Friday, April 27, 2012

Some Advice for My Little Chickies

There are two special young women graduating from college this weekend. We have been blessed to have one of them be a part of our family for almost three years now. Our beloved Mary Beth started babysitting our boys when they were newborns, just a few months old. They love her. We love her. And we will miss her so much. Family vacations won't be the same without her. And how I will dress myself for nights out without her fashion advice is a petrifying thought. Maybe she'll FaceTime with me. Hmmm...

JKS08, otherwise known as my uber-intern, Jessi, has helped me plan weddings, birthday parties and political events. No one has bought more ribbon from Michael's in the past year than her. Believe it. I don't offer the most conventional internships. It takes a special person to ebb and flow with me. But Jessi took it all in stride and showed up every time. If I didn't think it cruel and unusual punishment to force her to stay in our two-bit town, I would. But I love her too much to do that.

I'm a natural nurturer, so I feel a bit like a Mama Bird letting her chickies fly this weekend. I'll worry over them and fret about things. But not the little things like whether they have enough money to eat or if will they will be forced to take the MARTA because they spent all their gas money at Lenox. Well, I will fret over the MARTA. *Girls - NEVER TAKE THE MARTA!* I'll fret over the big things. So here's a little advice on the big things:

1. Your 20s are for making mistakes and learning from them, falling in love and falling out of it, and enjoying your youthful ability to recover from a hangover quickly. Make no mistake, that is a GIFT. Don't take it for granted. And don't waste your 20s on being overly cautious. That's different from being stupid, remember. But don't be afraid to take chances. Go for it! Whatever it is. You have time to fix things later. And that's what Daddy's are for anyway.

2. Always have health care insurance. No matter the cost, it's an important element in being a responsible adult. One, contrary to popular belief, you aren't invincible and bad things do happen. Even to bright, beautiful women. And two, it benefits society as a whole to have healthy young adults participate in the market. I won't go into the details of why here, but know it's helpful to everyone, including your parents. You don't have to have maximum coverage, but have something to protect yourself.

3. Travel the country and the world AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Skip the Tory Burch's (pains me to say that) and put that $250 towards a plane ticket to Paris. Or Montreal. Or Denver. Go. See. Do. You want to be able to tell your children about the Grand Canyon or explain where Luxembourg is or how the Subway works in NYC. They'll think you're cool. And you will be. Know more than them so you can teach them. It's the greatest pleasure. And in the same vein, go to concerts, see Broadway shows, read books and see films.

4. Always keep your passport current. You just never know...

5. Read a newspaper every day. Online news is great, online is the future. But newspapers are cool. However you get your news, get it. Keep your worldview expanded. Know how to talk about current events. And not just what's on You don't have to be an expert on the Iranian nuclear crisis. Just know there is one.

6. Vote. In every election, I don't care if it's for dog-catcher. They matter. All of them. If you read your local newspaper, you'll know who to vote for. And if you don't know, just vote Republican. ;)

7. Learn to cook and be good at making a margarita. Know how to make a simple salad. Have an hors d'oeuvre you can whip up in 10 minutes. Learn how to grill something. Anything. And learn how to make a dessert. A good one. Preferably something your grandmother made. Family recipes are always the best.

8. My most urgent advice is, always (ALWAYS) be able to take care of yourself. At any age. 25, 42, 67. So no matter what life throws at you, you can provide for yourself and your family. It will keep you self-confident, with a sense of self-worth and self-respect. Staying home and raising your children is the single greatest, most rewarding and selfless job a woman can have. But don't let it singularly define you. Have passions, have skills, have interests. You and your family will be stronger for it.

9. The advice my Daddy gave me that I've used more than any other was go with your gut. You won't always be able to read it right away. Sometimes you have to wait for the clutter to clear so you can hear that little voice in your head. Be patient and wait. But sometimes you'll know the answer right away. Go with it. Even if it's not what you really want to do. Go. With. Your. Gut.

10. The greatest advice I ever received from my maternal grandmother was..."You don't have to tell everything you know". I've found this to be true in both your professional and personal lives. Just keep that little nugget in the back of your mind always.

11. Lastly, nurture your relationship with the Lord. For through Him all things are possible. He is always there. And I've found we sometimes largely ignore Him in our 20s then frantically and desperately search Him out in our 30s. Try not to fall into that pattern. The 20s will be less dramatic that way. Living God's will for your life is living in the sweet spot. It should always be your goal.

Have fun, darling girls. Live your life in full color. Love your family and your friends. They make this journey so much sweeter.

And if you ever do spend all your gas money at Lenox and find yourself staring at the MARTA, call me. I'll deposit some cash in your accounts.

Fly and be free, my little chickies!


Thursday, February 2, 2012

To Nana

Today we celebrate the life of an amazing woman. A woman who stood tall though she was a little 'ol thing. A woman with strong shoulders with which she carried her family though she had the feet the size of a child's. A woman who was the provider, comforter, supporter, cheerleader and mender of a small, but tightly woven family. A woman with more friends than anyone I've ever known. That says a lot about a person - the number of friends they have. It means you are kind and thoughtful. And fun.

Dorothy Elizabeth Knapp, my husband's beloved Nana, was nothing if not fun. The life of every party. The one everyone has a great story to tell about. The one everyone ends those stories with "only Dorothy...".

But she wasn't just the life of the party, she was the life of her family. A family she raised by herself starting in the 1940's. Unheard of in those days, but she did it and she did it well. She raised two bright and successful children and then she helped raise her three grandchildren. The grandchildren she would literally give everything she had for. She cared for her husband, the one she found later in life. The love of her life, for sure. I never met Jerry, but I've heard stories about him. He was the life of every party, as well. The two of them were the sun by which everyone in their world revolved around.

She lived 94 long and blessed years. She was independent, spunky and completely her own woman. She took the challenges life threw at her and she beat them with grace and style. And maybe a little bourbon on the side. I greatly respected Nana for being the strong one, the great matriarch whom we all loved very much because she loved all of us with every fiber of her being.

It saddens me that our boys won't remember her. But they come from a long line of strong and fiercely capable women on both sides of their family. It's my great challenge to carry their legacies forward, but with women like Nana to look to, my task is easier to accomplish. They'll know of her and the role she played in the forming of their paternal family. They'll learn to respect women from their father because he so greatly loved and admired his Nana. As well as his mother, an equally formidable and loving woman. They may not know it yet, but she has had and will continue to have a role in their raising because of her role in the raising of their dad. I am grateful to her for him and the morals and beliefs she helped instill in him.

We will miss her great laugh. The mischievous twinkle in her eyes. The stories she told. The fun she brought wherever she went. And tonight we raise a glass to the great woman of our family. She wouldn't want it any other way.

To Nana. Cheers! And Go Big Red!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Note of Thanks

Dear Sunshine Farms,

It has been 10 years since we came to know you. In those ten years, you've given us some incredible memories. And to express my gratitude, I'm going to thank you for a few things...

...for being so peaceful and beautiful; for always being open and welcoming; for being warm in the winter and cool in the summer; for your porches and the breezes they bring; for the laughter and the tears; for making the rain sing on your tin roof; for your horizon views; for the bonfires we bond around, fight around, debate around, drink around and sing around; for your pool the grandkids have learned to swim in; for the ugliest, most comfortable couch in the kitchen no one can bring themselves to throw out; for the loft that held us all those years in the beginning; for the spiral staircase that gives us heart attacks; for the endless stars and largest moons; for the front row seats to daily sunrises and nightly sunsets; for the roaring fires in your fireplace - and the gas starter; for the farm trucks; for the guest room that is too hot; for your awesome cabana we party in; for your red front door; for your old tobacco barns; for your beautiful oak trees; for loving our friends and welcoming them like family; for the ice makers; for the camo and orange jackets that always fall off the knobs in the hallway; for the clock we can't read and all hate; for the Ranger we've driven too fast, gotten stuck, flipped, and raced in; for the mud on our tires; for being a dog's dream come true; for homemade egg nog; for keeping the beer cold and the wine chilled; for the kitchen island; for the red barn and the green tractor; for the rosemary bush to beat all rosemary bushes; for two refrigerators, two freezers and two dishwashers; for the playground you let lean, but not fall; for your ceilings that touch the sky or at least seem to; for always serving beer on Sundays in a dry county; for all your rocking chairs; for the toy cabinets; for the answering machine with that familiar drawl; for your pantry that is never organized for more than a few hours; for hayrides and for s'mores; for early morning basketball games; for the bowling lane table we gather around, the saw horses underneath that bang our knees and the 27, mostly broken, mismatched chairs adorning it; for PopTarts and cinnamon rolls; for the flag pole that was a labor of love; for the concrete slabs with all our initials; for oyster shooters and pig pits; for the RV park; for our Daddy's pecan field; for The Point and the local classical radio station you tune in up there; for the official Guest House; for little fishing ponds and cane poles; for the lightning bugs and dragon flys, but not the wasps and mosquitos; for Charlie Brown Christmas trees; for bacon; for your bookshelves; for hot coffee on cool mornings and hot chocolate on cold nights; for Blair Witch roads and lighted crosses; for deer, turkey, quail and skeet, but not for armadillos; for your heart of pine floors and old doors; for your enormous gas grill; for wine grapes and family projects; for hosting beautiful weddings and family holidays; for traditions; for welcoming our Dad home and for becoming ours.

For all of this and more, we say thank you.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Yellow Bracelet

When my dad was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2009, I immediately went online and bought Livestrong bracelets for everyone in our family. I don't know why, or what compelled me to do that in particular, but I did. And I vowed to wear mine until my dad was cancer-free.

When he passed last October, I couldn't bring myself to take it off. I continued to wear it in remembrance of him, as a memorial. I figured one day I'd know it was time. But then more loved ones were stricken with the horrible disease and the bracelet remained, as a symbol of solidarity with them. I can't make their cancer disappear, I can't bear their pain and sickness, I can't ease their fears and anxiety, but I can wear this bracelet every day as a reminder to pray for them. To pray to The One who can do all the things I can't. And to remember those we've already lost, who've gone home and whom we miss every day.

It's just a rubber band in a bright, cheerful color. It's nothing all that impressive really. But it is a powerful tool in the fight against cancer because it's a call to arms. A call to pray to our Lord for the peace and mercy only He can provide. So it remains.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go - Joshua 1:9

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Get it Now

It's Mother's Day. My second. It still seems a little strange to be celebrated and not just celebrating. But I like it.

When I was pregnant, if I'd heard "There's no love like a mother's love" or "You just wait until those babies come. You won't be able to contain yourself", I heard it approximately 1,386,239 times. Or something close to that. I'd just shake my head, smile and think, "Yes, I know, I know, I'll love them. I get it."

Um, yea, I didn't.

It's a strange experience growing humans. Obviously as they grow within you you become more aware that there are living, breathing things in your body. Just reading that sentence alone can give one the heeby-jeebies. Mostly men. But as they move more and kick (harder), you start to know them a little. You get some insight into their personalities. They become real.

I wanted children in the worst way. And after trying for so long and so hard, I was overjoyed with the news of finally becoming pregnant. I loved my little guys even before they were conceived. I loved them when they were in utero. I loved them when they were born. But now I know there are different kinds of love.

The first few months around here were chaotic, exhausting, overwhelming, lovely and perfect. And frankly, a complete blur. I remember little. I do vividly remember though wondering at one point, at about two weeks in, whose brilliant idea it was to have The Little Vultures. I asked God and He said it was mine. Oh.

But then hormones calmed and sleep came more often and in fuller doses and I began to fall in love. Deep, unmitigated, abiding love.

And I got it. The notion of hurling one's self in front of a bus to save another didn't seem like such a crazy notion after all. I'd do it for these boys. I can become overwhelmed with love if I allow myself to sit and stare at them. They are gorgeous creatures. I never in a million years could've understood what being a mother meant until I became one. And I am so incredibly grateful to the Lord for these gifts.

But it occurs to me, too, that there is someone out there who loves me the way I love the Brown Boys. My mother. And I receive a fresh sense of awareness. I understand her better and more fully than ever before. I realize now what all she has done for me (and still does) since my birth. How much she loved me, even before I was conceived. And how much more she loves me today.

I am so thankful for that love. For her. She's the best mother I could have asked Jesus for. He knew who I needed and He was so right. She's not perfect, but she's perfect for me. And I love her in return.

So I get it now. I get what a mother's love really feels like. I get how it fills you with a joy that can cause you to spontaneously burst into tears. How it leaves you feeling so vulnerable that you want to scoop your babies up and hide from the big, bad dangerous world. How it inspires you to imagine a future of discovery and adventure. And frees you to dream bigger and more audaciously for them than you ever did for yourself. That's what it is.

I SO get that now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ode To A Small Town

We live in a small town. Not too awful small, mind you. We have two major universities and we're the seat of state government. But as a girl who grew up in a major city, this is a small town.

But it isn't just the population number or the square mileage that make it a small town. It's the feel. It just feels like a small town. Seems like everyone knows everyone. Or knows someone who does. Maybe it's that there are truly only two industries here - government/politics and education. Most folks work in one of those two arenas. So we pretty much all go to lunch together every day.

A lot of people talk badly about our capital city. Me included. We complain about the lack of decent restaurants, though we do have some good ones. And don't get us started on the shopping. It's abysmal.

But what makes it so great are the people. They care. They have big hearts. They give.

My husband and I are very fortunate to have a very large group of friends. It stretches beyond the borders of our profession in some ways, but the majority of our group is made up of people we've worked with. Politics is incestuous. But when you fight political battles together, when you are in the same trench for months and years, a bond forms.

And a respect is there, as well, for those on the other side. When you've been to war (and I use that term loosely, folks, just humor me), you acknowledge a fellow warrior and their efforts. Even when they've been trying to pummel you.

We've been dealt a major blow recently in the form of a health scare for a dear and close friend. And it's been heartening, amazing frankly, to see the outpouring of love and affection, prayer and good wishes for him and his family. Seems our whole political community, Republicans and Democrats, has come together to lift up the warrior that is our friend. He has a different kind of battle ahead, but it looks like everyone has left their trench and jumped in his.

That's what I love about a small town. The trenches are so close together. And the people who make ours up love a good fight.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Houses That Built Me

My family moved a lot when I was growing up. I lived in over 20 houses before I was 20. Explains my packing expertise. I've only lived in 3 different places since I officially left the family payroll after college. That was 14 years ago.

Wait. I've been out of college 14 years?! Well that just ruined my day.

Only 2 houses out of all those others count though. Just two. I'm sitting on the front porch of one right now. And I've written to you from the other. On a certain veranda my Daddy loved.

These two houses were where my families were created. Both the immediate and extended. And I'm about to lose them both.

Houses. Not families.

My siblings just panicked.

Or cheered.

I'll go with panicked.

My husband and I decided to put our house on the market after 7 wonderful years of living in it. We bought it just before we married. We came home to this house the day after our wedding and from our honeymoon. We spent all our firsts here. We brought the boys home from the hospital here.

I'll admit I'm a pretty sentimental person. The very thought of not waking up on Holland Drive brings me to tears. I love it so much. So many memories.

I learned to cook in this kitchen. There have been some spectacular dishes created in there. And some abominable disasters. I started my company in one of the front bedrooms. We've had some epic - and I don't use that term lightly - EPIC parties at this house.

And there's a certain spot on the living room floor where the varnish is nearly rubbed off the wood. That's the spot where I met with God during our journey through infertility. There have been some mighty, mighty "Come to Jesus" moments in that 3x3 section of heart of pine. If I could cut that wood out and take it with me I would. Like a prayer rug.

I will miss that spot the most. I fell in love with Jesus there.

But there is another house, too, where my larger family was built. And it's 4 hours south of here. On a street most people struggle to pronounce. Rubideaux Lane.

We moved into that house in 1992, just before my parents were married. We're The Brady Bunch of this generation. I won't bore you with the details. Just know it's complicated. And we love it that way.

On Rubideaux Lane, we melded together like steel. Unbreakable. For life.

It would be pointless to try and remember all the memories we created together in that house. They're immeasurable. But they are so sweet. Closing the door and walking across the bridge for the last time will be nearly impossible. It may take me a while. My fingers may need to be pried from the balustrade. Hunger strike, anyone?

My youngest little brother gave us all a framed photograph of the house and wrote on the back of the frame, "Where it all began...". And he's right. We all had other homes and other family dynamics before Rubideaux. But none were this. This one stuck. This is our family. And that is our house.

But it will become someone else's house soon. Both of these will. And it is my fervent prayer that these two houses will go on and do what they have proven to do best - build families.

It's the greatest gift a house can give. And I am a blessed woman to have received it twice.