Una Casita Blanca

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My Dad’s New Cottage–La Casita Blanca

I’ve walked around the past few days with a big knot in my stomach, almost in tears. On Friday afternoon, after all the stress of getting my dad’s dogs safely home, I found out that construction on my dad’s house had reached a critical point. To manage costs, Sherod and I had decided we’d do some of the last finish work ourselves, and the project moved more quickly than we’d anticipated. So by last Friday evening, Sherod was reviewing what we would need to get done this week. Sharing living space with two sets of dogs proved to be a lot to manage in a matter of hours as well. So, after some quick calculus, I asked to take most of this week off, which is what I have done.

That knot came when I slowed down enough to realize just how radical the change has been, making room for my dad in our life. After all those years in Florida, parenting our girl Maria with all her needs, serving as priests in uncharted territory—heck, just managing Southeast Florida traffic—the move to this small farm in Lowndesboro gave us back our lives. It wasn’t that our life became self-absorbed and turned in on itself, but that there was space—financial space, physical space, emotional space—to breathe again. After years and years of doing well just to get through the week, Sherod and I began to dream and imagine what might be possible. They were pretty modest dreams, but nonetheless, the kind of dreams you have when you can look up for hours and see how big the sky is and how many stars sparkle in the night.

My dad arrived on the 16th of December and life moved at a vertiginous pace from then on. We’ve taken all but the last step related to the application for him to become a permanent resident here. His household in Panama has been closed down. As I write, we are less than a week away from being able to move him into his new space which he calls “La Casita Blanca” which means The Little White House. The dogs are here. Work has been demanding and rewarding and intense in all this time and our girl Maria continues to show small improvements and still causes me to hold my breath in fear and anxiety when she hits the rough patches of her life.

This is the most time I’ve taken off since I began to work full time on September 1st of last year, and the days are filled almost to overflowing with the tasks I am trying to get done to further settle my dad into his new life. Along with the work on the house (which has actually been less than I expected) there are endless questions, stops and starts and trials and errors as Sherod and I try to help my dad retain some kind of sense of agency and independence, and make sure this change does not pull out all the oxygen from our own life together.

Dad will not drive again so I thought we’d try out the meal service program Mark Bittman of the NYT has started called The Purple Carrot. It’s a subscription program that delivers a box of all the ingredients to prepare a set of 3 meals for two people on a weekly basis. My dad doesn’t mind left overs and this seemed a good way for him to get healthy, tasty food without relying so much on Sherod and me. The Purple Carrot is a class act and the food is really good. But I found out this week that it requires far more food prep knowledge than my dad has. So it is back to the drawing board to figure out what we can do so he can manage most of his meals himself. He and I will take his dogs to the vet today so they can get on heartworm meds and there are about 7 or 8 other to-do’s on my “dad list”.

When the week started a little more slowly than planned on Monday, I realized that within days of my father’s arrival in December, when we began to put the pieces in place for him to stay and live with us, Sherod and I quit dreaming, had to push all those small and lovely plans we were just beginning to cook up, not just on hold, but in deep freeze. We’ve come to realize that we may end up having to let go of them altogether. We’ve seen too many times when, despite all their best efforts, folks have lived so long that their assets have run out.  We have to make provisions for that possibility with my dad. If it is hard for me, I am profoundly aware of how very much more is being asked of my husband; that is what truly breaks my heart.

So yeah, that stinging behind my eyes and the knot in my stomach? They signal that my life is going through another fundamental redefinition.

AND. The “and” is important. This is what it looks like to live and love and have the kind of enormous privilege Sherod and I know. I can look out the door next to where I am writing and see the flowerbed where the foxglove and daisies and amaryllis and roses are gently swaying in the breeze that hasn’t fled the heat of summer yet. I have a job I simply love. It is messy and stressful right now, but the person I work alongside of has this magnificent sense of the absurd, of humor and mischief, everyone works hard together, the congregation is amazing, and you can hear laughter just pealing down the hallway of our offices most days. When I drive back home in the afternoon, with minimal traffic, I get to see the fields change as spring layers more and more life and color into those open spaces. Some of the sheep at one of the farms I go by seem to be having a lot of babies and my God, those little lambs are delicious to look at. A reminder of what I have learned and re-learned so many times before: I am the recipient of grace, both harsh and beautiful.

 

To Serve

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After Dinner On Our New Deck

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My Monsieur Tillier Rose Blooming For The First Time

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A Mockingbird Nest In the Azaleas

Small.  Unimportant in the larger scheme of things. A world apart from the horror of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador, the continued violence, fear and anxiety.  Dear God, may so much beauty and goodness strengthen me and build me up to serve…

True This Too

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Flowerbed in Bloom

Today was a longer day than usual. I was at work by 7 to continue with my ‘mini-course’ on parables for the men’s prayer breakfast. Then, my day was pretty packed including a board meeting late this afternoon so when I was able to get in my car to head home, it didn’t bother me that it was drizzly and grey–I was just glad to be going home.

I pulled into the driveway and marveled at the flowerbed in front of the house–rosebuds are opening, the daises and foxgloves are also in bloom and after weeks of waiting, the clump of amaryllis are also opening up so the bed looks magical.

And then…I saw this brown lab, not a spring chicken to judge by all the grey on his paws and muzzle, stroll into the bed, hike his leg and pee on my flowers.  OOOOOh man I got upset. I flew out of my car ready to bawl the heck out of him except he came running up, tail wagging, and dropped a half-eaten pinecone at my feet and looked up at me expectantly.  Throw it lady, throw it.  I couldn’t help myself. I did.  And saw that along with being old, and playful, he was skinny. He had a collar on but no tag and when I went down the sidewalk to go in the house, he followed me and stood looking in after I closed the door behind me.

Sherod and our two dogs, Mo and Daisy, were in the den, all the doors closed, the Mallowman looking like a veritable thundercloud.  It only got worse when I suggested we might have us a new dog.  A little more back and forth and I’d talked him into letting me feed the old boy and then he jumped in his truck to go looking for the dog’s humans.  To feed the dog, I had to let him into our back yard and the next thing I know, I hear some pretty loud clattering and figure out he’s knocked some stuff out of the way to get to the upstairs deck.  Then I heard some even louder noise I couldn’t quite place until Sherod stormed through the front door and asked “How the hell did that dog get up on the roof?”

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Dog On A Cold, Slippery Tin Roof

Yup.  The dog was on the roof and after all the rain of the past couple of days, the roof was slick, the dog was scared and Houston, we have a problem!  Fortunately, our friend Mark, who keeps his horses with us was here and he, Sherod and I were able to get that sweet old dog off the roof and then talk to the neighbors enough to locate his owners.  A short car trip and nap later, the boy is back where he belongs, Sherod is in a better mood and I just keep laughing to myself about how wonderfully bizarre life in the country can be. True, this!

Cheche

 

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I know now that I was a rather priggish kid through most of my years in elementary and high school. I was also really insecure and thin skinned. I was socially awkward; in fact, as I think about it, I was quite a mess. I could not get out of my school fast enough—I’ve written elsewhere that I literally left Colombia within a week after I graduated high school and I have lived more than twice as long in the USA than I did in Colombia.

A few years ago, after swearing just about on my life that I would never, ever go to a class reunion, I ended up going to one in South Florida. I think a little more than half the class of ’78 of Colegio Bolivar gathered over a weekend that was absolutely magical. We’ve all grown up to become some pretty interesting, cool people.

One of the people I got to spend time with that weekend was Maria Bueno, whom we all called Cheche. She was pretty, she was adventurous, and when we were in high school, was one of the people I found really threatening. She and her friends would go to the far back of the girls’ bathroom to smoke and I’d be outraged, I tell you, outraged. She was comfortable in her body in a way I could not be in mine and I realize now how uncomfortable that made me, how I envied the cool girls.

Recently, I read an article about academic tracking—how kids are assessed and put in tracks depending on ‘academic potential’ that become self-fulfilling prophecies. We had that at Bolívar and I was in a different academic track than Cheche, one that certainly gave room to no small amount of smug self-righteousness on my part.

One of the loveliest parts of the class reunion was that I got to spend time with Cheche. I got to know her as a kind, really funny, very accomplished woman. I remember being so thankful that I had gotten more comfortable in my own skin and less insecure so I could see what a beautiful person she was. Even more, I was just thankful for the chance to get to know her, rather than the version of her that had been filtered through so much of my own baggage. She lived in Southeast Florida and we stayed in touch, tried a couple of times to have lunch but things were happening fast and furious in my life with my daughter and my work, and we never did manage to have that lunch.

Last Thursday, Cheche had a massive stroke and she died that night. I found out on Saturday, right after I finished officiating at a wedding that was all about youth and new beginnings and silliness and joy. The news of her death made me very sad—and I am still sad. May she rest in peace, and even more, may her beloved daughters, whom I did not meet but whom I heard so much about during that class reunion, and her husband, be surrouned by the grace and goodness that come from having been loved by such a beautiful, special woman.

First-Fruit 2016

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First roses from the garden

The roses are blooming. My work is simply this: I keep an eye out for black spot; following the advice of the rose expert in Alabama, I used some organic fungicide to get ahead of the mites as the roses started coming out of dormancy. We have had regular enough rain this spring so I haven’t needed to water them and only did a light pruning on Valentine’s Day. Mainly, I walk out to the garden every day and see more and more buds  coming out on all the plants, I see how much new growth there is as well, and how healthy the rose bushes all look. I try to do some weeding at least 3 times a week. Really, it’s simply about creating the space for the roses to grow.

Then, I wonder, what in heavens name I was thinking when I decided to try again for the writer’s workshop. Nothing I could write or say is this beautiful. That scares the sweet bejesus out of me…