Thursday, September 03, 2009

What IS Normal, Anyway?

I once heard that "normal" is only a setting on a dryer--not on humans, and I'm beginning to believe that! None of us are untouched by trials or get through life without pain of some kind. Suffering is merely one side of a coin, we each get to experience the other side of the coin as well, if we so choose--peace and contentment.

And really, if you think about it, there's no such thing as a family that ISN'T dysfunctional in some way! Some just know how to function better with the dysfunction than others.

No matter how "normal" I try to act, I realize that I am NOT normal when it comes to my health. Someone called it "handicapable" rather than "handicapped." I don't care what you call it, but it is inconvenient! Today I tried going to the post office. A rather "normal" task, right? Wrong! I had three crates of pre-stamped packages to drop off. I got the bright idea of taking my briefcase roller bag, thinking I could put one crate on TOP of the case, and use the rollers as a way to get the crate inside, allowing my other hand to hold the cane.

Since I thought I was closer to "normal" I had let my temporary handicapped parking placard expire and so I couldn't park in the handicapped parking spot. But I needed that ramp to roll the crate up to the sidewalk. So, I parked on the other side of the parking lot and had to roll the crate across the uneven surface where the cars drive through, to get to the building. Of course in the middle of the busiest spot the wheel caught a bump and the entire crate toppled over, spilling the precious cargo all around my feet. Cars had to stop because of this crazy woman in the middle of the drive, with scattered white padded packing envelopes surrounding me like spilt milk. I dropped my cane to the ground and picked up the packages, placing them back in the crate, and thought I'd try once again to make it to the door, but the roller bag crumpled under the weight.

A Good Samaritan witnessed my plight and came over to carry my crate to the counter for me. What a gentleman! And the postmaster watched my crazy stunt, so when I confessed I still had two more crates of packages to bring in, he loaned me a hand-truck to use. So, I rolled it and the busted roller bag back out to the car, and again worked diligently to position the crate on the cart to roll inside. I forgot to mention there was police tape cordoning off the largest portion of the sidewalk in front of the post office due to the glass getting shot out this week, so I had to go the LONG way to get to the door. No shortcuts in life, right?!

So, each time I made it to the door, more Good Samaritans opened the door for me so I could make it inside. What a sight I must have been, me with my cane in one hand, the cart toting these crates in the other hand, and sweat pouring off the back of my neck.

All of that because I didn't want to admit I'm "challenged" and ask my husband or someone else to drop off these crates at the post office!

Maybe I need to readjust my thinking about my normal status after all!

Kathy Carlton Willis (copyright 2009)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

SEATTLE: Personality

Some of the things I wanted to share about our Seattle vacation regard the personality and style of the town. It's like no other town I've been in: liberal politics, alternative lifestyles of every sort, eco-friendly, natural, multi-ethnic, vibrant, colorful, energetic, eccentric, etc.

Clothing styles like I've seen nowhere else in my travels--as ecclectic as the personalities, mixing function, message, and style. Women of all ages and shapes wore leggings under dresses or long shirts or under shorts. You name it, they had on leggings. Some with high heels to rival the space needle, others with tennis shoes that advertised a walking to work pedestrian. If not leggings, the skinny jean.

More dreadlocks, less deodorant. More walking, less driving. More coffee, less tea. More languages, less litter. More fresh, less canned. More entertainment choices, less church buildings. More Smart Cars, less SUVs.

The weather alone made me happy. The view...happier still.

And for this public relations gal, the palpable BUZZ was thrilling. Maybe it was all that collective coffee drinking (me withstanding).

Here are some photos to tell the tale of Seattle moods:

SEATTLE: Day One, Part Two

So, I realize that there's no way I can write about all the thrilling things we did in Seattle in the detail I'd like to give. I'm going through a type of "boot camp" physical therapy right now and so I'm not exactly riddled with extra time and mental focus after giving my clients first dibs to my brain and creativity. So, I'll have to do the Seattle: Condensed Version report.

The rest of Day One consisted of:

Eating at FareStart (a restaurant where they train jobless, often homeless individuals to learn the various jobs associated with running a 4-star restaurant).

Unfortunately, I had some sort of bug, and so I didn't get to enjoy my meal much. Russ had a BLT w/Haddock.

After resting a bit at the hotel, we walked down to my first peak of Pike's Market. It is amazing. I could go there every day! If I lived in Seattle, I would rarely buy food in a grocery store. Can you imagine cooking with fresh ingredients every day. WOWZER! And this market has a little of everything. We went almost every day of our trip--so I'll share photos throughout the blog posts. Here's a start:

Then, we ate at a French restaurant called the Maximilien at the market. By this time I was hungry and opened with the best French Onion Soup I've ever eaten, then enjoyed the best filet mignon, with gourmet mashed potatoes and veggies and bread with the BEST butter. If we had dessert, I can't remember. The other great part of the meal was the view of the water from our table. And the waiter was French--his accent added to the ambiance of the entire experience!

Monday, June 29, 2009

SEATTLE: Day One, Part One

Waking up in Seattle is a vacation if nothing else happened all day. The view. The air. The weather. Did I mention the view?

Russ found a variety drug store across the street from our hotel while I was stirring, and picked up a Diet Pepsi Max for me and some packaged pastries. Starbucks Coffee in the room. We didn't want to load up too much since we had such a big day planned.

First off, we took the monorail to the Seattle Center to pick take the tour via land and sea on the WW2 Ducks Amphibious Landing Craft. Or Ducks for short. This was one of our favorite activities of the vacation, because the tour guide understood our kind of crazy. He gave us a great tour of the sites, but we also got to sing and interact and just be goofy.

It was during one of these goofy songs (I think it was YMCA, complete with arm motions), that an elderly pedestri-woman shook her head at us in disdain and asked us, "What in the WORLD do you think you're doing?" All the while scolding us with her pointed finger.

Oh well...I guess what sounds like fun to some people sounds like noise pollution to others!

One of the best parts of the tour was when we drove from the road, right into the water and toured the water's edge of Seattle. There are some parts of the town best viewed from the water.

And then, there's the water.

Sun rays warming the face. Moist air cooling the flushed skin. Slight waves rocking the boat. Nature alone is enough.

But there's more. Float planes. House boats. Floating homes (we learned the difference!) Fancy yachts. War vessels. Deadliest Catch ships.

We learned to be able to spot our hotel in the skyline of every tour, of every walkabout.

The tour guide showed us the home of Sleepless in Seattle.

Just so much. Before noon on Day One!

Back on land, almost sad to know we were headed back to headquarters.

Oh...and every time we drove by a Starbucks Coffee (almost every corner), we were coached to shout out "cha ching!" Fun, funny, and so true!

I highly recommend this tour, and suggest you do it early in your vacation so you can get oriented on the Seattle basics. A must do!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

SEATTLE: Travel Day

Over the next few days I'm going to write about some of the highlights and insights of our recent vacation to Seattle. Russ and I have traveled many places, but never to the northwestern part of our country, so this was a real treat. We have been planning this trip for over a year now. It was originally scheduled for last August, but a series of events put our trip on hold. So, let's begin!

We flew out of Harlingen, TX around 5 PM Central Time, with a brief layover in Houston. No real time to get a meal there, and we weren't really hungry. But we often experienced the pit-of-the-stomach hunger while flying due to in-air snacks limited to nuts and soft drinks. Risking it, we boarded essentially foodless (a few cookies stashed, just in case). So we were pleasantly surprised when their "snack" consisted of a delicious cheeseburger and fresh green salad, and a chocolate bar for dessert.

We landed in Seattle around 10 PM Pacific Time, after being in the air about five-and-a-half hours total. One thing we realized is the older you get, the smaller and less comfortable those seats in the plane become. So, we walked off the plane a little bit like Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein!

The buses were about to close, and didn't sound all that special to take anyway, with our baggage and my wheelchair. We planned to take a taxi, but when we hailed one, he refused to take us due to my wheelchair, even though we showed him it folds up easily for stowing. He said he could call a van for us from the same taxi line, but it could take a while.

This limo driver kept bugging us to ride with him. Finally he quoted us a price just $13 more than the absent van, and after that long on a plane and desiring to get to our room, we succumbed. So this was our first ever limo ride.

The driver decided to be our first Seattle tour guide as well, so there was no glass window between us and the front to provide privacy for our ride to the hotel. That's okay, it was enjoyable to get a sneak peak at what we had in store for us over the next 8 days. And the city was beautiful at night!

We arrived at the Westin, greeted by the valet. That is the last real memory I have of the night. I know we went to the registration desk. We struggled with our luggage up to the 39th floor. We performed the perfunctory oohs and ahs much like a fireworks display when we viewed our room as well as the room's view. But truthfully, that last 15 minutes felt like sleepwalking as if living out a dream sequence compared to the vivid memories of the days that followed.

We sunk into what Westin calls their "heavenly bed" and "lights out."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

RECIPE: Quick Brown Rice Casserole

Okay, I invented this recipe last night when I didn't have the ingredients for a traditional rice pilaf, and didn't have all the ingredients for a baked brown rice.

serves 4-6

1 boil-in-bag Brown Rice (quick rice that cooks in 10 minutes)-cooked
(Brown rice is healthier and has a nice nutty taste perfect for this recipe)

Mix with:
1 small can mushroom stems 'n pieces
1/2 cup or so of frozen seasoning mix (I think its onions, peppers, celery, parsley)
1 tsp. butter
little shake of poultry seasoning, and garlic pepper seasoning, and sea salt
1 egg

Bake for 375 in a convection oven for 10 minutes. Or 375 in regular oven for 15 minutes.

Remove and add about 1/2 cup of grated reduced fat Mexican blend cheese-stir. Pat down with back of spoon. Then sprinkle about 1/3 cup of sliced almonds on top.

Go back in the 375 convection oven for about 5-10 more minutes.

It's all ready in just 30 minutes--most steamed brown rice takes 50 minutes so this is a good time saver, boosts up the taste AND the nutritional values.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

RECIPE: Spaghetti Sauce

I made a pretty awesome spaghetti sauce last night, if I do say so myself. I made it with just ingredients I had on hand.

This is a small batch since there are just 2 of us. I think it feeds 4.

1 15 oz. can tomato puree
1 15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 small can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
Italian Seasoning, crushed up in my hands first
Minced garlic
diced fresh mushrooms

Cook in large saucepan.

In a saute pan, brown ground beef (I used less than a pound) and towards the end, add chopped onion salt and pepper and cook until onions are transparent. Drain and add to the saucepan. Ten minutes before serving, add a splash of red wine vinegar and a packed tablespoon of brown sugar and let it cook in before serving over your pasta of choice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dedicatory Reading

Last July, Hurricane Dolly desecrated our place of worship, leaving our sanctuary in ruins. For the past nine months a rebirth of sorts has transformed the rubble into the awe-inspiring sanctuary we have today. In a previous post below are some photos.

Sunday was our dedication service. Part of the program was a responsive reading we all took part in, to commit together to use this building for God's service and for His glory. I wanted to save it here for us all to reflect on in days to come:

Congregational Dedication:

LEADER: Because we have purposed in our hearts to rebuild a sanctuary to the worship of the true and living God, and to the service of Jesus Christ our Lord, I call upon the congregation to stand for the holy act of dedication. To the glory of God the Father; to the honor of Jesus Christ
the Son; to the praise of the Holy Spirit¬–”

CONGREGATION: We dedicate this House.

LEADER: Knowing there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved–

CONGREGATION: We dedicate this House to the bringing of the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ to the unconverted.

LEADER: In obedience to the explicit command of Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature–

CONGREGATION: We dedicate this House to the mission of world evangelization with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

LEADER: Realizing the obligation to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord–

CONGREGATION: We dedicate this House to the sanctity of the home and the hallowing of family life; to the religious nurture and education of children, youth, and adults; to the grace of Christian character and the warmth of Christian fellowship.

LEADER: In obedience to the command of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves–

CONGREGATION: We dedicate this House to the communion of the saints, to the refuge of weary restless souls, to the peace and hope of the oppressed, to the comfort of those that mourn, and to the happiness of all those of like precious faith.

LEADER & CONGREGATION: We, the members and friends of First Baptist Church, deeply grateful for the heritage that has been entrusted to us, and keenly conscious of those ties by which we are bound to the Lord of all life, and to each other, do covenant together in this act of dedication, offering ourselves anew to the work and worship of our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Photos of Our Newly Restored Sanctuary

Thanks to Sophia Trevino and Antonio Lovera for these photos:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Channel 4 Covers Our Return to Sanctuary after Dolly

Channel 4 News did a report of our Easter Service back in the sanctuary that was ransacked by Hurricane Dolly 9 months ago. We still have plenty of finishing touches, but this was a nice story.

Video is here after commercial:

Article on their site is here:

And photos of the before and after are posted here:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dream Bigger!

I'm traveling on a 10-day roatrip with assistant and friend, Gina Stinson. Her husband Bruce asked me one of my favorite questions tonight, and now I can't sleep, thinking about it. He asked me if what I'm doing now is "living the dream" of what I dream of doing in my life. My reply was, all this and MORE. I'm a big dreamer, and God is an even BIGGER dreamer, coming up with all sorts of exciting and challenging plans for my life.

The projects I'd love to work on are ones I sense God leading me to work on--some with church and community ministry, some with business (which is also a ministry).

The hard part is to figure out how to get from Point A (where I am now) to Point B (where I believe God is leading me). I don't want to have a 40-year journey in the wilderness, if I can help it! Just like we used mapquest to figure out our road trip route, taking us from our current position to our destination, I wish I could figure out a way to mapquest my life.

But there really is a simple way. Allow God to dream big dreams for me, and then obey Him as He leads each step. Each decision, each contact, each project, yielded to His direction. Yet, it's not always as simple as it sounds.

But it IS exciting. Maybe, just maybe the journey is as important as the destination. Gina and I are looking forward to the road trip as much as the conference, and maybe my life journey of getting from where I am to each task God has for me is just as important as the arrival. Gina and I will visit in the car as we travel. God and I will fellowship on my life trips to various God-directed tasks and projects. On this road trip we have to trust the map to get us there even on roads we've never driven, and we have to trust the vehicle to function properly. In my life journey, I have to trust to get ahead too. Trust God. And trust that God-given gut instinct He places inside of me.

I'm dreaming big dreams, and I'm determined to enjoy the trip as much as the destinations in this great big life God has for me!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Independence Day

After not driving since August 2008, for the first time by myself yesterday, I drove. Not far (still too weak and too much pain for distance or high speeds), but I drove to the hair salon and back home. FREEDOM!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

GIFTED HANDS: The Ben Carson Story

I'm up late watching GIFTED HANDS: The Ben Carson Story. I set my DVR to record it almost 4 weeks ago, but am just now slowing down long enough to sit this still for 2 hours (minus the fast-forwards through commercials). Originally I taped it because Cecil Murphey was the book collaborator for this story, and I'm a big fan of Cec. It doesn't hurt that Cuba Gooding, Jr. stars in the made-for-TV movie. He's also one of my faves.

I have to say, I'm so very touched by this movie. I've heard it pretty accurately depicts the true life of Dr. Ben Carson. I wish I could find a doctor with similar character traits to help tackle the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in my lower leg.

Dr. Carson was brought up underprivileged and challenged to make something of his life. He found a whole new world through library books that changed his direction in life. And according to the movie, he overcame an anger problem through a faith in God. By the time he was in college, he had his head screwed on straight and was ready to achieve. And his achievements could fill another book!

What an amazing success story For Dr. Carson. Now I plan to go back and read the book for sure! Perhaps some of you will want to pick it up as well.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday--Fried Day

This is the day most workers have sort of a sensation of elation because the weekend is coming. In fact, just last Friday I was singing TGIF--Thank God It's Fun Day! We picked up our new vehicle and acted like teenagers all weekend long.

Well, I guess I'm not young enough to "run the roads" like that (Southern vernacular for cruising or running errands all day or living out of your car). This week it's been ouch-this and oh-that and ugh-the other thing.

Why is when we have the ability to really have fun in terms of means we no longer have the ability to really have fun in terms of energy?!

So today is "Fried Day" but maybe next Friday will be another "Fun Day." A girl can always hope!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Christian Work at Home Moms

I met Jill Hart, founder of Christian Work at Home Moms, at a writers' conference and she stood out to me because she was so genuine and content. I believe that contentment came from the peace-of-mind she had being able to work from home and do what she loves while juggling all else in her life. I may not be a mom, but I certainly can relate to the "work-at-home" part of the equation. It's not a hobby, it's a career. So, I'm pleased to help Jill make this announcement: Announces Work At Home 101
A FREE online 3 week course designed to give moms a work-at-home starting place.

Most people are curious about working from home. We know others do it, but aren't sure how they do it.'s Work at Home 101 is designed to give you an overview of the choices available that will allow you to work from home. This online course will give you the starting place you've been searching for.

Best of all - it's completely free! CLICK HERE!

Some of the things covered during Work at Home 101:

* Where to Start
Home-Based Businesses
Avoiding Scams
Entrepreneur Tips

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reality Inducers

Well, today reality hit me twice. And you can laugh—it’s okay—I’m laughing too!

The first reality event (and I’m not talking Survivor here, although I’m glad it’s on too) was at Target today. I had my cane with me because we were going to practice at PT, but I needed my wheelchair to shop at Target. No problem, hubby said I could try one of those electric carts. I had always abstained from the electric cart, saying I was chicken that I’d end up playing chicken with an end cap display or a shopper. One of those carts could take down a small child or a medium stack of Pringles cans! Plus...truth be told...I didn’t want to learn to drive one because that would mean I’m disabled and not just having a temporary recovery period from surgery. Surgery was in September and recovery was supposed to be six weeks. This isn’t that. I needed to face it. And face my fears I did—I mounted the cart and proudly powered up and down the aisles at my own pace, well...not exactly. At the pace of a turtle. Not my pace at all. But I was moving, and I was off my feet. And I was FREE! What a nice feeling. In my heart’s mind, the wind was blowing my hair as it was all going in slow motion. Well, the slow mo was right, but the wind was just an active imagination (for that matter, my flowing hair was a fantasy as well!).

The second reality event happened in the comfort of my leather recliner chair at home. For the past three days I’ve been smelling something DEAD while sitting in this chair. At first Russ didn’t smell it. I felt like my nose was fooling me. But I started lighting one, two, three candles. The sickening odor overpowered the spicy scent of “mulled cider” wax. I just KNEW something had taken up residence in our ductwork and expired. By day three, it was WELL past its expiration date!

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. By this time, I determined a mouse had crawled into my chair and died. I know, you are thinking now I really AM losing it. You should have seen me tipping over my chair to seek a lifeless furry critter. I looked like I was wrestling leather! After the chair was tipped over, I found a little droplet of brown syrupy stuff on the floor. The CSI in me determined it was blood, but not human. At this point, Russ took me seriously and started helping me seek out the offensive odor. With flashlight in hand, a large mouse was discovered in it’s final repose. Then it dawned on me. My XXX-pound behind had single-handedly (or double-cheekedly) killed Mickey Mouse.

I’m sorry, Annette Funicello!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Call to REST

This past month, some pastors' wives and other women in ministry discussed just how difficult it is to find true sabbath-style rest on the Lord's Day (Sunday) with all we do to make sure the church lights are on, all the programs have workers (often us), and more. We worship, yes. But do we rest? Not always. We often get hit up left and right, and feel drained by ministry, as much as we love it. Pouring out, yes, but are we making sure to get filled back up? That's where my author friend, Keri Wyatt Kent comes in. She offered to send me a complimentary review copy of her recent book release, simply entitled Rest. What I have learned is that God wants to take our ordinary and make it extraordinary by giving us the opposite of our normal. If we are hectic and busy, true rest involves being still and slimming down the schedule. If we are stressed, true rest is calm. If we are in a rut, true rest gives us something new. If we work most waking hours, He wants us to learn to enjoy entertainment and play. If we are drained, true rest refreshes. That's what I'm learning as I read Keri's book. Here's more info:

Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity by Keri Wyatt Kent explores what it means to live in “Sabbath simplicity” by focusing on six aspects of Sabbath as spiritual practice: resting, reconnecting, revising, pausing, playing, and praying. Readers learn to slow down and find joy and meaning in the midst of their hectic lives.

Keri Wyatt Kent invites readers to rediscover the ancient practice of Sabbath in this practical and accessible book. Kent’s experiences as a retreat leader and a journalist collide as she offers true, interview-based stories along with scripturally based advice and guidance on how to live in a rhythm of work and rest she calls “Sabbath simplicity.” Based on what Jesus taught about Sabbath and how he practiced it, Kent explores six aspects of Sabbath as Christian spiritual practice: resting, reconnecting, revising, pausing, playing, and praying. These are the antidote to our restlessness, isolation, and our hurried lives, workaholism, and self-absorption. Living a nonlegalistic, sanely paced, God-focused life leads us to freedom and grace, joy and connection. A group study guide is included, making this book an excellent choice for small groups.

For more info about REST, click here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wild Card Blog Tour

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Fireflies in December

Tyndale House Publishers (December 8, 2008)


Jennifer Erin Valent is the winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s 2007 Operation First Novel contest for Fireflies in December, her first published novel. When she’s not penning novels, Jennifer works as a nanny and freelance writer in Richmond, VA.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (December 8, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324324
ISBN-13: 978-1414324326


The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I’d killed a man.

That’s a heavy burden for a girl to hang on to, but it didn’t surprise me so much to have that trouble come in the summertime. Every bad thing that ever happened to me seemed to happen in those long months.

The summer I turned five, Granny Rose died of a heart attack during the Independence Day fireworks. The summer I turned seven, my dog Skippy ran away with a tramp who jumped the train to Baltimore. And the summer I turned eleven, a drought took the corn crop and we couldn’t have any corn for my birthday, which is what I’d always done because my favorite food was corn from Daddy’s field, boiled in a big pot.

To top it off, here in the South, summers are long and hot and sticky. They drag on and on, making slow things seem slower and bad things seem worse.

The fear and guilt of the summer of 1932 still clings to my memory like the wet heat of southern Virginia. That year we had unbearable temperatures, and we had trouble, just that it was trouble of a different kind. It was the beginning of a time that taught me bad things can turn into good things, even though sometimes it takes a while for the good to come out.

The day I turned thirteen was one of those summer days when the air is so thick, you can see wavy lines above the tar on the rooftops. The kind of day when the sound of cicadas vibrates in your ears and everything smells like grass.

On that day, as Momma got ready for my birthday party, I told her that I wanted nothing to do with watermelon this year.

“We have some fine ones,” she told me. “Just don’t eat any.”

“But the boys will spit the seeds at us like they do all the time,” I said. “And they’ll hit me extra hard today since it’s my birthday.”

“I’ll tell them not to,” she said absentmindedly as she checked her recipe again with that squinched-up look she always got when trying to concentrate.

I knew I was only another argument or two from being scolded, but I tried again. “Those boys won’t listen to you.”

“Those boys will listen to me if they want to eat,” she replied before muttering something about needing a cup of oleo.

“They don’t even listen to Teacher at school, Momma.”

That last reply had done it, and I stepped back a ways as Momma picked up her wooden spoon and peered at me angrily, her free hand on her apron-covered hip. “Jessilyn Lassiter, I won’t have you arguin’ with me. Now get on out of this house before your jabberin’ makes me mess up my biscuits.”

I knew better than to take another chance with her, and I went outside to sit on my tree swing. If God wasn’t going to send us any breeze for my birthday, I was bound and determined to make my own, so I started pumping my legs to work up some speed. The breeze was slight but enough to give me a little relief.

I saw Gemma come out of the house carrying a big watermelon and a long knife, and I knew she had been sent out by her momma to cut it up. Gemma’s momma helped mine with chores, and her daddy worked in the fields. Sometimes Gemma would help her momma with things, and it always made me feel guilty to see her doing chores that I should have been doing. So I dug my feet into the dry dirt below me to slow down and hopped off the swing with a long leap, puffing dust up all around me.

I wandered to the picnic table where Gemma was rolling the green melon around to find just the right spot to cut into. “I guess this is for my party.”

“That’s what your momma says.”

“Are you comin’?”

“My momma never lets me come to your parties.”

“So? Ain’t never a time you can’t start somethin’ new. It’s my party, anyways.”

“It ain’t proper for the help to socialize with the family’s friends, Momma says.”

“Your momma and daddy have been workin’ here for as long as I can remember. You’re as close to family as we got around here, as I see it. I ain’t got no grandparents or nothin’.”

Gemma scoffed at me with a sarcastic laugh. “When was the last time you saw one brown girl and one white girl in the same family?”

I shrugged and watched her slice through the watermelon, both of us backing away to avoid the squirting juices.

“Looks like a good one,” Gemma said as the fragrant smell floated by on the first bit of a breeze we’d seen all day.

“All I see are seeds for the boys to hit me with.”

“Why do you let them boys pick on you?”

“I don’t let ’em. I always push ’em or somethin’. But they’re all bigger than me. What do you want me to do? Pick a fight?”

“Guess not.” A piece of the melon’s flesh flopped onto the table as Gemma cut it, and she popped it into her mouth thoughtfully. “I’ll never know why boys got to be so mean.”

“It’s part of their recipe, I guess.” I helped by piling the slices on a big platter, and I strategically picked as many seeds as I could find off the pieces before I stacked them. Never mind my dirty hands. “You come by around two o’clock,” I told her adamantly. “I’ll get you some cake and lemonade. You’re my best friend. You should be at my party.”

Gemma shushed me and shoved an elbow into my ribs as her momma went walking by us.

“Gemma Teague,” her momma said, “you girls gettin’ your chores done?”

“Ain’t got no chores of my own, Miss Opal,” I told her. “I figured on helpin’ Gemma instead.”

“Then you two make certain you keep your minds on your work, ya hear?”

“Yes’m,” we both mumbled.

Gemma’s momma walked past, but she looked back at us a couple times with a funny look on her face like she figured we were planning something.

In a way we were, but I didn’t see it as being a big caper or anything, so I continued by saying, “You know, I ain’t seein’ any sense in you not at least askin’ your momma if you can come by for cake. She’s usually understandin’ about things.”

“Every year it’s the same thing from you, Jessie. She won’t let me come, and besides, I’ll bet your momma don’t want me here no more than my momma does. It just ain’t done.”

“‘It just ain’t done’!” I huffed. “Who makes up these rules, anyhow?”

Gemma kept her eyes on her work and said nothing, but I knew her well enough to see that she didn’t understand her words anymore than I did.

Momma called me from the open kitchen window, but I ignored it and kept after Gemma. “Now listen. You just come on by after we’ve cut the cake and pretend to clean up somethin’, and I’ll be sure you get some.”

“Ain’t no way I’m gettin’ in trouble for some cake and lemonade that I’ll get after the party anyhow,” she argued. “You’re just bein’ stubborn.”

I sighed when Momma called me again. “She’s gonna tell me to take a bath, I bet. You’d think at thirteen I’d be old enough to stop havin’ my momma order me to take baths.”

“You’d never take one otherwise,” Gemma said. “Ain’t nobody wants to smell you then.”

“I hate takin’ baths on days this sticky. My hair never dries.”

“Takin’ a bath on a hot day ain’t never bad.”

“It is when the water’s hot as the air is.”

Gemma shook her head at me like she always did when I was being hardheaded. “Water’s water. Cools you off any which way.”

I didn’t believe her, but I headed off to the kitchen, where Momma had filled the big metal tub we’d had to take baths in ever since the bathroom faucets broke. The sheet she’d hung across the doorway into the next room flapped as the breeze I’d prayed for began to pick up.

I hopped out of my dungarees in one quick leap and crawled into the tub. “It’s hot as boiled water,” I complained.

“Well then, we’ll have you for supper,” Momma replied as she measured out flour, obviously undisturbed by my discomfort. “Your guests will start gettin’ here in a half hour, so don’t dawdle unless you want everyone findin’ you in the tub.”


“And don’t forget to clean behind your ears.”


Water splashed as I washed with my usual lack of grace, landing droplets about the kitchen floor. It didn’t really matter since Momma always made a mess when she cooked and the floor would need cleaning after she was done. No doubt the flour and water would mix into a fine paste, though, and she’d have a few words to mutter as she tried to scrub it up. As she measured sugar, I could hear her praying, “Oh, dear Jesus, let me have enough.” Momma prayed about anything anytime, anywhere.

By the time I’d scrubbed and dried, the smell of biscuits was drifting through the house and Momma was putting the oil on for the chicken. She was a good cook, no matter the mess, and she always put on quite a show for these birthday parties.

As I walked up to my room, wrapped in a ragged blue towel, I heard Momma call after me not to forget to put on my dress. Then she added, “Please, Lord, let the girl look presentable.” I think Momma often wondered why, if she was to be blessed with a girl, she had to get one that mostly acted like a boy.

“No dungarees!” she added. “And put on your church shoes.”

I rolled my eyes, knowing she was nowhere near me. I would never have dared to do it in front of her. I hated dressing up, but for every birthday, holiday, church day, and trip into town, I had to wear one of the three dresses that Momma had made me. She was as fine with a needle as she was with a frying pan, but I hated dresses nonetheless. Mostly because when I wore them, I had to sit all proper in my chair, and I couldn’t do cartwheels, at least not without getting yelled at. But I put on the dress because I had to and buckled up my church shoes.

I could hear Daddy’s footsteps coming down the hall, and I turned to smile at him as he stopped at my doorway.

“Lookin’ pretty, dumplin’,” Daddy said.

“That’s too bad.”

“Now, now. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a girl lookin’ like a girl.”

“Who says wearin’ dresses is the only way to look like a girl?”

Coming into the room, his dirty boots leaving marks that Momma would complain about later, Daddy tossed his hat onto a chair and helped me finish tying the bow on the back of the dress. “We don’t make the rules; we just follow ’em.”

“Well, someone had to make the rules in the first place. We should just make new ones.”

“No doubt you will one day, Jessilyn,” he said with a sigh. “But for now, you’d best follow your momma’s instructions. She ain’t one to be disobeyed.”

“Are you gonna be at the party?” I asked hopefully, knowing full well that he’d been in the fields all morning and looked in need of a nap.

“Wouldn’t miss it, you know that. I got the corn on already.” Daddy rubbed his tired eyes, picked up his hat, and walked out, whacking the hat against his leg to loosen the dust.

He worked hard, especially this time of year, and no matter how many men were willing to work the fields, he would always put in his fair share alongside them. I had suspected of late, however, that he was working harder more out of necessity than a sense of duty. We’d had fewer men to help than in years past, and it wasn’t due to lack of interest, I was sure. I’d seen my daddy turn three men away just the day before.

Things were poor, especially in our parts, and for having a working farm and a good truck, we were fortunate. We even had some conveniences that other people envied, like a fancy icebox and a telephone, and Momma was pretty proud of that. We weren’t rich like Mayor Tuttle and his wife, with their big columned house and fancy motor car, but we were thought to be well-off just the same. Momma and Daddy never talked money in front of me, and I decided not to fuss with it. It caused too many problems for adults from what I could see. What did I want to do with it?

I made my way downstairs and stepped out onto the porch, disappointed to see Buddy Pernell was the first to arrive. I didn’t like Buddy very much. But then, I didn’t like many kids very much. I thanked him for coming—mainly because Momma’s glare told me to—and received the plate of cookies his momma handed me. In those days, we didn’t give gifts at parties; it was too extravagant. But every momma felt it only proper to bring some sort of favor along.

By the time we had a full crowd, one side of the food table was filled with jars of jelly, bowls of sugared strawberries, a couple pies, and even one tub of pickled pigs’ feet. I promptly removed those, but Momma stopped me cold.

“We accept all gifts with thanks, Jessilyn,” she hissed in my ear as she replaced the tub on the table.

“Even pigs’ feet?” I argued.

“Yes ma’am! Even pigs’ feet.”

It took only ten minutes before the first watermelon seed landed in my hair. All the other girls started screaming and ran for cover, but I fought back at the boys out of sheer pride. I did a little shoving, Momma did some yelling, but I got pummeled anyhow.

After we finished eating lunch, I spotted Gemma hanging laundry on the line and ran over to get her help brushing all those sticky seeds out of my hair.

“You ought to not let ’em do this to you,” she said.

“I told you before,” I said with my eyes shut tight to stand the pain of Gemma’s brushing, “they’re all bigger than me.”

“I think they’re too big for their britches. That’s the problem.”

“Maybe so, but that don’t change nothin’. I still can’t whip ’em.”

“Well, I did the best I could.” Gemma peered closely at my sun-streaked hair. “I can’t see no more.”

“Just wait till we go swimmin’,” I told her. “I’ll find some critter to stick down Buddy Pernell’s knickers. He’s the one leadin’ the boys in the spittin’.”

“You best be careful. Them boys might do somethin’ to hurt you back.”

“I ain’t scared of them,” I lied. “Besides, they got it comin’.”

Gemma shook her head and grabbed a pair of Daddy’s socks to hang on the line. “You’re stubborn as a mule, Jessie.”

I figured she was right, but I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of hearing me say it. Instead, I rejoined the party, grabbed a piece of cake, and stood by watching the boys scuff about with each other, playing some kind of roughhouse tag. The other girls stood around watching the boys, giggling over how cute this one was and how strong that one was. I couldn’t figure them out.

“All that fussin’ over boys,” I said through a mouthful of frosting. “If you girls had any smarts, you’d be playin’ tag right along with ’em.”

“Why don’t you?” Ginny Lee Kidrey asked.

“I’m eatin’. Ain’t no reason to stuff down cake when I can play tag anytime I want.”

“You’re just a tomboy, Jessie Lassiter,” said Dolly Watson, who always wore dresses and perfume that smelled like dead roses. “What do you know about boys?”

“Enough to know that they ain’t worth wastin’ time on.”

The girls turned their noses up at me—all but Ginny Lee, who was the only real friend I had outside of Gemma, and even she had started to become more like the other girls of late.

The only reason I even had those other children at the party was because Momma insisted on it. She liked entertaining guests, but in our parts we didn’t have much chance to entertain, and she took every chance she got. So every year I had to invite the kids from school to interrupt my summer vacation and celebrate my June birthday with a party. The only thing I ever liked about those parties was the food. I would have been satisfied to spend my birthday having boiled corn with Gemma.

Buddy Pernell stopped in front of me and tugged at my braid. “Still stuffin’ your face?” he asked with a smirk. “Don’t you like to do nothin’ but eat?”

Knowing my short temper, all the boys loved to tease me just to see how much they could rile me. I responded to Buddy in my usual way. “I just like standin’ here watchin’ you boys beat each other up. And besides, ain’t nothin’ wrong with eatin’.”

“There is if it makes you fat.”

“I ain’t fat!”

“You keep eatin’ like that and you’ll be fat as your momma.”

Now, my momma wasn’t fat. I knew that as well as I knew that Buddy Pernell’s momma was. But it didn’t matter. True or not, he’d insulted my momma, and it took me no time at all to react by shoving what was left of my cake right into Buddy’s face, making extra sure to push upward so the frosting would fill his freckled nose.

Buddy wasn’t so brave then. He began clawing at his face like I’d thrown acid on it, crying something fierce about not being able to breathe.

Momma ran over, hysterical, simultaneously scolding me and coddling Buddy. I responded to her by saying I’d never heard of anyone suffocating on cake before, but she didn’t appreciate my rationalizing. I got a whack from her left hand and Buddy got a wipe across his face from her right.

The other boys were laughing, throwing insults at Buddy about how he’d gotten shown up by a girl, but he was too worried about not being able to breathe through his nose to hear them.

I watched with a smile as Buddy’s momma grabbed a cloth and ordered him to blow his nose into it. Buddy blew like his brains needed to come out, and eventually he found that he was able to breathe right again, although his momma insisted on getting a good look up his nose to be certain that it was clear of frosting.

The boys loved the picture of Buddy having his nose inspected by his momma, and they couldn’t get enough of the jokes about it.

I got hauled into the house for a scolding and a whipping. I tried telling Momma that thirteen was too old for whippings, but she said if I was acting like a child, I should be punished like one. Every time I got another whack with that wooden spoon, I thought of a new way to make Buddy pay for the walloping. After all, if he hadn’t made fun of my momma, I wouldn’t have made him snort up that cake.

I took my punishment without explaining because I didn’t want to hurt Momma’s feelings by telling her what Buddy had said, and I made my way slowly and sorely back out to the party with revenge in my mind.

Gemma saw the silent tears that I’d been biting my lip to keep from letting out, and she came over to wipe them with her apron.

I smiled at her halfway. “I’m okay. At least I will be once I get back at Buddy.”

“Get back at him? He’s the one who’ll be wantin’ to get back at you.”

“Just let him try. I wouldn’t have gotten that whippin’ if he hadn’t made fun of my momma in the first place.”

“Don’t you go talkin’ like that. He’s already got it in for you, and if you do anythin’ else, he’ll go and do somethin’ awful.”

“I ain’t afraid of him!”

Gemma shook her braided head at me. “You talk tough, but you won’t be so tough if Buddy Pernell hurts you bad.”

I sniffed at her like she was worrying over nothing, but I knew deep down that I could have been asking for trouble by playing with Buddy. Boys with no sense can be dangerous, my momma had told me a few times, but my stubbornness didn’t leave any room for being cautious. I was determined to hold a grudge against Buddy, and that was that. But I could see that Buddy was keeping his eye out for his first chance to get back at me, and I watched him with a little worry in my heart as he and the other boys stood together in whispers.

I tried to pretend I wasn’t nervous, and when Gemma got called into the house, I joined the other girls, who’d gone back to twirling their hair and talking about the boys.

With the boys standing around making plans and the girls standing around watching them, my mother got irritated and told us to find something active to do. “Go on down to the swimmin’ hole. Get some exercise, for land’s sake.”

All of us girls went to my bedroom to put on our swimming suits, but with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat, I changed slower than them all. Gemma had been right, I figured. I’d be paying, and good, and the perfect place for Buddy to get me would be at the secluded swimming hole.

After I’d changed, I went downstairs to find my momma. “Maybe we shouldn’t go to the swimmin’ hole,” I told her while she was making up another batch of sweet tea.

“It’s hot as hades out there. It’ll do you all good.”

“It’s not that hot.”

Momma stopped scrubbing and looked at me strangely. “Were you in the same air I’ve been in today? It’s thick as molasses.”

“But swimmin’ ain’t no fun.”

“You love swimmin’.”

“Not today, I don’t.”

By now, Momma was curious, and she wiped her hands on her apron before placing them on her hips. “Why don’t you just up and tell me what’s got you so ornery?”

“I ain’t ornery!”

“Don’t argue with me, girl. If I say you’re ornery, then you’re ornery.”

I looked down at my toes and sighed. I couldn’t tell Momma that Buddy had called her fat, and I didn’t want to show her I was afraid, anyway.

“Tell me one reason why you shouldn’t go to the swimmin’ hole.”

I continued staring at my dusty feet and shrugged.

“You don’t know, I guess you’re sayin’. Well, if you ain’t got a reason, you best be headin’ out to that swimmin’ hole. I’m too busy to wonder what’s goin’ on in that silly head of yours.”

I could feel Momma watching me as I scuffed out of the kitchen without another word, letting the screen door slam behind me. I took several steps before glancing back at Momma through the window, where she stood humming some hymn I remembered hearing in church. I took a deep breath. In my dramatic mind, it was as if I were saying a final good-bye. Who knew if I’d come back from that swimming hole alive? Momma would feel pretty bad if I ended up dying, and she’d have to live the rest of her life knowing she’d sent me to my death.

Poor Momma.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Year Goals for 2009

I'm still working on my goals--it's a work in progress! I'm patterning my goals this year on the desire for GROWTH, following Jesus example as documented in Luke 2:52, which says in the NIV, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." So, I have 4 categories this year for my goals:


Today I will focus on the obvious one, PHYSICAL. I need to figure out a way to be disciplined in this so that it doesn't become just a well-intentioned yet unachieved goal year after year. My "want-to" is in place. I know this has to become LIFESTYLE changes that stick rather than a diet and exercise band-aid that ends up coming off.

So, to put these desires into measurable goals, here goes:

1. I will lose an average of 6-8 pounds a month by incorporating healthier eating and exercise choices, using the Guided By Him program.
2. I will journal my food intake and stay accountable to two other buddies.
3. I will find out what sort of exercise I'm capable of doing from my physical therapist, and grow this program throughout the year, as I become more mobile. I will do some sort of exercise program, ramping up the time and intensity, until I'm exercising at least 30 minutes 5 days a week.

If I do all of this, the benefits will be: better health, more energy, smaller clothing sizes, weigh about 70 pounds less by the end of the year (my goal).

Stay tuned for more goals!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Dream Big!

I'm working on dreaming big for 2009--writing down intentional dreams--also called goals. Not just any goals, but those I truly believe God would have for me. I'm challenging my clients to dream big too. A song I really like, with a peppy tune is:


Dream Big Lyrics

I believe that anything is possible
if we understand who Jesus is
I believe there's nothing that can
stop us
if we learn to dream like Jesus did
So don't limit your ambition
to what's commonly defined
God has a special heart
for those who walk outside the line
Don't be afraid to spread your wings
full lyrics

more Martins lyrics