune. The old preacher would get up there and he would say, “Ok, everybody turn to page 92 in the song book.”

Somebody would say, “We sang that last week!”

He’d say, “Well, how ‘bout page 94?”

“I don’t know that one!”

“Well how ‘bout page 21?”

Then the piano player would say, “I can’t play that!”

And then we’d argue on what we gonna sing.

Then we’d have Sunday school and everybody’d go out there and get in a fight.

I feel like that’s not what you’re supposed to do in Sunday school.

Well, that’s what we did in the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school.

Now if the preacher liked you good, they had a big ole bell in the belfry that had a rope coming down. And if he liked you, he’d let you ring the bell. And one day he decided it was my time to ring the bell. I went to ring it, and I couldn’t reach the rope. And I didn’t get to ring the bell. Never did get to ring it. Rope was too short.

We’d meet in the church building there, and we’d sing some songs, and he’d make a little bit of a sermon, and then we’d go outside, sit under the tree and we’d have a Sunday school lesson out there. Sitting under the tree. ‘Cept when it was raining, then we stayed inside.

Sometimes you’d only get told about sin. And you’d start talking about stuff and I figured, well that’s stuff I liked to do! [laughs] And then I was in a dilemma, I didn’t know what to do then.

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Limbo

I am constantly stuck in limbo between remembering and forgetting. Forgiveness and regret.

The forgetting brings temporary peace. And the remembering brings the dull, lingering ache.

But I know that I can keep going because I have loved and been loved. I have had and lost. I have accepted and forgiven. And I have done the hardest thing of all: I took the pain and let it make me kinder.

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Homesick

[This post was originally written September 22, 2013.]

Yesterday, my mom and I spent the morning and afternoon cooking meals to store in my grandfather’s freezer. He lives by himself in this old log cabin with a sagging, discolored roof surrounded by cedar trees and cow fields. And he’s just not very good at taking care of himself. Every now and then, he needs someone to come along and pick up after him and make sure he has something halfway decent to eat.

Cooking all day was exhausting, but also therapeutic in its own way. Dicing the vegetables, browning the meat, boiling the rice. It required all my attention and let me forget about these nagging worries for a little while.

My thoughts changed from ones of homesickness and anxiety to those of comfort and nostalgia. I held my grandmother’s ancient, grease-stained recipes between my fingers and thought back to childhood days of licking batter from the mixing bowl, sneaking bites from the cutting boards, and my grandma’s gentle, crooked fingers guiding mine as we stirred together.

For the majority of the time, my grandpa sat at the kitchen table telling me stories in his usual fashion: just true enough to be believable, but just ridiculous enough to be fantastical. The way he smiled and the way his eyes lit up for a few minutes reminded me that sometimes it’s the little things that can get rid of those festering misgivings brought on by long periods away from home. As I listened, I admired his calloused hands, rough from years of labor. I admired his curled grey beard, slightly discolored from lunch that afternoon. And I admired his eyes, blue-grey like the sea where he spent so many years of his life.

Yesterday was one of those days that felt ordinary in the moment, but, upon reflection, is one that will not easily be forgotten, pushed away to the cobwebbed sections of my mind. As I worked some oatmeal raisin cookie batter with a cracked wooden spoon and listened to my grandfather’s sandpaper voice, I realized how loved I am. How I am a part of something so much greater than me. I am from a family who knows nothing but love.

Homesick? No. Just loved.