Dance like no one is watching (or like everyone is)

On Monday night, I made up my mind.

I was going back to the gym for a BodyPump class. (For those who don’t know, BodyPump is one of Les Mills’ many classes taught at many gyms. It features loud music, weights, and a lot of reps. It’s more cardio than strength training. I like it, but haven’t been in pretty much FOREVER.)

So, I came home from work, walked the dog, changed into gym clothes, grabbed a water bottle and hurried over to the gym. I wanted to get there a little early because BodyPump takes some time to set up . . . and I didn’t want to be stuck at the very front of the class or the very back of the room.

When I got to the Y, the lights were off in the group fitness room and music was blaring. Through the frosted glass, I glimpsed another woman in there setting up her bench and weights for class, so I opened the door and wandered in.

As I gathered my bench, mat, and weights, I was surprised to see that there was another woman in the room who I hadn’t seen earlier. I began setting up my station, but she pulled my attention away from my task. She had plugged her phone into the stereo system and was blaring songs from her playlist. While class members wandered in and began setting up for class, she danced and swayed in the middle of the room, snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet, singing along to her favorite lyrics.

More and more people entered; no one acted like this was anything out of the ordinary. The woman switched songs, added a few spins, and kept dancing, hand atop her head. She was wearing a nice office button-down shirt, skinny pants, and I assumed the blazer I’d seen when I laid my purse down at the back of the room was hers.

Class was scheduled to start in 8 minutes and more and more people were pouring into the room, yet still she danced as people set up their spots all around her. She was oblivious, and we were all acting as if we were, too.

Finally, about 5 minutes before class, she turned off her music, unplugged her phone, and slipped into her black pumps. She gathered her jacket and left the room, singing the lyrics of the song she’d just turned off.

I don’t know if this was a regular occurrence for her or if she just had a bad day and thought to only was to redeem it was to dance the day off. But she danced like no one was looking, even though we were all pretending not to.

It was random and hilarious, but part of me just wanted to shout, “Dance on, lady!” 

I dreamed a dream

I dreamed about my grandmother’s house last week.

I’ve often dreamed about my Grandma Ruby’s house, torn down a few years ago, but I can still navigate it in my memories.

But last night, the dream was about my Grandma Polly’s house. A small, old house with a floor furnace that used to scare me. It sits across from my aunt and uncle’s house in a tiny Missouri town I only visit at Christmas now. A new family lives there now, eating dinner in the kitchen where a coat of paint covers up the growth chart on the paneling next to the cellar door, etched with dates and names. Me. My brother. My cousins.

I dreamed about the house the way it used to be. The way it was the last time I saw it when she lived there. I was sleeping in the room that had been my mother’s, in the bed with the bookshelves on the headboard. In the dream, I walked from the kitchen down the hallway darkened by paneling so popular in the ’70s, past the bathroom, the picture of Jesus knocking on a door, my grandparents’ bedroom, and the living room. I remembered it all: the pictures on the wall, the color of the carpet in their bedroom, the bookshelves just inside the living room door where my grandma had displayed the photographs of her grandkids.

Sometimes, I get homesick for the way things used to be. When we could hop in a car on a Sunday afternoon and go see my grandma. She was one of my biggest fans, and I miss her.

Not with the biting grief of those first months after her final stroke, but a gentle grief. A happy grief if there can be such a thing. I am happy that I got to be her granddaughter (the only one), and happy that she is at peace. I am happy that my memories of her are good and that I know she loved me. I am happy that grief still comes, mostly unexpected, because it reminds me of the depth of her love for me.

Good Things (episode 3)

It’s Friday, and it’s been two weeks since my last “Good Things” post. So, with no further ado. . .

  • Two of my favorite podcasts collided this week. I’ve listened to “Stuff You Missed In History Class” for a long time (through several hosts, actually), but ran across Nate DiMeo’s “The Memory Palace” when I was searching for something to fill the void of “Serial.” This week, the ladies at “Stuff You Missed” chatted with Nate! They’re big fans, too!
  • “The Memory Palace” will start releasing new episodes each week on June 21. Subscribe if you like good storytelling. Favorite episodes for me: “The Brothers Booth Schmancy Platinum Remaster Edition,” “High Above Lake Michigan,” and “Episode 65: Two-Dimensional Projectiles.” 
  • Good news and new opportunities.
  • IMG_3875
    Mmm, good! Especially with homemade vanilla ice cream!

    Blackberry cobbler and a fun night laughing and talking with friends.

  • A weekend with NO plans. (I’m tired, people.)
  • Time off soon to see my dad for Father’s Day AND see my oldest nephew play t-ball!
  • Early morning walks with Mac. This little dog wakes up SO happy and it can be contagious. (But if someone could talk him into sleeping in a little on Saturdays, I’d appreciate it!)
  • Coworkers who were so generous to give to people they don’t know and minister to a family that’s grieving.
  • Coffee. It’s ALWAYS a good thing!

Blackberry cobbler to warm your heart

I like dessert.

Cakes, pies, puddings, ice cream. I like it all—but my absolute favorite is cobbler. Especially when it’s warm and topped with melting vanilla ice cream.

My favorite cobbler is peach, which there’s already a recipe for on this site. My second favorite? Blackberry. (My other second favorite is blackberry peach. Think it sounds weird? It’s DELICIOUS!)

But today’s post deals with blackberry cobbler. I recently made this for a get-together with friends, and I came home with an empty pan. I mean, the people almost liked the pan clean. I took that as meaning the recipe is a success. So, here it is:

Ingredients
Crust: 
4 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup water (give or take) 

Filling: 
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2-3 cups blackberries (I’ve used frozen and fresh. Fresh mix up better, but frozen may be easier to find or less expensive)
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 13×9 pan.

2. Make crust. Combine 4 cups flour and salt, mix well. Cut in shortening (using a fork or pastry blender). Continue doing so until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing and mixing. Add water until dough is formed and moist enough to form a ball. I sometimes have to add more than 2/3 cup. Divide dough into 2 pieces and set one aside. Roll the other out on a floured surface until it is big enough to line the bottom and sides of your pan.

IMG_38723. In another bowl, make the filling. Combine sugar and flour and mix well. Add blackberries, water, and vanilla. Stir. Spoon into baking dish and top with butter, cut into smaller pieces.

4. Roll out the remaining dough and use it to top the cobbler. Pinch the edges together. Cut slits in the crust and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of sugar.

5. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbles. Enjoy!

IMG_3875

I don’t think that means what you think it means

Today, I opened Facebook to discover this gem:
CHAdzhLUYAAc-AS

In the immortal words of The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

I can picture the scene: It’s deadline. The copy editor passes the article along to another editor or whomever is supposed to write the headline (sometimes, it’s a different person from the writer), and he/she knows there’s a word for someone who can use both hands equally well. . . . but what is it? It starts with an A. Amphibious. Yes, that’s it.

But, no. It isn’t. It’s ambidextrous—and it’s used in the second paragraph of the article.

So, editors, this is why your job matters. Words mean something, convey something. Let’s use the right ones!

Some say that the “mistake” was a pun recalling Charles Shackleford making the same mistake. Even if that’s true, most journalists know you don’t make jokes that most readers won’t get in a headline.

Read more about this headline here.

In disappointment

I’ve been thinking a lot about disappointment lately.

That moment when you realize that the thing you hoped and dreamed about isn’t going to happen.

When the dream you cherished seems like it’s shattered into a million pieces, and you’ll never be able to move on.

When the dream job isn’t so dreamy anymore and you wonder what you’re meant to do with your life.

When you do that thing you said you’d never do.

When life gets hard or confusing or difficult and you can’t see the other side.

When that person you love and trust lets you down, and you wonder if the risk involved in loving is really worth it.

I wish I could tell you that disappointment will never come your way, but it will. And the problem with disappointment is that it can be paralyzing. In that moment when it seems like all hope is lost, it’s easy to begin to question the situation. What did I do wrong? How did I get here? Will it ever not hurt? What do I do now?

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about disappointment lately:

1. Choose to trust God. If you believe that He is sovereign, then He is sovereign over this situation, too. Despite how you feel or the seemingly insurmountable obstacles you see in front of you, He is in control. I’m a firm believer that nothing is wasted with God, and He will use this situation for His glory. Trusting that when you don’t necessarily see it happening is hard, though. Do it anyway.

2. It’s worth it. A lot of disappointment stems from relationships. Here’s the deal: people are going to disappoint you—just like you’re going to disappoint anyone you know well. It may be scary to love and trust someone after great disappointment, but relationships are worth it. Do it anyway.

3. Evaluate your expectations. Sometimes disappointment comes from the expectations you had going into the relationship or the situation. And sometimes, those expectations were unfair or incorrect. When you get a little distance from the situation and can look at it objectively, take a look at your expectations. Learn to identify unfair expectations and wrong assumptions and get rid of them. Choose to learn from this experience.

4. Just because this one situation ended this way doesn’t mean similar ones will, too.  Don’t let the disappointment from this experience color every other situation that reminds you of it. Just because that boss reminds you of a former bad boss doesn’t mean he or she is bad. Just because one friendship ended in disaster because of misplaced expectations doesn’t mean every friendship will—unless you’re so focused on the past disappointment that you set up the relationship that way.

This bad thing happened and it was terribly disappointing, but it doesn’t have to shape the rest of your life. Mourn what you’ve lost. Even get angry, but then choose to forgive (yourself or others) and let go of any unfair expectations. Then, put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Disappointment is real and it can be devastating, but it was never meant to be the place where we live the majority of our lives.

 

Good Things (episode 2)

It’s been a very busy two weeks, but I survived. There was a lot of stress, a bunch of worrying, and some really good things. I’d rather focus on my blessings, so with no further ado . . .

  • Meeting a print deadline with little to no drama after a very hectic week trying to get ready for it.
  • A long weekend.
  • Allergy meds.
  • Watching “The Good Wife” on some random channel at 3 a.m. because you can’t sleep and actually enjoying it.
  • crunchy cheddar chicken with salad
    crunchy cheddar chicken with salad

    Trying out two new recipes and discovering I’ll actually use them again.

  • “Alias” on Netflix.
  • A trip to the beach with friends. And while this may make me an old lady—my new swim shorts.
  • A blog post I am really proud of: A house of memories.
  • Coworkers who are like family and really care about you.

Mac and the terrifying throw

Me, relaxing on the patio
Me, relaxing on the patio

Hey, guys! Mac here.

So, I told you I’d be blogging here sometimes—and something finally happened that I felt like I needed to write about. Mandy thinks the whole thing is downright hilarious, but I’m telling you, it isn’t!

The whole thing started on Monday afternoon. See, Mandy left. On a holiday to go somewhere and eat with some people or something. All I know is that I wasn’t invited. And I was pretty much OK with that because I was curled up on my favorite spot on the couch with a nice snuggly throw taking a nap.

Then, it happened. Something was on my back. I couldn’t shake it off. I couldn’t push it off with my paws. When I jumped off the couch, it followed. When I twisted to the right, it did too. What was it? Why was it following me? Why couldn’t I get it off my back?!

Luckily, about that time, I heard Mandy coming up the front steps. So I did what any smart dog would do. I barked. Not my “Hey, Mandy! You’re HOME!” bark, but my “I’m kind of terrified and need your help bark.” Believe me, she knows the difference.

So Mandy came in the house asking, “What’s wrong, Mac?” So, I showed her. The terrible thing that was following me, that I couldn’t shake off, that was heavy and hot and terrifying.

And she laughed.

Out loud.

And promptly removed my favorite red throw blanket from where it had gotten stuck on my collar.

Phew. Survived.

On Writing

5563c0f816ca69e039d426cdI’ve always loved stories. Books line one entire wall of my parents basement, double-shelved in some places. The built-shelving in my old bedroom at their house still holds a collection of books that range from Sweet Valley High to a Little House on the Prairie. I even belonged to a book club for preteen girls for awhile, getting a selection of books every month, ranging from a melodramatic teen tear-jerker about a girl who had meningitis and lost her hearing and a gem like The Face on the Milk Carton.

The written word has always been important to me, but when I talk with today’s teens about writing and books, most just wrinkle their noses and tell me writing is boring and that they don’t like to read.

I’ve always thought that good writers were first voracious readers.

And we’re raising up fewer and fewer readers—and even fewer writers. So, my question is: Who will be the great writers of tomorrow?

We live in a society that says everyone can write. Google the word fanfiction or check out the number of  self-published ebooks on Amazon if you don’t believe me. And while it’s true that anyone can write, we’ve lost focus of the craft of writing. Gone are the days of a well-crafted, beautifully constructed prose that leads us into the story and introduces us to characters we’ll never forget. We’ll accept hastily written stories, rife with plot holes, bad grammar, and stilted conversations and call it good literature—even when it’s not.

So what does this mean for the future of literature? I don’t know. But I hope that somewhere out there—whether its a self-published ebook or a big publishing house best seller—that someone is writing the defining piece of literature of the early 2000s, the “classic” that will be on the must-read list of our grandchildren’s children.

I hope that young writers continue to write, even when their friends think it’s uncool because they know they have a story to tell.

Because no matter the format, the written word and the innate human love of story will never fade—and we shouldn’t have to accept sub-par storylines and flat characters.

So, prove me wrong, writers. Go out and write the next great classic.

A house of memories

I can’t remember what day, exactly, that they tore my grandma’s house down.

It was cold, I think. Sometime after Christmas in those interminable gray days of January and February that make up so much of winter in the midwest.

I wasn’t there, though.

My brother called to tell me that the process had started, something we’d known was going to happen at some point, but pushed out of our minds. His voice was flat, almost toneless, the way he talks when he’s upset about something but doesn’t really want you to know.

My throat constricted, and suddenly, in the quiet of my work day, I felt dangerously close to tears.

The news itself wasn’t a surprise, exactly. After Grandma Ruby’s death two Junes ago, there had been many discussions of what would become of her house. And while I had heard all the logical reasons for tearing down her house—no one had lived in the house for a long time, it would take a lot of money to fix it, who would live there?—logic often does nothing to soothe emotions. Plus, talking about tearing something down and actually doing it are two very different things.

And to me, tearing down my Grandma’s house felt a little like trying to erase her from our lives.

Long after my brother and I had ended that conversation, I pictured the men and the equipment that were tearing down the house that had been such a big part of my childhood. In my mind’s eye, I saw them start the process, picking apart the house room by room.

They began with the rooms with names, still called by the names of the aunts and uncles who had inhabited them long before I was born. Linda’s room was first, with its north and west facing windows and gauzy curtains, where a twin bed had sat tucked into a corner. I’d always thought it was a beautiful little room and to picture the gaping hole where it once had been felt like a gaping hole had been torn in my heart.

The boys’ room came next. The boys’, of course, refers my dad and his brothers. It was what my grandma called her sons even after their hair had turned gray, even after dementia had robbed her of their names. It was the name we called the room, my brother and I, even though as children it seemed impossible to imagine that those men who were our Grandma Ruby’s boys had ever been boys at all.

I imagine that Grandma’s room came next, the small little bedroom with the double bed and the pretty hurricane lamp with the yellow rose painted on it. The nightstand with the picture of my granddad who died before I was born. The place where my grandma had stood in front of the mirror and put on her jewelry, maybe even the turquoise ring I wear on my left hand.

Then came the living room, where we never sat or played, and the dining room, with the big south-facing window and the peach curtains, where the golden afternoon light filtered in, leaving warm patches on the carpet and the big pine dining room table, reflecting off the depression glass dishes sparkling on the hutch. I always remember that room in the waning light of summer afternoons, at that moment when the light turns golden and gilds everything. As a child, I thought it was the most beautiful room in the world.

Next came the kitchen, with the out-of-style pine cabinets and black hinges, where we’d spent many a night at Grandma’s making popcorn on the stovetop.

And finally, the room she called the “breezeway” or the “back porch,” a room built on to the back of the house at some point before I was born that served as the main gathering area. It was here that she sewed, read, watched TV, sat by the fire, maybe even painted her paintings. One hung over the huge mantle and the big brick hearth in front of the fireplace. Beautiful tongue-and-groove planks made the ceiling extravagant, an unexpected touch in a modest house. It was there in that room that we would spend time with Grandma, talking, laughing, eating popcorn and drinking copious amounts of sodas that weren’t allowed at home.

It’s been a few years since the house has been torn down, and I still haven’t gone down the road from my parents’ house to see the place where it used to stand. When I stay in my old bedroom, one of the windows faces her house, and I always stand in just the right place where my aunt and uncle’s house obscures the view and I can’t tell that her house is gone.

But it isn’t really gone, is it? It’s burned into my memory and my heart. And that house of memories will stand as long as I live.

“A finished person is a boring person.” Anna Quindlen

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