Writing Challenge Day 4 – A Piece of My Past

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DAY 4: Once you’ve decided on the piece of your past you want to focus on, tell its story. Take a moment to describe the object, so we can get a picture of it in our minds, and then write about it. What were the circumstances surrounding your receipt of this object? Who gave it to you? Did it belong to someone else before you? What does this item mean to you? Where do you keep it? Is it tucked away in a safe place or on display in your home?

MY REPLY: My piece from the past is young compared to other belongings, but it’s still a priceless possession. It’s an 8×10, black marble looking frame with a golden internal edges. Since I received it as a Christmas gift from my father it has hung on my living room. It makes me happy each time I pause before it. The frame contains hand drawn scenes from my father’s three most important homes – two from boyhood and the first home he and my mom ever purchased. The homes are each drawn on white, horizontal 3×5 index cards.

The first card, located at the top left, features the family farm in Lake Odessa, Michigan. It was his boyhood summer home where he and his three brothers lived with their aunt and uncle. I, too, spent many summer vacations on this same farm. I loved its narrow staircase leading to the second floor, the glassed in coffee table with hinged lid that displayed an intricate collection of my great great aunt’s sewing buttons and the kitchen counters laden with drying homemade pasta cut into perfect fettucine-sized noodles. While the farm ignites good times in my mind, I was deathly afraid of the second floor bedroom where we usually slept when we visited. This is because there was a door from the bedroom to the outside of the house. If I had ever sleep walked or opened that door I would have fallen 10 feet below and probably would have been no more.

“The farm,” as it is affectionately known, was built with a roofed, long, wooden front porch. This roof had been what you would have stepped on if you had opened the second floor door. But unfortunately, as wood deteriorates over time, both parts had to be torn down. The door was “off limits” to us kids. And rightly so. Locked but accessible, I remember realizing it would mean certain death if I had opened it and stepped out into nothingness. I guess the fact that I’m writing about it today shows you I obeyed.

The middle index card features my father’s boyhood home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Its detached one-car garage in back, originally housed my grandfather’s 1936 black Chevrolet and then later his new 1947 red International pickup truck.

Its backyard, unseen, contained a garden and a dog pen. According to dad, it also was home to many dog burial plots as well.

With three brothers and one bathroom you can imagine the line on the first floor! A master bedroom and kitchen were also there. The second floor contained two bedrooms – one shared by the two oldest brothers and another shared by dad and the youngest brother. Each bedroom had a door that accessed the attic at opposite ends of the house. At one point, an older brother used the area for a photography dark room. My dad and his little brother covered their attic area floor with cardboard thereby having a prime play area full of Army men. The areas had electrical lighting as well.

A Coal furnace and small water heater were in the basement and a coal truck made deliveries through a window chute, which led to a coal bin below.

The bottom sketch features the first new home my parents ever bought. After peeking in its windows on a Sunday and discovering an uncarpeted slab, dad called the builder who took care of it the next day so we could move in. It snowed in Tallahassee, FL on that day in 1975, the middle of my 7th grade year. Nixon was president. The interest rate on their mortgage was 4.75%.

Aside from these drawings and their historical nature, index cards are synonymous with my dad. He’s used them for years in his home office. He uses them to write notes and lists. I’ve seen him use them as bookmarks. He reads the Christmas story from the book of Luke in the Bible and then passes around a basket of them with ink pens prior to opening gifts so we can record the gifts we received and who gave them. This paperwork is very important – especially when writing thank you notes.

Dad’s doodles and sketches are pictures into our past. I’m so very thankful these three framed sketches hang in my home today.

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Fun: A Poem

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I am a writer.

I wonder if I’ll ever get my writing office organized.

I hear the lovely sound of silence so I can write.

I see a computer keyboard awaiting my words.

I want to publish nationally and still have my simple life at home.

I pretend to know where my rough drafts and research are stored on my computer.

I feel exhilarated when words spill out and my hands have a hard time keeping up with my brain.

I touch my calling to write, encourage and point to Jesus.

I worry if words clog between inspirations.

I cry if I over research because it’s hard to balance depth and actual writing time.

I am a writer.

I understand times bylines and times of anonymity.

I say words matter, but Jesus is THE Word.

I dream to encourage others and hold a copy of a children’s book I’m yet to write.

I try to make my writing meaningful, worthwhile, educational, uplifting.

I hope I can leave a written legacy for my family.

I am a writer.

FUN: Now I Understand Baby Bear’s Porridge Predicament

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Long live the purple pen I’ve had for 5 years. Soon it will be out of the box and IN MY HAND! It was given to me by a group of parents at the end of my first year of teaching.

For five years, it remained silent and secure in a beautiful display box. Self-hinged with a silky lining that said Levenger,  its shimmering purple body and silver accents remained regal and shiny, begging to be held, twisted and put to work. Each time I did the “give away, throw away, put away” routine at home, I gently placed it in a spot so I would see it. Eventually I would break down and tell myself it was fine to use because, well, it had been given to me. I had had a Cross pen before but never a treat as sweet as this. So I kept it to use – one day.

I remembered my messy previous experiences with ink cartridges and my frustrating attempts at calligraphy with various pen nib widths. I was determined that today was the “one day” I’d always put “on hold.”

Armed with the internet, I visited the Levenger website for my instrument of words. I poked around until I found the colored inks – not cartridges, but those in a real well. No more would I be limited to Flair pens [which were my first love in the 70s while making posters as an elementary schooler] or brand name colored markers or my dive into the land of gel pens during my scrapbooking heyday. In my world, more colors meant more happiness. Then I began teaching middle school and the drag but necessity of permanent and dry erase markers invaded my life. Come to think of it, so did rollerball-type pens that mysteriously migrated from the desk of my teaching colleague to mine.  Besides, everyone knew blue and black were so – so limiting. And red? Forget grading with it. It might damage my students’ little psyches [a belief I did not adhere to.]

If only I’d had three beds to choose from like Baby Bear – one too hard, one too soft and one just right. But no, my task was even more challenging.

I clicked the bottled ink tab only to find 14 color choices! Egads. This was going to take a while. Really, I wanted to order them all and decide later but I thought my husband would probably appreciate a little financial restraint.

And so I pondered and considered.

Blue Bahama. My mind drifted to the transparent, tranquil Bahamian waters to which our recent family vacation took us. With 13 folks ranging in age from 13 to 76 the color evoked the freshly made top-notch memories. We even had matching shirts that proudly displayed a ship’s wheel above the breast pocket and “Bailey Family Vacation 2012.” Emblazoned on the back? “Meet me at the buffet!” with a fork, spoon and fork underneath. Blue Bahama was a possibility but I still needed to investigate the other options as well.

True Teal, a close color relative, was a darker rendition but it was too similar to its Blue Bahama counterpart.

Cardinal Red, Calret and Shiraz. Somewhat related, these presented three shades of red. Cardinal, true to its tint, reminded me of the occasional happy hopping birds I see from my parents’ deck on the back of their house. Calret? Too reddish brown.  Shiraz contained a rich cranberry-like hue, but wasn’t “just right.”

Now Cocoa? It had possibilities – if only it had been scented! But visually, too dark and sad.

Blues were next. Cobalt Blue? Too primary colorish. It reminded me of elementary school. Since I had attended three different ones the color made me think of early transitions – too many. I’d pass and keep going. Skies of Blue. Self-explanatory. Empyrean? A nice, solid blue but in the “I’m only creative with the ink color name and not creative the ink color” category.

Then came Raven Black.  A definite negatory on that one. Way, too serious. Way….

Soothing greens followed – Forest and Emerald. Seriously beautifully and different from one another they had a “strike” against them. Both reminded me of money. Mostly, that’s a good thing but it also made me think about budgets. Let’s just say my approach to finances is more creative than practical. Just ask my husband. On second thought, let’s not!

I was starting to fidgit a little knowing that only two more colors remained. Geez. I hope that one would work. The next contestant was Regal – the opulence of glittering purplish jewels. Hey, I thought, I might be closing on “just right.” I slowed my thinking to keep my thoughts clear. It had possibilities. It was definitely in my favorite color category range. Hope started to surface and then – choirs of angels, flashes of lightning and all manner of other defining moment sounds sounded.

There it was – Amethyst. Light hearted, happy and semi-transprent but seemingly unpredictable as well.

Yes, Amethyst would work. I could picture myself exuberantly missing hours in my day because I had been happily handwriting – verse, poetry, blog posts. You name it. Let’s face it, we all know key tapping is efficient but my writing soul would release the trapped topics within me – those that can only be freed by hand.

Yes, Amethyst.  You are the one!

Now, if I can just make it until my prize is delivered in 5 to 7 business days. I guess I could find something meaningful to do like make a menu for the week. The only problem? It won’t be fun to write – until I get my Amethyst ink.

FUN: Bouncing Around

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Have you ever played “Popcorn”?

I did during the Christmas break. It requires a trampoline and at least two people. The more the merrier, and yes, I’m aware, more dangerous. 

While watching my 20 year old and his 18 year old brother bouncing around with their youngest cousin – a 7th grader – I saw way too much fun in progress. I yearned to participate but considered the cost it might exact from me. I found myself wanting to be there – even if the three decided to disembark!

First, I logically reflected upon my recently rehabilitated ankle. I pondered the physical therapy that had gotten me to this stable season in my life. Gone were the grimaces from ankle woes that had stripped away my confident stride. Gone was my syncopated limp. In fact, it had been months since I had even considered my ankle. It was then I realized it was rather enjoying its new found healthiness. Yet my passion to pounce remained.

The kids were jumping and jostling and just having fun. I couldn’t just stand by!

Next I contemplated my successful family rollerskating adventure the day before. The annual skating episode was a rite of family time during Christmas. The rink held momentous memories – of teenaged employment, of fantastic friends who created the social nucleus of our lives, of being a shared experience most of us could still enjoy.

My confidence was high as I left mom’s house to join awaiting family at the rink. And then, she said it. The two words that caused me to cringe and re-evaluate my reasoning for this risk.

“Be careful,” she said as I left.

I guess falling down at 49 would have implications that would impair my middle school teaching. It’s hard enough to get to the five different classrooms in which I teach WITHOUT an injury.

Do I REALLY want to skate knowing the potential for pain? My heart said yes so I plowed straight ahead laughing in the face of uncertain safety. Being with my family mattered and if I did kiss the floor and become crippled, at least I’d have a good story. Besides, I was relatively sure my family would call 9-1-1 after they had finished laughing.

Buoyed by the consecutive successes mentioned above, I claimed my moment. 

“My turn,” I yelled as I shed my shoes and sat in the center of the trampoline. My sons were dumbfounded and my nephew unsure how to react. I sensed a momentary hesitation but they could tell I was serious. I wasn’t budging from my criss-cross applesauce position until I had gone airborne and their jumping justified my zeal for zaniness. So the bouncing began. I landed on my right side, then my left. I found deeply stored silly screams emerge and I HAD FUN.

Why is it that we talk ourselves out of fun? Out of “playing popcorn” when circumstances dictate or NOT? I don’t know.

But I hope you think of me next time you weigh the risks because being serious is highly overrated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FUN: A wanna-be winner

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THE NIGHT BEGINS

To understand this story, first you must know that game time in Bailey [my maiden name] Land usually includes a sizable number of participants. Options include games such as Yahtzee, Tripoli, and any variety of dominos – Spinner, Mexican Train, basic, you name it – except for Monopoly of course, because it was banned several years ago when emotions ran too high threatening to cause a family fracture beyond repair.

This, however, was not the usual Coliseum-mentality type of evening. I was visiting for Mother’s Day and was enjoying a quiet night alone with with my parents. No small feat when you’re a grown up. Even though my 75+ year old Papa had offered to take me to the library to check out a “chick flick” – yes he used those words – I opted for dominoes – Spinner dominoes – to be exact.

I think the Monopoly issue actually was a remnant of unsettled disputes when my sisters and I played CandyLand as girls but that’s a separate topic for another time. Sidetracked. Sorry.

Mexican Train markers

During the last family game night, Mexican Train dominoes were the evening fare. I had finally become a semi-impressive contender when I no longer had everyone yelling at me to “put your penny up.” In case you’re not familiar with the game, you place a little plastic train engine atop your domino strand – a signal to let others know that they can play on your strand because you cannot.

There never seems to be enough of those little plastic train engines so when more than 4 of us are playing, some have to use pennies instead of trains to indicate the aforementioned situation. So I get distracted a lot. I teach 6th through 8th graders. Have a little mercy.

THE REIGNING VICTOR

My mom is considered the family game master. Kids who play virtual games have nothing on her. And don’t let the fact that she graduated from a Southern Baptist college for women fool you. She just wins and then beams her beautiful smile your way to gingerly disarm your delirium. You might get so caught up in smiling back that you lose the game in the process, but that’s just they way it works sometimes.

Then there’s my dad. I’m not sure he’s truly a game fan but I know that being with his family is top of his priority list so he’s usually in the mix – if for nothing more than to help me remember when to take my turn.

Fortunately, Spinner dominos starts with double 9s and works its way down to double blanks. For non-domino-types, this basically means that one round is played using a domino with matching numbers of each side of the line. Each subsequent round uses descending doubles until you reach the double blank domino, which signals the final to-do.

The significance? Regular dominos go up to double 12s and let’s just say that when playing with those, it can add up to a long and painful experience with the game master, but like I said, at least she smiles!

WHEN DO I GO?

For some reason, I was so caught up in banter between turns that dad had to keep reminding me to wait for my turn – AFTER mom. Personally, I didn’t see anything wrong with going before AND after mom. After all, I’ve already provided a foreshadowing of the outcome. And let’s just say mom is still smiling.

The game looked hopeful several times as mom, dad and I had all uttered the “one domino” warning, which basically puts others on high alert that you’re within a turn of claiming victory – possibly shifting the odds for others who don’t smile so much when they play family games. Yet time after time – round after round – it was mom or dad who smacked their last domino onto the table ending the game as I was left to manually add the number of dots on my remaining tiles. Let’s just say that a word person like me takes a little time during this part of the game.

I could have lied about the points I had. I knew to win meant having the fewest points and not the most. But I maintained my integrity, told the truth and gritted my teeth, the ones that wore braces from 4th grade to 9th grade. There I go again.

You could say that my inability to remember when to take my turn cost me a few rounds because that meant I had revealed the next domino I intended to play. This is a remarkably bad idea when the game master is sitting  across from you. You might as well reveal all your dominos and say, “please block me so I can’t go.”

HOPE ON THE HORIZON

On round 10 – the last one – the one with the double blanks, I had triumphed by going out BEFORE mom OR dad. I simmered in ecstasy thinking – maybe the whole game point spread would be closer than I think.

And then the final numbers came in. While not verified by an independent accounting firm such as U Cheatum and How, the results reflected my greatest fears. Trounced severely AGAIN – first by mom (smiling) and then by dad (whose pained look resembled empathy). Yes, I can count. I came in third. That’s not first. I wasn’t happy.

THE PAIN GROWS DEEPER

The next day, Mother’s Day lunch was at my sister’s house where eight family members enjoyed not only a wonderful meal but  actually hearing each other talk instead of wallowing in a restaurant crowd to wait for a table. To make conversation, my sister innocently asked what mom, dad and I had done the night before.

Honestly, I was hoping to avoid the topic but given the opportunity I recounted the misery blow by painful blow,  the smiling, the empathizing and what the numbers revealed. I was a loser. After what I gather was a rather extensive whining episode on my behalf, I felt the whole issue was closed. No domino championships in my future.  No claim to gameboard mastery. Just memories – and bad ones at that.

The conversation crept on to other items – that this year’s extended family vacation would be deferred to summer, 2012 and discussions of when I might be able to have my only niece visit before making a u-turn back to gaming.

ONE MONTH LATER

Give Away "got" me.

Now fast forward to June. My parents were visiting me  to attend my youngest son’s graduation from high school. Prior to the main event, out came the box of checkers and I challenged my 12-year-old nephew.  Victory was practically guaranteed and I took advantage of the opportunity. While we played, my dad also sat at the table taking it all in. After my nephew became bored I offered to beat dad and he accepted the challenge. I held my own but still lost and just as I was preparing to put away the pieces, dad asked if I knew how to play, “Give Away.”

“Why, no,” I replied. “I don’t.”

“Let me show you,” he said with an eerily similar smile to that of my mother.

In this version, you move to “give away” your pieces, forcing your opponent to jump you. The first player to get rid of their pieces wins. It’s basically Checkers played in the opposite manner.

The first game was a “practice” one. I like those a lot!

The following two tries created more misery for my already crushed confidence.

Finally, it was time to put up the game. A grin grew on my dad’s face and I realized now what the rest of my entire family already knew. I was a DOUBLE loser.

Aside from the consistency I provide for gaming challengers, I still remain ready to shatter any stereotypes of not being a worthy opponent. I cared not that I’d be trounced by my ‘rents two months in a row!

Hey. Anybody up for a game of Twister?

Family: More Ties and More Love

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You may not know this about me but I am adopted.

Meet my adopted parents!

Don’t get me wrong, I love my natural, nuclear, biological family, but I also have another and I’d like to introduce you.

My new family adopted me in the city where I attended college my junior and senior years while pursuing a journalism degree. I remember waking up the first Sunday morning I was in said city, living in a scholarship house with 17 girls, 9 on the second floor and two roommates in my particular bedroom.

Freedom hit and I realized I was truly in control of my comings and goings. Eventually, I found myself going to a church even though I didn’t have to. There were lots of other college students and it seemed like a fun place to meet people. That’s where I met Bill and Becky Dye, my adopted parents.

Why did they do it? You’ll have to ask them but with three boys under the age of 7, they reached out to me through that church’s “adopt a student” program, which linked local families to students for the duration of their time there.  The frequency of visits or exactly how the relationship shaped itself was decided by participants – encouragement being the main goal and having a “family away from family” the other.

I was Bill and Becky’s first student and their only girl, so they tell me I have a special place in their hearts. I experienced this again recently after crisscrossing my alma mater’s campus with my youngest son who is on the “college tour circuit.” After the well-polished presentation in a new and shiny building just for guests, after the walking tour where I discreetly pointed out places I had liked while there, it was time for our pre-arranged rendezvous.

This couple attended my college graduation, sat in the family section of my wedding, knows my parents and even their “adopted grandchildren” – my sons. They surprised me with balloons and birthday cake on my 21st birthday – my first away from my nuclear family. This couple didn’t play “church police” when I wasn’t there but who invited me into their home and their lives – they fed me, they let me play with their kids and they included me in family events.

After a leaving campus and heading to the other side of town, my son and I met Bill and Becky for a visit before heading back to Jacksonville. It amazes me how some relationships in life lend themselves to being put down and picked back up with ease, how time can pass and the next “together time” is just as sweet as any other. This time was no different.

So on mom’s break for filling in for a preschool teacher and dad taking a break in his day, my son and I exchanged hugs with them and caught them up on life. When time was up, we snapped a quick picture and here it is for the world to see. Me and my adopted parents.

Throughout the years they opened their hearts and home to many other adopted students – one even played football for the school. They might still be recovering from the food bill for that guy!

So what’s the point? Love goes on ….and on….and on.

I’m living proof.

Guest Post: Family, Faith, Fun and FINISH LINES!

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“You must feel so much better!”

That’s what most people say when they find out I have lost 112 pounds.

My answer?

“Well, actually I never really felt bad.”

You see I never felt sick. You could say I was a healthy obese person. Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. I have a strong faith in Jesus Christ and an amazingly loving and supportive family. However, I could never tackle my weight problem – probably because I was healthy and never felt a need to do anything about it.

In December, 2008, I finally decided to “do it.”  One thing I learned through this process is that you cannot convince and overweight person to lose weight. They absolutely must come to the decision to “do it” themselves.

I began by getting a personal trainer and I think it was a key to my success.  She taught me about exercise, eating right, and how to make this a lifelong change.

Has it been hard? Sure, but worth it every step of the way.

As I said before, I have an amazing support system, my God, my family, and my friends. Without them there is no way I could have achieved this.

A year ago during my usual summer trip to the Adirondacks, I watched people participate in an annual triathlon in Piseco Lake, NY. At that moment, I vowed that the following year I would do it.

I trained for a whole year, working at my swimming, biking, and running. My goal was to simply finish the race – ideally in under three hours.

July 17 I did that triathlon, and not only did I finish, but I did it in 2 hours and 4 minutes!  I was thrilled.

As I crossed the finish line, my Mom, my biggest supporter, was waiting with arms wide open as I listened to “Blessed Be Your Name” on my Ipod one of my favorite songs by Matt Redman.

Yes, it took hard work and dedication, yes, there were days I did not want to get out on that bike, or put on those running shoes, but God gave me strength, and my family and friends kept me going. This weight loss journey, which let me add is not complete, will be something I will work on for the rest of my life. Not only did it teach me about my own strength, but it showed me just how very much I am loved by so many.  Blessings come in so many packages, and for me, this blessing has been lich a much-anticipated gift on CHRISTmas morning.

So when someone says to me, “You must feel so much better,” I tell them I do, but not just physically. Losing weight is not just about shedding pounds. It’s about feeling lighter physically AND emotionally, it’s about becoming stronger mentally AND spiritually.

My new motto is “Dream the Impossible, then go make it happen!”

God bless!

Jill Herkel is the drama teacher at Pine Forest School of the Arts, a public elementary magnet school in Jacksonville, FL. She also loves being a Jacksonville Jaguars season ticket holder along with her parents and attending high school football games at her alma matter, St. Augustine High School. She sings, and plays guitar and keyboard in her church’s praise band.