Friday, January 24, 2014


I would rather spend money on books than just about anything.  Consequently, we have hundreds of books in our house – biographies, novels, romances, sci-fi, educational, science, historical, foreign language, scriptural, dictionaries, encyclopedias – a little bit of everything.

As a child, my family was very poor, but Mama always made sure there was something around the house to read.  My very first book, bought from a Book Mobile at school, was a Barbie based story called “The Best Dressed Girl” or something like that.  Even though I never had a Barbie myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her and her friends!  We did not have very many books, but those that we did have were read over and over again.  Two of the books that I recall reading numerous times were “The Little Lame Prince” and “To Dance, to Dream”.

This week I re-read “The Little Lame Prince” for the first time in over forty years.  While I recalled very little of the story line, I vividly remembered how he traveled on a flying cloak.  As a child, I used to imagine that I could travel the world like that, too.  How wondrous!

From “To Dance, to Dream” I learned about famous dancers like Maria Tall Chief and Isadora Duncan.  I adored them and wanted to be a dancer … too bad I have such very little rhythm.  That, and the church I attended as a very young child would have disciplined me for dancing.

Mama used to buy weekly romance magazines like “True Romance” … I grew up on a steady diet of those.  To this day I adore a good romance, especially those based in the Regency era.  Historical novels are also a big favorite.

My favorite book of all time is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.  I re-read it almost every year and have collected several movies based on her lovely book.  Jane’s characters are so well-drawn and her prose so wonderfully written … I just get lost in her words and in her world.

I don’t recall Mama reading to me, but my children definitely grew up with the blessing of a read-aloud mother.  We devoured Boxcar Children books, Amelia Bedelia stories, the Little House series, Anne of Green Gables, the Animorph books, Harry Potter, and many other wonderful works.  One of their favorites was a Sesame Street story, “The Monster at the End of This Book”.  Of course, I always had to liven things up by using different voices and lots of sound effects!

These days I mostly read books on my Kindle (recommended by my chiropractor because I had neck issues), but the feel and smell of a real book is a pleasure that will never get old.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Holiday Blues

Yes, I know the major holidays are over, but for weeks I have felt prompted to put my thoughts out there so someone -- perhaps my children, perhaps others -- can benefit somehow from my experiences.

You see, I deal with seasonal depression each year beginning around Thanksgiving and usually lasting till after the New Year.  When it starts I feel a heaviness of heart, emotionally I spiral downward, and a gloomy darkness seems to gather round me. If I allowed it to happen, I could drown in that darkness.  Many days all I want to do is climb back in bed, curl into a tight ball, and cry my eyes out.  But I can’t.  I have people who depend on me, so every day I force myself out of bed and go through the motions of life.  During those few weeks if you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll plaster a smile on my face and tell you I’m just peachy.  And I’ll probably be lying.  

It began in 1990, the year our little Seth died, and only got worse five years later when Daddy died on Christmas Eve.  (I had a serious talk with Daddy about that.)  Seth was born on December 30, so I always associate Christmas time with his birth.  I don’t even remember the exact date of his death … isn’t that odd?  I know it was toward the end of February.  I just prefer to think of his birth and each December I wonder what he would have been like that year, had he lived.  This year he would have turned 24.  Would he be a college graduate?  Would he be married?  Possibly have had a child?

For several years, especially after Daddy’s death, I just couldn’t deal with Christmas.  I used to love sending out cards and creating an annual Christmas letter.  I would bake cookies, do fun things with the kids.  For my children’s sake I still did things, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  I recall one December when Natalie, then about 6 years old, found me crying and wanted to know what was wrong.  How do you tell a young child that you just can’t stand Christmas anymore?

Sometimes I still don’t “do” Christmas very well, but the depression has gotten better over time.  I am aware when it starts and I work hard to distract myself and keep busy.  But the sadness and pain is always there, lurking in the background.  Even now, just thinking about it, my heart feels heavy.  I’m not sure why … I believe the promises of God when He tells me I will see my loved ones again.  Of that I have no doubt, yet the sadness remains.

This year I tried something different:  I talked about my depression.  In early December Kelden and I were on our way to a Christmas activity when I commented, “I wonder if there will ever come a year when I don't get depressed at Christmas time?”  Bless his heart … until that moment my good husband had no idea that I had been battling depression for over 20 years.  That’s how good I was at hiding it.  The following week I mentioned my holiday depression to a couple of friends and an amazing thing happened … my burden was lifted!  Just talking about the depression somehow made it easier to keep the darkness at bay.  In fact, this year was one of the best, most peaceful Christmases I have experienced in years.  

Do you know a loved one who has experienced loss or depression?  Try to get him or her to TALK about it.  If you suffer from depression, extreme sadness, or loneliness ... PLEASE find a trusted family member or friend and talk about it. Giving voice to those feelings really can help.

Next year I plan to talk about my depression again.  If you ask me how I’m doing, I will put a smile on my face and tell you I’m just peachy … And I’ll probably be telling the truth!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lessons from My Children

This year for Mothers’ Day, I decided to honor those who helped me to become the mother I am today: my seven children.  Although I’m pretty sure I have taught my children a lot of things over the years (be polite, pick up after yourself, give to others, brush your teeth, etc), they have taught me so much in return.
Elena, our firstborn, taught me how important it is to find your passion in life and be passionate about it.  My passion is genealogy, hers is social causes.  We may be poles apart politically, but I am so very proud of her activism, her enthusiasm, her willingness to put herself out there to help the Underdog.
Alex has shown me how important it is to Be There for your friends.  Time and time again Alex has given of himself to help his friends, whether it was loaning them money (even a young boy), offering a place to stay (yep, even as a boy), offering a shoulder to cry on or a hand to uplift.  He has become the one his friends turn to for advice.
Seth, even though he was with us for such a short time, taught me one of the most important lessons of all, and that is simply to Love Everyone.  Somehow, that little boy understood the supreme importance of smiles and hugs and willingly offered them to everyone he met, even total strangers.
Natalie, who has the kindest of heart of anyone I know, taught me the importance of Forgiveness.  She has been deeply hurt numerous times over the years by “friends”, whether done deliberately or inadvertently. But Natalie understands that relationships are more important than holding grudges and that people sometimes do dumb things, so she freely forgives and works to keep her relationships with friends and family intact.
Andrew has shown me the magic of loving to Learn.  He loves to read anything he can get his hands on, whether for school or just because he wants to learn something new – science, philosophy, religion, nature, music.  If he could afford it, I’m sure Andrew would be a professional student, always adding to his arsenal of knowledge.
Ben taught me that when you commit yourself to do something you should put your whole self into it.  In his case that has sometimes led to broken teeth or bones, but rarely does he do anything half-heartedly. That attitude helped him create a sports team at his school that is still active and help organize the “Rose Prom to beat all Rose Proms” that people still talk about two years later.
And finally, there is Hope who showed me how to find joy in little things.  As a toddler, she would laugh delightedly at something as simple as a bird flitting around the yard, fireflies, pretty colors, flowers.  As a young teen, she still delights in the beauties of nature, the antics of her cat, and other commonplace things I might overlook.
Being a mother for more than thirty years, I have developed a lot of patience and tolerance, but I have also learned from my children how to be a better person.  My thanks to them for blessing and enriching my life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If It's Good Enough for Grandma ....

We humans are such creatures of habit … we do things because that’s the way it’s always been done.  For example, when I started shaving my legs I used soap on my legs because that’s all we had and that’s what Mama did.  It wasn’t until years and years later when one of my daughters said, “guys use shaving cream, why don’t we?” that I realized there was another (better) way.

That reminds me of a story I once read:  A young man was watching as his new bride prepared a pot roast for dinner.  She very carefully sliced off a bit of both ends of the roast before placing it in the pan.  When he asked why she did that, she said that’s how she learned from her mom.  Later while visiting the in-laws, he asked his mother-in-law why she cut off the ends of the roast.  She told him that was the way her mom always did it.  Finally, he asked the grandmother why she cut of the ends.  Her reply?  “Because it was too large to fit in my pan!”

How many things to we do because that is the way it is “always” done?  How many new and exciting things are we missing out on because it does not occur to us that we can do things differently?

As a children, one my brothers’ and sisters’ favorite snacks was banana sandwiches – no, not the deep fried kind that Elvis enjoyed – but very tasty, nonetheless.  First, you take a couple of slices of bread (we  used Sunbeam) and spread them with mayo or salad dressing (I’m partial to Miracle Whip), then you slice a banana into small circles, place them on one slice of the prepared bread, top with the other slice, and Enjoy!

Hey, don’t knock it … a banana sandwich with a glass of milk?  Doesn’t get much better than that!

For years I prepared sandwiches this way and enjoyed my delicious treat even as I got aggravated by those sweet slippery little circles that kept sliding out of my sandwich.  One day while making sandwiches for my children, I dared to try something different – first, I cut the banana in half, then sliced those halves lengthwise.  Voila! No more small circles sliding out. (This is how my children now prepare theirs, because that’s how their mama taught them.) 

Sometime later I was visiting my sister and watched as she sliced a banana into circles for her sandwich.  Without saying a word, I proceeded to make mine the “new improved” way, feeling quite smug in my superior knowledge.  I’m pretty sure she makes hers “my” way these days.

There is another area where I’ve been slow to learn. When bathing, we always use soap and a washcloth, right?  That's what my mama did and what my grandma did.   My daughters, though, tend to be a bit more forward thinking, so as teenagers they started buying sponges and body wash.  Such a silly extravagance, I thought.  Why would I want to scrub my body with a scratchy chunk of nylon?  And why isn’t plain old-fashioned soap good enough?  It’s like that “old time religion” – if it’s good enough for Grandma, it’s good enough for me!

A few weeks ago I found a bottle of Cherry Blossom/Bamboo Oil body wash on sale for a couple of bucks.  It sounded interesting, so I figured why not?  Then I splurged on a pink nylon sponge.  (I was sure Grandma must be rolling over in her grave!)  I was anxious to learn what all the fuss was about regarding body washes and sponges.

Oh. My. Goodness!  My skin felt so rejuvenated and tingly and baby soft …. Why had I been denying myself?? 

Now I’m wondering what other fascinating things I’ve been missing out on because I have been too stuck in the “old” ways.  What else can I try or do?  I look forward to finding out!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mama Mia!

My mother was a real character – stubborn, muleheaded, quick to get her “Irish” up, long to hold a grudge, hardworking, creative, feisty, and utterly devoted to her children.  She was adept at reading people and understanding their motives and possessed a devilish sense of humor.

Take Mama’s name, for instance … she was born Mary Lou Cary in November 1930 in the small town of Norrisville, Georgia, the first child of Ellis Irvin Cary and Georgia Belle Coleman.  She liked her name until some kids from school started teasing her about it.  It seems that there were two women of, umm, ill repute, who lived nearby – a woman named Mary and her daughter Lou.  After being laughed at and told repeatedly that she was named after them, Mama decided to change her name somehow.  She figured there wasn’t much she could do about “Mary” but she could change the spelling of “Lou”, so ever after she became Mary LUE.

It took Mama three years to finish 1st grade.  Not that she was dumb or anything, mind you; she was simply a sickly child and missed a lot of school.  Finally her parents sent her to town to live with her grandparents during the week to attend school and she returned home on weekends.  And that is how she wound up graduating in 1949 with her sister Nora who was two years younger.

Mama married John Riner Jr right out of high school and their first child, Jo Ann, arrived a mere 9 ½ months later.  More children quickly followed and by their 12th anniversary, Jr and Mary Lue were the proud, but struggling, parents of six children.  Their oldest son Daniel Allen "Buddy" had died three years earlier at the age of five.  The untimely death of their first son threw Jr into a mental and emotional tailspin that eventually resulted in his being institutionalized, a situation that continued on and off for years.

Mama had spent the first twelve years of her marriage taking care of young children, cooking, cleaning, sewing, canning, and gardening.  Suddenly, and with no preparation, she was forced to become the family breadwinner.  She prepared herself by taking a bookkeeping class at night.  While she never got a job as a bookkeeper, the class did give her the confidence to seek a full time job and she was soon hired as a clerk at Darling’s 5&10.  While there she discovered a talent for flower arranging and window dressing.  Until her retirement decades later, Mama continued to work at various local stores in the floral and greeting cards departments.

Mama had never learned to drive (Daddy didn’t approve), but with him gone, she was forced to learn and tried to teach herself.  One day she nervously got into our big old Buick and began to drive in big circles round and round the side yard of our house.  My brothers, sisters, and I all gathered at the big picture window in the living room to watch and laugh at her.  Mama had driven several erratic circles when she looked up and saw us.  Her concentration gone, she promptly lost control, drove through the wire fence surrounding the yard, and plowed right into our house!    After that incident, Jo Ann and her husband Richard decided they had better teach her the basics.  

We never could figure out how Mama passed the driving test; we think they gave her a license because they figured Miss Mary Lue would be driving anyway, so they might as well make her legal. Mama was never what you would call a good, safe driver.  I recall riding with her one day when she had a coughing fit, ran a red light, and got pulled over.  When the officer commented on her running the light, Mama replied, “I didn’t run it … I crawled it.”  He just shook his head, gave her a warning, and sent us on our way.
Mama believed getting a good education was the best way for her children to have a better life, so she even though some family members had urged her to take the older children out of school so they could work, Mama insisted that we all finish high school and go on to get more schooling.  She always pushed us and never seemed satisfied unless we got things perfectly right.  We could bring home a 95 average and Mama would say, “Couldn’t you do better?”  I suppose she meant that to be encouraging; we just found it annoying and frustrating.  Thanks to her influence, though, all four of Mama’s surviving children sought further education: Jo Ann went into nursing, Ammy became a computer programmer, and John followed Daddy into the heating and air business.  And while I never finished college, I did attend 2 ½ years. That legacy continues: to date, Mary Lue's grandchildren include six college graduates and others who are continuing their education in one way or another.

One of the most important things Mama taught us is that a mother should Be There for her children.  No matter what was going on in our lives – school nights, Cub Scout/Boy Scout/Girl Scout events, concerts, plays, church youth programs, sports – Mama was there to watch and support us.  Because of her example, my children, as well as my nieces and nephews, have grown up with mothers who Are There for them, too.

For some reason Mama was incapable of telling us that she was proud of us or that she loved us, although freely she told other people that she did.  I guess that was something Mama never heard herself while growing up, so she didn't feel comfortable voicing such feelings.   And that is another lesson we learned from Mama, in reverse ... my siblings and I have worked hard to make sure our children know how much we love them and how proud we are of their efforts and accomplishments.

More to follow ….

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Make a Joyful Noise!

I LOVE congregational singing!  

My first memory of congregational singing was watching my grandpa, John Riner, stand at the front of our little one-room country church, leading the hymns with gusto, with his sweet mouth twisted a bit to the side.  There was no piano accompaniment, but little need for it when you sang from the heart like Grandpa always did.

My daddy, John Jr, loved hymn singing as much as his pa, but for reasons known only to him, Daddy never officially joined his family church.  However, he always maintained a deep, abiding love for God and Jesus and each Sunday evening that rolled around would find him tuning in his old tabletop radio to hear some good ole time gospel music.  “How Great Thou Art”, “Just as I Am”, “The Old Rugged Cross”, and “Rock of Ages” were among his favorites.

Shortly before Daddy died he went into respiratory failure and was put on a ventilator.  I drove up from Florida to visit him in the hospital for a few days and since it was December, I took along my Christmas cards to address while sitting with him.  I also took along a church hymnal so I could sing those gospel songs that he so loved so well to my daddy.  And sing I did, hour after hour until my throat was raw.

I was with Daddy as they took him off the ventilator and watched anxiously as he slowly started breathing again on his own.  In gratitude, I began another hymn.  My sweet Daddy then turned toward me and rasped, “Honey, that’s enough singin’.”

Good thing I have a sense of humor! I returned to quietly addressing envelopes until about half an hour later when he opened his eyes and said, “Okay, honey, you can sing again.” And so I did, gladly.
Years ago a family vacationing in Florida came to our church meeting and sat in the pew in front of my family.  One of their sons had Down’s Syndrome; when the opening hymn began, that young man began to sing … quite loudly.  He didn’t know the words and his singing was totally off key, but I’ve rarely seen or heard anything as beautiful as that young boy praising God in song with his whole heart and soul.  I wept, grateful that I was there to witness it.  Recalling that sweet moment still brings me to tears.

All of my children have sung in choirs both in school and at church.  It is a gift I’ve been delighted to share with them.  My good husband, on the other hand, is one who absolutely cannot sing on key, but he still has a great appreciation for good music.  Like the boy with Down’s Syndrome, my husband’s inability to carry a tune has never stopped him from singing in church with his whole heart.  I’ve always appreciated that about him.  

After all, the Psalmist didn’t say, “Sing in perfect harmony unto the Lord”; he said, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!”  This is just what that young boy and my husband do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Ya Got a-Cookin', part 2

I truly wish I had paid more attention to Mama’s cooking when I was younger.  She was one of those kitchen maestros who could just toss in a bit of this and a pinch of that to make something supremely yummy.  Me?  I need details, man; give me a fully annotated step-by-step recipe to follow. 

My big sister JoAnn is the only one of us to pick up on Mama’s cooking skills (she told me to say that)  and she is an excellent cook in her own right, with lasagna and quiche as her specialties (she didn't tell me to say that). Thank goodness JoAnn moved beyond the ghoulish goulash she used to make every Saturday when were younger. She had learned to make that in home ec and was quite pleased with her ability to feed her younger (and often ungrateful) siblings.   In later years when she and Mama cooked together, our taste buds were always in for a treat.  

For years I badgered JoAnn to write up Mama’s recipe for Brunswick Stew so I could attempt it.  Thankfully, just a few months before Mama died, she and JoAnn spent a day cooking together.  While Mama created her legendary stew, JoAnn measured and wrote.  Here is what they came up with.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Mary Lue’s Brunswick Stew

3 lbs Boston Butt, roasted or cooked slowly in crockpot until tender
3 lbs Stew Beef, cooked; save broth
3 cans stewed tomatoes
4 large potatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 can cream corn
2 cans whole corn
1 can tomato sauce
1 bottle ketchup (use ½ to 1 bottle)
2 tble Tobasco sauce
Salt, Pepper, Garlic & Hot Sauce to taste

Mix all ingredients except corn in a big pot.  Simmer about 2 hours until done.
Add seasonings to taste.
Add corn the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to prevent sticking.
Have extra beef broth on hand if you need to thin the stew.
Stir frequently to prevent sticking.

This should make about 2 gallons of wonderfully delicious stew.

Note: We use frozen veggies because they have less sodium.  We also like to add Lima Beans.  You can also add more onions, potatoes, or tomatoes to taste, as desired.