The girls finally finished their dresses just in time for the competition. We're all happy. It's been a long six months and a long week doing all the last minute details. Frustration...aggravation...Arielle decided she will never sew again. She says that every year.
Today was the big day. The girls put on their fabulous dresses and waited for the judging. I was a "timer" making sure each participant was in front of the judges exactly 3 minutes. In that time the judges ask questions about the outfit and the girls tell about their sewing experience making it. Once that was over the girls enjoyed workshops doing crafts. Families arrived (our family was well represented) and the show began! All the senior girls (over 13) modeled their outfits and then all the junior girls and then the first year girls, which included my granddaughter Mattie. The little girls only made tote bags and pillowcases, but they had their moment of glory on the stage.
The winners were announced! Arielle qualifies to compete at the state level again! And Liana and Julia won in the junior division!
I am amazed at Fred's recovery from his hand injury. He took a couple of pain pills the first day but said they made him nauseous, so he decided not to take any more. I was apprehensive about the first dressing change, but there was no redness or swelling--just black bruising and long rows of stitches. Yesterday he saw a hand specialist. Bone infection, loss of use of his fingers, and nerve damage are the big concerns.
The doctor said he is healing just fine. He explained to Fred that the only way NOT to have nerve damage to your fingers is to cut them exactly how Fred did it--lengthwise down the center, avoiding the nerves along the sides. And Fred came millimeters away from cutting his tendon in the most damaged finger. So overall, the accident was a miracle. We don't know why it happened (apart from the fact that hedge clippers have sharp blades!) but we know who watched out for him that morning. We are thankful to God that all is well.
Maybe Fred will be more careful...
Since we've been married Fred has had six visits to the ER and three surgeries. And the surgeries came about from accidents. There is also another hand injury when he should have had stitches and wouldn't go to the doctor. We live in anticipation of the next event. It's a family joke, but really not so funny. I pray for Fred every day.
I was at 4-H with the girls and got a phone call on my cell. It was Fred. He said, "Don't panic." So I knew it was bad news.
When I left in the morning Fred had plans to trim the hedges with his new gasoline-powered clippers. The hedges are about 7 feet tall and he has to stand on a ladder to cut them. Damien used to do it for us, but he is busy now with a baby. I was uneasy about Fred doing this work when we wouldn't be home, but he doesn't listen to my concerns. He said he'd have his cell phone, don't worry.
So while I am panicking on the phone, Fred says he cut himself and he is on the way to the ER with our neighbor driving him. I tell him I am coming. The 4-H teachers jump into action, offering to take care of the girls, drive them home, whatever I needed. I leave the girls in their care and head out.
Fred has already been taken back when I get there and blood is everywhere. One of our hand towels is soaked with it. His whole hand is a mass of red, the drying blood gluing his fingers together. He has blood on his clothes and on his arms. A jolly nurse is making jokes while she cleans him up. Once his hand is clean, Fred is surprised to see he cut two fingers, not just one as he thought before. They are both cut lengthwise down the center. I guess that's better. If the cut had been crosswise, he would have lost his fingers. Even so, one of them is cut far enough down he has sliced the bone in half. Fred says he is going to have forked fingers.
After several hours at the ER, Fred is stitched up, bandaged up and sent home with a prescription for an antibiotic and the name of a hand specialist to see next week. We are grateful. This could have been so much worse.
What are we going to do with these hedges now? I forgot to say how Fred did this. He was cutting across the top and saw a bird nest with five tiny birds looking up at him. He jerked the saw blade away to keep from hurting them. That put him off balance and he reached out to steady himself--and sliced his fingers.
Father's Day just passed and I've been reading tributes to fathers on Facebook. How wonderful that some people have had good fathers. Years ago I was watching a soccer game along with many other parents. A father beside me was holding his little daughter in his arms and I could see the deep love and affection he had for her. Tears sprang to my eyes with longing and regret. I never had that kind of fatherly love. I won't rehash all my father issues, but once again, I've been thinking of fathers. For two of my sons, this was their first Father's Day!
When I became a Christian, one of the first verses I memorized was John 1:12: "But to all who received him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." Was I really a child of God? God was my Father? What did that mean? I didn't know how to trust and depend on a father.
A bad father isn't trustworthy. He could be kind one day and cruel the next. I've read that children that grow up in a home with that kind of uncertainty live tortured lives because they never know what to expect. A bad father doesn't care about his children's needs; he is self-centered. He neglects his children. He is distant, withholding love. He is a hard disciplinarian, sometimes using physical violence or words that hurt just as badly. Bad fathers invoke fear, distrust, disgust, and hatred. A child's response is to flee. That's just what I did at age 18.
I knew God was a good father but I thought he was a punishing father. I could never live up to his expectations and I lived in self-condemnation for many years. That is still an issue I struggle with at times. I couldn't understand unconditional love. How can God the Father still love me when I did this and this and this? I could fill in the blanks with a list of sins. Why hasn't God given up on me? Why does he continue to forgive and to love and to bless me? I don't deserve it.
From the examples of my husband, my brothers, and my own sons I have learned what a good father looks like. He is faithful and consistent with his children. They know what to expect. He loves always and always forgives. He is generous, sacrificing his own needs for those of his children. He lavishes love on them with his strong arms and encouraging words. Yes, there is discipline, but discipline to train, to show right from wrong. But it is not harsh and it hurts the father to give it. A good father protects with his life and provides everything the children need. They respond with repentance for wrongdoing, gratitude, respect and obedience. They long for his presence. My girls are always saying, "When is Dad coming home?" They miss him when he isn't here.
I realize my husband portrays unconditional love, not just to his children but to me all the time too. I often hurt him with harsh words. I know I must disappoint him and discourage him at times. But like God the Father, he continues to forgive, and to love, and to bless me. Fred has taught me to accept the Father's love and not fear his rebuke and withdrawal.
For those who have good fathers, be grateful for that great gift. What a privilege to be raised by a man who reflects God's love. And for those who don't have a father like that or those who have no earthly father any longer, learn to trust God. He is a Father who keeps all the promises in his Word. In the Psalms there is a repeating refrain: "God's steadfast love and faithfulness." I've learned to trust my heavenly Father. He is always near, always listening, and he never gives up on me.
"See what kind of love that Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God: and so we are." I John 3:1.
Jordan came to play! Her mom started a new job and needed us to watch Jordan for the afternoon. We had such a good time with her. I was so glad to have time to get to know my newest granddaughter a little better now that she isn't such a little baby. As my mother always says about babies like her, "She has personality plus!" What a character she is!
Jordan is 8 months old now and she likes moving around and she likes toys. So Liana used those two interests to get her to work her way across the room to get to her toy. She has this new stuffed dog that plays music and talks. Stuffed toys are different than they used to be. (But then Arielle had those silly Teletubbies...) Jordan really wanted that dog and she went for it. She also sat through a whole picture book as I read it to her. She's my kind of girl!
My friend Connie stopped over with her granddaughter Skylar. So Jordan had a real play-date with another little person. Connie and I laughed so much watching the two of them. When Jordan was leaving, Skylar gave her a little wave and Jordan actually put up her hand to wave too. Too cute!
In the midst of the noise and confusion Jordan fell asleep in my arms. What could be better than that, to hold a precious sleeping child? I love this little girl so much and anticipate many fun times with her.
I guess I am at THAT stage in life--my friends are also grandmas and we are delighting together in our grandchildren. It's a wonderful time!
We drive my mom back to her house late at night after our Family Feud game. She asks, "Are you coming by in the morning before you go?" Fred says no, we're getting an early start. I am surprised and not prepared to say good-bye to my mother right now. So this is it. She runs to her bedroom to get her parting gifts--nuts and candies, little treats for the road. She is such a generous person. Then final good-bye hugs with my little mother standing in her living room. I don't want to leave her. Sorrow in my heart, as always. How many times have we had to say good-bye through the years? It never gets easier.
As we always do, we drive past her front door, pause, and she stands in the doorway to wave. Tears blur my eyes and I can hardly see her.
Early the next day we eat breakfast in silence, all of us thinking of the last few days and leaving everyone once again. It's a cool, crisp morning in the mountains and I take this picture from the front of our room. The views here are spectacular from every angle, but my camera can just not capture the beauty and grandeur. You have to see it for yourself. A verse comes to mind, "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people." (Psalm 125) I pray God would surround my family. We pack up and go.
The highway switches back and forth between the mountains, winding and turning up and down and around the peaks. Fred gets a text message and I take his phone. It's my brother Jim. He is sitting outside on top of his mountain, thinking of us. We finally drive across the Tennessee state line. I look behind to see the Great Smokies sheltering my beloved family. Our thoughts turn to home.
It's a lazy Sunday with a lot of sitting around. That's what this family does best--sit and talk. We decide to meet at Oconaluftee Islands Park and then think about what to do. Arielle said she hoped we would come here before we leave. Every town should have a park like this. In the middle of town, in the middle of the river, is an island with plenty of space to take a walk, wade in the river, skip rocks, fish, feed ducks or just have a picnic. It is beautiful and relaxing. There is also a towering bamboo tunnel. Here they call it "river cane" but it looks just like what we have in our backyard, only ours is not so tall. My niece Monica doesn't live in the area, but she comes down for the day. I haven't seen her since she was a little girl. Even though she's grown up now, she is still my sweet niece and it is so good to be together with her. My girls have a wonderful time playing with little Kaneya and Kaneya now knows what the word "cousin" means. Cousins are fun people to have in your life! And she's got lots of them.
Finally everyone arrives and we spend a lot of time deciding what to do. One time years ago the whole family spent a whole day trying to figure out what to do, and we ended up not having time to do anything! So this is typical for my family. Always trying to please the kids, we say let's just go back to the hotel and swim. Perfect! We stake out tables and my sister and mom and I sit and talk while others dip in and out of the pool. The adults (not the kids) decide to have a water fight with water guns and some kind of floaty blocks that they throw at each other. Good thing we're the only ones here. My brother Jim says he loves when Fred makes his transformation in the water. Fred becomes a kid! Jim does too. They are both so silly--grown men in their fifties! My sister goes out to get pizza and even gets a gluten-free one for me. Delicious food, dear and precious family, each one of them. We eat and laugh and talk some more.
Kelly invites us back to her house for sherbet. We just want to be together as long as we can. How nice it is to spend time with my little sister! We go out on her deck at dusk to feed her 18 wild cats and watch them cautiously creep up the steps to eat. I've never seen so many cats at one time. The girls are delighted. My niece Alex brings out a Family Feud TV game and we break up into two teams to play. Everyone gets more goofy the later it gets. Now it's nearly midnight and time for tears and hugs and good-byes. It will be a long drive home tomorrow.
We're gathering at our traditional reunion destination--our family from Georgia and Tennessee, Asheville, and the locals in Cherokee. My mom and sister have prepared a feast for us all--chicken, slaw, pasta salad (a gluten-free one too). Others brought chips and fruit and drinks. Kelly made cupcakes so we can celebrate her granddaughter's 3rd birthday. It's exciting to see each new arrival pull up next to our picnic site, some loved ones we haven't seen in years. We sit on lawn chairs and catch up on family news and then rearrange ourselves and talk to someone else. And eat, of course. My big, wonderful, crazy family! I think of my big, wonderful, crazy family back home in Pennsylvania and wish they and their families could be here too. They need to better know their aunts and uncles and see where they came from. It's amazing--I see my boys in the faces and mannerisms of their uncles.
We take a long hike along the creek through the cool, lush forest just like we did two years ago and many other times in the past. The tubers float down the stream and we laugh and remember when we went tubing here long ago. I don't know if there is any place on earth more beautiful than the Great Smoky Mountains. Fred took the time to sit and contemplate life. But I enjoy the company of my nieces as we chatter and hike. The reward at the end of the trail is a lovely waterfall. On the way down we take another family photo on the bridge, just like we did years ago. At that moment I think, this is a magical time--a time to be thankful for family, all of us gathering in this place once again. We're still here on this good earth.
People leave in different directions to return home after hugs and sad good-byes. Those of us who are last to leave join hands and give thanks to God for his blessing on our family and ask him to continue to take care of us all.
Here we are again! I've never lived here, but coming to my mom's house is like coming home. So many good times here. As we climb up and down the last mountain and get nearer, memories rise up wispy and fleeting in my mind, like the smoke on the mountains. I think of the time we introduced our girls to family, first Arielle, then Liana. Our South Carolina land fiasco that devastated us, but still brought us together with family who helped us get through it. So many long talks with my mom in her living room. Sharing life crossroads with my brothers. And I always go back to that memory of my first visit here alone when I was falling apart. It was fall, cold and cloudy, the mountains ominous like the direction I was heading. My sister Kelly, so young then, drove me all around on these steep roads, she and my mom reminding me of who I was--loved and accepted no matter what. I will be forever grateful to them both for what they did for me on that trip.
Finally today we pull up in Grandma's gravel driveway and there she is on the ramp welcoming us once again! The girls run up for hugs and we come into her peaceful little home for lots of talk and good food. Home is where you are loved, isn't it? We talk on into the evening and Kelly and her daughter and granddaughter arrive and there is more fun and laughter. I feel an even deeper connection to my sister now that we are older and have shared so much through the years.
The next day we visit the old tourist shops in town and remember other vacations. We stroll through the Mountain Farm Museum at the base of the majestic Smokies and learn how the white settlers came to the area and lived. My people living in this beautiful place, sheltered by towering mountains and refreshed by cool streams. Later my niece Alex and her boyfriend take us to the Oconaluftee Indian Village, an outdoor living history museum and we hear lectures on how the Cherokees lived on this land in the 1800's before their removal. Again, my people, the ancient settlers. I'm glad to have time with my niece, this little girl all grown up, so much a part of every visit to North Carolina. She has a child of her own, an adorable child bringing much joy to our family. I think of how one day my daughters might bring their own children here.
In the evening we take our traditional trip into Sylva to visit "Grandma's Walmart." Yes, we have one right down the street from us in Pennsylvania, but it's not the same as Grandma's! Then over to eat at Ryan's. We fill our plates many times, not just for the food, but to prolong our good time here.
After Gettysburg, we had to get to 81 in Virginia to make our way south. I did some calculations and realized it would only be an extra 20 minutes of driving if we stopped in Harper's Ferry. I've wanted to visit this town for quite some time. Its history is fascinating, from George Washington who persuaded Congress to establish an armory and arsenal there to John Brown's attempt to raid that armory and seize weapons in an effort to end slavery. People thought Brown was crazy, but many think he got our nation's attention and brought about the Civil War. Later the town established Storer College to educate former slaves.
Today it is HOT in Harper's Ferry! There are many interesting buildings and museums to explore, but none of them are air-conditioned. We visit a few and then walk across the Potomac on a metal bridge that made Fred queasy. It is too hot to really enjoy any activities and Fred is anxious to hit the road because it is going to be a long driving day. We don't stay long.
Soon we get on 81 in Winchester. So many memories from previous trips to Grandma's house when the girls were little! I think we've visited every Cracker Barrel on this highway at some point in time. Arielle still loves the little golf tee game while we wait for a meal. The girls used to explore the toy section and choose some little stickers to keep them busy after they got back in our big green van that had the pull down VHS player. Fred and I would listen to Barney or Disney princesses as we rode along. Someone gave us a DVD player to borrow for this trip, but the girls aren't interested. They are listening to music on their ipods or playing bingo or the license plate game. No fair! I can't see well enough to read the plates before Fred does. He wins every time. The girls seem to really be enjoying each other's company this time and that makes everyone happy.
We drive as far as the Max Meadows/Fort Chiswell exit in Virginia. We find a nice hotel and explore the area. It takes us about one minute to drive through Max Meadows. I find out later it has a population of 562. We see a restaurant--Cinco de Mayo Mexican Grill. Sounds good, and it's the grand opening too! So we are met at the door by big burly Mexican men who go out of their way to make sure we have a great time. The décor makes you smile just walking in. Colorful, whimsical folk art adorns the tables and chairs. It is a fun dinner and the food is fabulous, many varieties of enchiladas made with CORN tortillas! We like this restaurant so much we stop for lunch on the way home. The guys seem happy to see us again and even pose for a picture.
We have a great breakfast to start off our next day of driving and the girls enjoy the hotel like they always have--riding on the luggage cart, fighting over who gets to open the door with the electronic key, and swimming in the pool. They love all the same things even though they are big girls now. I am thankful to have this special time with them and with Fred once again.