Ding Dong

I got a doorbell camera. There have been unintended consequences.

When I had it installed a few months ago I didn’t know about the alert feature that indicates when there’s motion near the door and records it. There had been some car break-ins and package thefts in my neighborhood, so I set the detection range from my car in the parking lot to my front door. This is what the camera has detected ninety-five percent of the time:

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Nothing. Nada. Not a thing.

The other five percent of the time it has detected the routine comings and goings of my neighbors. This has resulted in making me what my son calls “that nosy old woman”. I know what time everyone leaves in the morning and what time they come back. I know which people are frequent Amazon customers and who still gets old school newspapers. I know what time they walk their dogs and who doesn’t pick up the doo. If the alert chimes at an irregular time during the day I run to the window to see who’s up to what. Worst of all, I judge everybody. I’ve come up with names for them like, Mr. Back and Forth, The Phantom, Weird Guy, Crooked Parking Grandma…

Anyway, it wasn’t just the package thefts and car break-ins that prompted me to get the camera. I got it because I felt vulnerable. I developed insomnia from worrying that someone was going to break into my house in the middle of the night. I think that as I’ve gotten older, I feel I can’t defend myself the way I once could. It didn’t help that racoons were setting off the motion detector on my back slider every few nights. The point is that it was all in my head. I knew it was the racoons lighting up the deck at 3am but I couldn’t shake the fear. I imagined that someone was going to get in and something terrible was going to happen to me. What my doorbell camera has shown me is that nothing ever happens in my neighborhood and that my neighbors are just plain folks. It has shown me that the problem is internal not external. Security measures are a good thing, anxiety isn’t. My therapist daughter says that I need to think about that and for God’s sake stop watching people. I think that from now on I’ll only turn the alert on at night.

Christmas Present

So, my last post was a sweet childhood Christmas memory, right? Ok, here’s what my Christmas looks like now:

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Obligatory trip to National Harbor’s giant tree
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The long wait to see Santa
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Christmas fatigue
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The inexplicably long line for a Honey Baked Ham
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IG photo op. I don’t really bake

I have to keep it real. Lol!

To be real, these are new memories I’ll keep forever just like the childhood ones. I’m grateful for all of them. And I’m grateful that you’re here with me.

Happy holidays!

Christmas Memory

I was having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit until I made a BLT while listening to Christmas music the other day. It reminded me of a long gone restaurant in the Porter Square section of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I used to have the sandwich there as a kid. The combination of the sandwich, the memory and the music took me back to another time and that place at Christmas. C’mon back (way, way back) with me.

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By Conrad Poirier – Wikimedia Commons

 That smell! The smell of the Christmas tree as Mommy dragged it off of our Volkswagen Beetle and into our small apartment, needles dropping everywhere. Big colored lights. Some of the bulbs didn’t work and she had to replace them to make the whole string light up. Round red, green, silver and gold ornaments that my little sister, Sheri, and I had to hold with two hands. We liked the way our faces looked funny when we held the balls up close and looked into them. Our favorite ornaments were the little copper colored bells. They didn’t ring but they were delicate and sweet. My sister and I threw tinsel at the tree branches. Some of it clumped together but it was still beautiful to us.

The white bedsheet that covered the tree’s stand was empty of presents. Sheri and I had a plan. When our mother left the room, the search was on for us to find money for gifts. If we could find enough change, we could buy Mommy the bubble bath from Fox Drug Store. Sheri and I first hit up our piggy banks.  Not bad, one dollar each plus some change. Then we went through all the coat pockets in the hall closet. That grossed us another couple of dollars. Next was the best place to find money, the couch! There were always some dimes and pennies under the cushions. But the big coins dropped into the back, in the crack that ran along the whole length. It was a gold mine. Seven quarters had managed to shake loose from grownups pockets and had fallen into the crack during the year. We added them to the other bills and change we’d collected. Over seven dollars! It was more than enough for the bubble bath. We could get something at the Five and Ten for Big Sis too. We went into the kitchen and told Mommy we wanted to go Christmas shopping at Porter Square and asked if we could go. It was only three stops on the trolley down Mass Ave. I was nine and my sister was seven. We took the trolley much farther to school every day anyway. Mommy smiled and said it was ok. Sheri and I grabbed our coats, hats and mittens. We were so excited that we had to go to the bathroom first.

In those days, kids could ride public transportation alone and no one called child protective services. First, Sheri and I got off the trolley a block before the shopping center and stopped at Fox Drugs. We bought the bubble bath, happy the Lavender scented one we wanted was still there. Then we walked down to Porter Square (or Pohta Sq-way-ah” as the locals called it). The shopping center was a long row of local stores anchored at the front by Dunkin’Donuts and at the back by Star Market. Halfway down was the Five and Ten. We stopped there next and bought a pair of one-dollar Christmas earrings for Big Sis. We wondered if we should give them to her early so she could wear them to her bank job.

We still had a couple of dollars left so we decided to have lunch at the deli next door. I ordered sandwiches for both of us; Tuna for Sheri, BLT for me. At the time, kids could order sandwiches alone in a deli and no one called child protective services. The place was retro even for those days. It had red vinyl booths and table side jukeboxes continually playing customer selected tunes. That day it was Christmas music with a couple of rock tunes thrown in. I loved those BLTs. I remember the white bread was always toasted lightly, the way I like it. The mayonnaise was slathered on so as to cause the crispy bacon to slip a little. The lettuce and tomato were always fresh, never limp. Before I’d take the first bite, the smell of it would waft up into my nose.

I enjoyed my BLT, the shopping and the company of my sister. We walked all the way back home because, since we were kids, we had forgotten about bus fare when we ordered lunch. We didn’t mind. It wasn’t such a long walk. it wasn’t that cold and not too much snow was on the ground (for Massachusetts). Little kids could walk four or five blocks back then without worrying about child protective services. Along the way we laughed, sang Christmas songs and talked about what we wished would appear under the Christmas tree for us. ~

I hope you enjoy the season however you choose to celebrate/observe it. Thanks for sharing my Christmas memory and thanks as always, for reading.

NaNoWriMo? Yes!

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Photo by Pixabay

I’m doing National Novel Writing Month this year. Participants are supposed to write every day for the purpose of producing a novel by November 30th. I wasn’t at all sure I could write every day for thirty days. I’ve written in more than one blog post about how I think I let things keep me from writing. And a few years ago, I wrote a post titled NaNoWriMo….Nope. In it I talked about some of the frustrations in writing my first novel. (I’m still in revisions on that work.) So I went into the challenge with apprehension. Surprisingly, there’s only one day left after today and I’m still at it! I’ve succeeded in writing every day this month which is huge for me. I’ve managed to write two other blog posts as well!

I’m working on what might or might not end up as a novel. The goal as set out on the NaNoWriMo website is 50k words by the end of the month. I’ll probably end with just over 35k. That doesn’t matter. For me, this challenge is an exercise in process not product.  Its’ been a deeper exploration of the issues I face as a writer that I discussed in the first blog post. So, here’s what I’ve learned since November 1st:

  • I’m a good writer. (That’s incredibly difficult for me to write. Lol.)
  • I use my family as an excuse for not writing.
  • Discipline takes practice. It isn’t an innate ability.
  • Practice makes me better at using adverbs, commas and quotation marks.
  • There are three themes that run through most of my fictional pieces. The roots of the themes stem from my unresolved difficulties . I heard screenwriter and actress Lena Waithe say the other day that she learned she has emotional wounds that haven’t healed but that she can fly anyway. This challenge has shown me that I feel the same.

I’m going to get back to writing my story now. It’s late in the day and I haven’t worked on it yet. I’ve proven to myself that I don’t have to worry. I’ll get it done. Here’s a little piece of the tale in case you’re curious:

Elaine and Darricka live within walking distance of Elsie, Danny and Margaret. It’s pretty safe for a twelve-year-old girl to walk the four blocks between the homes. The town is small. Elsie told Margaret that she and Elaine had picked the place because it is small, and it sits right between two larger towns that are much more crowded. The whole area is small relative to the city across the bay. Margaret wishes she could visit the city sometime. But she can’t think about that right now. She rounds the corner of Rose Hill Ave., her Auntie’s street. The house is on the actual hill. It’s a small one that Margaret treads up with little trouble. There’s a better view than from her house. She stops for a moment to look out over the trees and houses below. It’s pretty, she thinks. This town doesn’t feel like home though. Margaret can’t look out on this view and point to any connecting experiences she’s had with it. She can’t point out the hospital she was born in. That’s in a different state. She can’t look out and see the church she was christened in. That’s in a different town. The only family she has nearby are her auntie and cousin. There’re no graves of ancestors anywhere near here. Margaret has no idea where those graves are. She shrugs and turns into the walkway leading up to the only house that’s familiar to her in the town.

Minnie and Me

 

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Where were we?

Her name is Minnie. She’s twelve years old and we’ve been together since she rolled off the Toyota dealership showroom floor. I know every inch of her silver full-size body. I like to think the ease with which she handles is because she knows me.

She’s a twelve-year-old hybrid that still gets great gas mileage. She and I, just the two of us, have taken so many fuel-efficient round trips from DC to Boston and back that I could do it with my eyes closed. (Actually, that wouldn’t be a good idea.) Most times we leave at 4am so we miss rush hour traffic on both the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (too early) and the George Washington bridge (too late) and make it to New York City in three and a half hours. Flat. We get behind the fastest car on the New Jersey Turnpike, crank up the tunes and roll. We listen to The Allman Brothers Band’s “Blue Sky” to cruise to as the sun comes up. Then we do some reflecting to Santana’s “Song of the Wind” during the long straight stretches. We use the high energy of Tupac’s “California Love” and Beyonce’s version of “Before I Let Go” to get us through to the end. (There are lots of tunes in between.) I’m sure other drivers see my gray braids bouncing and my lips moving to the music as we fly down the highway at I-don’t-want-to-tell-you mph and think, “What is up with that old lady!” Whereas all I’m thinking is, “Get out of my way!” We get to Boston by lunchtime if we’re lucky on the Mass Pike. Sometimes we’re not so lucky. We did the trip in a blizzard one year. It took us ten and a half hours, but we made it.

Minnie has her issues. Her last name is McSqueaks because one of her sounds is an intermittent squeak that she refuses to let Keith at Franconia Service Center hear. She usually does it after we drive over any raised surface. I told my grandkids that it’s the way she talks to me. On the rare occasions when they hear it, they always squeal, “What’s she saying, Memu, what’s she saying!” Squealing and squeaking. I have the most interesting car rides.

Another of her sounds is the flapping noise under the bumper on the driver side when we go over sixty. That one is my fault. I used to hit things. A lot. I hit concrete wheel stops regularly. Consequently, the front of Minnie’s undercarriage resembles Swiss cheese. The flapping sound is the bit hanging down as it moves in the wind. I once hit my own moving van. That one cost me termination by my insurance company. It also cost me very expensive coverage with another. I was the DMV’s poster child for how not to drive. I haven’t had any accidents since moving to the DC area. (She looks around for wood to knock on.)

So, Minnie is, justifiably, showing signs of age, wear and tear. But then, so am I. I know the time will come soon for me to think about getting to know another car. It will feel a little like a betrayal, though. My husband bought Minnie for me after he was diagnosed with cancer. He wanted me to have a good reliable car that wouldn’t require much maintenance. Minnie is all of that. I’m grateful for his gift and I appreciate her. I don’t have to think too much about it because I can’t afford another car for at least another year. So, for now, it’s still Minnie and me, two old girls rollin’.

It’s October?

I haven’t posted since the end of May? What happened? Where did the time go? Every time I thought about blogging, something would distract me and turn my attention elsewhere. Sometimes it felt as though I was chasing myself…

Right after the last post my family gathered for a birthday celebration in Miami.

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It was wonderful but it was a lot; a lot of traveling, a lot of money and a lot of family. I’m always shell-shocked for a while after a lot of family.

Then it was back to Boston in June (with a stop in New York City for my birthday) for two weeks having fun keeping the middle little company again until camp started. I also got to meet the teeny little, the newest addition to my extended family. And I enjoyed can’t-beat-it New England seafood with old friends. Blessings all. Still, it was a lot.

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As soon as I returned home I had back to back houseguests visit, the last one for the the 4th of July. See, since I moved to the DMV I’ve had more company than I did in Boston. I get it, Washington DC is a great place to visit. My friends and family have been especially  excited to tour the three year old National Museum of  African American History and Culture. And who doesn’t want to be in the nation’s capital on the the 4th?

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I rounded out the summer with a mini vacay at beautiful Rehoboth Beach in Maryland with my daughter, biggest little and littlest little. Sun, sand, beach food, family and fun.

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Before I knew it it was Labor Day. The whole family gathered in Boston for my son and daughter-in-law’s first anniversary. We had a big barbecue. When I say the whole family, I mean the WHOLE family; offspring, their partners, grandkids, my siblings, nieces and nephews and their kids, their Uber drivers…It was a lot. It was a lot of summer.

Here’s the thing, while I was traveling all over, accommodating family and chasing myself I didn’t notice that I wasn’t balancing the whirlwind with self-care. I was enjoying the people and activities but I was neglecting the other things that feed my soul, like writing. I wasn’t working on the revisions to my novel and I wasn’t blogging. I wasn’t going on the nature walks that allow me to access my poetry muse. I know better. A long time ago I committed to taking responsibility for my procrastination and creative blocks. Yes, my family will always come first but I still have time and energy to devote to writing.  So, the question is why wasn’t I able to stop in the midst of all the hubbub and center myself so I could balance the two? I did it in Tulum. I guess just because I’ve learned some important life lessons over the years doesn’t necessarily mean I can consistently apply them. But I write because I must so here I go again. In the words of Rainer Maria Relki,

“a new beginning is always possible – who should refuse it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One Of These Mornings You’re Gonna Rise Up Singing”*

I haven’t been writing much for the past two months for reasons I hope to blog about soon. Basically, life has gotten in the way. This is a post from a couple of years ago that still makes sense. I’m surprised by how consistent I am. I edited a little and the photos are new.

WE ARE RACING TOWARD SUMMER, AREN’T WE?

It’s feels to me, after such a long and difficult winter, that spring lasted no time at all. April seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and incredibly, we celebrated the unofficial start to summer last weekend with Memorial Day.

When I realized we were quickly coming to summer’s front door, I initially had an anxiety attack thinking of all the springtime activities and chores I haven’t yet gotten done. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a list maker.) But then I relaxed and allowed myself to think about the things I have enjoyed this spring, which is a much healthier exercise.

I was fortunate enough to watch the progression of buds to blooms to leaves on the trees and the pushing up of flowering plants from inside the ground to up  toward the sun.

I put the first of this year’s tomato plants and herbs into the garden. While planting the herbs, I held some aside to make some air fresheners, teas and lotions. I naturally have more energy come spring so I’ve been walking in the nature preserve to bird watch and I got to see goslings make their initial appearance at the pond’s edge.  Also, after talking about it ALL winter, I finally got to take the little people to the playground for a game of Hide ‘n Peek Seek. I engaged in each of those activities and enjoyed them completely in the moment as they happened. So if it seems that the springtime flew by, it is only in retrospect.

I hope you enjoyed your spring and that summer will be an equally wonderful set of precious moments for you. I hope you’ll find the recipes below useful. And lastly, I hope you had a great Memorial Day and thanks so much for reading.

*Lyric from “Summertime” by DuBose Heyward from Porgy and Bess

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Baking Soda Air Fresheners

Mason jars
Baking soda
Essential oils, I use lavender, rosemary or lemon
Dried herbs (optional)
Fill the jars to 3/4 with baking soda, leaving a little room on top. Add about 5 or more drops essential oils and stir. Sprinkle on top about a tablespoon of matching herbs to whichever oil you’ve used. (Some people punch holes in the jar lids and screw them on. I never bother, preferring to leave the jars topless.) Shake gently occasionally to reactivate the oils. The lingering aroma will be subtle but fabulously fragrant.

 

DIY Lotion

2 oz Shea Butter
2 oz Vitamin E oil
1 oz Jojoba oil
1 oz Lanolin
1/2 tsp essential oil
All of these measurements are approximate. I find its good to play with the proportions so you get just the right mixture for your skin type. Also, I cut the amount of Lanolin from the original recipe because I don’t care for the smell.

Hello Fear?

 

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich from Pexels

So, last Monday I was the victim of the type of scam called “telephone kidnapping”. Although I’m a news hound, for whatever reason I’d never heard of it before. I don’t want to go into too much detail because this post isn’t about the actual experience. I will say it was incredibly frightening. A person called me from what appeared to be a relative’s phone number and said he’d kill her, blow her brains out if I didn’t do exactly what he told me to do. This relative has a job that made the threat credible enough that, although I suspected it was a scam, I couldn’t chance that it wasn’t. It was thirty minutes of hell, but thank God no one was hurt, and law enforcement is investigating. There’s a link at the bottom of this post to a news story about this scam.

What this post is really about is how it feels to deal with fear and vulnerability in the second half of life. In the last two to three years I’ve noticed that sometimes I’m less confident in my abilities than I used to be. I’ve thought about it, and I don’t really know why. Is it simply because I’m older? Am I being sent the message (by my kids, by the culture) that I’m less capable because I’m older? Up until Monday nothing had happened concretely that pointed to a diminishing of my faculties. I haven’t fallen and had a “I can’t get up” moment. I’ve never believed the IRS was going to issue a warrant for my arrest. But the fact that I was scammed and the fact that it scared me as much as it did, at first, left me shaken and filled with self-doubt. I felt very much like a stupid old woman. I spent the next day comfort eating and cowering in my bedroom. But on Wednesday I came out on the other side.

I realized that I haven’t gotten this far in my life to live it in fear. I have too much faith for that. One of the benefits of being in the second part of life is the sheer bulk of experience. I’ve had enough bad things happen through the years to know that I can overcome, survive and thrive. Ok, the scammer scared the sh** out of me but it’s over. I’m not going to look over my shoulder each time I leave my house. I’m not going to jump each time the phone rings fearing it’s the scammer. I refuse to allow him to become a boogie man under my bed every night when I’m alone or trying to sleep. I’ve toughed it out so far and I’m still here. If I look at myself objectively, without listening to the little voices in my head, I know I’m strong and capable. Age hasn’t changed that. And I’m old enough not to let some weasel lessen the appreciation I have for the very good life I’m blessed with. So since Wednesday I’ve been loving life in joy and gratitude. Thank you, Mr. Scammer Man.

Telephone Kidnapping

 

 

 

 

Traveling

So, I’ve been traveling this week. I’m in Boston right now where I lived for many years before moving to the DMV. I still have people here. This past week has been about celebrating birthdays, births and connecting with kin. Coming back to the place that was my home for so long but is no longer my home is challenging. There is a mixed bagful of memories here. Fortunately, after so many years, the memories evoked are more like my mind’s movies than pains in my heart. And I’ve gotta be real, the weather here is challenging too. It’s kinda cold. I’m not used to it anymore. It feels a little more like spring at home where there are buds on some trees. Not so much in Boston.

 

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Bare as they are, I still love “the triplets”.
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That’s snow. What?!

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to make a little space for writing and reading while still tending to the needs of my family. I can’t work on poetry submissions while I’m away but I can continue working on my new short story, “Perennially”. And I’ve been putting together my next blog post about some changes that come with the second half of life. Hopefully, that will come next week when I’m back home. At night when there are too many of us to all use the wifi, I practice reading as a writer which is wonderful. I borrowed Dr Apelles by David Treuer from the library before I left. It’s an engrossing work that covers territory I know little about which makes it even more interesting. As always, I’m reading my favorite WordPress bloggers.

I’m heading for home soon.  Until I get back, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from Boston.

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There is beauty.
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Had to have the New England clam “chowda”.
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Celebrating her made the trip!

Thanks for joining me on my journey.

This Is What There Is For February

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Once again, it’s the end of the month and I don’t have a thing written for this blog. I have no ideas that I want to share right now or that I haven’t shared already. (It must be a consequence of blogging for eight years.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I write almost everyday thanks to the writers Meetup group I started with a friend in November. The members are incredibly smart, talented women. They motivate me to be a better writer and I’m grateful. We read, critique or write together every Saturday morning and then I go home and write. (That is unless life gets in the way.) I’ve finished putting together a collection of poems, a few of which I’ve posted to this blog, I started a new short story and of course I’m still revising that damn novel.

Speaking of novels, I’ve also been reading. I read Small Country, an excellent first novel by Gael Faye, I read Becoming by Michelle Obama and Yeshiva Girl, another great first novel by blogger Rachel Mankowitz. And I’ve been reading some posts written by other wonderful WordPress bloggers. Thanks again Boomie Bol!

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So, because my mind is otherwise occupied at the moment, I’m going to share a piece I wrote a while ago. It’s part of a larger work I posted a poem from a few months ago titled The Only Things Certain. The poem begins the work and this bit ends it. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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“Whatcha doin’ Mom?”

“Oh hey, son. I didn’t know you were here. I’m trying to finish grading these beds. Aren’t they going to look nice? Just the way I always imagined. Come on down and help me with some muscle work, please.”

“Ok, but you know this is a total waste of time, right? It’s not even your garden anymore, technically.”

“I know baby, but I invested so much of myself in these beds and they’re so close to being terraced just right. The new owners will probably love the way they step down from the fence into the yard. Bring that big bag of soil from up there with you.”

“Or they might tear them out or just let them weed over. Here, let me move the rocks. Did you have to get the most gi-normous ones you could find? These are really heavy and it’s kinda hot our here.”

“I got them over at Hamilton Park. They’re the last picks of my rock relocation program. Ha-ha.”

“You know Mom, a little of that goes a long way. You’ve been making that same joke for years.”

“I know, son. Your father used to think it was funny every time.”

“I’m glad you brought him up. It’s not just the garden. I think you’re having a hard time with all of this. He’s gone but we’ve got the memories. This is just a house.”

“It’s not that hot out. It won’t get really hot for another month, just about the time the hostas pop. I hope they like hostas. There are so many of them in this yard. But the daisies I planted between them died…Oh, and the day lilies! I forgot! I need to thin those before I go. They’ll take over before the new people know it if I don’t. Go get my long handle weeding hoe out of the garage, will you?”

“Mom.”

“Let me do this in peace, ok? Yeah, I’m having a hard time, so kill me. Now go get the hoe. I’ll finish off the rocks.”

“Here’s the hoe. Oh my god. Mom, you’re planting herbs? For real? Are you gonna leave anything for the buyers to do? Where were you hiding those, in the basement?”

“I just want to give them ideas for the beds until the perennials come in. There’s all kinds of good stuff in the lower beds; my irises, Astilbe and Delphiniums, then later, my coneflowers, bee balm and black-eyed susans…”

“Whatever. What’s the saw for?”

“Oh, some of the lilac branches are growing into Doug and Tasha’s yard. See there? I told them I’d cut it back before I go.”

“I’ll do it. Take my shirt. I don’t care what you say, it’s hot out here. I’m not used to the heat anymore.”

“You’ve only been gone for nine months. You kids sure do shake off the past fast. I was saying that to your sister last night. She called in between her scene changes.”

“I don’t know why Doug and Tasha care since they’re moving soon too. Just these two branches, right?”

“What? Who said they’re moving? Where’d you hear that? Help me up.”

“From Doug. I saw him in the driveway before I came back here. He said they’re moving to Houston to be near her family because of the new baby. I guess they didn’t tell you.”

“Nope, I had no idea they were planning to leave. That makes me sad.”

“Why? You won’t even be here!”

“Because baby, the neighborhood that I know, where I brought you all up, isn’t going to be the same. It’s a nice neighborhood with nice families. We were here a long time. I just think it’s so sad.”

“Mom, babies get born so parents move, flowers fade and new flowers replace them. And Mom, loved ones pass away. Things change. C’mon, I’ll grab the soil and let’s get this finished.”

#

The Only Things Certain ©2015 Kat Tennermann