Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Baby kisses

My very thoughtful sister drove me to Howell this afternoon for one last visit with my son Derek, daughter-in-law Renee, and month-old (today!) grandson, Tyler. I fly back to Mississippi this Saturday and there just wasn't enough leeway in Derek's work schedule to permit a visit up here to Mt. Pleasant from their place. So Shelley offered to drive me back there again (a four-hour round trip) so we could visit again (and take pictures).

It was a wonderful day for driving. The sun peeked out from behind low-hanging dark clouds, making it look colder than it really was. Although the temperatures probably reached 70 today, it felt and looked more like a late fall day. The trees are definitely turning shades of gold, bronze, and red--the treelines along the newly-cut cornfields will soon be fully ablaze with color. At the moment, they're an interesting blend of what I call "old green" and "new autumn."

Seeing Tyler and his parents again was a bittersweet occasion. I held him for a long time and watched him alternately smile and grimace as he dreamed his way through the afternoon. When he awoke, it was with a mighty howl. He continued howling until his mama got that bottle ready and I managed to get him calmed down enough to take it in his yowling little mouth. Halfway through, partially sated and sleepy once more, he threatened to nod off again. I struggled to keep him awake long enough to finish the bottle. Together, we finished the task, traded a few baby kisses, and then Tyler--safe and warm and with a full tummy--drifted off once more in his grateful grandma's arms.

A little while later, we said our goodbyes. Even though I know Derek and Renee will stay in close touch with me, as they always do, and keep me stocked with pictures of their little pride and joy, I will miss knowing I am only two hours away from him. Mississippi seems a long way away when I realize that I'm not only leaving my sister and her husband and my son and daughter-in-law behind, but the newest member of our family, my beloved little Tyler, as well. There will be many, many other times, of course, to visit and spend time together and I know that I can always fly up here (or drive) and be here again in a matter of hours.

But I'm already missing those precious baby kisses.

Until the next time...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Falling leaves and football

Michigan is known for a lot of things--the manufacturing of cars and furniture, growing cherries, apples, corn and a multitude of other crops, the Great Lakes, the Mackinac Bridge and Upper Peninsula, Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel, the Detroit Tigers and Lions, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Kendall School of Art and Design, Western, Eastern and Central Michigan Universities. I could go on and on.

But what I will take away from this most recent visit with my sister and her husband, at least from the standpoint of revisiting Michigan, is the weather.

Anybody who knows me knows I hate humidity and high heat. That's not unique, I know; millions of people dislike uncomfortably high temperatures and the inevitable stickiness and heavy air. Michigan has its share of those days and I remember them well. But one of the things I had forgotten (and I do this time after time after time, even though I grew up and spent over a half century in this state) is the indecribably beautiful weather during the fall months.

Today is one of those picture-perfect days for which Michigan is justifiably well-known. The trees are now changing colors in earnest, seemingly overnight, and the mellow yellows, reds and oranges are growing brighter and more distinct by the hour. Today's mild and sunny temps, cool breezes, and azure skies overhead are perfect for just about anything kind of outdoor activity. We just came from Mt. Pleasant after a foray into town for some groceries and it's abuzz with college students and other Central Michigan University fans who are gathering in great hordes for the football game this afternoon.

They couldn't ask for a better day to cheer on their team. I wouldn't want to be one of the football players, weighed down with padding and covered from head to toe in skin-tight, hot uniforms, but hey, I wouldn't want to be a football player under any circumstances whatsoever. I'm sure they've played in more uncomfortable conditions and there are many reasons and rewards that spur them on. I just know that the fans in the stands are in for a gorgeous day to sit, stand, cheer, eat, drink, sing, and enjoy another of God's generous creations--a perfect Michigan fall day.

I'm glad I was here to revisit the grandeur of a Michigan autumn. I'm sure I'll enjoy the cooler days and nights in Mississippi when I return home; the residents of that deep southern state certainly deserve a break after the unrelenting summer months. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I will tuck away the exhilaration of a late September day in Michigan: leaves drifting downward on the lilting breeze, acorns pelting us from swaying branches towering overhead, the chittering of squirrels, the gobble of wild turkeys, and a doe, elegant in her tan coat and long legs munching her way through the forest of falling leaves. There are the pungent smells of marigolds and mums, damp earth and ripe apples, pine trees and yes, even the last rose of summer--all vivid reminders that even in the waning days of life, there is great beauty and an abundance of natural pleasures to be savored.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Starry, starry night

I visited the universe last night.

It was late and I was already sitting in bed in my pajamas, reading, when my sister came downstairs and said she had a surprise for me. And did she ever!

We walked outside and were greeted by the rush of wind dancing through the canopy of trees lining their driveway and the road that runs past their house. As we walked beyond the decorative lighting placed discreetly in and around the gardens and forest that surround their home, we were soon in a tunnel of trees. The darkness enveloped us completely as we continued our nocturnal jaunt.

We wandered slowly, our hushed voices accompanied only by the whispering wind above us. We traveled deeper into the Michigan forest, cocooned by the blackness until we reached the cul-de-sac where the road widened out and circled back upon itself.

My sister said, "Look up," and I did. The trees had receded and the skies opened up before me and the glory of billions upon billions of stars glittered above me. I had traveled in a matter of minutes from the common and familiar comfort of my bed to the spectacular and humbling showcase of God's handiwork. I was mesmerized. I slowly turned around and around, my head thrown back, my arms extended outward for balance, and gazed at the panorama of endless inky black heavens punctuated by uncounted stars that shimmered and reflected the light of the half moon.

It is a memory I will never forget--my sister and I, enjoying the wind and the dark and the quiet stillness of a star-filled night--together.

Thank You, Lord, for creating the earth and the heavens and all they contain. Thank you, Shel, for loving me enough to make a memory with me that I will treasure forever.

Until the next time...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Staying in touch

My time in Michigan is waning. I arrived on Friday, August 31st and will depart on Saturday, September 29th. I've been here 19 days and have 11 days remaining. It's true that time flies when you're having fun--or visiting a generous, loving, and hilarious sister and her handsome (and equally generous, loving and hilarious) husband, along with other precious relatives, namely my brother, and my son, his wife and their new son, Tyler. I can't believe that it's almost time to climb aboard that plane and head for home.

While I will miss my loved ones here in Michigan, I have others waiting for me in Mississippi, as well as grandsons in Kentucky (along with their parents, another daughter of mine and her husband) who will be visiting me down there soon. I am blessed beyond words to have loved ones surrounding me. They don't all live next door, as I would obviously prefer, but they do live within flying or driving distance. It's not as though they have disappeared under the canvas dome of a covered wagon and are driving off into the dusty distance, their fate to be determined by the perils they meet along the way. Those days, fortunately, are in the past and for the most part, we are able to stay in touch even over vast oceans and long distances.

Today's communication methods allow us numerous ways to stay in touch with our families and friends and I'm tickled pink to take part in every one that I'm able to. Handwritten letters are, of course, the very best (I'm old-fashioned in that way), but email, phones, cellphones, instant messaging and even computer videos and digital cameras give us ways to stay in touch with loved ones as never before. Yes, in-person visits are always best and a handwritten letter is something that can never be replaced by an email, but today's relentless, often vicious pace doesn't always give us the time to do either one as much as we'd like. In the meantime, communicating in any way possible is certainly better than nothing and the importance of staying in touch with loved ones and friends has never been more critical. Even while we are busy with the tasks at hand, with taking care of our immediate family or making a living, our need to "be" with those who love and understand us grows more intense.

I, for one, will never give up staying in touch with my family. I might not be able to visit them as often as I'd like (or have them visit me), but just knowing that they want to is enough. When times allows and as God ordains, it will happen. In the meantime, I will be content with the many and varied ways I can keep them in my life.

Until the next time...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Joyful Commission!

I'm back in Mt. Pleasant with my sister and her husband after a 4-day visit with my son and his wife and their first child, Tyler. I spent hours holding, feeding, changing and just watching my newest (and fourth) grandchild as he lay in my arms. We had a few heart-to-hearts during his alert times and I think a little of my wisdom sank in. After all, what better way to learn about life than in the arms of a grandmother who thinks you're one of the four sweetest, most incredible, and handsomest grandchildren in the history of all humanity?

Tyler may not know at the moment just how much I love him, but that will come in time, just as he'll eventually understand how much his parents adore him and what they would (and ultimately, will) sacrifice for his well-being. He and my other grandsons are fortunate, as they were all born to parents with good sense, a sincere work ethic and values beyond reproach. They have supportive grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to love and guide them, to help provide them with the many things, both tangible and intangible, that children born in this day and age so desperately need to succeed as healthy individuals.

Someone has said that babies are God's way of saying the world should go on. True, but I also believe that the each new child born into this life is a declaration of God's clear expectation that we, His children, will graciously accept this most precious of all blessings; that we will take this tiny soul, this wondrously intricate being that He has gloriously housed in the most delicate of bodies, and raise him in the ways of the Lord.

What a commission! What a wonderful responsibility! What a joyful duty! Thank You, Lord, for sending Tyler into this world and for making him a part of our lives.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Golden Days

My sister is an artist--and an excellent one at that. Her workplace, Golden Apple Studio, is bright, airy, and stuffed to the gills with impressive (and huge) canvasses displayed on the walls, leaning along the perimeter of the room and standing on gigantic easels that flank the windows. Many of these same paintings have spent considerable time on display in art galleries and exhibits, garnering several awards and bringing her much-deserved recognition. She is well-respected in her profession and devoted to her passion, that of expressing important, often hidden truths of the human experience through fine art. Although she is skilled in photography, drawing, watercolors and other artistic mediums, her favorite (at the moment, at least) is oil painting. She spent eight years preparing herself, earning two associate's degrees, a bachelor's degree, and ultimately, a Masters of Fine Arts degree from one of the nation's most prestigious colleges of art and design. During those busy years, she worked full-time, raised three children and still managed to achieve the rank of Valedictorian of her graduating class. She's quite a woman.

Before I arrived for my visit up here, I told her that one of my goals was to spend time writing in her studio while she worked on the second painting in her latest series. We're doing that now. I can smell her oil paints, hear the background music she plays to keep her company, and furtively watch her from the corner of my eye as she creates another impressive piece of work. To me, the images she painstakingly creates on canvas appear as if by magic. But I know her method is far from magical. There's an incredible amount of preparatory work that goes into each painting (which is always part of a far larger series of paintings) before she ever paints a stroke. From her carefully crafted "thoughts statement," a precursor to her final "artist's statement," to the dozens of reference photographs she takes of her subjects (her beautiful daughters often pose for her), to stretching and building her own canvases and preparing the surfaces, to mixing the oils and the many other things in-between (of which I have no knowledge), Shelley creates deeply-moving, provocative, insightful, and beautifully-wrought images. Her use of color is outstanding; her skill in painting the human figure is almost eery in its perceptiveness. I love the eyes of her subjects--so expressive, such windows to the often walled-off interiors within. Just beautiful.

My sister and I both love to create; I write, she paints. We both express ourselves in the ways we know best and use the methods with which we are most comfortable. But as I sit here at my computer, fumbling for words, I can't help but be amazed that the little girl who once smacked me right between the eyes with one of those thick, kindergarten-sized crayons while we were supposed to be napping, would someday master the use of those crayons (and charcoal and pencils and pens and film and watercolors and oils) in much more productive, beautiful and useful (not to mention less violent) ways.

I honestly don't know how she does it; I'm just glad she does. And it's funny how her work still hits me right between the eyes... only now it doesn't leave a black and blue mark and I don't have to tattle on her.

Until the next time...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Transitions

I'm in Michigan! My flights to Lansing were uneventful, aside from the sad fact that traveling by air these days no longer affords us even the tiniest measure of convenience, let alone pampering. If simply getting on board isn't enough to wear you out, the small quarters and lack of food (aside from what they offer to sell us at exorbitant prices) will certainly do you in.

I had three flights in all--one short one from Tupelo to Memphis, a longer one from Memphis to Detroit, and a final short hop from Detroit to Lansing. I received nothing on either of the short flights and had one cup of coffee on the longer flight (no refills), but managed to talk the flight attendant into a cup of ginger ale to drink with the cookies I bought at the airport.

Needless to say, I was starving by day's end and arrived in Lansing ready to eat the first piece of roadkill we came across. Luckily, the highways were clear of rotting raccoons and putrid possums, so I was spared that humiliation. My sister and I had a wonderful meal at Cracker Barrel later that night and since then, I've been fed like a queen. And while I'm not exactly salivating at the thought of retracing my air miles on the way home, I'll stock up on snacks. I'll survive.

The weather in Michigan is superb this time of year. Late summer days are giving way to the cooler temperatuares and lower humidities so typical of autumn in the north. Although the trees have not yet begun to change colors, there are signs everywhere that summer is packing up her colors and waving goodbye, and that fall is marching toward us at a good clip, bringing along her own version of nature's palette. My sister and husband have an incredible garden in their front yard, one that rivals any garden I've ever seen, including those featured in magazines. Even in its last days, the muted colors of fading summer flowers and the bright tangerine-hued marigolds and ruby red mums transform the garden from a riot of color to a graceful display of subtle, earthy hues.

The change of seasons does a lot for me in terms of creativity, as well. The crisp fall days are my favorite time of year--and my muse's chosen time to visit. Perhaps my head is cleared by the seasons' beauty and the change in temperatures, etc. Whatever the reason, I feel more inspired in the fall, much like a child returning to school after summer break. In any event, I will embrace my newfound enthusiasm for writing and try to put it to good use. I think our Lord would want it that way. I thank Him every day for a new chance to do His work and every night I apologize for not living up to His expectations. But inevitably, I wake up the next morning with a clean slate spread out before me; another day in which to do the work He wants me to do and to live my life in a manner that will glorify Him.

Thank You, Lord, for giving me a new opportunity every morning to use the gift You have granted me for the purpose of completing the work You have assigned to me. I pray that my personal transition from summer to fall, and eventually to winter, will be as beautiful as the changing of the seasons. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen.

Until the next time...

Laughing with the Lord #4

Welcome to #4 of Laughing with the Lord! Wondering what makes God smile has long been a burning question for me. I know He smiles and laug...