The Mother of Mediocrity

On a mediocrity scale of one to ten, in practically any given area, I would say I am a solid eight.

“Jack of all trades, master of none,” fits me to a T.  Which is fine, until I apply for a job.

I have a natural affinity and feel particularly gifted in many areas. I would be a great counselor.  I’m able to see more than one side of an issue; life experience has given me the ability to empathize rather than just sympathize, I’m a great listener, and people are comfortable sharing their personal struggles with me.  This has endeared me to many friends and acquaintances, but to turn this gift into a profession would require a degree.

This is why I regret dropping out of college. A degree wouldn’t guarantee that I was more than mediocre in my chosen field, but in the eyes of an employer, a degree says that I put in the money and effort.

I understand this. I would probably make a fine brain surgeon as well, but I’m guessing that requires at least a certificate, and, although no one would knowingly consent to a mediocre surgeon performing surgery on their brain, I would venture to guess that a few have.

Spontaneity – the Spice of Life?

In June of 2009, John and I had a few free days.  We decided to take a mini-vacation to Mackinac Island – my favorite quick getaway.

Since it’s an 8-hour drive, we were going to leave on Monday morning, drive all day and stay in Mackinac City that evening.

It was Sunday afternoon and I had an idea.

What if, just on the spur of the moment, we left Sunday night?  We could drive north for a couple of hours, park at a well-lit, well-occupied rest stop, catch a few winks and hit the road again on Monday morning.  That would give us a few more daylight hours to explore Mackinac City’s shops and beaches.

John questioned – “we aren’t gun toters, what about our safety?”  And, “we aren’t youngsters; can we sleep comfortably in bucket seats?”  This, from a man who’s traveled unarmed in foreign countries with native guides, slept in tents on the sides of mountains, in huts with tarantulas hanging from the ceiling, and encountered wild animals in the jungle.

I questioned – “where’s our spontaneity?  We’re retired, who says we have to plan everything down to the minute?”

Half-heartedly, John agreed.  We loaded our suitcases, pillows and a couple of light blankets and we were on our way.

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A while later, as hoped, we spotted a busy rest stop and pulled into a parking space.  John, imitating Peewee Herman in Peewee’s Big Adventure, squinted one eye and drawled, “I’m a rebel, Dottie!”  Right.  We were rebels.

Our strategy was to be conspicuous enough to ward off evil-doers, and inconspicuous enough to ward off suspicion that we were actually camping out in our car at a rest stop.

It was a busy place.  In an effort to stall until there were less vehicles coming and going, we hit the restrooms and … well … rested.  When we returned to the car, we flipped through the atlas for a while, feigning nonchalance.  Finally, when there were no vehicles on either side of us, we lowered our bucket seats, got our pillows and blankets from the back seat and proceeded to catch a few Z’s, or try anyway.

Brilliant idea.  The place was lit up like a football field – high-powered lights from one end of the parking lot to the other; vehicles came and went all night long; carloads of loud people piled out, then back in again – driving off, only to be replaced by more carloads of noisy people.

Finally, it was morning.  We tossed our pillows and blankets in the backseat, maneuvered our bucket seats upright and set out to find coffee.

Over breakfast, I admitted that sometimes the idea of doing a particular thing is a lot better than the reality of it.  John admitted that he thought it was a little bit fun, if not an all out hoot.  It’s probably not something we’ll do again anytime soon.

Once in a while I churn out a good idea in the name of spontaneity.  Take last Friday, for instance.  John had been in Muncie running errands all morning when he called home to ask if there was anything I needed from the store.  I popped the question: “How would you like to spend the afternoon at the Indianapolis zoo?”  Forty-five minutes later we were on our way.

We got there just in time to enjoy the dolphin show and for the next couple of hours we strolled the entire zoo taking in all of the animal exhibits and snapping photos.  We even hit the gift shop on the way out, purchasing for our grandson a $3 toy that pops 4 feet into the air when turned inside out and placed on the floor.

We stopped at a restaurant we’d never tried before: Maggiano’s Little Italy, on 86th St. in Indianapolis.  As first-time diners, the chef introduced himself and brought out an appetizer, on the house, for us to try.  John ordered a beef dish; I ordered a chicken dish – the food was delicious.

On our way home, and again, on the spur of the moment, we decided to stop at our favorite Indy bookstore, Half-price Books.  Bingo!  Another winner!  They were having a one-night only, 20% off, storewide sale.  I snagged a steam train book for Elliot and a popular Food Network cookbook for myself: Semi-homemade by Sandra Lee.

I just love it when my great ideas morph into something wonderful.

We didn’t sleep in the parking lot, but we still had an amazing afternoon running around being spontaneous.

Up In Smoke

I was seventeen and my husband was twenty-one when we got married. I thought we were quite mature for our age, turns out we had a lot of growing up to do. We moved away from my family and closer to John’s family.

I came from a family of 7: mom, dad, 2 older brothers, and 2 younger brothers. I was an only daughter and sandwiched smack-dab in the middle. I was not the spoiled brat one might imagine. However, I was spoiled by never having to lift a finger around the house.  Mom thought there’d be plenty of that later in life, so anything of a domestic nature was mom’s business. Mom loved me dearly, and she meant well, but she didn’t do me any favors by sheltering me from housework.

John and I married young; we were in love. He was a hard worker. He had actually worked odd jobs since he was a very young teenager. He managed money well and bought his own first car. When we married, he still lived at home, but he had a steady job and was bringing home a decent paycheck. I, on the other hand, had never cleaned my room, much less a house or an apartment, I had never been grocery shopping, and I had never cooked a meal or even helped cook a meal.

Even though I had never done anything remotely domestic, my life’s ambition was to be a wife and a mother. I never wanted to be anything else.  Even though I could have been labeled a domestic failure, I was overflowing with love for my husband and the family we would have.

My mother-in-law took me under her wing and loved me like I was one of her own. She never belittled me or made me feel that I was anything but special.  She was never intrusive. We lived about a mile apart, but she never just showed up on my doorstep, she never came over without an invitation. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t extend an invitation nearly often enough.

In contrast, her door was always open. There seemed to be a steady flow of friends and family coming and going at any given time. Mary Bee “Mom” expressed love by doing. Family dinners always included friends and acquaintances. The homestead was a gathering place, a place of comfort, a place of peace.

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We spent a lot of our spare time at my in-law’s. Our family grew, we had 2 sons who adored their Mamaw. She rocked them and read to them on the sofa in the living room. The large antique wooden desk was always stocked with paper and pencils, fresh artwork by all the grandkids hung by magnets on the refrigerator door.  Shelves made by my father-in-law held various collectables; there were souvenirs from far away places visited by the kids, photos of grandkids and great-grandkids, and an owl collection.  The fuel-oil stove was the focal point of the living room and had kept the family warm for close to 60 years. An upright piano sat in the living room; most of the brothers and sisters had grown up practicing piano in that room, at that piano. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas it was a tradition for John’s older sister, Janie, to play Christmas carols while others gathered around to sing.

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The house was home-away-from-home to so many. There were memories tucked away in every room. The love was palpable. Friends and family loved gathering there, which they did often.

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My father-in-law passed away in 1988. John’s older sister Janie moved into the home so Mom wouldn’t be alone. She and my mother-in-law kept the love and tradition going for another 28 years.

When Mom passed away in 2011, the family was happy that Janie wanted to stay and continue family tradition. Janie married a wonderful man and they both looked after the homestead and kept the traditions and memories alive.

That house held so many memories; birthdays, holidays, new babies, tears of sadness, tears of joy, and so much love you could cut it with a knife.

Then the unthinkable happened. Friday, January 25th, around 9 am, the phone rang, Janie was on the other end and I could sense the stress in her voice.

“Is John home?”

“No, he’s running errands in town … is everything okay?”

“No. It’s not. The house burned down this morning.”

Shocked silence.

I managed to snap back into reality. “Oh Janie … I am so sorry … are you okay … is everyone okay? What can I do?”

“We’re okay. Please call the family.”

The calls were placed. It is so difficult to break bad news to someone over the phone. The ache in my heart felt like a gaping hole in my chest. I can only imagine how the family felt.

Charlie and Janie did get out safely, but with just the clothes on their back.  Friends and family have been gracious and generous. People have donated clothing, household goods, groceries and money. They are in their 60’s and 70’s and are starting over.

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This story is both an ending and a new beginning. It’s a story of love and hope. It’s a story of seasons. Winter seems bare and sometimes muddy and ugly. There may be a few days of beauty when the snow falls and covers the ground with a blanket of white, but Winter in Indiana is cold, blustery and generally unpleasant. The hope is in knowing that the future brings Spring and with Spring comes life; the trees bud, the grass turns green, wildlife begins to stir.  What lies dormant for a season blossoms into life and beauty. And so will it be with the Newby’s and their beloved homestead.

This story is not over … we will remember what we had, but we will press on to the future, which holds not just one yet unwritten chapter, but many.

I’m In Love

OXO Pop Containers. One cabinet done.

OXO Pop Containers. One cabinet done.

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Have you ever been in love … with an idea?  For example, I am in love with the idea of being organized. The execution of it is a whole nuther story.

For the sake of organization I have bought baskets, boxes, labels, label makers, folders, file holders, containers, you name it. Unfortunately, bringing these things into my home creates temporary disorganization, chaos, confusion and a ton of anxiety.

I can’t blame Pinterest for my organizational bent. Fact is, I was in love with the idea of organization before the creator of Pinterest was even born.  Being in love with the idea of something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually good at it, although I have gotten better at it over the years.  I’ve built more rooms, put in more shelving and cubbies, bought more containers, and things are generally looking more organized.  John likes to say that I have become so organized that now I’m buying containers for the containers.

When I begin an organization project in a room or space, it starts with total chaos and it always feels like I’m doing it wrong. If I were doing it right, it surely wouldn’t be this difficult and time consuming. You have to be a mathematician to figure out how much space you need for storing each type of item. You have to be a design engineer to configure the spaces. You have to be a home décor specialist to make it pleasing to the eye. I am none of the above, and when I’m done with a project I always feel that I should have done it differently, meaning BETTER, and if I were smarter I could have done it right the first time, and in a much more organized fashion.

I like to begin with a clean slate, which means clearing the area of year’s worth of collected trash and treasures. When the area is clear, I look forward into an empty space full of hope. I look backward into STUFF … heaps and piles of confusion. At that moment, I wonder if this is the feeling a dyslexic gets when trying to transform confusion into order. It can be overwhelming.

I now have a number of successful home organization projects under my belt, things are looking great, but not without a lot of sweat and anxiety, which brings me to the excuse for my second love … PROCRASTINATION.

More on that subject, when I get around to it.

Dishing It out

I love dishes. I’ve bought several sets of stoneware in our almost-40-years of marriage, and I’ve given them all away. They’re too heavy for practical use. My go-to dishes are a set of Corelle. They’re white with a small, pale-green ivy border. They aren’t gorgeous and they don’t “speak” to me the way my home décor choices speak to me. They are Plain Jane dishes, but they’re practical.

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Since they’re a popular seller, I can purchase them one at a time, off the shelf, at my local super store: Meijer. And I do.  Over the years I’ve probably purchased 30 plates, many of them replacements for those accidentally dropped. Corelle dishes hold up well, but are no match for our ceramic tile kitchen floor, where, once dropped, they become shards that take weeks of broom sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, and bare feet to finally find all the needle-like pieces that they become after hitting said floor.

At one time, I had all the matchy-match pieces: 3 sizes of plates, cups, saucers, a tea pot, serving plates, gravy boats, you name it. I’ve since donated some of the matchy serving dishes and replaced them with more modern and trendy coordinating pieces, also sold at Meijer. My replacement serving dishes are white, so they go with anything.

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My latest donation was my teapot, saucers and cups. I now have an electric teapot, we never used the saucers, and the cups were just boring. My inspiration for changing them out was a line of brightly colored cups displayed in the coffeepot aisle at Target. The cups come in two sizes that I call mug and squat.  Mug holds about 12 ounces and squat holds about 8 ounces, I’m guessing. The bright colors: orange, red, yellow, green and aqua, are so nice to wake up to, and they make me happy first thing in the morning.

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If I can offer any advice on spicing up your kitchen, it’s this: you can get by with boring practical plates, you cover them with food anyway. Coordinate your serving dishes rather than matching them. Mine are plain white, but I chose interesting shapes: square and rectangle with sloping sides, and oval with each end squared off. Splurge on cups.

We had a party recently. There were tea drinkers and coffee drinkers. The cups were a hit. Well, I don’t know if they were a hit with anyone else, but they were a hit with me. I looked around the room, friends were laughing, some holding mugs, some holding squats, there were cups sitting around between sips. The cups were colorful and festive, definitely adding a spark to the festivities. I don’t miss the matchy cups and saucers, or the seldom-used teapot. I made the right choice.

Saturday In the Park

Ch-ch-ch-changes … I used to be a warm weather gal. That was before menopause hit. Menopause, for me, has been rather mild. Not the pause that refreshes, mind you, just relatively mild. I’m using my friend Connie as a comparison. She turned into an ogre during her menopausal years. She’s back to her normal self now, but for a year or two, it was touch and go.

Before age 53, when the whole change-of-life thing started, my favorite place to be was on the beach or a boat, baking in the sun. Way back then, if you would have suggested that someday, not only would I choose to take a brisk walk through the park in below freezing weather, but that I would actually enjoy it, I would have questioned your sanity. Yep, that was then, this is now. It was 29 degrees yesterday when I got to the park. I chose to walk anyway, and I enjoyed it immensely.

When I arrived, the park had a desolate look about it. Two vehicles were parked close to the river. There were two men, each walking their respective dog. A family of 4 was fishing. One of the fisherpersons had chest-high waders on.Thy too seemed happy to be out in the frosty air

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There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic on the walking trails at this particular park throughout most of the year, so the squirrels are relatively tame. A rather large squirrel meandered close to me. He appeared to be striking various poses. He’s obviously been photographed before … perhaps he’s even a seasoned wildlife runway model, I thought. Haha … kidding … KIDDING!! As I maintained my stride, I nonchalantly reached for my camera phone so as not to startle the little fellow. The camera was in a pouch around my neck. The Velcro closure made a very loud ripping sound, which startled both my subject and me. The squirrel was at the top of the tree in nothing flat. Just like that, the photo op was over.

My walk for that day was over too. I’ll revisit the park next week; I’ll carry my phone in my hand this time. Perhaps I’ll run into the squirrel; he’ll pretend he doesn’t recognize me, I’ll pretend the Velcro incident never happened. I’ll get some candid shots of an incognito, local celebrity, runway model squirrel, and we’ll call it a day.

Life Goes On

I took a 3-year blogging hiatus starting in 2009.  My husband was fighting stage-3 colon cancer. The diagnosis zapped any creativity or imagination I thought I had up to that point.  I still wrote professionally. Interviewing other people and writing about their lives was a welcome distraction from the emotional roller coaster I found myself on.

John fought the cancer battle and won … we won.  Our lives would go on, things would be sweet again. And they are. We are so blessed.

It has taken me a while to want to blog again.  After all, our lives are like Seinfeld episodes, just day-to-day happenings with spikes of excitement and drama here and there. I have nothing specific to write about … yet.  Maybe that will evolve over time. Whether it’s interesting enough for others to read remains to be seen. Right now, I’m just happy to have a creative outlet.

Wrong Hands

Cartoons by John Atkinson. ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands

White Elephant in the Room

random insight from an unwanted houseguest