Tuesday, April 29, 2014

American Museum of Science and Energy

Cade was on spring break, last week, and--while Jim worked remotely from his mama's--the kids and I visited the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The little kids and I had actually visited a couple weeks before, but Cade (with his extra eyes and hands) made it possible for me to take in a couple things I hadn't on the earlier trip: namely, the flat-top house and the photography of Ed Westcott.

The present AMSE facility opened in 1975, but it's nice for an older museum and (take it from me) includes something for everyone all the way down to the youngest of toddlers. I remember some of its offerings--especially the Van de Graaff generator and "Secret City" exhibit--from my visits as a preteen and/or teen. Our family is spending so much time in East Tennessee right now that it made sense to purchase an annual membership, especially since we can now visit many other ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers) museums for free.

I took each of the following photos on one of our two visits to AMSE in April. I took most in either Exploration Station (the most toddler-friendly, permanent exhibit) or the auditorium, where we learned about the hair-raising Van de Graaff generator. But despite AMSE's name, it's a museum of history as well as a museum of science and energy, and for the most part, I failed to photograph the exhibits regarding the history of Oak Ridge, the Manhattan Project, and World War II, in general. If you're interested in these subjects, I can't recommend AMSE highly enough.

To read more about the exhibits of the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, click here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bunny Cakes and Hymns

Time will tell, but it seems as though Jim's mom may have used up her last bit of good energy on the bunny cakes. The little girls (ages 5, 3, and 3) had been talking about the bunny cakes for months, and in the last month or so, each girl settled on a cake and icing combo and put in her order with Mamaw.

I was standing over the stove about three weeks ago when I told her: "We'll be here the day before Easter. I'm happy to make the bunny cakes if you'll tell me what to do." Jim fussed me for it, later, but I explained: I'd heard her say something about maybe paying someone to make the cakes and didn't want her to do that.

To be honest, I couldn't imagine she'd be able to make those bunny cakes, but she was so determined that she sure enough made a trip to the Dollar Tree--oxygen tank and all--for the cake decorations. It was the first time in weeks that she'd left her trailer for something other than a doctor's appointment. "I think I'll go to church, Sunday," she told Jim over the phone. "If I can make it to the Dollar Tree, I can make it to church." And she did.

By the time we arrived just before Easter, she'd not only baked the bunny cakes and perched them side-by-side atop the china cabinet, but she'd also made a whole new plan for the weekend: we were going to eat Easter dinner Saturday evening and go to church--all eleven of us, just like last year--Sunday morning.

Saturday went off according to the new plan. Not so much Sunday, but it was okay; my brother made the hour-plus drive to read scripture, and afterwards, Jim's brother got out his guitar. By the time my parents arrived to watch the little kids hunt eggs, we'd been singing for hours. Jim's mom, too, and I'm tempted to wonder how she more than held her own with an advanced condition of the lung, but I remember and profess: we are people of faith, people who believe in the power of God within.

This, then, becomes part of my testimony: all things are possible with Him, including bunny cakes and hymns.

**linking, also, with Jen's SDG community at Finding Heaven

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...

I Peter 1:3

Friday, April 18, 2014


I turned forty two days ago, and for the longest (although we'd made plenty of plans to celebrate), we hadn't made any plans for the actual day. But then Aunt Ellie called to say she'd have my Girl Scout cookies at her timeshare at Massanutten, this week. She wondered if I'd like to pick them up there or meet halfway, and I knew almost right away: I wanted to pick them up on my birthday.

"I'll bake you a cake! What kind do you want?" she asked.

"Do you know how to make my mama's applesauce raisin?" I wondered (because my whole life is pretty much about trying to score apple cake or bread from someone who loves me), and she laughed and said no but that she'd call Mom for the recipe.

Jim took the day off work; I pulled Cade from school; and the six of us made the two-hour drive to Massanutten. Aunt Ellie's been spending a chunk of April in one particular Massanutten villa most all my life. Back in the day, she and my grandparents had back-to-back weeks; I can't walk in without seeing Grandma and Grandad at the table, a board game at their elbows.

It all comes back in a rush, how my favorite thing as a little girl was the generous hot tub of the villa. We'd don our bathing suits and climb in, four or five of us at a time. At thirteen, I started my period for the very first time in that villa, and I remember fretting that, in their excitement, the women would tell Grandad my business. Funny how times have changed; I'll share with just anyone, now: I was days from turning thirteen, and praise be that my body has bled and borne so well.

On my twenty-fifth birthday, I conceived Cade in the villa. The story (in all its irony) goes that his dad had been transferred from Dallas to close-by Harrisonburg, and--since the villa was standing empty during her week--my aunt passed me her key. Jason and I ending up buying a five-bedroom, brick cape cod in the railroad town just behind Massanuttten; we had an amazing, back-deck view of its ski runs. It was the house to which we brought home our baby, the house in which Cade reached many of his earliest milestones.

I'm a little surprised, writing this, that I feel no sadness in my aunt's villa, but no: only blessed history. Only joy in seeing Jim puttering around the applesauce-raisin-cake-smelling kitchen; Cade and Daniel fishing golf balls out of the stream just like my brother and I used to do; my little daughters chasing Madison up the steps and peeking down through the rails on the balcony; Chip finding great amusement in the low thrum of the door stop on a spring.

When we left the villa, the moon sat near and red in the sky. Blood moon, they call it, and at points it looked as though we might drive straight into it. I thought of Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon: another gift from Aunt Ellie, who bought the book for my brother when he was a little boy. When Harold journeys home, he remembers: his window is the one with the moon just outside of it. On my fortieth birthday, the moon became a marker for me, too.

At forty, I know the unspeakable pleasures between the dropping of the crayon (or, in this case, my hair clip) and the dropping off to sleep. I've never loved the bones of another like I've loved those of my husband. I'm forty, and I'm on fire. I'm forty, and if it were my time I would die satisfied, but I'm just as glad to live on. I'm barreling into the blood moon, and in this moment, at least, I'm wholly unafraid.

Photo by Anjie Kay

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Swings

I've loved amusement parks all my life. I've written before about my mysterious, childhood fairy-tale-park experience and am leaning toward the idea that it took place in California. We lived in Pennsylvania until I was eleven, but my dad worked briefly in Fresno, and the rest of us spent a summer with him.

My dad's company (Grove, a crane manufacturer) sent its families to Hershey Park every year for free or at a discount, and some of my best childhood memories are from there. After we moved to East Tennessee, our family visited Dollywood and Opryland (in Nashville). I've visited many other amusement parks as an adult.

An amusement park amuses the parents of little ones in an entirely different way than it amuses freewheeling adults. Jim and I have tended to visit fairy-tale or Santa parks because, for far less money, they offer just as much (if not more) for little children. And let's get real: it's difficult (if not downright impossible) for parents to enjoy roller coasters and shows with little kids; the poor parents just end up walking their hineys off (past all the coasters and shows) to get to the kiddie parts.

Having said all that, we bought passes (through the end of summer) to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, this year. Cade started it by asking for a pass for Christmas; both his junior-high band and his eighth-grade class are visiting Busch Gardens in May. Besides, the families of his best friends have passes, so I think he was hoping to hitch some rides. As it turns out, the little kids are all free (the girls through the preschool-pass program), so Jim and I thought: why not? We've visited twice, already.

Saturday, we avoided the Sesame Street Forest of Fun (where we spent almost our entire, first visit) and at one point, found ourselves walking past Der Wirbelwind: the swings.

I love the swings.

Is Clementine tall enough to ride the swings? I wondered. And as it turns out, she is, and so is my three-year-old. I was delighted. A perk, I thought, to Charleigh's being in the 80th percentile for height. So the three of us got in line. I was so excited.

We got a good little ways in before Clementine started actually watching the swings. "Mom," she said, tugging on my shirt, "I do not want to ride those."

"Too bad," I said, "we're already in line."

She crossed her arms in front of her chest and parked it right there on the concrete. "I'm not going to ride those," she said matter-of-factly. "I'm scared of heights."

"Fine," I huffed, and taking both girls by the hand, I made my way past all the people behind us and back through the entrance of the line. Jim saw us coming and grinned.

"I knew they wouldn't do it," he said. "I know my girls."

"It's Clementine," I growled (and I may or may not have said something highly dramatic and inappropriate, for Jim's ears only, about her ruining my life).

Meanwhile, Charleigh was saying: "Mama, I'll ride with you. I'll ride the big swings with you." I stood there waffling, looking at Jim: did I really want to enter the line again?

"Go ahead," he said. "I'm not in any hurry. You should go."

Charleigh and I waited in line (again). We buckled into our seats and held hands, and just before we rose from the ground, the operator flipped on the lights. Everyone cheered.

As we were swinging, I said to Charleigh: "I love the swings. I feel like I'm a bird, like I'm flying."

"I feel that way, too, Mama," she smiled, and she squeezed my hand.

And it's hard, sometimes, to be a mommy. I have a strong personality. I was very much myself before I had four children. There are times that I feel missing from myself. There's a "what about me" voice inside.

I love my children. I live for them. I wouldn't give them away or back, and I would lie down and die for any one of them in an instant. Still, I fight to appreciate this (fleeting, I know!) season. I have to work at it.

It's hard. You don't know even if you do, and what I mean by that is simply this: you're not me, and your situation isn't mine. I'm confessing that I struggle, that it's not always as happy as it looks in pictures.

But also, this: every once in a great while, there's a moment that I'm fully and authentically myself, and one of my children is right beside me, taking it in with joy, and that's the very best. There is nothing better. Being fully and authentically myself, by myself, doesn't compare. I'm always chasing those moments. I'm always chasing myself with my children in tow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Egg

Odilon Redon's The Egg, 1885

"I couldn't take it one more minute,
all that walking around on eggshells,"
she said, and it's a thing I didn't get
until the crunch of eggshells filled
my very own ears. If you think it's
unpleasant to walk barefoot over a
dirty kitchen floor, imagine: crunch,
crunch, crunch, and not just through
part of your house, but everywhere
you go, through all your life: crunch.
I hope it's a thing you never get,
never wake up wondering: whatever
happened to the egg, anyway? And
how can I ever hope to fix that egg
when all the king's horses and men,
collectively, didn't stand a chance?

**writing in community, for the first time, with Imaginary Garden with Real Toads

Thursday, April 10, 2014

True Spring

On April 2nd, I woke to Chip's little hand rubbing my naked back in the right-left-right-left arc of a windshield wiper. I opened my eyes to a thin ribbon of sunshine between the curtains and knew: true spring, and that knowledge was sprinkled with surprise. I realized that, in some small way, I'd doubted the return of spring. I'd doubted.

It had to do with spring's (and even summer's?) being dangled--over and over again--in front of me and then snatched back. In delight, I'd sprung into "spring" several times only to experience the retreat of warm light. I know you know, and I wonder: is it out of wisdom that old men sit and talk about the weather? A fail-proof topic of conversation, the weather.

In writing about the weather, I've written something we all understand. But also? I've written analogy and even parable.

After enough "just kiddings," the hope slides right out of me, and perhaps without my even realizing it. Hope doesn't often spill from us like the gush of soda from a knocked-over glass, after all, but like the trickle of sand through a pin-pricked sack. Job understood this and writes the water-wear of rocks in the same sentence as the destruction of hope (14:19). It takes time to destroy hope.

Over time and after many disappointments, I come to doubt the return of a thing like spring...or the healing of a long-suffering loved one...or (like Charlie Brown) the integrity of a person like Lucy van Pelt. I'll wager you're just the same.

An unknown person wrote: "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end," and Cicero (echoing the author of Ecclesiastes 9:4) wrote: "While there's life, there's hope." I'm writing, just now, as someone awakening to many wonders I'd doubted. I'm a person of faith; I am. I want to be, also, a person of hope: a person who recognizes and stops the trickle of any and all good things from my being.