How Tina Spurred Me On

Near the end of April, my family and I went on our last Cub Scout camp-out of the school year. We explored some fascinating caves and splashed around in a creek. Then when we got home, I received a message that an old friend had died after having been in a car wreck a few days prior.

I had seen news about the accident on Facebook, posted by her husband, and it seemed that her condition was improving. Or at least I had thought so. I was stunned to read the message that Tina had passed.

Tina and I were closest in elementary school; we were in the same class in fourth grade. The summer after seventh grade, I remember going to her birthday party, where we danced in the humid Mississippi heat on her parents’ carport to The Outfield as they sang about Josie being on a vacation far away. In high school, we were in marching band together for a couple of years and competed in a scholarship competition together.

red bellied woodpecker

One of the last times I saw Tina–tall, statuesque; voted Most Beautiful or Campus Beauty more times than I can remember–was at our ten-year class reunion back in Mississippi. I met her older daughter then, who was a toddler at the time. Since then, we’d conversed only through Facebook.

Years ago, Tina sent me a message over social media about a letter to the editor I’d written to our hometown newspaper–to which I still subscribe, even though I haven’t lived in Lucedale since 1998. In the letter, I’d written about the need to seek ways to memorialize or celebrate events other than balloon releases, citing environmental concerns and the fact that these balloons often end up in oceans, often eaten by sea creatures. Tina had read that letter and written to encourage me about submitting more pieces to the newspaper on the topic of environmentally responsible living.

I was so boosted by Tina’s message–by how she believed in me–that I decided to take her advice. I didn’t write back to the newspaper but did write and submit an article (based on the same idea in the letter to the editor I’d written) to a magazine for girls called SHINE brightlyThe magazine published my story–which I called “Up, Up, and Away”–in their November 2009 issue; I still have the 2 free copies they sent me.

basket of magazines
Basket of magazines, reviews, anthologies, and one book in which my writing has appeared. You can see a SHINE brightly issue peeking out near the back.

If Tina hadn’t cheered me on to write about this topic, if she hadn’t believed I had something worthwhile to say and took the time to express that, I probably never would have submitted that piece to SHINE brightly. That’s just one of the ways Tina’s life intersected with the lives of others. Just one example of how she touched others.

Life is short, and it can turn on a dime, and we don’t know the number of days allotted to us to live out here on this earth. But I do know this:  I want to do for others what Tina did for me–take the time and make the effort to spur others on to love and good deeds.


How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.


But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.

Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all! 

Wear It Well Wednesday: A Day at the Park

Saturday after Thanksgiving, we packed up our lunch and the boys’ fishing gear, and we headed to Moss Park to spend the day. We’ve camped at Moss Park numerous times–we were also there for our Cub Scout push cart races in September–but this was the first time we’d visited this park without an event to attend.

We’d had a few chilly days before this, so I wasn’t sure how to dress that day. I decided to split the difference and wear shorts with a long-sleeved t-shirt. I spent approximately 4.3 seconds making up my mind about this, so I’m not sure it was actually a “decision.”

But here’s what I wore…The coral-colored long-sleeved hoodie came to me as a cast-off from my sister Rachel. The shorts also were formerly hers. My shoes were purchased second-hand (from eBay, I believe), and they are so useful. They’re Keens, which is normally an expensive brand. But my second-hand pair is as good as brand-new.

Even the sunglasses are hand-me-downs, picked up by my husband from the give-away table at his office. I don’t know if this ensemble officially qualifies as an “outfit,” but it’s what I wore. And this oak tree root system made a great place to sit and rest.

Looking for a place to enjoy a nature walk in Orange County during this luscious weather? Moss Park is a great pick. The entry does cost a few dollars–depending on how many people are in your vehicle–but I think it’s well worth it. Other favorite parks of mine in and around Orlando:  Dickson Azalea Park, Langford Park, and our family’s newest discovery, Lake Como Park. Enjoy this season and be sure to spend lots of time outside.



A Season to Learn, A Season to Discover

This week, we officially started our 6th year of homeschooling in the Lee family household. I recently re-read these words that I’d written over a year ago, reflecting on some sweet home school moments–intending to gird up my loins, if you will, for a new season of teaching and leading and learning. I’ve discovered as a home school mama more than through any other life experience that my heart and mind need to receive constant reminders of truth. This memory from 2 school years ago provided a fresh injection, a renewal of vision for why I do what I do with my boys. sunflower plant


Home school, like any form of schooling and more or less anything in life in general, must stop for an emergency. Today’s emergency took place when one of our tadpoles had hopped out of the dish of water where we’ve been nurturing them with his newly-formed frog legs–built as his body consumed the fat stored in his tadpole tail. He looked so tiny, and he had seemed content to hop on the seashell we’d placed in the water. Every time I look at that container with algae and pollywogs and pond water placed on our kitchen table, I just think, “You might be a home school family if…”

My younger son and I had been observing the dish of water and its residents earlier in the day when he asked me where the newly-hopping little guy was. I couldn’t give a satisfactory answer for my boy, and he pressed me to promise that our tadpole-frog hadn’t leaped out. I think he worried that we’d lose this one–truly, that it would die–because years earlier, we’d raised tadpoles and one indeed had jumped from our bowl and couldn’t get back in, only we didn’t know. This wee one had been found later (a day? Two days?) dried to our tile floor. I didn’t fret this time, though; I figured the seashell provided enough land habitat for this current tadpole.

Then, while my older son wrote a story–that he volunteered to write in cursive!–and I helped with spelling (a character in a Truman Capote story is described as having spelling that is “highly personal and phonetic,” and I think that about my son sometimes), we spied a teeny animal on our floor. There was the young frog, hopping soundlessly on the white tile, between my feet and our table. I slid some paper under him and carried him to the pond behind our house, calling out to my boys to open doors for me so I could get him outside. We wished him well and then returned to our lessons. But I never minded that interruption, or the one involving checking on the butterfly that we’d rescued from the sidewalk in front of our house the afternoon before.

sunflower seeds

My boys had spotted the butterfly and pointed it out to me. We noticed that it still had life in it but that he could not fly–a bottom piece of one wing had been torn away somehow, and its body was no longer symmetrical. Younger boy had serious qualms about bringing it in the house; maybe he imagined it flying around and landing in his food or something. So I brought out a small glass vase of wildflowers we had picked a few days before, put it on our porch, and then delicately placed the disabled butterfly on a flower. He hung there for hours, moving from one bloom to the next. (He? She? I don’t know why I don’t want to call these animals “it.”)

After we delivered the baby frog back to the pond today, I thought of the butterfly. Once again, we paused the school lessons to peak in on the butterfly–still alive and still not flying. Only now, he was resting on our porch beside the flower vase. That interruption had clearly been my idea, but those are the moments I don’t want to miss. I firmly believe that learning is always taking place, so I don’t want us to miss what we can learn from and in the world around us.birdhouse in backyard

That is part of why I love being involved in God’s creation, taking part in the life around us…rescuing a butterfly (even if the life remaining is short), releasing a frog to its homeland (or home water), listening to red-winged blackbirds fuss at us as we fish at a lake near the spot where they are building a nest. I feel very engaged in life around me when we do all this nature stuff, the life that exists and thrives and brings praise to the Creator. Birds and large-mouth bass and alligators doing what they were created to do–it not only glorifies the One who formed this earth and all that live in it; it shows us how intricately He is involved in the creation that He crafted and enjoys.


I know Woodrow and Garfield and I will continue to revel in the nature around us during this school year. Yesterday, we spotted a shed snake skin beneath a pile of branches in our yard. There’s always something new to discover in this world. Here’s hoping you enjoy your moments of discovery, too.


Something New Saturday: Scuppernong Jelly

Over the years, I’ve eaten many types of homemade jelly (most of which made by my mama), including scuppernong jelly. But last week was the first time I’d made it myself.

Growing up, we used the words “scuppernong” and “muscadine” interchangeably. But the scuppernong is actually a variety of muscadine. (Just FYI, where I grew up in Mississippi, we pronounced it “scuppah-nong.”) They are both a kind of wild grape.

When we moved into our house last year, I noticed the vine growing around a fence and oak tree on the side of our house. Months and months went by, and we noticed the fruit begin to form. The boys would pick them once in a while, but the scuppernongs were tough, hard, and green. Then last Sunday, Woodrow and Garfield brought in a handful of these wild grapes to show me how they’d grown golden and tender. It was right after supper, but we still had plenty of daylight; so we went outside and picked a few pints. We found a recipe to make jelly with these fruits (I had a container of pectin that Mama had given me over a year before, but it was still usable, and we would need it). I measured how much we’d picked; we didn’t have quite enough, so we went out to the yard and picked more.


I wanted to start the jelly that night, after the boys went to bed. But they expressed so much disappointment about this plan that I waited until the next day to get going.

The next morning, the boys and I spent a few hours in the kitchen working on this jelly: cooking the grapes with water, pressing them with a potato masher, straining the juice from the pulp. Then mixing juice with the pectin and sugar at just the right time.

grapes in dutch oven

I have to say…I’m willing to try almost any project but don’t always feel so confident that the end result will be successful. There were moments when I thought, as we labored over this jelly, “This is not going to work out.” And yet, victory!

The jelly tastes sweet but not too sweet, tangy but not too tart. We ate it on biscuits (cat head biscuits, to be exact) with homemade tomato soup for supper that night. I could not be happier with how it turned out!

We got more or less 2 quarts of jelly. I don’t know if the jar on the left is an actual quart jar–it’s repurposed from a jar of mandarin orange slices I bought from the store. I didn’t actually can the jelly–these jars are not sealed and ready to be stored in a pantry for months to be eaten through winter. These just go in the fridge and will be eaten in several weeks.

jars of jelly

Each year, I keep a list of new things I’ve tried during that particular 365-day time period. This jelly adventure will surely go on the list!

How Outside Art Helped Heal the Day

Yesterday I still felt the same sad heaviness that I wrote of on Monday’s blog post. In fact, I spent some time lying on the carpet in our bedroom, crying and praying, after lunch. Yesterday, I struggled with parenting, with being quick to give grace instead of quick to get annoyed. I felt as though I kept stumbling, apologizing, and then I’d snap at the boys all over again.

But then, after some of that lying-on-the-floor crying and praying, I roused myself and got cracking on an art activity that I’d wanted to try with my sons this summer.

With old paints and an older sheet, Woodrow and Garfield and I found a shady spot in the backyard and made a colorful, intentional, giggly mess. We used paint brushes, but we also used our hands and feet to make designs on our canvas.

painted sheet

Those big feet prints? Not mine; those belong to Woodrow. I hope that we can use this as a summertime tablecloth. If I need to wash it, I imagine most of the paint will come off in the washing machine. Then we’ll take it back to the grass and smear paint on it all over again.

This activity didn’t actually rescue the day, but it certainly helped us hit the ‘reset’ button. The breeze, the fresh air, the ability to be uninhibited with the paint…it was a kind of therapy for us all.

Then I came inside and baked banana bread. When my little family and I left the beach vacation last Saturday, other family members had left behind 3 mostly brown, mostly mushy bananas. I have a strong aversion to wasting food, so I brought those bananas home with us. I knew they’d make great banana bread. I think that would make a good motto. Instead of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” how about “when life gives you squishy, brown bananas, make banana bread.”

Art therapy, baking therapy, crying and praying therapy:  I recommend it all.