Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dear Irene

Dear Irene,

Dear, Dear, Irene...

Dear, Sweet, Dead Irene.

Dear Sweet Dead Great Great Irene,

Dear Irene,

First, I guess I should apologize. See, I found your portrait in my parent's attic a few weeks ago. You were there with your husband's portrait. Just in case you didn't know, he's dead, too. You look just like your niece, my grandmother-- as an FYI.

You and Herb were dusty and whoever you paid to do Herb's portrait, well, let's be honest-- you paid too much. He looked a little like Adolf in an American Colonel's uniform. Maybe Adolf didn't kill himself after all? Nah-- your husband was far too patriotic. At least, that's what I heard.

Why am I apologizing? You're out of the attic now and you survived the garage sale. Yes, I admit-- I tried to sell you. Does it count that there was no price tag on your glass? Leaning against the trash can in my parent's dew ladened grass that cold morning last Saturday, you stared at me all day long. Were you mad? Was it because it was your first time seeing daylight and you needed sunglasses? I could have fixed that.

In the end, the customers were more appalled that I was selling a family portrait than they were interested in taking you home.

"Can you believe she is selling that portrait of her grandmother?!"

My response: "Actually, that's Great Great Aunt Irene. Make me an offer! Everything goes!"

They were unimpressed. Come on, they were at a garage sale wheeling and dealing over 15 cents. Who should be unimpressed? And, besides that-- how did they know it was the woman that was selling the picture and not the husband?! Maybe I just have that look about me? What do you think, Great Great Dead Aunt Irene?

Well, let's be honest, my dear and dead Great Great Irene: someone stole a shirt from the garage sale. No lie. That's unimpressive. I would have been impressed if someone tried to steal you, though. I would have chased after them. Don't you worry your pretty little head off. Of course, you can be pretty mellow at times, especially when you need to be:

I hear you were proper and did all the right things, so let me be the first to tell you-- smoke something like that in public and you're going to get arrested. That is not polite in good company...

If you're going to smoke...

There, that's a bit more polite. Of course, this is 2016-- and people don't smoke much anymore... but you are trapped in a 1964 portrait, so who am I to judge?

You were saved from the donation box at the very last minute. Both you and Jesus. Jesus saved me, so I saved him. My friend was quite fond of you and I thought maybe-- we could visit her one day. When you got home, I was a little stressed out from a grant that was due and the the house being shown. Great Great Aunt Irene, I loved that you thought it would be fun to put some purple streaks in your hair... and maybe a little hat? 

I thought the polka dots were a nice touch. The polka dots got me thinking... I wonder if you resembled my father and I just couldn't see it? Black hair would help... and maybe some purple lipstick, too. 

Nope. Even with the black hair and purple lipstick, you do not resemble my father in any way, shape, or form.

I am sorry to report that you died in the 80s. While no spring chicken, did you listen to the music and dressed in the styles? An old lady can really rock a side pony tail and big bow if they have the right personality. The green bow matching your green dress is a nice touch. Purple lipstick? It's getting to be a bit much, don't you think, Irene? You were born at the turn of the century- before lipstick was even invented. Of course, you know that.

Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, did you wear your hair in pig tails when you were a kid in Michigan? Did you have bows? I know you had sisters... but did you have bows?

It really doesn't matter- if you had bows or if they matched your clothes. When you're an old lady, you can wear purple bows with green dresses and still pull it off. 

Great Great dead Aunt Irene, you know what I always thought was cool about your generation? All the coordination. People had accessories to match accessories. Purses matched pumps that coordinated with gloves and hats. It must have been time consuming and the effort it must have taken, let alone the expense, to pull it all together-- that is one thing I do not envy about the era which held your youth. But, the style! Oh, when it all came together with such perfection, Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, I do think it's beautiful when it all comes together.

The 60s were in a time before cross dressing was the norm-- not that it is the norm in 2016-- but we do see it more now than you did then. Cross dressing is not something I understand, but you know... you're old, and as you know... you only live once. I love how you tried to express yourself in any way you could. But, trust me, you in a beard is looking better than Herb with half a mustache. 

Before the kids saw you, I wanted to make sure that you didn't scare them. Sometimes, old people scare little kids. I guess it's the wrinkles? Whatever the reason, my kids love kitty cats; Bennie especially. She likes pink kitty cats and can actually draw one. Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, you'd be impressed with that kid. You'd be impressed with all my kids. Thanks for letting me dress you up for them.

Of course, if you can be a kitty cat... why couldn't you be a dog? Of course... if you're a dog... you could be a Mog! Half Man, Half Dog... you could be your own best friend. Because, after all of this, I have a feeling that I will no longer be in the running for your best friend. It's cool, I understand. I show you more attention than you've had in forty years, even if you don't have much say in the matter as to what kind of attention my family and I give you.

Of recent, my children can be heard saying, "Mama, where's Aunt Irene?" or better still, "Mama, can I please draw on Aunt Irene?"

"Okay honey, but just for a few minutes- because it is bedtime."

So, Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, I guess I should apologize for totally taking advantage of you when you cannot defend yourself. I am also sorry that your husband hit the Goodwill pile-- but I don't think he'd have quite the humor about this that you have. That being said, I totally get it if you end up haunting me. I think I have earned it.

Love to you and looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Your Great Great very much Alive Niece....


Thursday, February 4, 2016

How did we do?

Written at the end of January...

Tomorrow is payday (Thank you, Sweet six pound baby infant Jesus). Husband sent me a text this morning reminding of this noted and celebrated day. As I sit and type, Bennie is playing hooky from school and we are at Chick Fil A, celebrating a mommy-daughter day. She's in the playroom with other kids, sliding and running around. It's cute to watch her.

So, the question begs-- How did we fare this first month of REDUCTION!... ?

How'd we do?

Pretty good.
Pretty darn good.

There were some expenses I had not planned on, things that I knew were coming but had simply forgotten. Registration for the upcoming school year for all three children (to the sweet tune of over $500) and the last installment of Birdie's summer camp tuition, to name the top two. If the camp makes you pay in installments, you know that I choked at the reminder!

We also went skiing-- we knew we were going as it was our Christmas present from my parents, and an awesome one at that. One of the days was so snowy and to truly enjoy the day-- and more importantly-- TO SEE, we needed ski goggles. At that point, having spent the time to get to where we were, Husband and Wife moseyed in our ski boots to the ski shop and spent way too much money on top quality Smith goggles.

And they were totally worth it.

We went out to dinner once. We were going to go out to eat with another couple, but they canceled at the last minute. The babysitter was already in place and the money was already set aside- why cancel on ourselves? Off we went. It made us enjoy it more.

Every other time I did not feel like cooking, meals were already prepared in the freezer, ready for eating. Being prepared has made the biggest difference.

Our weakness-- eating breakfast out-- was resolved with homemade breakfast burritos that were DE-LISH-US! I can happily report that we did not eat breakfast out once in the month of January. Even when my mom called and asked me to pick up biscuits on the way over to her house, I grabbed two burritos from the freezer.

I went out to lunch four times this month, twice while we were on the road and twice as a treat for the girls; one of those four times being right now. When we went out of town to he mountains, we packed sandwiches and drinks.

I switched to boxed wine and froze individual meals for Husband so he did not have to buy lunch at the hospital. Instead of listening to music on my walks, I now listen to Dave Ramsey. Hearing other people making less money, being worse off, and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps-- it gets me excited about taking these loans by the horns and telling those pesky things who's the boss.

Were we perfect? No. We could have done better, but we sure could have done a heck of a lot worse. By the end of the month, we were ready for the glorious pay day, satisfied with where our money went and not overwhelmed with the prospect of tomorrow. We have a plan. We have a goal.

AND WE DID IT. We freaking did it. 29 more months to go.

February will be a little tougher. Husband will get paid a little less this month, but we are still committing the same whiplash payment. Just today, we were talking about making an improvement to the backyard. I asked, "What do we really want? I think we should stick to our ultimate goal and wait. If we can suck it up for 29 more months- we can be DONE and do whatever the heck we want to do. AND, we can do it right." We were both a little dejected looking around at what we wanted to do, but the focus drove us back to what we wanted. We are doing less now so that we can do more later.

I checked in with my partner to see how she felt they did. We both had successes and complaints. At the end of the month though, we both cheered the positive aspects of what we were accomplishing. Having a partner: it makes it easier and it makes me accountable to someone other than myself. Thanks, Pard'ner!


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Laundry

No, this is not a woman who writes complaining about her mountains of laundry. I just want to let it be known where I am in this moment.

In 68 minutes, people will be showing up to my house- some I have never met before. I'm dressed, sans makeup. Let me be perfectly clear: Oh, I am dressed and ready. My cute shoes, nice jeans, and Michael Stars shirt are walking proof that I am ready. I even have on long gold dangly earrings before 5 o'clock.

Michael Stars shirts are really sparkly in the daylight. They should only be worn after the sun goes down.

The bright red shirt is a little bosomy. Not too much, but just enough to let it be known that sass is flying..

People will be at my house in 65 minutes and I am sitting in a plastic chair nailed to the linoleum floor of the laundry mat.

Our dryer died today. I was not impressed with this nor very excited. But, my first trip to the laundry mat today (because, this is-- in fact-- my second trip), I looked like a local. Rather, a townie. Yoga pants and a well dressed kid as my accessory really set the stage for my four baskets.

But now... now is very different from than.

"Than" was not at a time when I would be having people to my house in 61 minutes. "Than" was perfectly acceptable to be in sweaty workout clothes. Now though... Now I am dressed and ready for a party.

Looky here, I have just been handed a leaflet about "Can the Dead Really Live Again?" It has purple flowers. Apparently, purple flowers show us that indeed, yes. People can live again as long as you are a Jehovah's Witness.

Cool. Good to know.

Before arriving, I was warned by several signs... and people that items left at the laundry mat can be stolen. FYI- people steal anything.

Got it.

No, thank you. I don't want your phone number, nor do I think this is a very good place to meet men. My standards have gone up or the caliber of folk at the laundry mat has gone a ways down.

You know, in college-- there was a bar in the laundry mat. No kidding. It was a great place to go on laundry day. I haven't spent much time at a laundry mat since then.

55 minutes. Can I get it done? According to this other leaflet next to me, I can get anything done... with Jesus.

Another good tip.

Jesus Saves.
Take your own risk with unattended items.
But leave the magazines.

53 minutes.

Monday, January 18, 2016

If he knew me... he'd kill me.

All these years later, I still have those old love notes. I told Husband about them and we laughed at how innocent and down right silly they were. The few friends I have shown them to have all said the same thing: His penmanship is impeccable. I am going to protect the innocent, because-- somewhere out there is a box of folded paper with my penmanship scratched on those lines and that cannot be denied.

But, it is fun to look at these and both laugh and smile:



I am glad you had fun last night, I did too. I am in Horticulture right now and we are watching a very boring video on "ground cover." I think I will be coming to Hometown a lot in the next couple of weeks for all the Social Christmas parties. Are you going to Charleston in two weeks? When are you going to Atlanta? I want to go to Athens and stay with "Bob" sometime soon and we will go to my grandparents at Lake Sinclair the weekend after Christmas but besides that I should be around. I hope you will be able to come to the game Friday night. It should be fun. Our record is now 11-1. Thanks for my shoe.  I don't know quite what to think about it, but I always like getting things in the mail. It is kind of funny how our postal system can sometimes fail to get a simple letter to someone, but they can deliver a shoe, yes.... a shoe. Well it is about time to go (yes, I spent most of the class period on this letter), so I will just talk to you later.

That Guy



I am looking forward to the Christmas dance. Is Scott going to it? We should have a lot of fun (as usual) Well, the bell is about to ring to go to fourth period- see you later today!

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: {Scott... I would end up going on a few dates with him in my twenties. Whoopsie}



I just got finished taking an anatomy test and I have about ten minutes left in class, so I thought I would be nice and write you a letter. I am glad that you are coming to the game tonight. It should be packed. Our whole town and school are pumped about this game. We are playing a team from Albany. I think their record is 10-2. (ours is 11-1) Our steaks were better than I thought they would be. (at lunch) I had two. This is the first time I have been filled up by a school lunch. When I got to fourth period after lunch I wanted to lay down and take a nap, but we had a test instead. Well... it is about time to go... so I will see you tonight!

That Guy



I am in fifth period (Horticulture) and I wanted to write you to let you know I was thinking of you. It is such a nice day and I am glad you are coming to see me! I am glad the weather is finally warming up. I hope you get to play Friday in the game because I want to come see you in action. I think you would be cute running up and down the field. Well, the teacher just called out some work for us to do, I better let you go!

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: I was on the inaugural girls' soccer team at my high school and lettered my first year. Never the best player; I had a lot of fun.



I am glad I got to see you so much this week. I am in Anatomy and we are learning the bones in the body. We have a skeleton and it is life-size. No... it is not real, it is made of plastic, but it costs $1,000. Its name is Skippy! I know that your grandparents are coming down this weekend so you most likely can not come down so I will not mind coming to see you in Augusta. We just for finished watching a laserdisc. The bell just rang.

That Guy



I want to make an attempt to write a response to the letter I just received from you. I want to thank you for the letter first. That is the best thing you could have done. I am glad that you are able to trust me. I am glad you are able to write me poems (and give them to me).........

35 year old me commentary: Woah. Wait. I wrote poems.... AND GAVE THEM AWAY?! Geez, 17 year old me... what were you thinking?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! Please don't find those poems. Please tell me you burned them or threw them away or something other than put them in a box to be found almost two decades later.

Even if we only last until tomorrow, I want you to know you will always have a special place in my heart.

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: {We wouldn't last more than another sixty-ish days.}



I am being distracted right now, but I am trying to write you anyway. My pastel drawing of a car got second place in an art show. I won $50! They announced it on the morning announcements. The bell is about to ring, so I better let you go!

That Guy



I just finished my test in Anatomy and had a few minutes to write you a note. I really am proud of you for your essay. I was sitting English the other day and I thought to myself as we were reading Milton and Wordsworth that you could easily write as good as them. I think you will be a great writer one day. I have not read much of your writing, but what I have sounds pretty good! 

That Guy

35 year old me commentary: {I used to be terrible embarrassed of my writing. Loved to do it- hated to show it. The essay he is referencing won first place in a national contest. Something about 'reading being life's silver lining' ... I think. My teacher submitted it on my behalf.}


There are other notes from a variety of people and places in my life, but high school seems to be the most fun and the most innocent ones to share. Life gets sticky and complicated as we grow up and as we move on they become less funny to look back on.

Husband and I looked at my old pictures and read these old notes last night and he said the sweetest thing to me, "It seems like you had a beautiful childhood. It looked like it would have been amazing to be you growing up. I am glad I met you as an adult."

And it was a beautiful youth. It really was.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mama's attic

My brother can accomplish anything he wants-- when he wants to. Last week, he asked my mother to please clean out their attic. I think his exact phrase was something to the effect of, "Before you and Dad die, please clean out your attic and do not leave it to Wife and me."


Only Brother can get away with saying something like that... even better, do you know what happened?

They cleaned out the attic.

Mom and Dad hired their trusty worker bees to make the 77 trips up the trap door and back down again, lugging trunks from the 1800s (you just think I am exaggerating), old toys, boxes of keepsakes, love notes between my parents, and boxes and boxes and boxes and more boxes of .... stuff.

There was quite a bit in the Christmas decor department.

There was old furniture- with green tweed upholstery, and old cabinets from when Dad cut them out of the kitchen.

Stuffed animals. Lots and lots of stuffed animals. Old cancelled checks from before my grandfather died. My grandfather-- who died in 1962. Let's not talk about the automobile expenses from 1957-1958 on the old Studebaker and the Grandmother's old Cadillac with every single ESSO receipt where either my grandmother or grandfather filled up on a regular basis for $1.12.

Not to mention Doris, Grandfather's secretary-- she got paid $28.66 a week. By the time of his death, she would get a pay raise to $35.48. Let's hope inflation was better to her than to the others. Doris got paid more than Janice, the secretary before her.

One of those old trunks from the 1800s held my aunt's Madame Alexander dolls and handmade doll clothes. Not knowing what I was getting into, I threw open the trunk to find six arms, doll stuffing, and three heads practically melted together. One eye peered at me from under a moth eaten lace dress. I swear it blinked in the sunshine. There were loose arms with fingers that had long separated from the body. I screamed and dropped it. The arms and fingers rolling out as it hit the garage floor. I kicked them and screamed again- like seeing a cockroach kind of scream. They landed in the dirt of the front yard, straight in the air clearly clinging to life.

Dolls can be scary when you are not expecting them.

There were painted portraits of my great-great aunt; Aunt Irene and her husband, Uncle Herb. Looking at the picture of Irene from the mid-1960s in that white frame and off-white backdrop, Irene is wearing a green shift dress with gold collar necklace, I can so clearly see my grandmother in her face. Dad has a ring made out of Irene's wedding jewelry that Irene's son gave him before he died.

Her husband, Herb, adopted Irene's son from a previous marriage- Lynn. Herb was so well decorated from both World War I and World War II that General Douglas MacArthur publicly praised him for his bravery and selflessness.

And then there was a box of stuff that was of a modern era. "Modern" being a loose word for Brother and Wife and those two famous words: High School.

Electing first to go through Brother's, mostly because he did not want to mess with it, notes were read and twenty year old gossip was spilled across those loose leaf pages as I sat on the kitchen floor. Girls dotted their 'i's' (excuse the punctuation imperfections) with stars and my 35 year old eyes can so clearly see their hints at 'like' for him, whereas- those 18 year old eyes might have missed it.

And then there was my box... or, rather, my three Rubbermaid bins full of the keepsakes that proved I was once young. Young and foolish. Young, foolish, naive, and incredibly fortunate. There were love notes (don't you worry, those are coming out), and my high school sorority jersey. "SMACHE" sewn on the back with a big pink #3 on that white jersey only completed the oversized greek letters on the front: Phi Delta Sigma. There was my rat tail, diaper bag, and bottle. For giggles, I tried on that jersey and it was a little smaller than I remember, or maybe my bosoms have just gotten bigger? Either way, it still fit and I am wondering if it would be funny for it to work its way into the T-shirt rotation.

Memories of songs crossed through my mind... Phi Delta Sigma the best sorority, I'm an ... you know the words, everyone! Sing Along!

There was a Cotillion jersey from Social, pictures of footballs players whose names I had remembered and faces I had forgotten, and more notes from algebra class. Kids are going to miss out on the most fun thing about the socialization from high school: passing notes in class. Texting is not nearly as much fun, and the perceived danger therein of passing notes in classes and hallways. The reality is, texting and all other sorts of technical communication can go viral in a skinny minute and a life can quickly be ruined. Give me notes any day.

I learned a lot in high school and very little had to do with what the teachers taught as we sat in the desks of our grandfathers's youth. I learned more than just the polka, Shakespearian sonnets, and reciting the Greek alphabet backwards by the light of a lone match. I don't think it is until recently that I realized that those times were times I learned how to interact with peers and people.  Those times were the times that taught me the beauty of being young and innocent.

Young, innocent, and so very fortunate.


If you are a grandparent and are reading this-- take a moment and think about what might be in your attic. Do you want your children going through those boxes when you are gone?  Or, do you want them to be overwhelmed, grab everything, and throw it away without giving it its due course? Do you want the love notes between you and your spouse spilled across the kitchen floor? Old dolls and proof that you, too, were once young and foolish for the eyes of your children? No. No you don't. And they don't want that either. Take a moment, a lot of moments actually-- and get everything out of your attic. EVERYTHING. Decide what is trash, what is a keepsake, and what needs to be burned.

Sit by the fire and read your old love notes. I watched my parents as they did this and I had no desire to see what those young hands wrote to each other. One by one, those letters were read, laughed at, and tossed. They are still young enough to remember and appreciate that time in their life, but old enough to know that those things needed to go!