letters to my brother

"There's no other love like the love for a brother. There's no other love like the love from a brother." - Astrid Alauda


Teacher’s Pet

Dear Andy:

My name is Addie June and I am almost 2-year-old catahoula-pitbull mix. Your sister is my human. Momma adopted me when I was 9 months old after I was removed from a house with nearly 80 other animals involved in a hoarding case in a neighboring county. Momma says she visited a few other dogs on her search for the perfect furbaby, but when she saw me she knew I was the one. And I’m so glad she chose me because as soon as I saw her I knew she was my human and I was going to love her forever. When they let her take me for a walk I did my best to impress her and did everything she told me to do. I was such a good listener and I think it worked because as soon as we went back inside she told them she wanted me. She was so happy I think I saw tears in her eyes. And I was so excited I could barely sit still for a picture with her – I just wanted to hug her!!!

I spent that last weekend at the shelter before she came back to bring me home; she had just gotten out of school and had to get the house ready for me. I was really scared when she came to bring me home – I knew she was going to take care of me, but there was just so much new. I was afraid to get in the car because there was a really big guy with her, but then she told me it was her bubby so I knew he must be a good guy. I clung to bubby in the backseat while momma drove, and on the way home she stopped by mum’s house. Mum had to come out to the car to meet me because I was too scared to get out – I heard her beagles barking and I was afraid they wouldn’t like me.

But then we went home. Our house is the best. I slept on the floor on the bed momma bought me for a couple nights, but then I decided to see if she would let me sleep with her. She fussed at first, but she let me stay. I couldn’t help it. I just like to snuggle.

She hadn’t had me very long when she took me to meet the rest of the family. I got to meet dad and Kathy and play with Jazz. I don’t think Jazz liked me when I first met her because she is a grown-up dog and I was a puppy still. But now she’s my best dog friend and we run all over the place and wrestle when I go visit. I love Kathy because she sneaks me food off the table when momma says no. But she sends us outside when me and Jazz try to wrestle in the house.

Momma buys me all kinds of cool toys and clothes and feeds me the best food. I get to run all over the yard and go for walks and runs down the road and yell at the horses next door. I love car rides now and getting to go places with momma. I go play at mum’s with the beagles when momma goes to church. They have a doggy door and it’s the best because I can go outside whenever I want.

Momma even took me to school with her once! I was so excited to see where she spends her day away from me, but it was so horribly boring. No wonder she’s so happy to see me when she gets home. I just can’t figure out where all the kids were that I smell on her – she kept talking about summer break so maybe that’s why they weren’t there. I love summer break because me and momma take naps every day.

Sometimes gram comes to stay and I like that a lot because I love her and she gives me crackers and snacks and she sits on the porch with me all day long and I love porch sitting. Bubby stays with momma now, too, and I’m so glad he’s part of our pack. He’s the best. I love yelling at him and rough-housing with him and jumping and climbing on him when he sits down. I just love him so much!

I’m so thankful for all of the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve gotten to have since momma adopted me. And even though I never got the chance to meet you, I feel like I know you anyway. I can tell you meant an awful lot to momma. Sometimes she misses you so much it makes her cry, so I just hug her and tell her I love her like I think you would do. I try my best to make her happy because I know that you would want her to be happy, too.

She thinks that I saved her life, but really, she saved mine.

All my love,

Addie June the teacher’s pet

More Precious than Rubies

Dear Andy:

It has taken me 3 months to be able to talk to you about this, mostly because if I talk to you about it, then I have to face it because it’s true. And it’s been kind of easy to not deal with it so far because I had a student teacher and went to Disney World and then it was the last grading period of school which has now turned into complete end-of-the-year insanity. It’s also Mother’s Day tomorrow. So I had to face it.

Grandma Evelyn died 3 months ago today. It has been a long and empty 3 months, even though it has flown by and I have done everything I possibly can to keep myself almost too busy. I made it to Disney the week after her funeral and it broke my heart because when I started my gauntlet of phone calls home to let everyone know our plane had landed safely, I had one less phone call to make. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started to call or stop by just to check on her because it feels strange that she hasn’t called in a while to check on me. When I was picking up cards for Mother’s Day, it hit me that I wouldn’t be able to celebrate her in person this year – and I teared up in the middle of Wal-Mart because I found her the perfect card, too. I went for a long run this morning and part way out I got shin splints and my first thought was to just make it to Grandma’s so I could rest. Instead I made it to her and Grandpa’s stone at the cemetery and cried a little bit because I was still half a mile from the home she wasn’t at any more and trying to stretch out my leg hurt so bad it took my breath away. Her house was my 5k bathroom/water/Gatorade stop. I can’t fix pancakes – I’ve tried 3 times so far, and I break down before I even get a mixing bowl out of the cabinet. I can’t call her anymore any time I have a cooking conundrum.

“Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (Pr. 31:10-12 NLT)

She and Grandpa would have been married 60 years last month. They were married 57 years when he passed away. He talked ALL THE TIME about how they met, their first date, how there almost wasn’t a second date, and how he was head-over-heels in love with her from the first time he saw her. And he was madly in love with her until the day he died.

“She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar. She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls. She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night. Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.” (Pr. 31:13-19 NLT)

She got up every morning when we were in school to fix us breakfast, our own personal short-order cook. And then, while we were eating, she’d get our lunches packed. There was supper after school, and, when we spent the night, ice cream, popcorn, or fruit for a bedtime snack. I remember how – especially in the summertime – she would let us unleash all kinds of craft-making and cooking shenanigans. Even before we were in school, I remember melting butter for popcorn on the gas stove she used for canning in the basement, and watching her can countless jars of tomatoes and green beans. Just a couple summers ago, she and I did some canning together, and I’ll continue using her canners every summer. I’m pretty sure I learned how to make scrambled eggs before I learned how to read. Whatever work needed done, she would do it. She took care of us when we were sick and Mom had to work, combed through my just-past-my-shoulders hair the first time I got lice (which never happened until I started teaching, of course), and worked tirelessly (and what appeared to be effortlessly) to give us anything we wanted. The only time she ever nixed one of our kitchen capers was when we wanted to make fruitcake because we thought the recipe was funny (we didn’t even like fruitcake).

“She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes. She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns. Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders. She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.” (Pr. 31:20-24 NLT)

I’m almost certain there were times she gave to ones in need that none of us knew anything about. Her favorite color was purple, and she looked beautiful in it. After you died, she made me a little pillow from a pair of your overalls; I can’t sleep without it. I have a red and green plaid dress she made hanging in my closet from the first Christmas program I sang a solo in. There’s also a poodle skirt from 3rd grade and my costumes from “Annie” my senior year – including that iconic red dress. It was amazing how she could take random cuts and of fabric and turn them into something beautiful. I had no fear setting out to make my own living room drapes because she taught me how.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.” (Pr. 31:25-27 NLT)

I never heard her speak a mean word about anyone. If there was someone she didn’t like, there was probably a good reason for it. She was the most patient person I’ve ever known and she carried herself with grace no matter how sick she felt. Even after her amyloidosis diagnosis and the impending certainty of dialysis and death in just a few years, she never let it get her down. She was the glue holding our family together, like most grandmas seem to do, and she always knew just what to say – whether words of comfort, encouragement, congratulations, or just to make sure we knew she loved us. I never saw her too tired to do things until her kidneys started failing. She was one of the hardest-working people you would ever find (of course, there was never a dull moment with Grandpa around), and she would keep going as long as there was work to be done.

“Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: ‘There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.” (Pr. 31:28-31 NLT)

She was never one keen on accepting publicity or accolades. She was content to be behind the scenes watching us shine, making sure we were cared for. Our successes were her successes, and a great source of her happiness. After I graduated college, she gave me a scrapbook full of pictures, news clippings, programs, notes, and other odds and ends that chronicled my life up to that point. She made one for you, too. She was always watching, always collecting, always treasuring.

Evelyn Jane was one-of-a-kind and I don’t know how we got so blessed to be her grandchildren. We won the grandparent lottery – really, we did. You don’t realize how easy good parents and grandparents make life for you until they’re gone. And then you see all these little ways that they were helping you grow up, guiding you and being your training wheels so you wouldn’t fall. But then you also realize that, the whole time, they were also preparing you to be able to make it through life without them. So when the time comes, you pack up the training wheels and keep riding, because you can. Because they taught you how.

All my love,

A Lot to Be Thankful For

Dear Andy:

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that it’s November, let alone Thanksgiving. CHRISTMAS EVE IS ONE MONTH FROM TODAY. But, yeah. THANKSGIVING.

I always loved Thanksgiving because there was always so. much. food. And it was all delicious, and all of our family would get to be together. It was so full of love and happiness, like a picture-perfect way to kick off the holiday season.

Mom and Dad’s divorce when I was 10 meant Thanksgiving would be split with one or the other. It was a new normal, and we got to double-up on awesome food. But I just wanted my family to be able to be together. I prayed and prayed that we could all just get along and things would go back to the way they were before the divorce. 10-year-old me just didn’t understand that life isn’t always that simple.

And then your last Thanksgiving you spent on a hunting trip and weren’t even here. I gave you grief about it, but really all I did that day was hurry up and eat so I could scour the Black Friday ads and make my plan of attack for the next day’s shopping spree. So, really, I guess I didn’t have much room to be upset at you.

As time has gone on (counting your hunting trip, this is my 10th Thanksgiving without you), our family landscape has changed a lot. Dad and Kathy have been married for 2 decades now. Mom is remarried. I got divorced. Grandpa Orren and Grandpa Carl are both gone now. Time has a way of doing that – it sneaks up on you and before you realize it, nothing is how it used to be.

So today I hosted Thanksgiving (that whole ‘time’ thing – yeah. I’m the one who hosts now. Look at me, being all grown-up and stuff). Zach, Grandma Evelyn, Mom and JR, and Dad and Kathy (and Jazz) came over for lunch. Everyone pitched in, so I didn’t have to cook everything. We spent several hours eating and laughing, all gathered around the same table. We even had a FaceTime session with Grandma Peg. No harsh words were spoken; only love and kindness could be found. And Addie and Jazz had more than enough table scraps and rough-housing. It was great. Wonderful. Awesome.

After things were cleaned up and everyone left, I was settling in for a nap and thinking about the dinner I had just shared with my family. My heart was even more full than my belly. And, Little Brother, in a year where I said good-bye to my remaining grandpa and 6 months later dad faced major brain surgery, I already have so much to be thankful for. I could have let the losses weigh heavy on my heart today, but then it was like a little voice said, “Do you remember all the times you prayed for this?”

Well, 32-year-old me had kind of forgotten that 10-year-old me prayed SO. HARD. for this. Every day. For peace in my family. For brokenness to be healed. For relationships to be restored. For the people I love most – who have seen me through the highest mountaintops and lowest valleys of my life – to be together. No competition, no grudges, no hatred. And today it happened.

Isaiah 61:3 and 7 says:
“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory… Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor. You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.”

I think of all the tears I cried when Mom and Dad got divorced. When you died. When I got divorced. When Grandpa Orren and Grandpa Carl died. So many tears. But I was reminded today that despite all of those losses, not only was all of my family with me today, but it had also grown over time. No, God didn’t magically reunite my family the way I wanted it. He did, however, bless me with step-parents who are perfect for Mom and Dad. He restored my family and gave me a double portion.

We don’t always understand why God does things or when. But I do know 10-year-old me waited 22 years for this, and it was so worth it.

I have a lot to be thankful for.

Hugs and high-fives to everyone.

All my love,

For the Love of Baseball

Dear Andy:

I love baseball. The players, the uniforms, the rivalries, the smell of the grass, the sights and sounds of the ballpark, the history and magic of it – I love it. It’s my favorite. It’s in my blood. I’ve played it, analyzed it, lamented it, and loved it. But I’ve never once dreaded it, until February. I hoped and prayed for one more season with Grandpa Carl – just one more Opening Day. And then just one more spring training game. But it didn’t happen.

He grew up listening to St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio. When he was fourteen, he went on a 4-H field trip to see them play. He saw Stan Musial play. In the 1940’s. SAW. STAN THE MAN. WITH HIS OWN EYEBALLS IN REAL LIFE. He listened to and watched more games than I can wrap my brain around – eight decades’ worth. And since before I can remember, I would curl up beside him and watch him watching baseball. Sometimes Cardinals games, sometimes whatever happened to be on. Just baseball.

And then, despite my Cards upbringing, I fell hard for that rookie kid Chipper Jones playing 3rd for the Braves. Grandpa didn’t care. Chipper was good – going to be one of the best. We just watched more baseball.

From a distance, we would chat about games, players, trades, stats, streaks, and slumps. Together, we celebrated the beginning of new seasons, paid homage to mid-season home run kings, and watched history unfold in October. We watched his Cardinals make a slew of postseason appearances, while I bemoaned the ‘rebuilding’ of my own beloved Bravos and reminisced on my spoiled childhood of Chipper, Maddux, Smoltzie, Glavine, Javy, and Andruw, among others. And we beamed with pride when our favorite managers – Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox – were inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 2014.

But everything I learned from him about baseball was really about life.

Grandpa was cool as a cucumber, every game we watched. I, on the other hand, tended to be a little, um, emotionally involved in every. single. play. If I complained about the Braves getting off to a slow start the first week or so of the season, he was quick to remind me that there were still about 150 games left to play. One bad game wasn’t going to ruin the whole season. Kind of like when he and I sat together and cried and ate giant Alabama strawberries the afternoon of your accident. And when I spent a couple weeks with him and Grandma as I gathered about my wits the summer my divorce became final. Those games were over, chalked up as losses, but the season was far from over – anything could happen.

I hate trades. Every time I get attached to a player, he gets traded off. Baseball is not what it was when we were kids – pitchers threw complete games like no big deal, guys like Ripken played for games on end, and players wore the same team’s jersey their whole careers. Those days are becoming fewer and farther between. But no matter who got traded where, Grandpa was first and foremost a Cardinals fan, and whoever wore that uniform was one of his boys. He had confidence in the front office and his loyalty never wavered. Sometimes people are on our team for life, sometimes for a season, and sometimes they’re just there to fill in until someone better comes along. Just like in baseball, the rarest and most precious are the ones that stick it out for life. And God knows who we need on our team and when.

Even though he rooted for the Cards, Grandpa never hesitated to appreciate good baseball – regardless of team. He understood the beauty of a crisp, clean, 6-4-3 double play and the delight of a well-executed suicide squeeze and was quick to give credit where credit was due. Good baseball is good baseball. Imagine if we all treated each other like that, if we all looked for and acknowledged the good in each other. Good human-ing is good human-ing (yes, I just made a noun a verb), regardless of whose team we’re on (because really we’re all on the same team).

I had hoped for one more Opening Day. But as players began reporting and his health took a sharp decline, I prayed for just one more week – enough time to make it until the first spring training game. But our final season together had passed. Grandpa died on a Wednesday, and I listened to the Braves’ first spring training game on my way home from school the following Tuesday. Even though there’s not supposed to be any crying in baseball, I did anyway. It was the first time in the week since he passed that I really felt his absence and mourned him. I cried the whole game. And when the Cardinals open the 2016 season against the Pirates on Sunday, I will probably cry some more, just because it won’t be the same without him.

Yogi Berra once said, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” As this season unfolds, I will think of Grandpa, the memories we made together, and the love that he always, always had for me and for baseball. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a fan of the greatest game in the world, and to have learned to love it from one of its best fans. My heart beats to the tomahawk chop, but my blood will always be a little bit of Cardinal red.

Give everyone a hug for me.

All my love,

Ready for some baseball, Opening Day 2013


Dear Andy:

“I cannot go to school today
said little Peggy Ann McKay.
I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash, and purple bumps…”
– from “Sick” by Shel Silverstein

OMG we loved that poem – had the whole thing memorized. Who am I kidding? We pretty much knew everything he wrote by heart. But seriously though, I don’t feel good. Earlier this week my ears felt all crackly-poppy but I chalked it up to a huge temperature swing (30° jump one day, and a 40° drop the next) and let it go. And then I woke up yesterday with a sore throat that wouldn’t go away, and by the end of the day I felt like I’d been run over by a mid-size sedan. So I’ve spent most of the past 24 hours in bed, aside from a trip to the doctor to find out I have the flu and that I’ll probably feel worse before I feel better. SO GLAD I GOT STABBED WITH A NEEDLE TO PREVENT THE FLU IN THE FIRST PLACE (it apparently covered all but the strain I managed to contract from one or more of my little cherubs – who I’m not quite fond of at the moment).

I’ve slept for 14+ hours, Facebooked (which is boring when everyone else is at work), read through Buzzfeed twice, pinned a bunch of stuff, checked my email 7 times, synced my FitBit, and beat whatever challenge TwoDots had this week. So now what? This is the part of being sick that I hate – I. Am. So. Bored. and I feel like a lazy blob of a human for not doing anything because my body feels too heavy to get up and move (even though common sense tells me the best thing I can do right now is rest).

I miss having you around when I get sick. We always had each other’s back. And it wasn’t a call-me-if-you-need-me kind of thing, it was a drop-everything-and-do-whatever-is-necessary-to-make-you-feel-better deal. As much as you may have acted like you weren’t the caring, nurturing type, you were never more compassionate and concerned than when I was sick.

Remember the day you took off work to change over the title on your new truck and get insurance on it? I was so sick and you came over to see how I was feeling, what diagnosis/meds the doctor gave me (and then you mulled it over for a second and decided that you approved – like you were going to make me go get a second opinion or something if you had disagreed). You also made sure I took my meds when I was supposed to (I slept all day and was oblivious to the time), got me Jello (and made it for me), and checked in every few hours to see how I was feeling and make me get a drink.

I don’t know that I ever thanked you for that. So, thanks. It really meant a lot, and obviously I still haven’t forgotten it. You didn’t have to rearrange your day and inconvenience yourself to make sure I stayed comfortable, but you did. A friendship like that is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I am so blessed that not only were you my friend, I got to call you brother, too. Thanks for looking out for me, supporting me, and always challenging me to be better (at whatever we happened to be competing in at the moment). Thanks for being my ‘big’ (younger) brother. Thanks for showing me what phileo love is really all about:

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”‭‭ (Ecclesiastes‬ ‭4:9-12‬ ‭NLT‬)

Thanks for being my little brother. Now go make me some soup. The stuff is in the fridge. I’m going to sleep some more.

Hugs to Jessie and Cupcake, and give Grandpa a high-five.

All my love,

I’m Full.

Dear Andy:

I have no idea where this past year went. Especially this past month – it kind of grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me into 2016. I sat down on New Year’s Eve and took some time to reflect and think about my focus for the upcoming year. This year seemed to be pretty ho-hum as I racked my brain for anything of substance to recall. School, family, blah, blah, bl – oh, wait. I bought a house. I’m a homeowner. HOW DO YOU FORGET THAT YOU BOUGHT A HOUSE?

No big deal.

I also experienced Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast, completed my first level of Kodály training, grew my first delicious garden full of food, opened a private music studio, ran my second half-marathon, and joined the board of our local children’s choir.

Nothing major.

How in the world did I manage to forget most of the things I accomplished this year? I dunno. Too much going on, I guess. At one point I had four – yes, four – jobs, which obviously is ridiculous. However, the third job gave me the financial stability I needed long enough to leave the second one in order to open my studio (number four). With the transitioning between them, I ended up working all four concurrently for a short time. So now I’m down to two: teaching at school and teaching privately. Look at me, all using my degree and stuff! (No shame on those who aren’t; I’m just thankful that I still love teaching music and that I’ve been afforded the means to make it my entire livelihood). I also made six trips to Gulf Shores (props to Grandma for keeping track because I sure didn’t realize it until I headed down for Christmas). Yes, I got to go to the beach and eat steamed shrimp and beignets and stuff like that (which is wonderful and all that is good and right in the world), but Grandpa’s health is declining. I mean, that’s what happens when we age, but it’s still a difficult thing to face. He has good days, and not-so-good days. So, yeah. It’s been hard to come home, wondering if that was the last time. And Grandma – she is seriously the fiercest, most encouraging woman ever. I want to be able to be there for her and knowing I’m a minimum of 5 hours away assuming I can get an immediate flight south doesn’t make it any easier.

So I’m not making any resolutions this year. I have some plans, but we’ll see whether or not they stick. My plate is full. And I’m full. So this year I have a word, a focus. A mantra, if you will: full. I don’t want to be so busy that I catch myself coming and going and can’t even remember what I spent an entire year doing. Which also begs the question: If I can’t remember it, was it even that important? Or was I so busy Instagramming and Facebooking everything so that I could remember it later that I was never really there in the first place? Because that’s how I remembered I bought a house – reviewing my Instagram.

This is my last semester with the fifth graders I’ve had since they were in Kindergraten. I want to be fully present for them (and all my students, but especially them), creating memories in this little bit of time we have left together before they move on to middle school.

I want my time to be full of people who are important to me (and me to them). Trying to do all and be all is my fatal flaw.  I know it’s impossible to be two places at once, but I’ve sure tried to – sometimes even three. I can’t be fully dedicated to ANYTHING when I (try to) do that. The madness stops now. I can do something for someone, but I can’t do everything for everyone.

My garden will be full of even more deliciousness this year. In just a couple months it will be time to finalize my layout, start seeds, and prep the ground. Last year was a put-it-in-the-ground-and-see-if-it-grows kind of venture, so I know what I want to keep and what I want to change. I can’t wait!!

My free time will be full of music. I spend so much time preparing and making music for and with others (whether at school, in lessons, or at church) that I have neglected making time for music that challenges me and brings me enjoyment. I can’t demand excellence from my students if I can’t deliver it myself.

I’m going to run a full marathon. *buries hands in face* lol What did I sign myself up for? 26.2 miles. Oh boy. At least I’ll know that I can run from my house to Wal-Mart and back. OK. No more whining. It’s two halvsies – one for me, and one for you. BECAUSE YOU SURE NEVER WOULD HAVE.

Full. 2016 is going to be full. I will be full. Of love. Joy. Creativity. Peace. Contentment. Life. You made my heart and my life so full and happy, and I will never forget how broken and empty I became when I lost you. Being busy has been my defense mechanism. If I kept myself occupied then I wouldn’t have time to hurt or miss you – or be fully present in whatever was happening, good or bad. It has taken a lot of time to glue the broken pieces back together. But now the glue has dried, and I am going to be full again.

Cheers to 2016.

Hugs to Jessie and Cupcake. Give Grandpa a high-five.

All my love,

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Dear Andy:

I did it – I planted a garden all by myself, and it was pretty successful. I’ve wanted to have one for quite some time, and considering all the time we spent playing and ‘helping’ dad and our grandparents in the garden growing up, it only seemed natural to continue the legacy. Remember how we would hop from furrow to furrow behind dad or Grandpa as they plowed the ground to get it ready for planting? Or helping Grandpa water the tomatoes on summer evenings? How about eating raspberries and grapes right off the plants? Good stuff.

So, having grown up watching and participating in various aspects of raising veggies and fruit, I decided to give it a go. I knew I had a lot to learn about gardening, but I never dreamed my garden would teach me so much about things other than gardening. And now that my first planting season has officially ended due to our first hard frost, I present to you what my garden reminded me about life:

You are so very loved. OK, I know a garden takes work – you have to plow your plot, hoe rows, dig holes, plant your starts, scatter seed, water, weed, prune, harvest… It’s a lot of work. I don’t have a super-huge yard, so my best location was over my finger system – which meant I had to use a tiller to prep my 20′ x 40′ plot because I can’t drive a tractor over it. I had to till it 3 times before it was really ready to plant. It was quite a workout, but I showed that tiller who was boss. And before I even started prepping the ground, I got my seeds started weeks in advance so they’d be ready to plant after the last frost. Just like I wanted to do everything I could to ensure my precious plants’ success, someone (most likely lots of someones) has done the same for you. You are loved. You are important. Your life matters. I am so thankful for those who found me worth investing in and loved me enough to actually make that investment, because I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

Surround yourself with good company. Companion planting. It’s a thing. Tomatoes hate broccoli. Beans hate peppers and onions. Cucumbers are pretty chill (just don’t plant more than one variety in the vicinity or they will cross-pollinate because bees). Carrots get along with most everybody, too. Who you spend time with matters. While part of being a grown-up means that you are sometimes forced to get along with people we don’t necessarily care to, we need to prioritize the people who encourage to be the best version of ourselves. Don’t let the cauliflower and broccoli stunt your growth, you delicious strawberry – spend time with onions and spinach instead.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Because I was so anxious to have my garden planted, my tomatoes were in the ground in mid-April, and ended up being subjected to 3 hard frosts. Welp. I covered them, but I was sure I would end up losing several of them. I did what I could to nurse them through, and they all ended up making it. They were my little workhorses through a crazy-wet June, dry July-September, and even survived the first hard frost this month. The second one was their curtain call, though; bless their little hearts. We all face moments and seasons in our lives when conventional wisdom says we shouldn’t survive. Find a good support system for those times, and you might even surprise yourself with just how much you can overcome.

You CAN have too much of a good thing. Rain, rain, and more rain. And then even more rain. I kind of gave up on my garden for a time in June because it literally rained all month – if my plants pulled through, it was because of their own strength because there was nothing I could do to save them (such is life). Thankfully, most of my garden survived, but my potatoes weren’t having it. Water is great and vital to pretty much everything’s existence, but too much will kill you. All things in moderation!

Our differences are what make us beautiful. Just like in my classroom (I really need to tell you about my kiddos sometimes), we all grow and learn at different rates. We’re all different sizes, shapes, colors, and personalities, and that variety is what makes life fun. Nothing tastes better than homegrown roma green beans boiled with some bacon. But those same roma beans in fresh bruschetta? How about no. I want some of my pretty red roma tomatoes for that! See? What good would it serve if we were all the same?

To everything, there is a season… Broccoli and potatoes like to get started outside when it’s still almost chilly. Radishes are pretty easy-going, but get fussy when it’s really hot (Who am I kidding? Everything but my peppers got fussy when the temps rose). Tomatoes can be pretty resilient, if you watch them closely and give them a little extra TLC. Rosemary can weather whatever storm or season comes its way. Garlic thrives on cold. We all have different preferences and ways of doing things. It doesn’t make one way right or wrong, as long as you see through to the end of things. Especially if the end involves a pantry full of sauces, jams, and pickles.

…And a time to every purpose. I can control a lot of things in my garden – what is growing in it, how big it is, how bad the weeds get (or don’t get), what fertilizer I use, whether I keep it organic, etc. But I can’t control the weather. Or blight. Or rust. Sure, I can protect against some things, but that’s not a guarantee that everything will be fine. Just like life – I can make plans and work to make those plans a reality, but sometimes it rains for two weeks straight and we go a month without a day of solid sunshine. And all you can do is make the best of what you’ve been given. Salvage what you can, cut your losses, and keep going.

Life is precious. My tomato plants survived three late-spring frosts (and one fall killing frost). They were slow to get started, but once they produced, they worked hard and went out with their boots on. I planted three red raspberries – one is normal, one got peed on by a coyote or fox or something and died, and the last one produced a handful of deliciousness within just a few months of being planted. My green beans… bless their hearts, they tried, but succumbed to the oddball weather and bugs. I thought my beets and snow peas were sure bets – they were the first to go.The fact of the matter is, we just never know. Some live to be a hundred, while others never make it out of the womb alive. Some are the model of health while others battle illnesses and life-threatening diseases day in and day out. Every day is a gift, and nothing is ever guaranteed. Not in my garden, not in life.

Life goes on. I grew up around gardening, just like previous generations of our family. Grandpa put away his tomato baskets about ten years ago. Dad has begun scaling back his half-acre plot. Now it’s my turn to work the land. My garden has since faded brown from the first hard frost, but even in death it will give of itself to strengthen and nourish future generations. I’ll till it under before the ground freezes, and next year it will feed the roots of the plants to come. The cycle continues. Old teaches young and in time gives way to the new. Time stops for noone.


So ends my first gardening season, and I pray that many more follow. It’s been wonderful to play in the dirt again, even without you and Grandpa around this time. It really got me to thinking about the garden of my life, too (obviously or I wouldn’t have written all this). What kind of legacy am I creating? What am I doing to make the world around me more tillable? Am I sowing seeds that will blossom and produce fruit, or am I planting life-draining weeds? I want to be like my cayenne peppers – small, but fierce (with the the cutest little blossoms you ever did see); growing more beautiful with age; and the warmth of their presence is felt even after they’re gone. I hope, anyway.

Well, it’s time for sleep. If the rain holds off in the morning, I need to get my garden turned under and get some bulbs planted. I’ve procrastinated about as long as I can (probably a little too much. OK,  a lot too much). Spring will be here before we know it – and with it comes the opportunity of a lifetime: a fresh start.

Hugs to Jessie and Cupcake; high fives to Grandpa.

All my love,

Somewhere in Dreamland

Dear Andy:

I had a dream about you a few nights ago. It’s only the second time (that I’m aware of) since the accident. Seven years, and only two dreams. It was so strange – I was dreaming and then you showed up in it, which is when it suddenly seemed so very real (isn’t it weird how real dreams can feel sometimes?) – because all of a sudden it clicked that, wait, this is impossible. But the rules of logic don’t apply in dreams, and so it kept going:

Soooo… I was at home. ‘Home’ as in the house on Miner City, where we grew up. This seems to be the place labeled in my reservoir of memories as ‘home’ – most of the time when I dream about home, it’s there. Anyway, I was outside working in the garden (which I really do have a garden this year and I’ll tell you all about it later.) and this truck pulls in the driveway. It’s an old, blue S-10 looking kind of truck and seems oddly familiar. Then you climb out, waving and smiling, and I drop what I’m doing, in shock that you are standing in front of me. I kept saying, “How are you here? You’re not supposed to be here. It’s not really you.” And I was thinking, This has got to be the most sick and twisted joke anyone has ever thought up.

You just chuckled and said, “I’m standing here, aren’t I? Of course it’s me. I had some time to stop by and I missed you. I thought you’d be excited to see me. Aren’t you going to give me a hug?” So you wrapped me up in one of those big bear hugs and I just gushed about how much I missed you and how could I not be excited to see you because I didn’t think I’d ever get to see you again and there you were – right in front of me. I looked for your bruises and scars and asked you about the accident and you just shrugged your shoulders and said not to worry about it; everything was okay – everything. was. fine. And, for a few moments, it wasn’t a joke – you really were there, and we chatted about what I had been doing lately, and it was like all order had been restored in my life. We started to go inside so you could see Mom and Grandma Evelyn, but that was when I woke up.

Oh, to have this kind of dream more often. I woke up feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest with happiness. Like waking-up-on-Christmas-morning happy, times a hundred – a peaceful, somewhat victorious blissfulness I can’t recall feeling very often. Not at all because I’m unhappy, but because it felt like somehow we had cheated the confines of life and death, for however brief a time. It took me a second to realize it was just a dream because it had seemed so real, at which point I tried to hurry back to sleep and keep the dream going, but you were nowhere to be found.

I spent the whole day thinking about that hug, though, and it was great. I loved your hugs – you just kind of swallowed me up because you were so much bigger than me. There’s no changing it now, but I wish I would have hugged you even more often, because I won’t get the chance to again (in real life, anyway). You’re not down the street, or a cross-country road trip, or even an intercontinental flight away. At least any of those I could plan a trip from one of us to the other, no matter the cost. Or Skype. Or Facetime. Or Snapchat. Heck, just an old-fashioned phone call or text message would make my day. Which is why I write these letters, I guess – at least I can still talk to you, even if you can’t respond.

Do you remember that cartoon short we watched when we were kids – ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’? It was about a brother and sister who dreamed about a land with ice cream flowers and popcorn fields (two of our favorite things!) and it had this song in it:

“I’ll see you somewhere in Dreamland,
Somewhere in Dreamland tonight.
Over a bridge made of moonbeams
We’ll find the clouds are silver-lined.

Each little star is a castle
Shining a welcome so bright.
Dreams will come true for me and you
Somewhere in Dreamland tonight.”

Well, little brother, I’ll see you somewhere in Dreamland, and I’m waiting for another hug.

All my love,

p.s. – while I’m waiting, give Jessie and Cupcake one of those hugs, too, and give Grandpa a high-five.

Grope Along Slowly

Dear Andy:

Now that it’s almost a month into the new year and I’ve broken 1/3 of my resolutions (only because I haven’t run a 10k or a half yet this year), let’s chat. 2014 was the last year of my twenties and the first year of my thirties. And when I was reflecting on that I realized just how much has changed since I was 20.

Ten years ago, I was a college freshman and you had just graduated high school. I knew everything and had a 10-year plan that involved graduating college, getting married, becoming a teacher, and having children. We had our whole lives in front of us and we were unstoppable.

Before too long, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and got married that summer. You were a speech class shy of finishing your associate’s degree in diesel mechanics when you took a job at Diamond working on heavy equipment – and you loved it. Actually, I think you just loved having an excuse to buy new tools for your ridiculously huge tool cart. My 10-year plan was right on track, you were over every day for supper after work, and life was great.

And then you were gone.

That wasn’t in the plan EVER – let alone part of my 10-year plan. I was lost without you. I didn’t know how to function without you, and for quite a while, everything was just a confusing, uncertain blur. I was afraid to do anything – I became so afraid to let go of the familiar that I didn’t even want to apply for teaching positions. I even cried when I bought my first new car that fall because I would never get to show it to you. That year was a string of firsts and painful anniversaries that blistered with heartache.

But then I started teaching.

There is something about music. It’s my safe place. My outlet. But to be able to share it with others and guide them in learning about it – it was like I had a little piece of me back that had been ripped out when you went away. The healing process was beginning.

And then I found out I was pregnant.

Overwhelming would be a good word to describe it. After so many ups and downs, my happily ever was on its way. My sweet cupcake would forever brighten the blackness of March 30. I didn’t think my heart would ever feel whole after I lost you, but when I heard that beautiful heartbeat I felt complete again.

And then cupcake was gone.

I felt like a shell of a person. My solace was my classroom, where I could make music with my kiddos and, for all intents and purposes, pour myself into my work and block out my hurt. Because my kiddos have enough hurt of their own without having to worry about mine.

But then I ran a 5k.

Yeah, I know. 5k’s are super cool right now and everybody is doing them. And I hate running, but the feeling I got when I ran helped me cope. I could run away without actually running away. It made me feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally, and it was something I could do to set goals and meet them.

And then my marriage fell apart.

I felt like a complete failure. My 10-year plan was in a shambles. Apartment hunting?! Live IN TOWN?! A second job?! This was not at all what I had planned. Being around the corner from Kroger was nice, but – ugh – the noise. And working retail 20 hours a week on top of teaching full time? That’s another letter in and of itself.

But then Mom offered me her house.

It needed a lot of work, but with a bunch of *ahem* help from Grandpa, I was able to jumpstart a plethora of home improvement projects and get it livable by the time my lease was up in July.

And then Grandpa was gone.

I had been keeping him apprised of the work I was doing, snapping photos and selfies as I went along, showing him paint swatches, tile and counter color combos as I made my design decisions. I couldn’t wait to get it all done so he could come over and see it in person. But I didn’t get it done in time.

And then I turned 30.

Exhausted and heartbroken, I reached the end of my twenties. I ended up in the same house we started from – no husband, no child, and no you. But 30 is giving me a clean slate, armed with lessons learned from the last 10 years. And I must say, it’s not what I had planned, but it’s been pretty great so far:

I started my 5th year of teaching.
I ran a 10k.
And then I ran a half-marathon (slower than a sloth, but I did it – 13.1 baby!!).
I hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I applied for a mortgage ( which means…)

Big things are on their way. I’m not sure what, but I know they’re coming. Or I’m on my way to them. Either way, 10-year plans suck and I’m not doing that again – I know where I’d like to be when I turn 40, but my list isn’t nearly so pass/fail.

I want to reduce my debt and make smarter spending decisions.
I’d like to try to run a marathon (still up in the air on that one).
I want to make more progress on visiting all 50 states.
I want to spend more time with my family.

My twenties are gone; there is not a thing I can go back and change. I can only look forward to what lies ahead and do my best. It’s hard not to wonder if you would even recognize the person I’ve become and if you would be proud of me. And what about you – what would you be doing now? Would we still be inseparable? I’d like to think you’d be in your room down the hall and our bond would be the one constant in all of this, because, you know, you’d just be doing the brotherly thing to make sure your sweet sister is safe, right?

Who knows. It’s crazy how someone can be such an integral part of your life for so long, and then all of a sudden, they’re not. And then eventually, you wake up one day and realize that you can survive without that person. And you have been. And you are and you will. And you will thrive, even.

It’s like any other journey – sometimes you make good time; sometimes there are bumps and twists and detours. Sometimes the path is familiar; sometimes you have no idea where you are or how you even got there. Sometimes the things you had planned and looked most forward to are the most disappointing. But, sometimes side trips you never meant to consider end up being the most rewarding.

I think Mama Teddy summed it up best:

“You may have to wait longer than you would like, you may have to bear privations, but bear and forbear. Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never failed us. The way is not yet clear; grope along slowly; do not press matters; be patient; be trustful.”

Hugs to Jessie and Cupcake. And give Grandpa a high-five.

All my love,

47 Things I Will Never Forget About Him

Dear Andy:

Grandpa Orren died. A month ago. He just wasn’t the same after his wreck last year. I don’t know what else to say about it, other than it is yet another new normal that I really don’t like, and I really don’t want to adjust to it because, well, it sucks. It’s also very difficult to put into words just how big of a role he played in our lives, but I’m going to try. Here we go:

1. His birthday was April 24, which also happens to be the same as – gasp! – Chipper Jones! *swoon* That’s a lot of awesomeness for a single date on the calendar.

2. He built quite a few houses from start to finish, and was involved in remodeling every house I ever lived in.

3. When we were little, he built two basketball goals outside – one regulation height on a topped-off tree, and the other just right for 3- to 5-year-old me and you. He would shoot hoops some evenings, and sometimes he would put me on his shoulders so I could try, too.

4. That topped-off tree also had a 4×4 across the top that he hung swings on for us.

5. He had this old Lionel train set in the basement that I was absolutely ENAMORED with – the diesel locomotive and passenger cars and the steam engine – and I was so mad when he sold it.

6. I’m not sure who love tomatoes more – him or you.

7. His favorite color was green, and he painted everything that color, when given the opportunity.

8. He didn’t like chicken (weirdo).

9. He had a higher metabolism than anyone I have ever seen. Seriously, he ate ALL THE TIME and NEVER gained weight. I wish I could eat that much ice cream and bacon without consequence…

10. No matter how sick he felt, he would still eat bacon.

11. Bacon was one of, like, maybe, 5 things he knew how to cook.

12. One of those 5 things was his vegetable soup: tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage. Forever my favorite.

13. And when grandma was in the hospital and I tried to cook for him and hounded him about what he eating, he assured me that he LOVED eating eggs and bacon for every single meal and he was just fine, thank you very much.

14. He was the most stubborn, hard-headed, strong-willed person I’ve known (well, it’s a toss-up between him and you).

15. He knew EVERY road in Vigo County and if you gave him an address or intersection, he could tell you what was there, what was nearby, and what used to be there.

16. We spent many summer evenings with him pitching to us in the back yard.

17. And when mom didn’t get off work in time, he and grandma took us to our games – and they sat right in front of the fence in their lawn chairs every single game.

18. He bought me my first car (and yours, and Zach’s).

19. For being so miserly, he was generous to a fault.

20. Not once did he complain about the amount of groceries it took to keep us fed (at least not that I recall), and weekly excursions to Terre Haute were the BEST.

21. He would drive us (a whole 3 blocks) to school (especially when the weather was bad) and pick us up every afternoon.

22. I’m not sure if he was more obsessed with vehicles, mowing the grass, watching the news, or reading the paper.

23. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be obsessed with Roger Miller. Oh, how his face lit up when I played him a recording of my 4th graders singing ‘Old Toy Trains’ at our Christmas program a couple years ago. It was one of my proudest moments because my kids sounded amazing and he looked so impressed.

24. Remember how he would cycle through our names before getting the one he wanted when we were in trouble? lol

25. He loved you, you know – despite your mutual stubbornness, he loved you. After your accident, I couldn’t leave the house without him saying, “Drive careful now, girl. BE. CAREFUL!”

26. When we had that winter storm my senior year of college and got a ton of snow on top of like a quarter-inch of ice, he drove all the way to West T to dig out and un-thaw my car so I could still come home that weekend.

27. And even though I had a job on campus and during the summer, he still gave me gas money every weekend.

28. Do you remember him taking us down to the hospital when Jessie was born? I do. I don’t remember visiting her there, and I don’t remember the first time I held her, but I remember him and us and the hospital.

29. When me and Kyle were separated, he came over and mowed my yard, much to my chagrin – and he would not be talked out of it. He was 81 at the time…

30. He was the hardest-working person I’ve ever known.

31. When he was in the hospital, he made sure every nurse and doctor knew who I was and all the reasons why he was so proud of me (hashtag embarrassing).

32. He taught me how to drive.

33. I loved filling out NCAA brackets with him in March.

34. I also loved cheering for the Pacers and Colts with him.

35. He would darn his socks and patch his jeans until the couldn’t be darned or patched any more.

36. He always had his billfold, watch, pocket knife, a pencil, and a folding rule with him. And a hat.

37. Got mail? God forbid you mangle it open with your finger – let him use his pocket knife to neatly cut it open. Or, even better (if luck would allow), he would hand you his knife to do it yourself.

38. His phone etiquette… If you called him, he answered with a resounding, “Yeah?” but as soon as he considered the conversation over, he hung up. Hope you were done talking lol.

39. I was the only one he would let sit on the arm of HIS chair with him. And it was my favorite spot curl up in a ball to nap when he was’t sitting in it.

40. High-fives were our signature good-bye.

41. I don’t know where he got his horseshoe playing skills, but dang.

42. He ‘hated’ animals, but he would struggle over whether Brandy would like the peanut butter- flavored or meat-basted dog biscuits better. Yup.

43. Do you have any idea how many times he saved our butts because he brought us our forgotten homework or instruments?

44. Remember the year him and Grandma got us our SNES with Donkey Kong Country? Stupid question, because I STILL PLAY THAT THING. Best game system ever.

45. He could make or fix ANYTHING. Seriously. Well, as long as it didn’t involve cooking.

46. He was madly in love with Grandma and told me the story of how they met and how much he loved her every chance he got. They were married for 59 years.

47. No matter what he was doing, it was never more important than anything we needed from him.

Sigh. I know nobody lives forever, but regardless of how old or how much of a life someone like him has lived, it still hurts. This whole being a grown-up thing is for the birds. I’ll just go back to being a kid, thanks. Because not only is Grandpa there – you are, too. And even though life had its fair share of twists and turns back then, it was still awesome and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.

It hurts right now, but Psalm 30:5 (The Message) says, “The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.” I am so thankful that I have 30 years of memories to cherish and, eventually again, bring me laughter, especially when there are so many who, for whatever reason, have not had the privilege of being so close to their grandparents. And what’s more, I realize now just how blessed I am to have received his can-do attitude – you can do anything, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort it takes to do the work. What a legacy.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing in this whole world like the love of a grandfather.

Hugs to Jessie and Cupcake. And give Grandpa a high five.

All my love,