Transformations: A response


My friend Amy gave birth to her fifth child at the age of 41. This baby has brought so much joy.   I find myself thinking of the years of sacrifice it takes to get a newborn off to kindergarten.  I remember the demands of being fully responsible for keeping another human being alive for those years and I feel exhausted just thinking about it.  I love being a mother and would not trade the experience for anything but thinking about doing it again at my age makes me tired.  It won’t happen.  It’s not physically possible since my hysterectomy and that’s ok.

Amy’s friend Molly just had her first child.  She’s young and new to the experience bringing a fresh perspective.  I see myself in a new role as I read their blog Life in Tandem.  I am the soon-to-be empty nester, the crone to their maiden and mother.  I watch as all the children I’ve known since they were babies move into adulthood.  Skinny, squirrely boys sprout muscles and real facial hair.  Awkward, giggling, gangly girls suddenly curve into graceful knowing creatures.  It’s in the conversations too.  In a place where before a parent had to prompt a one word greeting or response, these changelings share their opinions in detailed and even eloquent ways.  They get the jokes.  They share.

I’m looking forward to my new role with these children of mine.  I am anxious to discover what world they are creating and learn how I fit in it.  Day by day I turn loose a little bit more.  Soon I’ll hand over the reins entirely and see where they take me.

To read Life in Tandem visit

Deconstructing a Good Hair Day

Remember the old Scared Straight program where men in incarceration told horror stories to troubled teens to try to scare them into taking a better path?   Well, I feel like I’ve been there, but instead of hardened convicted criminals, my mentor was of all people, the dentist.

My day started with a dentist appointment for my bi-annual cleaning.  Not a big deal, just a check up.  The hygienist was kind and actually complemented my hair color on the way to the chair.  I only see this woman twice a year and she noticed my hair was different; my husband could take a lesson from her in the powers of observation.

So there I am feeling all confident about my hair as she explains that before my cleaning there will be x-rays, gum mapping, and a cancer screening.  The x-rays go off without a hitch and then she proceeds with the gum mapping which consists of stabbing my gums with a sharp instrument and noting whether I bleed or not.  Fun!

This friendly dental hygienist smiles the whole time she explains to me in a very chatty, we are just the best of friends, kind of way that my flossing seems to have been under par and that “at my age” I’m going to have to step it up a bit.  She also notes that I probably should have gone ahead and had that filling the doctor ordered last year even though we had already maxed out my insurance because now it’s a crater that could require a root canal at any minute.  She continues to smile (I would too if I got free dental care) as she explains that by not getting that filling last year, bacteria was just running amuck in my mouth reeking havoc everywhere.

As if choreographed in advance, the dentist walks in at this moment and asks to see my x-rays.  The scene plays out underscored by Bad Company from the overhead speakers which the sweet little dental assistant notes, “has been playing ‘the oldies’ all day.”

Turns out I need about $4000.00 worth of dental work which the dentist assures me is not my fault.  He pats me on the shoulder and in a very soothing voice tells me, “it’s just what happens as we get older.”

The bright-eyed hygienist polishes up my dull aging teeth, then gives me a serious look over her mask as she explains how important it is to take care of these dental problems as soon as possible to avoid more damage.  She shows me literature about a loan program for mortgaging my mouth and sends me on my way with a new toothbrush and a mini-pack of floss.  I pass the dentist on my way out and he gives me the little pointing-a-gun gesture as he winks.  “See you soon,” he says.  And I realize, it doesn’t matter how good my hair looks when apparently my teeth are rotting out of my head.  Excuse me, I need to go floss.

Stranger’s Story

The rubber stamp display took up one whole aisle at Hobby Lobby.  Rows and rows of wooden blocks backed with red rubber for all occasions imaginable.  As I stood there contemplating the serif versus sans-serif alphabet collections I was joined by another shopper.  A small woman in jeans and a black canvas jacket who aligned herself with the inspirational quotes section of the display.

I took a step further down the aisle to avoid unnecessary pleasantries.  I had a lot to do this day and discussing “stamping” with another shopper was not on my list.  She mirrored my step, maintaining our distance and then she sighed heavily from deep down inside.

“OK,” I thought, “this one is clearly trying to engage me in conversation.”  Still, I resisted by saying nothing and squatting down to closely inspect the contents of the lower shelf.  She took another step toward me and touching a delicate floral stamp she spoke.

“Hmmm,” she said.  “There sure are a lot of stamps.”

“Yes. There are,” I replied without making eye contact.

“So, are you a stamper?” she asked taking two slow scissor-steps in my direction.

I did a mental eye roll and gave in.  I faced this small woman and noticed her black coat was worn and that her short choppy brown hair was uncombed.

“Not really,” I said.  “I’m working on a project and need to get an alphabet set.”

And then I did it. There was no turning back.  I completely engaged and asked her a question.

“You must like to stamp then?” I asked.

“Yes, I do,” she said.  “I like to stamp them on that thick paper and then trace over them with a black marker and color them in like a coloring book page.”  She hugged herself and smiled as she thought about her artwork.

“Oh, ok ,” I thought to myself.  “There’s something a little off with this one so just be polite and go about your business. “

She stepped away to touch a stamp with a cartoon deer and then said over her shoulder, “these are nice.”  I nodded with a polite smile and then she turned and walked right up to me face-to-face.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 5 months now, you know.”  She looked at me expectantly and for a beat I didn’t know what to do.

“That’s so great!” I said with a smile.  “Congratulations.  Good for you.”

And then she started to confess…three or four cases of beer a week and the beer lead to drugs.  There was a boyfriend.  “There always is,” I thought. He had anger management issues and she had to get a restraining order…

Then I noticed how her left eye tended to wander up to the ceiling and off to the left as she talked.  I wondered if the boyfriend had practiced his anger management issues on that side of her head a time or two before the restraining order.

She told me the whole story.  Right there in the rubber stamp aisle of Hobby Lobby.  I interjected here and there with a “good for you” and a “well, it sounds like you are on the right track.”   She told me that she figured out the beer caused her to have trouble with the law.  That when she drank beer she got mouthy with the officers.   The last time the cops came to her boyfriend’s place she kept quiet and stayed out of trouble.  She hadn’t been drinking that day.   So, that’s why she wasn’t going to drink a beer today.  I asked her if she was hooked up with a twelve step program and she said, “I go to meetings, sometimes.”

And then she was done.  Her story was told so she smiled at me and shrugged.  So, I held out my hand and said, “It was so nice to meet you.”

“I’m Molly,” she said.

“Good luck to you, Molly,” I replied.  And she walked off.  No rubber stamp, no thick paper, nothing.  She left the store empty handed, her story told.

A Day of Dusk and then Thanksgiving

I can’t seem to recover from the upper respiratory thing I got a few weeks ago.  The nasty symptoms are gone but I am exhausted all the time.  I could just crawl into bed and do nothing all day which is not like me at all.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I should be up to my armpits in chopping and dicing right now but I’m just not feeling it.

It doesn’t help that I haven’t seen the sun for days.  Jacob meets the bus each morning in the pitch black of night thanks to daylight savings time.  I’ve been packing Al’s lunch and drinking my first cup of coffee in the gloom of “cloudy with a chance of showers” for days.  At least when it’s raining, I get the soothing clatter of drops against the window pane.  Today, it’s just perpetual dusk and my brain can’t seem to get past it.

I should be thankful for the shadows in my house.  They mask the dust and the gloomy windows hide nose and finger prints.  I like the color gray but not when it’s the only color to see.  I feel like a person in the movie Pleasantville before someone takes a step past the city limits sign: trapped, stuck, hollow and uninspired.

I worry my chickens will get jungle rot.  I put down a fresh bale of straw on Monday and it’s already mucky from the full day of rain we got yesterday.  The grain they didn’t eat right away turns to mush and I can’t stand the yeasty smell when I dump it out to refresh. says tomorrow will be mostly clear.  It shows a picture of a big bright cartoon sun with a wispy little cloud covering the lower left quadrant.  Thanksgiving day might see the sun.  It will be different this year.  Traditions have been changing over the past few years.  Kids grow up and some move away, marriages end and grandparents grow older.  We are all spread out and have to choose what to do with this one special day.

Tomorrow, I will get to see the sun.   And as I count my blessings in its bright light, I might notice a fingerprint I missed on the glass and that wispy cloud might make an appearance or two, but there will be family around and that might be just what the doctor ordered.

Just Silly

Uninspired for the second day, I turned to my Writer’s Toolbox for a writing prompt.  I was given the first sentence, the twist and the final phrase.  Here is where all that took me:

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink.  From the scarf around my neck, all the way down to the polish on my toenails, I had chosen wrongly, as usual.

The crowd was a field of black and white.  Men in black tuxedos, women in black satin or velvet and some in white chiffon, all turned to look as I entered the room.  I know something classical was playing in the room, but what I heard in my head was the abrupt sound of a needle scratching a record from the center all the way to the rim.

Across the room, I saw him.  Tall and with his black hair neatly combed, I recognized him by the white rose in his lapel.  You would have thought he might have clued me in when I mention he could recognize me by my pink dress.  Oh well, I decided, the only solution was to seduce him so he would forget about my atrocious fashion faux pas.  Anyway, who sets up a blind date in a room full of men wearing the same tux?

I floated across the terrazzo tile floor as a black and white sea parted before me.  “Don’t trip, don’t trip,” was the mantra running through my head.  I looked up into his deep blue eyes,

“Hello, ” I said. “I’m Lyla.”

“I know,” he said with a smile.

Or was it a smirk?

“I’m Mark, and might I say, you are definitely the most colorful woman in the room.”

“Uh yeah,” I said with a roll of my eyes, ” I guess I didn’t get the memo.”

“Well, I kind of like being the guy with the most colorful woman in the room.”

“Oh,” I replied and then spent some time staring at my shoes.

“Shall we dance?” he asked as he took my hand and led me to the dance floor.

The rest of the night was a blur.  Seriously, I lost a contact on the dance floor and things were blurry all night.  But, we danced and talked and the pinkest girl in the room had a great time.  We shared a cab home and in one brave moment, I invited Mark up to my place for one last drink.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I said, as I twirled into the kitchen for a bottle of wine.  I assembled the necessary glasses and wine opener and then peeked back around the corner into the living room to make sure he hadn’t escaped.  There he sat on the sofa in his white button down shirt and loosened black tie.  He had respectfully left his shoes at the door and then I knew it was meant to be.  The most colorful girl in the room met her perfect match, the handsome blind date with a hole in his sock.

Call of Duty, NOT

Imagine the phone rings and it’s the phone call of all phone calls.  It’s the call that makes your day, your week, your year.  Who would be on the other end of that line?

My phone rang last night after dinner and the caller ID said it was my older son calling from college.  My first thought was, “what does he need me to bring him, now?”  My second thought was, “oh, no, something’s wrong.”

So with trepidation, I answered the phone.




“Guess what?  I am having the greatest day!”

So there you have it, my phone call of all phone calls.  My 18-year-old son was having a great day and he called home to talk about it.  I really can’t imagine anything better than that.

All those time-outs, and sleepless nights, and demands that he at least taste the food before he refuse to eat it had paid off.  Despite the nights spent at the kitchen table over homework with me yelling, Sit up in your chair!  Now pay attention!” and that year he told me he hated me and I was the worst mother in the world, my son wanted to share good news with me.

With passion in his voice, he told me of professors he had met that day and brainstorming that had occurred.  He had a plan for the next
four years and he was inspired.  We talked until he was all the way across campus and in front of his dorm.  We said our good-byes and I sat for a moment stunned.

I don’t think I would have been any more excited if the President himself had been on the line.  My son is 18 years old.  He has dreams and goals.  He is inspired.  And when he wants to share good news, he calls his mom.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

NaNoWriMo Modified

There is no way I am ready to take on the challenge of attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 consecutive days, but the first day of November (also the first day of NaNoWriMo) seems like a good day to set a goal.

My plan is to write every day for 30 days. I recently downloaded the IDoneThis app for my phone, as recommended by Patti Digh, so I’ve written at least one sentence about my day for most days over the past two weeks. It’s not very creative, but it’s an exercise in accountability, I guess.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll be traveling out-of-state at least twice, attending a wedding, a high school play, and a choir concert. I’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner and decorating for Christmas. All are excellent excuses for why I won’t have time to write! My goal…navigate the obstacles.

Waning Moon at the OK Corral

Look who's sleeping now.

It’s four a.m. and though I’m not really awake, I’m not really asleep either.  There is something outside nagging my senses but it’s not yet enough to pull me from the sheets.

It’s five a.m.; I am startled awake by a deep, growling, “Woof!” and scratching at my bedroom door.  Roam, my gentle giant, is telling me I need to intervene in the nonsense going on in the back yard.  There it is… the nagging sound that’s been haunting my sleep for the last hour. 

Pig-pig, our younger dog is under the deck with some creature that is terrified out of its mind.  Pig has been barking for the last hour at a consistent rate and her voice sounds hoarse.  (Pig-pig is not her real name but it’s what we call her due to the constant snorting sound she makes.)  Roam can hardly contain himself until I get the door open so he can investigate.  I holler at Pig to quit it and she just keeps barking.  It’s an alarming, steady bark and she doesn’t even hesitate at the sound of my voice.  So, I follow Roam around the side of the house and hear a small sound under the relentless barking.  Pig has something cornered under the deck and she’s not going to let up until it has a stroke or dies of a heart attack.  I can’t identify the pitiful creature by the tiny terrified sound it’s making but I sympathize with it. 

I can’t see what’s going on under the deck and so my crazy lady instincts kick in.  I storm into the kitchen, grab the broom and stomp out onto the deck.  In my pajamas, with my hair all askew, at 5 o’clock in the morning, I start pounding the deck floor with my broom and hollering at Pig to cut-it-out.

Boom, Boom, Boom.

“Pig-pig, stop it!  Now, get in the house!”

“Woof, Woof, Woof!”

Boom, Boom, Boom.

“Pig!  I said now!  Get in the house!”

“Woof, Woof, Woof!”

Boom, Boom, Boom.

At this point, Roam has lost interest and wants to go back to bed.  I’m starting to sweat and just want the barking to end.  I start thinking about how these things always happen when my husband is out-of-town and then I lose my mind, a little.  I rap the broom on the deck floor once more and scream in my crazy lady voice, “Piiiiiiigggg! Stop it!”  And, she stops.  “Get out here,” I scream, pointing to deck by my feet.  And, she comes.  “Now get in the house,” I say through clenched teeth.  She lowers her head and blinks her eyes to avoid looking at me.  She starts toward the door and just before she gets to me, she makes a quick dart back toward the edge of the deck.  “Pig! NO!” the crazy lady yells.  Giving in, Pig-pig goes through the doorway, panting.

It’s 5:10 a.m., Roam is asleep, Pig-pig needs a drink of water, and I am


A recipe for a rainy day.

Jerri’s Loaded Cheesy Potato Soup

I’m not really a measuring kind of cook which is why my baked goods usually fail.  But this is a tried and true recipe for a rainy afternoon. I’ll guess as to the measurements of ingredients.  I usually just dump a bunch of stuff in a pot and stir.

Loaded Cheesy Potato Soup
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 large celery stalks, diced
5 scallions sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups skim milk
1/2 lb. bacon, fried and chopped
1 cup diced fresh gouda cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Coat bottom of stock pot with olive oil.  Add potatoes, carrots, celery, white ends of sliced scallions, and butter.  Saute’ until potatoes start to soften.  Stir in flour then add milk and chicken broth.  Simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.  Add cheese and stir until melted.  Add bacon and green scallions, season and serve.
For  Suzy, Cheryl, and Sharon.

Just Whistle

Just when life seems to be humming along and we start to believe in the myth that we’ve got it all under control, a gap opens up in the veil between reality and our perception of our world. I’m starting to get the feeling that God is trying to tell me something lately because, I’ve been spotting the gaps a lot more frequently.  It appears that I don’t always get a choice about which direction the road is going to go.

It’s a warm Spring Sunday.  By mid-day, the morning breeze has revved up to a 40 mph gust, blowing winter’s waste all over the yard.  After planting a tray of purple and yellow pansies and getting an eye-full of vermiculite in the process, thanks to the wind, I head to the potting shed to put away my favorite shovel.  I notice as I step over the threshold in my black rubber boots that the shed seems pressurized.  An absent window pane on the west wall is letting the gale blow through.  I step in, toss my kid-sized shovel into the barrel full of sand, and bend down to pick up the tin pail I use to feed the chickens.  Bang!  The door slams shut and the shed feels full of pressure again.

I fill the tin pail with ground corn, scratch grain (seeds), and a sprinkling of oyster shells then cross the room to open the potting shed door.  It won’t open.  The door frame, outside the shed has a swing-latch for a pad lock bolted to the side.  The shed door has an eye bolted there to receive the latch.  The harsh wind that blew the door shut with such force has caused the latch to engage.  I am locked in the shed. 

Now it’s Sunday, my family is home, so my first act is to bang on the door and yell, “Hey, somebody help me, I’m locked in the shed.”  The wind is still gusting at over 40 mph, no one can hear me.  I remember, my oldest son is in his room working on a painting for his senior concentration.  My youngest is in the living room watching cartoons and writing an essay on his laptop with his iPod plugged into his ears.  I’m pretty sure my husband is in the yard somewhere so I give a little prayer of thanks that it’s not Monday when the kids would be in school, my husband at work and I would be home alone.

 I grab the chipped, black ceramic doorknob and rattle the door long and hard enough that a box of seed packets falls off the adjacent shelf and packets scatter all across the floor.  “Ok, this is getting me nowhere,” I think to myself.  The wind is whipping through the ancient Silver Maples in our yard, and any sound I make will surely get lost in the roar.  So I put my fingers to my tongue and make the loudest sound I know how to make.  I whistle.  Again and again until I’m out of breath I blow a screech across my teeth like I’ve heard my Dad do a million times when he calls his hunting dogs home.  I rattle the door a few more times and yell out, “Hey!” until my voice cracks and then I whistle again.  It’s clear and piercing and accidentally timed to a lull in the wind.  “I hear ya!” my husband hollers from across the drive, “I’m coming!”  I rattle the door one more time for good measure and my hero saves the day.  I’m free, and he’s laughing at me.

 Boy, it’s a good thing for Sara G. who sat next to me in 7th grade during a middle-school volleyball game.  She taught me how to whistle through my fingers during that game and I’ve used the skill many times to call kids back from the creek or my husband in for dinner.  Little did we know back then, I’d need to whistle for my freedom one day.  But apparently, God and my husband have the same sense of humor and I’m not really in control of much at all.