Category Archives: Happiness

The White Stuff

bird-678917_1280Q:  Do you know what the white stuff in bird shit is?

A:  It’s bird shit, too.


There’s no difference, y’all.

There’s no better part of shit that makes it not quite so shitty.

Just after Richard’s cancer diagnosis, my friend Karen and I were having a talk. Her husband has survived chronic leukemia for over twenty years. Steve has CLL–the slow kind of leukemia–whereas Richard had AML–the very fast kind. Karen and I were talking about the way cancer blows up your life in one KAPOW kind of instant. She said, “It’s like you’re at a party then being handed a big ole shit pie to eat while everyone else is having cake.”

We laughed over that, then she said, “At least they give you a spoon!” Karen, always the optimist. I’ve learned a lot from her over the years.

I was thinking about this story today with good reason. You know how you find that sweet sweet parking spot and think, “I am so lucky! None of these other suckers saw this sweet spot! Ha HA! I am GOLDEN. Score!”


poo_1And you come back to your car after work and find it covered in an explosive row of bird bombs…and realize that the empty parking spot sits directly beneath a comfortable perch of a powerline…and maybe those other suckers knew that?

So I spent a few minutes thinking about bird poop today, and the white part and the shittiness. Before I got too bogged down in the shit that came with that sweet parking space, I thought about the GOOD things that came my way thanks to that parking place. I got to walk to my office under giant pecan trees. My steps bounced over the squishy black mulch of a tidy path that winds past gardenias just warming up in the sun. I watched squirrels skitter to their trees and birds flit past.

I feel LUCKY every time I walk that path, into a job I love then back to my car to get to a home I love. So even if there’s a little bird shit on my car, that’s a small price to pay for all the rest of it.

Living is always going to be like that–there’s the greenish part of the bird shit and the white part…and all around it, the sky part and the tree part and the skittering part and the gardenia part.

It’s a question of where you choose to look. Bird shit is the price we pay for bird song and little robin nests filled with blue eggs. The worst parts of my life were still part of my life, bumped right up next to the best parts of my life. All or nothing.

Sure, I’ll park somewhere else tomorrow. Still enjoy my walk and smell the gardenias, but with a lesson learned!




Mrs. Talmadge’s Backyard

Instead of walking down the sidewalk to my office, like I used to do, I’ve recently taken to cutting through Mrs. Talmadges’s backyard in the morning and afternoon. That’s not as rude as it sounds, because Mrs. Talmadge lived past 100 and died a few years back. The house has been empty for a while, but it’s owned by the hospital so I’m not trespassing.

More than a hundred years ago, Prince Avenue stretched for a mile with grand mansions rising on either side of the street. These days, the few old homes that survived have become the Suntrust bank, a doctor’s office, an event facility, the UGA president’s home, a fraternity house. A few decades back, our hospital acquired the Talmadge properties–after all, we’d been neighbors since 1919. Mrs. Talmadge enjoyed a “life estate” which gave her the right to live in her home for the rest of her years.


So over the years, the hospital campus grew up on the land around her white-columned Greek Revival home. The Julius Talmadge mansion next door to hers became the outpatient surgery center, with a modern surgery facility built off the back of the house. Our parking deck rose in the back corner of her yard, past the pecan trees. The hospital grounds crew pruned her azaleas and kept the grass cut just how she liked it. I can smell the perfume from the massive tea olives that flank  Mrs. Talmadge’s front walkway as I walk through the doctors’ parking lot on the way to the cafeteria. The driveway to the Human Resources Building shares a row of irises, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths with Mrs. Talmadge’s front yard.

And we were good neighbors for all those years. No employee EVER cut through Mrs. Talmadge’s property while she was alive. That would have just been tacky. I kept up that tradition for years myself. But now that the lady of the house is gone, the house sits quietly as the hospital bustles around it. And the backyard has been pulling at my heart this spring.

Gardens are planted to be admired, and Mrs. Talmadge’s garden feels lonely. Stuck there behind the empty house and the parking deck, it’s still doing what it’s always done–blooming, growing, showing off–and it deserves some admiration.



I come from a long line of people who plant gardens. So one morning when the grass wasn’t too wet with dew, I cut across Mrs. Talmadge’s backyard and I’ve been doing it ever since. Every morning, there’s something new to discover. In the afternoons, I run my hand across the warm red brick of the basement wall and I tell the house “Hey there, I see you.”

There’s a set of worn concrete steps that seem to lead to nowhere, but I can see they once made it easy to navigate a little terrace where the back driveway looped around the house from the porte cochere. Next to the steps, there’s an antique rose. Not the kind we’ve overbred for hardy hybrids with big showy blooms. This is an older gentlewoman, with delicate branches and soft red flowers in the summer that smell like roses are supposed to smell, not like the kind you buy chilled at the grocery store.



Under the dogwood trees, white Star-of-Bethlehem peek out from their deep green shoots. I spy violets in the grass, dark purple and white, and I cross my fingers that the grounds crew won’t cut them too soon now that the grass is greening up with spring.



And y’all–this morning, the air was filled with the smell of wisteria. Look at this astonishing specimen:



A vine that has found its way into the air, by leaning on a tree (I think it’s an oak but I’m not sure what variety). How many years did it take for these two to grow together, leaning on each other?

Old places, that have become what they are from the work of many hands over the span of many years–there’s so much to find in them.

Thank you, Mrs. Talmadge, for this garden and this reminder of how things grow. Leaning on each other, making space, keeping on even when there’s no one around to admire the splendor.

100 Words About Happy Things

(Casey at “Life With Roozle” issued a 100 word challenge…here’s my answer)

drop-556895_1280Spent some time crying in the car today, in the rain.

But Heather and Pete took a baby home from the hospital. Anna brought 3 Sumos to my front door. There were doughnuts and Spiderman Legos and a new book from the $2 table. Erica bought herself a bracelet and Casey brought flowers home. It’s Andrew’s birthday and Nicole loves him. Pam sent a picture of blue sky over Springfield to prove that it does happen. Carlos in his bathrobe with slicked down hair. Vivi chose a purple shirt for picture day.

Some days there is crying. But there’s also all this, everything.

A Sumo and a Sparrow Meet In a Grocery Store

Kroger is turning into my meditative place, like an ashram with a deli. I seem to have a lot of epiphanies there–about peaches and crushes, parking lot rage, or canoodling in the pasta aisle. This week, I cried a little in the produce section after I made three loops and realized that the Sumo mandarins are gone again. Maybe FOREVER.

About a month ago, in the grayest gray of February that ever dared to gray, I got annoyed during a traffic jam in the produce section. You know when people just leave a cart in the middle of the aisle instead of parallel parking it? Grrrr. As I waited in my cloud of righteous indignation, an Asian grandmotherish woman waited for the produce manager to peel an orange and give her a sample.

“See how easy they peel? They don’t look like much but they have a great flavor. Real sweet.” He held a half of the orange in one gloved hand and offered her a wedge. As soon as she put it in her mouth, she began to smile and nod. Her husband got a plastic bag from the roller and started pawing through the bin of oranges. And still, I waited for them to move.

sumoBecause I was forced to wait, the aroma had time to get to my sniffy little piqued nose. Dang–that DID smell good. And it sure didn’t smell one bit like February. I grabbed four of the knobbly oranges with the weird sumoesque topknot thingy aroung the stem.

The next morning, I plopped down like a dirty snowman on the couch at the beginning of another gray day. As I peeled the Sumo, Carlos climbed up beside me and we shared bite after bite. I swear that orange kept me from crying that day.

At night, the oranges stopped me from snacking on sweet stuff. In the morning, they started my day off right. For a glorious week, I ate them morning, noon, and night.

The next week when I returned to Kroger, they were gone. I asked the produce manager if they had any in the back. I NEVER do that. He returned with the news that the Sumos were gone and they probably weren’t getting any more. They had been too hard to sell. Too many people looked at the ugly outside and passed them up for a dependable old navel.

I cried, y’all. I stood right there in front of the lunchbox sized apples and sank into a citrusy funk. My inner monologue was pretty much, “Oh, RIGHT. I forgot that I can’t have ANYTHING nice.” Yadda yadda February yadda.

I moved on to Cuties, but it wasn’t the same.

Then the next week, like magic, the Sumos were back. I spent scads of dollars on two bags and hid them in the car and in my office so the kids wouldn’t gobble them up. I know, that’s pathetic, but you do what you gotta do to make it through February. I stretched the Sumos until the calendar rolled over to March.

Maybe this weird new hybrid fruit was catching on! This week, I had my hopes up that Athens had seen the true path and the demand for Sumos would carry us until springtime.

Nope. They were gone. Again. I made three trips around the piles of grapefruit, tangelos, mandarins, lemons, ugli fruit…nope.


Before I could get to feeling too robbed, I heard an outside sound there inside the Kroger. Chirping. Up in the steel rafters, right above the produce section, a tiny sparrow flitted overhead.

I’m sure someone (probably the produce manager) thinks of that bird as a nuisance. I don’t. Sure, it’s gonna poop on something eventually, but there’s a narrow chance of getting pooped on just about anywhere you go.

That little bird cheered me up. It really doesn’t give a damn about whether there are Sumos this week or not. It makes a meal of whatever is left over or dropped. Imagine the plentitude it has foundinside that store! No cats, no hunger, no wind, no rain. Always warm and dry. We could look at it and think, “Poor thing is trapped in here, away from its natural home.” Or we could look at it and think, “Dude…Jackpot!”

It reminded me of that little bird in Bermuda that I wrote about in A Life Made of Crumbs. Gimpy, we called him, due to his little twisted leg. Every afternoon at four p.m., he hop-wobbled around the terrace at tea time, making a feast from the crumbs we dropped from our scones and cucumber sandwiches.

Well, this story has gone on so long, it’s the middle of March. So I guess I made it out of February, Sumos or not. Jackpot!




Underground Sondheim

Nothing beats enthusiasm, and my friend Bryn has enough enthusiasm to blow your hair back when you’re standing still. If you’ve been reading Baddest Mother Ever for a while, you might remember Bryn from the story about painting elephants. She’s an actress and a director and a painter and a bon vivante.

So when Bryn was moved to racking sobs by the new “Into the Woods” movie then confessed that she had never seen it before on stage, Facebook blew up like only thespians can blow up. Facebook emoted, with banter and stage business. Within one evening, a plan had been hatched to put together a pop-up showing of the original Broadway production of “Into the Woods.” These people have keys to the theater, y’all.

Bryn included me because I confessed to being a Sondheim virgin myself. I invited Wise Heather to come along, because she gets all worked up about musical theater, marching bands, Doctor Who and other realms of high school geekdom. We’re perfect for each other.

It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously. Raining buckets. Or as my dad says, “Raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” Exciting stuff-going to a theater when there’s no show going on. I felt like it was a rave, or a popup dinner or some kind of underground Fight Club (but with jazz hands!)

To share, I brought two bottles of prosecco, a block of red wax Gouda, some crostini, two Asian pears, and a dozen plastic champagne flutes. Heather hooted when she saw that I had packed it all in a little red basket. I didn’t get the joke because I didn’t know that “Into the Woods” is all about Grimm fairy tale characters and I had cast myself in the role of Little Red Riding Hood.

We ran through the puddles and into the tiny lobby of the Town and Gown Theater. It felt like home right away. To actors, new people aren’t strangers–they’re POTENTIAL AUDIENCE MEMBERS! This jolly crew arrived with hot doughnuts, olive dip, witch’s brew punch, pear crumble, popcorn, not sloppy joes, broccoli dip, cookies, nuts. I popped open a bottle of bubbles and slipped right into the party.

At a theater potluck, you have brocade on the table.

At a theater potluck, you have brocade on the table.

What a cool treat–to have the run of a theater with no crowd there. Peeking inside the sound booth. Wandering up and down and around the aisles. Being able to choose a seat for yourself then take the seat next to it for your snack plate and wine glass. Knowing that there will probably be a sing-along portion and that will be perfectly OK.

A large video screen hung across the stage, in front of the remains of the Christmas show. A couple of clicks on a laptop keyboard and BOOM, there was the 1991 Broadway cast, singing for us as big as life and twice as beautiful. If you aren’t familiar with “Into the Woods,” I hear the movie is pretty good, but I can say without a doubt that the Broadway version is delightful. It’s the story of fairy tale characters whose stories cross in the woods. My favorite character was The Baker’s Wife. She and her husband are childless, thanks to a curse put upon his family by Bernadette Peters’ witch. She charges them to fetch four magical objects and in return she will give them the baby they so desire. Thus begins the story.

The Baker’s Wife–known by her role and given no name–ends up helping her husband in his quest for Jack’s cow, Rapunzel’s hair, Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Cinderella’s shoe. Along the way, she helps some and she hinders some.

The scene that got me, really struck my heart, occurs in the second act. The Baker’s Wife has her baby, but a new problem has arisen. As she and the other townspeople join together to fight this new problem, The Baker’s Wife ends up having a tryst in the woods with one of the princes. She’s alive again, being kissed and kissing. She’s smitten. She has it all for that moment.

And of course the moment can’t last. The Prince up and returns to being a prince. She’s left ruminating in the song “Moments in the Woods” about why those special moments in life can’t remain:


“Back to life, back to sense,
Back to child, back to husband,
You can’t live in the woods.
There are vows, there are ties,
There are needs, there are standards,
There are shouldn’ts and shoulds.

I live so much of my life balancing shouldn’ts and shoulds. We all do. We honor our vows and maintain our ties. But we have to find room and time for passion, for sneaking off to the theater on dark and story nights. Maybe bumping into a prince in the woods. Or the spaghetti aisle at Kroger.

Just a moment,
One peculiar passing moment…
Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always “or”?
Is it never “and”?
That’s what woods are for:
For those moments in the woods…

Sitting there in the darkened theater, I choked up at that line–“Is it always ‘or?’ Is it never ‘and?'”  Having to choose the life of creativity and passion OR the life of security and ties? Wanting to stay up all night writing but knowing that the alarm will go off at 6:30 and the kids have to get to school on time.

Let the moment go…
Don’t forget it for a moment, though.
Just remembering you’ve had an “and”,
When you’re back to “or”,
Makes the “or” mean more
Than it did before.
Now I understand-

10887613_10204667907570629_6230022429851160789_oLooking around at the other people in that theater, the people who keep Town and Gown going season after season, I realized that I was privileged to be in a crowd of people who insist on AND. They have day jobs and family and mistakes and bills and dreams. They gather together on a dark and stormy night to tell the old stories. Heather, there beside me, rehearsed for the Symphony concert via videos while handling her dad’s funeral, a new job, AND a family. She hit her marks when the curtain went up. Bryn finds time to paint AND act AND parent. Every person in that crowd is finding a way from OR to AND.

I’m glad I got to be a part of that night. AND I stayed up too late writing this, but that’s OK too. Thank y’all for reminding me that there is room for AND in my life.


Sid, the Christmas Kid

Yesterday, when I picked up Carlos from school, a little boy named Sid came tearing up to me. He leaned in close and whispered, “I bwought a secret present for Carlos. It’s a book.” Then he held his finger to his lips and said, “Don’t tell him!” Sid has twinkling brown eyes, an elfin face, and a brown bowl of a haircut. He seriously could be an elf.

I promised him that I wouldn’t tell.

Their class is doing a Secret Santa book exchange on Friday. As luck has it (or maybe clever teacher planning), Carlos got Sid’s name in the drawing. The only thing I know about Sid, apart from his cuteness and enthusiasm, is that he dressed as Superman for Halloween. How do I remember that? Because Carlos did too and the two of them sat next to each other at the party. Super Duo.

So I bought a couple of Little Golden Books–one about Superman and one about Spiderman. Tonight, after the kids were asleep, I got out the wrapping paper and the tape and the scissors then got to work. The first gift wrapped this year!

10854498_10204502848964267_7232412303449048479_oWhen the red bow was tied, I stepped back and felt my heart crack open with gladness. That feeling of knowing that the gift will be appreciated. That the wrapping paper and the big bow will delight a small person.  I enjoyed the moment when all the bustle and to-do lists of this season turned into joy at the chance to delight one tiny boy who took such delight in having a surprise for my little boy.

I hope Sid likes his books. The instructions for the Secret Santa swap said to label the present for the kid who will receive it. Didn’t say anything about putting the name of the kid who is giving it. Sid won’t know these books are from Carlos and he certainly won’t need to thank me next time I see him. But I wrote this to thank him. Thank you, Sid, for sharing your secret with me. For sharing your excitement. For giving me the chance to give.

And this whole Secret Santa thing? It’s like having a secret identity. Like Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne.

By day, the kid knows me as Carlos’ Mom. But by night, I am Baddest Mother Ever!


Happy Birfday, Mommy

balloon-406208_1280Today was my birthday. It was happy.


The alarm went off. The kids had to be fed. The socks are never where they’re supposed to be. The dog wants out. The dog wants in. I wasn’t expecting much, but dang. G was the only one who had acknowledged my birthday in any way.

Finally, from the kitchen, he asked the kids if they had wished me a happy birthday. From the dining room, Victoria spoke in that perfectly flat teenage voice, “happy. birthday.” Vivi didn’t even look over from the couch as she echoed the sentiment with the same enthusiasm.

OK, it’s early. But dang.

Then Carlos, sitting beside me on the couch, looked me straight in the eye. “Hap-py Birfday, Mommy!” The kid who gets speech therapy. The kid who wasn’t connecting with people.

What color pony do you want, little boy? Because right now? Mommy wants to give you anything you want. I made such a fuss over him and he giggled and wiggled.

Three little words. The gift of those three tiny words carried me on through the business of the morning.

A while later, I met a man who looked familiar on the sidewalk outside my office. His son and Carlos are in class together. We introduced ourselves and started talking about our kids. We got deeper into the Spectrum Talk, about how our ideas of who our kids will be have to shift as we learn more about how they live in this world. This dad said, “I used to hope for throwing the football with my son. That’s OK if that doesn’t happen. But I would like to hear him call me ‘Dad,’ just once.” This beautiful son, who holds his father’s hand as they walk into school, has never called either of his parents “Mom” or “Dad.” Those words aren’t gifts that he can give just yet.

My boy’s birthday gift to me grew even more precious after that chance meeting on the sidewalk.

It was a lovely day, filled with kind messages, lunch with friends, sweet gifts and so much laughter. G had offered to fetch all three kids after school so I could take my time. I drove home with the windows down and the sun patting the top of my head. Simply happy and feeling loved.

Then the strangest thing happened.

I turned onto a little street where Richard and I once looked at a house that was for sale. It belonged to an older couple who were eager to sell so they could move closer to their daughter. The father had become ill and the mother needed her daughter’s help. The small, tired woman had told us this as we stood under a kiwi vine in the backyard. I remember it so vividly because I knew already that we didn’t want this house, but neither Richard or I was going to leave while she still had things to show us. She was enjoying having someone to talk to. We admired her yard and promised that we would call the realtor for more information. Then we left and went on with our lives.

So today, as I was driving past that same house, I caught a glimpse into that yard through the patchy hedge. Tables and folding chairs sat scattered across the grass. Pink tablecloths and bunches of balloons shifted in the breeze. Paper plates and ketchup bottles, bright bags and wrapped boxes. A birthday party.

I got this odd feeling, it being my birthday and all, and me having once thought of living in that house with the person I loved then–I got the strange idea in my head that it WAS a birthday party for me, for the me in a parallel life who bought that house and made a life there.

I drove right by that other me, having a party, and it was strange but OK. Maybe I don’t know how to explain this, but my life has taken such drastic turns that I sometimes cross paths with a ghost or a memory or a maybe of what might have been my life. Like that time I got the letter from the retirement company that listed Richard’s age as 46. He died when he was 38. But for a second, looking at that letter, I had the feeling that he was off somewhere on one of those parallel tracks. Maybe throwing a football with his son. Even that was strange but OK.

Every one of us who has made any choice or survived any kind of change or gotten any surprises along the way has felt that shadow of the other life that might have been. We’re going about our day, but out of the corner of the eye, just a glimpse through a gap in the hedge.

My car kept going and it wound up at home, in this life with the three kids and G and the house that Richard gave to us.

When I walked in the door, Carlos pointed to the fruit snacks G had given him and said, “I ate red AND blue!” (Mean old Mommy makes him choose one or the other, but Daddy…Daddy has his own ways.)

Then that son–the one I got and not the ones that I imagined–my son looked at me and said, “Happy Birfday, Mommy.” Unprompted.

What a gift. May I always treasure it.