A Funny Thing Happened at the Amusement Park…

I like to search the Internet in hopes of finding odd holidays each month. I discovered one for March:  “I Want You to be Happy Day.” I cannot attest to whether this is a legitimate celebration, but let’s just go with it.

yellow stuffed animals

Today happens to be “I Want You to be Happy Day,” so here’s my unselfish gesture in hopes of making you smile today–an embarrassing story from my teenage years. I have affectionately titled this one “The Rides of My Life.” Names have been changed to protect the innocent, because this story might not make them happy, and it’s not “I Want You to be Unhappy Day.”

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One dull afternoon during the summer before my freshman year of high school, I got a phone call from my friend Rita. Her older sister Shelly had offered to drive her, our friend Lola, and me to an amusement park for the afternoon. Not only that, but she’d agreed to let two of our guy friends join us. Rita’s call felt like cool rain quenching the parched soil of my teenage summer day.

ferris wheel

Since my mama was out grocery shopping, I couldn’t ask her permission to go until after she got home (remember the days before cell phones?). But I wanted to ensure that Mama would say “yes,” so I started cleaning our house like the woman on a mission that I was. By the time Mama arrived, the house was noticeably cleaner, although she didn’t seem so impressed with my work once she learned I wanted to ask her for something. I practically hopped from foot to foot explaining our plans to her. She gave me the thumbs-up, and I rushed around getting ready, packing my purse.

All five of us kids plus Shelly crowded into her little tan hatchback, and I don’t think anybody wore a seat belt. There weren’t enough to go around. With the windows rolled down to keep cool (since the vehicle had no air conditioner), we played “Truth or Dare” while Shelly sped us away from our small town and toward the city on the coast where we’d play at Fun Time USA.

vintage radios

Once we arrived, the boys went in one direction, the girls in another, and I have no recollection of where Rita’s older sister went. Rita, Lola, and I enjoyed the Tilt-a-Whirl, laughing and screaming the whole time. When that ride ended, we jumped off and made our way to the next one. Later we caught up with the boys and had some fun with them—I’m not sure we actually spent much time with the boys that day, but simply having them on this trip elevated the adventure in our boy-crazy minds.

As the sun began to set and our time at the park came to a close, Lola, Rita, and I wanted to take a spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl one more time. We were the only passengers on this ride, so we asked the operator if we could go several times in a row. He agreed, so we piled into one of the bowl-shaped seating areas ready for some fun. As our bowl spun round and round the platform with the other seat compartments, and then spun individually at the same time, we squealed and begged the operator to make our bowl spin faster. He gave us our wish. The ride stopped and then started again; then stopped and started for a third time. At some point, my shrieks of glee turned to desperate groans.

colorful teddy bears

When the ride ground to a halt, the three of us stumbled out of our seats and shuffled our Keds tennis shoes off the platform. We all complained of feeling queasy. I quickly realized my feeling was turning into action, and whatever had gurgled around in my stomach during those repetitive rides was making its way back up.

Horrified, I confessed to my friends I had to vomit. They followed me to the public restroom, where I retched while they waited for me. One of the other girls threw up later in the parking lot of a mall near the amusement park. I begged my friends not to tell the boys who had come with us. I was actually the oldest of our little group that day (not counting Rita’s big sister, of course); Rita and Lola and the two boys were only entering eighth grade, while I was going into HIGH SCHOOL. The thought that those boys might find out I couldn’t hold my Tilt-a-Whirl rides embarrassed me to no end. I’m not sure if those boys discovered my secret, although I think they suspected it. We played some more “Truth and Dare” on the drive home, and I’ve never stepped foot on a Tilt-a-Whirl again.

For almost eighteen years, that afternoon at the park would remain the last time I threw up. And it all could have been avoided if we’d been content with just one—or even two—rides on that old Tilt-a-Whirl. As my daddy says, it was too much candy for a nickel. Or, in this case, too much fun at Fun Time USA.

 

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Wear It Well Wednesday: Layers + Leggings

We visited my family in Mississippi for Christmas and went to church with my parents on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, we visited my grandfather’s grave site (our Papa who died on Valentine’s Day earlier this year). Then Mike and the boys and I took a walk around the Greenway near my hometown’s city park.

Near the train tracks at Depot Creek–the boardwalk of the Greenway winds around the creek–we stopped to snap a few photos at the railroad sign that announces the name of my hometown:  a perfect location to showcase a Wear It Well Wednesday outfit.

Almost everything I’m wearing here is from our friend Vivian. I like to wear layers, and I love to wear tights. I don’t often get to do either in Orlando. The boots were a gift from my parents long ago, but the sweater, leggings, skirt, white t-shirt, long necklace, and even my sunglasses (all hand-me-downs) came to us in a few different parcels from Vivian.

Not only do I enjoy layers and leggings, I also like the combination of navy and this mulberry color.

This ensemble was just warm enough for a walk with my family on Christmas Eve afternoon. I can’t wait to put together more WIWW outfits in 2018. Happy New Year, gentle readers!

A Storm By Any Other Name

Wilma. Andrew. Hugo. Betsy. Allison. All these are past names of hurricanes, some more well known than others. It was 1995 when a hurricane sharing my own name made an appearance in the U.S.

I lived through quite a few hurricanes as a child, most notably Hurricane Frederic in 1979, when I was 5. This storm tore apart the low-to-the-ground tree house Daddy had built for my brother and me and left a giant pine tree toppled onto our roof.

In 1985, Hurricane Elena swept through south Mississippi. Our home at the time didn’t have air conditioner, but losing power meant we lost the ability to use our multiple box fans. My nana, a widow since I was age 3, left her home in town and sheltered with our family in our house out in the country.

In early September 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, some Cru staff–including my husband and I–joined a non-profit group serving people impacted by this storm.

Newly pregnant with Woodrow, barely able to keep in touch with my parents (whose cell phone coverage was nonexistent during the storm and spotty immediately after), I felt frustrated with helplessness. When I heard from my sister, who’d spoken with our parents, that Mama and Daddy had run out of ice and almost depleted their food supply following Katrina, I cried on the phone with her. Katrina pounded south Mississippi and south Alabama as much as the New Orleans area back in August 2005; my parents–and grandparents–went without power for many days. For a short time each day following the storm’s devastation, they’d run my grandparents’ gas generator so as to have a little time with the air conditioner. I felt paralyzed to do anything to help. Even if we drove from Orlando up to Mississippi, bringing food and water, we couldn’t buy any gasoline there to get back home.

So when the opportunity arose for a team of Cru staff to serve hurricane evacuees in Lafayette, Louisiana, Mike and I jumped on board. We linked up with a ministry helping to connect churches around the country with people rendered homeless due to Katrina. Church families participating in this program agreed to house (for free) a certain number of people in need in apartments for 3 months; they would also assist with food, accessing available government benefits, transportation, and job searches.

Our job was to coordinate the matching up of people with churches. Most all the churches volunteering to host people existed outside the state of Louisiana. And most all the people we met sheltering at the Cajundome in Lafayette didn’t want to leave their state. Who could blame them? But most churches in Louisiana were already at capacity, helping and serving those whose lives had just been invaded by this storm.

But the evacuees’ time at the Cajundome arena would soon come to a close, and these folks needed to find housing. We stayed 10 days and watched people (mostly from New Orleans) drive away in church vans and buses headed to Chicago, Little Rock, Georgia, and Texas.

Although rewarding in some ways, this work was intense and often stressful. I had multiple nightmares during our time in Lafayette; once I dreamed that the Finney family–mom, dad, a couple of teenage children, one of whom was diabetic–whom we’d dropped off at the bus station so they could travel to a sponsoring church in Marietta, GA, had missed their bus. In my dream, they were walking down highways and across bridges to get several states away, from Lafayette to Marietta. They’d shared with us that, after the hurricane, they’d walked out of New Orleans, where Mr. Finney worked as a bursar at Tulane University. I don’t remember how far they walked, or how they landed in Lafayette, but I woke up in a panic, thinking we needed to jump in our rented mini-van and go find that family walking their way to Georgia.

Today, though, over 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, my family and I face a different storm. Hurricane Irma has already begun to make its presence known, and the four of us will evacuate from our home in central Florida this afternoon. Starting out with a full tank of gasoline, we’ll set our course for south Mississippi, to stay with my parents. There’s stress involved in this, too, but our boys are excited to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

allison and boys on swing

I’ll bring some photo albums, baby books, home school gear, along with the basics we’d need for a quick road trip. We don’t know what we’ll find when we return, but stuff is replaceable.

No matter the circumstances–storms within or storms without–I want to turn to Jesus and cling to Him in any of life’s storms. No matter their names.

Nahum 1:7 The Lord is good,

a refuge in times of trouble…

My First Very Own Clothesline

In May, I received the Mother’s Day present that I’d requested from my family:  a retractable clothesline.

We have a backyard now at our current home–as of 2 years ago–and I wanted a clothesline to go with it. There’s an old metal post that used to belong to a clothesline at one end of our yard; it’s fixed in concrete, so that precluded moving it to a sunnier spot for erecting a new clothesline.

The boys created a tree fort using the rusty old post as a base for the wooden pallets we picked up for free last year–with the vision of making some kind of tree house. The pallets languished in the yard for many months; then one day, I spotted the boys creating this in the backyard. Using ropes, strings, and a cord from a broken set of window blinds, this is what they created:  a two-story play place in the shade. So at least that old post is good for something.

boys tree fort

So, in the absence of an actual clothesline, for a while I hung laundry over the chain-link fences surrounding our yard–or at least big pieces such as towels and sheets. But invariably it would get blown off. After the second time in one day that I was forced to kick off my flip-flops and hop the neighbor’s fence to retrieve the rogue laundry, I gave up on that practice. And, yes, I know it sounds a bit tacky to hang one’s drying laundry over a fence (although portions of our backyard fence aren’t shared with the neighbors’ yards). That’s kind of par for the course in our neighborhood, but still:  It did provide a reason to skip fence-line drying of clothes. I returned to using our clothes dryer along with the dryer balls I made a couple years ago. 

Then we visited Travel Country Outdoors one afternoon, and I spotted the retractable clothesline option, primarily meant for camping. I asked for one for our family. I unwrapped this gift in May, then we left for the summer. In early August, Mike installed it using 2 trees in our yard. It’s affixed to one tree; I pull out the cord, stretch it across the yard, and hang it on a hook attached to another tree.

clothesline 2

I grew up with clotheslines in the backyard of our country homes; the featured picture at the top of every blog post is of my parents’ clothesline. And now I have my own! Solar power for the win.

clothesline 1

The Mystery of Thistle

Once in a while growing up, I would have the inimitable privilege of getting my hands on a pack of 64 Crayola crayons. I never referred to them as “crayons,” though–in the South, we just called them “colors.” I especially appreciated having options such as gold and silver, burnt umber and cornflower blue. Although cornflower always confused me, because I spent time in gardens as a child, and I associated yellow and green with corn–not a muted shade of blue. All those colors at one’s fingertips–it made me feel rich in a way.

Cornflower wasn’t the only shade to confuse me. There was another one–thistle–that I never understood. I always liked the color, but I didn’t understand how it got its name. When I thought of thistle, I assumed it was a prickly, thorny weed. I associated it with dandelions. And yet nothing about a dandelion boasted that lavender-pink hue.

thistle
Milk thistle on a hiking trail in Fort Collins, CO.

Then I came to Colorado. To the best of my knowledge, milk thistle (like the one in the picture above) doesn’t grow in south Mississippi, where I was born and raised. So I’d never seen it until about 8 years ago, when Garfield was a baby and Woodrow, a toddler, and our family took a hike near Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. That summer, 2009, we spent in Colorado. On the hike, while carrying Garfield in a Baby Bjorn on my chest, I spotted these plants that I’d never seen before. After looking them up, I learned that they indeed are thistles.

sunflowers and thistles
Sunflowers and thistles on the trail.

The mystery of this color’s name was solved! I now knew how one of my favorite crayons in the box of 64–remember how it came with a built-in crayon sharpener?–had gotten its name.

many thistles

Thistle is considered a weed; it may compete with crops where it grows and can disrupt pasture grazing. But it also serves bees as they gather nectar to produce honey. Thistles are also a source of nectar for several species of butterflies.  And, thistles are beautiful. Living in Colorado again this summer affords me the joy of encountering thistles all over again.

Sometimes there’s mystery in beauty, and sometimes there’s beauty in the unexpected. And even a weed can draw me into God’s beauty and cause me to marvel.

 

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.

 

 

 

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.