Of sadness and happiness and being oh so very lucky…

Me and Sandy at a McDonald family gathering, early 90’s.

Sometimes you can get a text message that makes your whole day. Sometimes the message breaks your heart. Sometimes…all of the above.

I got the photo to the right during a class this morning, and as soon as I saw that it was from one of my favorite cousins, Margaret, I had an idea of what it was. I opened the message and my breath caught in my throat.

There is so much in this photo to unpack, and I’m only just scratching the surface, but here goes. On the surface, this is a picture of me and my cousin Sandy who left us last month due to a degenerative muscle disease that he has had for many years. Most of the time my husband knew him, Sandy used a wheelchair. I honestly can’t put a date on the last time he was independently mobile like he is in this photo. Sandy and I…I don’t know how to even begin to describe our relationship, and if I spend too much time trying this post will be over before it begins and I will have to walk away and compose myself. There we are, though, pouring over what I’m sure is either photos from an Amy Grant concert or Camp Glisson, just as we always did at the quarterly McDonald family gatherings that I attended every three months of every year of my life until I went to live in England. How many extended families see each other THAT much? My mother’s people are close, y’all. Close.

My father’s family, the Allens, usually saw each other at Christmas and very often my Aunt Inez (the one of his four sisters that was the closest to my father and was very much a second mother for me and Susan) would join us when we hosted the McDonalds – but the rest of my paternal extended family just wasn’t as close in the same way, I suppose?

The second thing I noticed in this photo happened as I was trying to identify when it was taken. When you have a get together EVERY three months there are a lot of possibilities. First thing I noticed is that it is not Christmas. How do I know that? Two things:

  • My dad, who is in the background holding a child, is not wearing anything red, green, or otherwise both in a plaid. The man is nothing if not consistent. Also, I am not wearing shoes. Leaving aside the jokes about being born and raised in the Southern United States, I would have had shoes on in December. It really does get cold in Georgia, I promise.
  • There are no presents or wrapping paper anywhere in the photo. One thing I remember clearly about the number of McDonald Family Christmases that my parents hosted was that there was always a mountain of wrapping paper for me and Susan to clean up when it was over. 

Next, I had to confirm that it was indeed at one of the 8 parsonages where I lived growing up. I’m guessing from the curtain and the photo behind Sandy’s head this was taken when Mom and Dad were in Commerce. The dish in my hand is one of a collection that had a rooster right in the middle of the plates and bowls that my parents had. I’m sure there is nothing but whipped cream in it, either.

Further, once I enhanced the photo a little I could see that the necklace I’m wearing is most likely my Sigma Beta Sigma necklace that I wore my freshman and sophomore years of college. I stopped wearing it when I got to Maryville in 1991 because MC did not have social greek organizations and I was 19 and all about BLENDING IN so the necklace stayed at home with my folks.

We are narrowed down now to somewhere between August of 1989 and June of 1991, and I’m leaning toward the spring gathering in 1991. My hair was short, but not yet the gorgeous Molly Ringwald inspired orange that I dyed it shortly before graduation in June of 1991. THAT IS MY NATURAL HAIR COLOR, PEOPLE. Also, please note the Artist-Wanna-Be pose that I’m striking in that chair. Back then I was in theatre and was going to be an actor, and since Sandy had been involved in theatre and performing, it was an easy match.

So, if this is around March of 1991, I was 19 and a half and Sandy was 28. We were the two edges of the gap in age for our McDonald cousins. Susan was the youngest (she is 4.5 years younger than I am) and Havelyn (not pictured) was the oldest. There were 7 of us and we ranged in age (at the time of this photo) from 14 to…I don’t know, Havelyn might have been in her 40s then? Susan tended to be more into playing with our second cousins who were all younger than she, and I desperately wanted to be cool like my older cousins. Sandy never treated me like anything less than an equal, even with the nine-year age gap. He came to visit me when I was at Young Harris and he wrote a song for me afterward. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I no longer have the cassette that he gave me that had that song on it.

So while this photo initially brought tears to my eyes because I miss him – I miss this kind of family, this kind of gathering where we are all happy and enjoying each other’s company and not worrying over ill health or missing the latest family member to leave us… I am happy in those memories in a way I haven’t been lately. I’ve put Amy Grant back in my Spotify for Sandy, to remember how he took me and Susan to see her in Atlanta at the Omni. I’m going to the Highland Games and repping Clan Donald, even though I’ve only gotten my own genealogy back to the ancestor that left Scotland for America.

I said to Susan today that we were so very lucky to grow up in this family, filled with love, always visiting and keeping in touch. In the world today where so many people have so little and families aren’t always able to see each other as often as they would prefer, I can say with pride that I did not have back then that I was raised part of the McDonald family (or clan, as my Uncle Lewis used to call us). Raised up in love.

For BIMS

Sandy and Margaret McDonald

My friend, I think of you daily
Because I care and it’s true
That though we’ve shared a lot together
It’s very rare that I see you

And I want you to know that God loves you
And that I love you too
And that even if we’re hardly ever near
I’m talking to Him about you

And I’ll be praying for you every morning
As I start off the day with the Lord
And I’ll be praying that you’re walking with Jesus
And abiding in His Word

I don’t know when I’ll see you again
A month, a year, or maybe more
But if your heart belongs to the Savior
I’ll see you in the sky if not before.

And I want you to know that God loves you
And that I love you too
And that even if we’re hardly ever near
I’m talking to Him about you

And I’ll be praying for you every morning
As I start off the day with the Lord
And I’ll be praying that you’re walking with Jesus
And abiding in His Word

Love you so much, my cousin Sandy, my hero. Hug your sisters and your sweet mother for me. I will hug Margaret and the rest of your family for you.

Of Nanos and Bad Dreams and too much Hazelnut Latte

Yep, I’m at it again.  I can’t turn down a NaNoWriMo challenge, hard as I (and the universe this time, apparently) try.  One week before it was due to start (Camp Nano this time), the monitor in my beloved little laptop died.  Thankfully all my manuscripts are on Google Drive and most of my photos and other important things are stored here and there online, but it took us until the following Wednesday to secure a new laptop for me.

Got that done and dusted and started in on what would be a departure for me…a mystery novel.  Suspense!  Corpses!  Police Tape!  I was off and running and did about 500 words at the end of what was really day two.  I was on FIRE.

That fire burned out faster than a charcoal grill with the top up.  By day four I was hating my characters and where I was heading, so I didn’t write anything at all on days 5 and 6, hoping that a new idea would magically appear in my mind.  It did not.

But after some soul searching and some time spent with Bryn’s paws in my mouth, her claws in my hair, and her face snuggled up to mine, wet beard dripping down my neck (all of you that have met her and said “I’ve always wanted a wolfhound!” – that was for you)…an idea started brewing, and it was right back in the wheelhouse where I’ve hung curtains and made myself at home: fantasy.  Werewolves this time, I think.  I say I think because I’m not sure yet…my process (much to the annoyance of EVERYONE else I know that writes) is that the characters have to tell me where they are going and what they are doing.  I start with a general idea of what I want the story to be but if someone gets killed off I’m just as surprised as the characters and the readers! Seriously. I know, it’s probably some sort of mental illness.

Along those lines, I had dreams last night that I couldn’t keep hold of that would have been fantastic filler for the Nano, but those all devolved into what is a pattern for me…the anxiety dream.  This time the whateveritis that is causing me stress was masquerading as aliens and the thingImustdothatIcan’t was rescue my loved ones from being taken.  The only two I managed to save were my sister and my niece, but we ended up with a long time friend of mine, Robby (from Ramblings From the Tide) who was all “It’s cool man,” in his best impression of The Dude (which I’m not sure is really an impression, sometimes, as much as it is really him?) and these two alien skinjobs (yeah, I watch Battlestar Galactica, so?) who were holding us hostage.

Now I don’t mean they were of the Lucy Lawless or Michael Trucco variety skinjob.  No, these are my geeky dreams…they looked more like Breckin Meyer from Clueless.  I think one was actually named Travis, now that I think about it.  Anyway, moving on…

I don’t know if we saved the earth from aliens.  My alarm went off just as Robby was whispering his Great Plan to us, whispering because the aliens and my niece Joy had fallen asleep and my sister was threatening us with death if we woke her up.  Why all the anxiety?  Well, that brings me to the third point of my post… hazelnut latte.

I don’t really have all that much to say about it other than I’ve had too much lately, it’s caffeinated, and I had to have a third point because I am the daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and niece of United Methodist ministers and that sort of structure wears off.

So now that I’ve wasted all this time not noveling, it’s time to grab my lunch and crack open the other laptop and get that word count up.  Or just play bubble safari.  Who knows.

Sandy Paws and other Peaches

Clowny’s paw print, Jekyll

It always amazes me how Sandy Paws is up on me and then is over so fast.  I spend all year waiting, anxiously, to see a group of people that in some ways are closer to me than my own family…and like a flash, I blink and I’m on my way back home.

This year’s get together was no different.  My Mister and I rented a minivan (go on, get that out of your system, me in a minivan) and headed down to Jekyll Island with Clown and Daisy.  Those two rode in STYLE…I was even more irritated than normal that the Mister hasn’t gotten his SCDL yet because it would have been HEAVEN to crawl back there on the gooshy dog beds and nap all the way to Georgia’s Golden Coast.

The hotel where we stayed was okay…older, and definitely not the posh affair of the last two SP events, but homey, in a way.  What was NOT cool was vending from hotel rooms rather than in a large vendor hall as we’ve done in the past.  You didn’t get to see anyone if you were vending, other than those you were staying with or your vending partners.  I was lucky enough to glom (is that a word?) onto Janet Schaffer of Casual Bling and Suzie Collins of Skinnyhound Designs so that I could sell my books.  I sold seven, which is a record for a greyhound event.

Sandy Paws started out as a means to an end for me, and remains so.  I didn’t go initially because I wanted to attend an organized gathering with workshops or because I had a stack of books to hock.  I went because I had preadopted an amazing creature called Daisy (FTH Oopsie Daisy) and was now a part of the Follow That Hound family.  So changes to the venue or schedule, ice cream socials and over-priced buffet meals really aren’t a factor to me when I think of Sandy Paws.  The only thing that I do, really, that has anything to do with the event, is help sponsor the creation of crowns for the greyhounds named King and Queen of SP (even though my own hounds have never even been nominated…not even after Daisy went to SP 2012 a mere 5 days after a transatlantic flight-turned-nightmare).

Anne and I pay to have someone make crowns that fit the theme of the gathering, and this year was no different…except that prior to this year’s SP someone in the organizing group got her pants in a bunch over a design for a Tshirt that the aforementioned Suzie made…for us, the FTH family…because she wanted EVERYONE to know that it was NOT an official SP13 shirt.

Well, duh.  Suzie didn’t make it for everyone.  Not everyone is a Peach.  🙂  Not everyone is part of the FTH family. But the WAY that the person made it clear to anyone that was listening was just over the top and plain rude, really.  You would think that it would be common sense not to make an enemy of a very popular vendor, but apparently it wasn’t.

So jump ahead now to the crowning of the King and Queen at SP13.  Anne and I are there, she has the crowns and I have the bling that Janet made for the winners.  The person with the twisted pants approached us and took the lot, heading up to the front of the room to get things started.  We didn’t think anything about it until we heard HER announcing the King.

Problem…part of our sponsorship of the crowns and bling means that we get to present them to the winners. It’s a neat way for us to be a part of the gathering and to get to meet the winners…or, like at SP12, crown one of our own as King when Lightning (FTH Lightning) won.  Well, because Anne is a superhero, she charged down to the front with me, Mighty Mouse, trailing behind her to find out what was going on.  We were offered the chance to announce the Queen, but she turned it down, pulling a victory lap back to her table, and I continued on Anne AutoFollow back to the back.

Y’all…I don’t have time for grownups that act like children, I really don’t.  Not during a swiftly moving weekend with people that I adore that I only get to see once a year.  To the organization’s credit, a few of their members approached us afterward and apologized, but you see, the damage was done.  Once again, I’m not “in the know,” or a part of the core crowd…and finally, after over a decade of doing greyhound adoption and hanging out with greyhound people…that’s okay.  I don’t need it, or as my perfect niece Joy says, “I can’t use it.”

Keep the drama.  I love my Peaches, I know what is important in my life, and I’m off to celebrate it.  GEM and Mountain Hounds ahoy!

What a long strange…year…it’s about to be.

Starry, Starry Blackberry Wallpaper

I’m not going to do my standard “Year in Review” post today.  I’m also not going to list resolutions for the new year that I will certainly break.  What I am going to do is tell you my plans for the year, so that this time 2014 I can look at this post again and see how close I got to getting it all right.

A short disclaimer:  This optimism is destined not to last, so enjoy it while it is here.  I’m sure I’ll be back to my regular emo ray of sunshine self very, very soon.

This year is going to be very lucky for me and mine.  We have a house.  We will have a fence and a deck soon.  Our basement floor will return to normal.  We will get all our boxes from the overseas move unpacked before summer.  We will have guests from the UK and the US and Canada and wherever else we have friends to come stay with us. I will be having a Eurovision finals party at my house in May. Daisy and Clown will maintain, healthy and happy, as they are today.

Our family will grow.  We’ve gotten downright scientific about this whole process, and while we will definitely increase the canine population of the house with a larger and fuzzier newcomer, I am confident that we will also add to our family of humans.

I will get something published.  In the past, I have resolved to “make part of my living with my writing” and I’ve done that. Daisy’s book and my others are still available on Lulu.com. This year, however, is when that takes a step up.  This is the year that all my nano-noveling and other pecking at my keyboard will be shared with the world, as well as the year that I truly start to believe that I have a story to tell that people want to read.

I will be doing more things in the name of self-care.  There will be yoga and meditation to quiet my mind as well as a dedicated effort to start running again while my knees will still allow me to do so.

There will be travel.  Watch this space, as I will be filling all five or six of you in on my travels in a more timely manner than I have in the past.  Along those lines, and in combination with the above publishing work, there will be a photo book in the works of our honeymoon trip.  We are fairly decent photogs, me and my Mister, and I want to share the incredible experience we had with others.

I am going to be a better listener and friend, and will spend more time doing and less time talking about doing.  Of course, this blog doesn’t count…

Finally, I’m going to look back on this post on 1 Jan 2014 and smile at all I’ve accomplished this year.  Happy New Year, Lettuce Readers.  Live long and prosper, and all that jazz.