44 things for which I am grateful

So, I’m a little late to this one. Meant to post it last week right after Thanksgiving. Especially after having a house full of boisterous, loving, and fun family. While I had no problem rattling off this list when I jotted it down, the actual posting took awhile. Probably because I’ve been sick with the WORST COLD KNOWN TO MAN. But that’s okay. It’s never too late to be thankful, right? :) (PS – this isn’t on the list, but I’m also thankful for all healthcare professionals. I really should go see them sooner.)

  1. French fries and bread – my two staples
  2. Flannel sheets
  3. A roof over my head
  4. A blanket on my bed
  5. That I sometimes rhyme
  6. Doggies
  7. Kitties
  8. All animals
  9. Sunshine
  10. Being literate
  11. And college-educated
  12. And of somewhat greater than average intelligence
  13. CHOCOLATE – another important staple :)
  14. A wonderful childhood
  15. Awesome parents
  16. My family – ALL of them – Dad, Katie, Ben, Brianna, Hey Joey, Elizabeth, Abbi, Rusty, Emmett, Everett, Hayden, Parker, Lynn, and Jayne – there are more – but this is my core support system
  17. Cozy pjs and warm socks
  18. All the days I wake up
  19. My relative good health
  20. My job – an almost-always pleasant place to go to work
  21. My coworkers
  22. Health insurance
  23. Books!
  24. Libraries
  25. Fridays
  26. Colors – all the colors! And being able to see them
  27. Christmas music
  28. Cheesy, ridiculous, unrealistic, sappy romance novels
  29. Trees
  30. My car
  31. Vacation time
  32. Cameras
  33. A few really, really good friends
  34. Target
  35. Saturday breakfasts with Grandpa
  36. Shoes
  37. Water
  38. Time with my Dad
  39. Being able to laugh at myself (mostly)
  40. Art and other forms of creative expression
  41. Indoor plumbing
  42. ALSO: toilet paper
  43. HUGS!!! Always up for a hug!
  44. Love – even though I am not married or in a committed relationship, don’t have a boyfriend, and have absolutely zero potential on the horizon, I believe there is love all around me – one can find it anywhere – just open your heart – it’s there

happy 44 to me

Today is my 44th birthday. This is significant because it’s also the year of my planned mid-life existential crisis. You see, I always thought it would be cool if I lived to 88. It’s a nice round number, a satisfying amount of years, good luck in the Chinese culture, and the symbol for infinity (just on its side). I don’t know when I landed on that number, but it’s always stuck with me. I would be very happy if I made it to that 88th year. So of course, 44 is half that. I feel like it could be momentous. This is the year when I should look back on all the things I’ve done and look forward to the things I still want to do. It’s time to take inventory and see what’s missing. It’s time to reflect, to plan, and with a whiff of change in the air, maybe freak out a little.

To celebrate this 44th cycle of my life, I thought it would be fun to compile little lists of 44 items each throughout the year. You know, like “44 Things You Might Not Know About Me.” Or “My 44 Favorite Movies.” Or “44 Things That Make Me Want To Gouge My Eyes Out.” Stuff like that. I never catalog anything about myself. I don’t have a journal. I don’t write daily social media posts. I don’t scrapbook. I don’t take selfies. I feel like I should this year. It feels important. Plus, I think it will be fun. But mostly for me. Therefore, I apologize now. :) Here we go.

44 (Random) Things You Might Not Know About Me

  1. I have no middle name. My first name is two words. Thanks Mom.
  2. I couldn’t swallow pills until I got to college. Thanks to Beth for finally helping me out.
  3. I was a band geek and honors nerd in high school.
  4. I am a speed demon. I stopped counting after my tenth ticket.
  5. I have to be on time for everything. This means 15 to 30 minutes early. I have my Dad to thank for that.
  6. In college, I once ate an entire watermelon, spiked with vodka, on a dare.
  7. I like to keep my nails – both finger and toe – ridiculously short.
  8. I have a photographic memory. Seriously. Helps so much with studying and remembering people.
  9. I am obsessed with jeans. I own probably 20 pairs. I think the perfect ones might be from Express. Thanks to KT for introducing me to them.
  10. I hate going out. I’d rather stay in and watch movies or read.
  11. Speaking of reading, I love reading! I read all the time. ALL THE TIME PEOPLE.
  12. I’ve bungee-jumped from the highest man-made bridge in the US (Portland, OR).
  13. I know it’s hard for some people to believe, but I really, REALLY, have never wanted kids of my own. I’m just fine being an aunt. :)
  14. I’m a HUGE introvert. Like, people exhaust me to a puddle of tears. And don’t get me started on my personal bubble.
  15. The Times New Roman font makes me cringe.
  16. I believe very strongly in karma.
  17. I also believe in signs.
  18. I used to collect travel brochures when I was a kid. Our family traveled all the time, all over the US, and I would pick up those brochures in the lobbies of the hotels we stayed in. I had stacks and stacks of them.
  19. I am also a map nerd. I could look at maps for hours.
  20. I hate playing sports. I don’t catch. I don’t throw. And I don’t run. Unless someone is chasing me.
  21. I get excited when I have nothing to do for the weekend.
  22. I think steak might be one of the vilest foods in all the world. I don’t understand how people can eat it.
  23. I’m pretty good at self-preservation. I didn’t get stitches until I was 35 years old. When my dog knocked me over on the sidewalk.
  24. A lot of my “best friends” growing up were my grandparents and my aunts. I usually preferred spending time with them over kids my own age.
  25. I took PB&J for lunch every day – EVERY DAY – of my life from 1st through 6th grade. I would still eat it every day.
  26. Is there such a thing as “too many shoes?” Because that doesn’t really apply to me. I own at least 140 pairs. The last time I counted.
  27. Pink is my favorite color. I wear it A LOT. It makes me happy.
  28. Despite the aforementioned watermelon incident, I rarely drink. It all tastes like NyQuil to me.
  29. I have a slight obsession with squirrels and cardinals. They’re in just about every room of the house. Not real ones – just decorative items.
  30. I love almost any animal. I wish they could talk. Because I would be their friend.
  31. I will NOT visit or patronize a zoo. They are cruel.
  32. I like winter. Except last winter. That was a doozy.
  33. I love puzzles of all kinds – word, number, logic, jigsaw. I’m especially good at jigsaw puzzles – my spatial reasoning skills are off the charts.
  34. I will also kick your ass at Scrabble.
  35. I took ballet and dance lessons for 11 years. I now walk with my feet turned out.
  36. I’m afraid of heights, but I love rollercoasters.
  37. I have every birthday and Christmas card I’ve ever received from my family since I was 8 years old.
  38. I’ve been to a therapist. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
  39. I collect: depression glass, cookie jars, Swarovski crystal, pieces of art with dogs as the subject, ribbon, cookbooks, several versions of Twas the Night Before Christmas, Xmas music, and vintage handkerchiefs. None have approached the hoarder stage. :)
  40. I love Christmas. No, no. Let me say that again: I LOVE CHRISTMAS.
  41. We name all the cars in my family. I’ve had the Cherry Bomb (’85 Olds Calais); the Batmobile (’94 Pontiac Sunfire – which was later rechristened the Rattle Box); and the Death Star (’11 Chevy Impala). We’ve also had the Hot Dog, Moby Dick, the Battering Ram, Sparkle Blue, Ol’ Betsy… I’m probably forgetting a few others.
  42. I am definitely a super geek when it comes to anything related to Star Wars, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Gilmore Girls, and Friends.
  43. I don’t really FEEL 44. In my head, I’m probably 24.
  44. I LOVE DOGS. Wait. You already new that one, right? ;)

view from the back porch

Decided to share a little thing I wrote about my grandma, more than ten years ago, not long after she passed away. Forgot I even had it. This one’s for you, Dee-dle-dee! Just like your daughter, you were pretty amazing. :)

Growing up in Indiana where cornfields and gravel roads are far more common than buildings three-stories high, I cultivated an early appreciation of simple things: old houses, spacious backyards, playing on dirt hills, ritual Sunday dinners with the family, eating sweet corn and tomatoes with EVERY meal in the summer, and long drives in the car through the countryside that hopefully ended in ice cream somewhere. My childhood is full of memories like these, and most would not be possible without one person in particular: my grandmother, Mary Margaret Redenbarger.

She was a happy soul and just about the sweetest thing in this world or any other. Like her lyrical name suggests, my grandmother loved to hum the old tunes of Guy Lombardo, Billie Holiday, and Rosemary Clooney. She was well read; she hugged me generously; and an unfinished jigsaw puzzle always awaited me on her kitchen table.

We had the most special of relationships. I was the apple of her eye and she was like a heaven-sent angel to me; our time spent together was always splendid. And how I loved visiting her! Her house was just a short bike ride from my own, close enough that my mother entrusted me and my sister to travel the brief journey by ourselves. This delicious freedom granted to us by our mother, combined with the seemingly endless stretch of summer days, made us want to visit often and stay long.

Grandmother’s house quickly became my second home. Although I loved every part of it, perhaps nothing in that house was lovelier to me than the back porch. It was nothing elaborate or fussy or extremely decorative, but it provided an extraordinary view of the world. Its ambiance permeated every corner, crack, and crevice. No matter what time of year, a welcoming atmosphere greeted anyone who passed through its door. On a more poignant level, its inherent plainness taught me many truths about life.

As imperfect as it may have looked, the porch was perfectly square. Two of its walls were screened-in; the other two were brick and contiguous with the house. The floor was smooth, cool, gray concrete – the kind her dog Heidi loved to nap on, as dogs are wont to do during the oppressive days of summer. The studs between the screens were given a fresh coat of bright white paint every few years; but I actually preferred the peeling, weathered look the porch obtained after several thunderstorm beatings so common to the Midwest. It was the most inviting place on earth. Dare I say it was magical??

Because of its location leading into the kitchen, the back porch naturally became the “front door” of her house. For as long as I could remember, friends and family entered that way; no one ever came to the proper front door. It had a glorious view of the neighborhood. Its open screened walls faced, at once, the backyard, sideyard, and street. Looking up the street to the corner, I could see who was headed this way for a visit. Come twilight, the dense canopy of maple trees would be filled with the flashes of fireflies. I could smell the sweet perfume of the magnificent lilac bush not twenty feet from the corner of the porch. Robins sang, cardinals chirped, squirrels chattered; I would be mesmerized.

After my grandfather passed away and I was in my twenties, I moved in with my grandmother and the porch was mine to visit, whenever I wanted, every day. I could now spend time gleefully pondering all the possibilities of a long summer day or perfecting the fine art of simply doing nothing. When I stepped through its threshold, the porch would work its subtle magic. It became a place to reflect on my own path in life. And it taught me to appreciate the natural pace of things, while observing even the smallest detail in my surroundings.

My grandmother and I would spend entire afternoons reading books and flipping through magazines on the porch, silently enjoying each others’ company. Or we would talk about lost boyfriends, all my crazy hopes and dreams, angry fights with my parents, and my very serious (yet probably imagined) bouts of being completely misunderstood by EVERYONE. She would listen sympathetically, with nary a harsh word or judgment, as grandmothers are so wise to do. We would often doze off, in a state of unspoken camaraderie, carried away by the rhythmic sound of cicadas. And when the heat and humidity became almost unbearable, she would ask, “How about a glass of lemonade? Lemonade, made in the shade.” My worries were forgotten; my cares seemed to drift away. Of all places, grandmother’s porch provided me escape and peace.

We would watch the seasons change. In the summertime, the voice of some enthusiastic parent announcing the players at the Little League diamond would drift across the fields. As warm August nights gave way to cool autumn evenings, I would keep score of the high school football game myself, listening to the cheers from the crowd and the music from the band. In the winter, the snow would push its way through the tiny metal squares in the screen and swirl itself into small drifts on the cold floor. Then spring would come and with it, thunder rolling across blue-gray skies. The falling rain would make a pleasant hollow trickling sound as it rushed down the metal drainpipe and splashed over the gutter edge. How I loved when it would rain!

Over the years, the porch became a symbol for our family’s gatherings too. It was here that my Aunt Lynn orchestrated masterful Easter egg hunts. It was here that we spent Memorial Day weekends dining al fresco on grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. We celebrated birthdays, graduations, holidays, new jobs; and it was here that we gathered with friends and relatives to celebrate my grandparents golden 50th wedding anniversary.

And as life goes on in its continuous and sometimes unforgiving cycle, it was there on the same porch that I learned of my beloved grandmother’s passing from this world. It only seemed fitting. When I recall that day, I am lost on the details… but her spirit was thick in that place, as if at any moment, we might hear her yelling at us from the kitchen to come inside for some lemonade.

Of course, that was several years ago. I have since moved on and her house belongs to a new family. When I think of that porch now, I often wonder if it was blessed. It was where I genuinely came to know my grandmother, connecting with her not only as a relative, but also as a true friend. Perhaps that’s what they mean when they speak of sacred places – places we hold near and dear to our hearts for reasons we cannot explain.

I firmly believe there are lessons to be learned in everything we do, in every place we inhabit, in all that we are. Grandmother’s back porch was more than just a room; it was a place symbolic of our special relationship – weathered and timeless, sweet and serene. It was here, in this sacred place, that I learned these lessons: to nurture strength of spirit, to leave my day’s worries and cares on the doorstep, to know the warm comfort of safety, to be accepted no matter what, to be loved unconditionally.

I miss that porch terribly now. But maybe I’m really missing the innocence of youth and angelic grandmothers and days when the biggest worry in the world was whether the tires on my bike were flat. I may be here at the desk in my office now, but in my mind, I’m sitting on that porch wiling away the hours with my grandmother. There, it’s always spring and summer, and I’m a child again. If I close my eyes, I can smell the lilac blooms. I can feel the gentle mist of rain on my cheeks and nose and forehead, as I press my face to the screen. I can taste the sweet lemonade. If I listen carefully, I can even hear my grandmother singing in the kitchen.