Tag Archives: Richard

Tight Shot/Wide Shot: Dark and Stormy

Two years and four days ago, I wrote a story that got great reaction: Tight Shot/Wide Shot. In a few photos taken around my palatial showcase of a home, I illustrated the disconnect between what we share with the world (the carefully posed tight shot) with what we actually live in (the messier wide shot).

I had another moment like that this evening, when the stress of the day drove me to spend the last of my weekly Weight Watchers points on a mixed drink. This beautiful cocktail is called a Dark and Stormy:

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Dark and Stormy: Gosling’s Black Seal rum from Bermuda mixed with the strongest ginger beer you can find. Serve over crushed ice at sundown.

Richard and I discovered this drink in Bermuda, at The Reefs. We two damn near perfect vacations there. We planned to get married on the pink beach beneath the cliffs. Every evening at about sundown, we would mix up a couple of soda bottles filled with Dark and Stormys then drink them in the hot tub on the side of the cliffs.

Yeah, that was a while back. Waaaaaaay back. Today, I mixed my Dark and Stormy then took it outside to the deck to take a deep breath while the Ore Ida french fries cooked in the oven and some turkey burgers sizzled on the indoor grill. I took it outside in hopes of getting a little sip of Special and Exotic and Vacation because today has been a whole heaping dish of Another Damn Monday.

Tight shot: I could have shared the photo and left you thinking that this is what my life looks like.

But writing and sharing isn’t about the tight shot. It’s about the wide shot:

Real life pool

Those towels are from Saturday, which was the last day that the pool wasn’t too green for swimming.

Sooo glamorous.

By 9:30 this morning, I had already been up for 3 hours but still late for work, because I had school drop off, a conference with Carlos’ special ed teacher, and a booster shot appointment at the veterinarian for the kitten. Which cost me $80 and five minutes of crying in my car because when Biscuits got scared before the second injection, the vet said, “Settle, settle” to her and it hit me right in the heart because Daddy always said “Easy, easy,” when an animal started to panic.

I got to work in time to get caught in a pissing contest between two smart and capable people who have very different expectations. Work these days feels like so much of life, where the things I know how to fix I’m not allowed to fix and the things I’m supposed to fix I don’t know how to fix. But there was lunch with my friend and a free cookie and for a little while, we talked about writing and ideas and how it all comes together. We walked in the sunshine.

I got some stuff done, because I’m a bitch and bitches get stuff done. Because I was so good at getting stuff done, I left late to get my kid so the whole way down the staircase I switched from victory to guilt.

I gave hugs and kisses and answered questions about imaginary worlds and puberty and what’s for dinner. I corrected math homework. I started the laundry and added chemicals to the pool and I forgot to call the water office about our $400 bill from last month. I looked through the mail and worried about college savings accounts, small bank failures, neighborhood meetings about schools, and the half-life of our 18 year old mattress. I worried that we weren’t doing anything special for Labor Day. 

I served french fries because the locally sourced organic okra rotted AGAIN while I dithered over finding a way to cook it other than frying us all to death. I cooked with low sodium, reduced fat, slim bread and fucking french fries in hopes that my son will eat something that isn’t a cracker or a chip. He didn’t eat any of it. He doesn’t eat anything but his pants are too small. Which reminds me that he needs clean uniforms. And who ever thought that white shirts were a viable option for kindergarten uniforms? OxiClean, that’s who.

Screen time and vitamins and grams of protein and signed behavior sheets and kitten fights and french fry guilt and work emails and steel wool scrubbers and fabric softener and bills and …and underneath it all I feel that pull to write, to make something, to create. To make something other than dinner. To create something other than a finely crafted email.

So I made a drink and I stepped outside. When the wide shot hit me and my brain started chasing all the things I needed to do to make that wide shot perfect, I narrowed my focus. I brought it back to my breath. To my senses. To the cold wet glass in my hand. To the bite of the ginger and the warmth of the rum. To the smell of the neighbor’s cut grass. To the sparkle of sundown through those pine trees that I was looking at when Richard told me that he needed to know I would be happy again one day, after he was gone.

I drank it all in.

The Long Growth: There to Here; Green to Gold

“I looked it up–we need to get a male and a female,” Richard said as we stood over the muscadine vines at Cofer’s. I picked up a gallon size bucket with a thin green vine growing inside. I held it up above my head and looked at the bottom. “This one must be female.” I picked up another container. “Shoot, this one must be too…nothing dangling under here!”

He shook his head and smiled at my silliness. “Seriously, how do you tell the difference?”

He stretched out the narrow white label that was tied around the base of the vine. “Here we go–this one has an M. Look for an F.”

We paid a lot of money for those straggling vines. That afternoon, we planted them on either side of the small archway in the backyard that had been built by a previous owner. I remember wondering if the plants would be close enough for the male and the female to matter or if the vines needed to intertwine. Once the roots were buried in the clay, the vines barely reached to the bottom of the trellis. We tied them up with some twine and left nature to do its thing.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

 

Its slow, slow thing. Nature’s veeeeery slow thing.

Richard died before ever getting to taste a muscadine from those vines. We stood under that bare archway after our wedding, with vines that still hadn’t reached waist high. I neglected the yard that summer, and the next. But the vines kept growing.

It took years for them to creep up and cover the top of the archway, their male and female tendrils twining together at last. After about five years, I spotted tiny fruit, but the birds got every grape.

I’ve never pruned it, fertilized it, watered it, nothing. Just let it be. One autumn, when the leaves changed color, I noticed that the muscadine vines had grown all up in the redbud tree next to the arch. All that growing, at long last.

But last weekend, while cleaning the pool, the light hit the vines just so and revealed heavy bunches of golden grapes. I couldn’t stop smiling. I stood under the dark shade of the covered arch and ate those sweet muscadines right off the vine. I made a basket with the tail of my t-shirt and picked all I could reach.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

That thick pop of the skin and the sudden sweetness. When I was a kid, I used to buy a pint of scuppernongs every year at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair from Owens Vineyard. Back then, I’d enjoy the juice then spit out the pulp to avoid the seeds. I’m older and wiser now, and as I stood there in the shade of those vines we planted thirteen years ago, I enjoyed every bit of the grape.

It takes a while.

Back then I was young and willing to trust that this would lead to that. You look things up, you read the label, you plant things on the sunny side and you wait. And wait and wait and wait. I got swamped by life for all those years and I lost sight of the idea of grapes that we had entertained over a decade ago. During the growth years and the bird years and the years I was too busy with babies to worry about what was going on in my own backyard.

Then one Saturday I taste the sweetness that we had planted so long ago. From there to here. From green to gold. From all of that…to sweetness.

You just have to hold on and keep growing. It takes longer than I ever imagined.

Scuppernong tendrils

Scuppernong tendrils

Start With a Good Shove

The previous owner had neglected the yard for years, so when Richard and I bought this house, there were plenty of projects to keep us busy. He was happier than a pig in slop because his project-loving self had been cooped up in an apartment for many years.

One of the first projects he settled on was taking out a dead dogwood tree. It sat near the corner of the house, too close to the power lines for his reckoning.

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“I think we should call a tree surgeon.” He rolled his eyes at my suggestion. It wasn’t THAT big of a tree. But it was too big for a hand saw, so we went over to Home Depot and bought a little chain saw.

I made him buy eye protection too and he laughed at me.

Back in the front yard, he yanked ivy away from the base of the tree while I watched from the safety of the front steps.

“Have you ever used one of these before?”

“For cryin’ out loud, Ashley–yes, I know how to use a chain saw. We used one every summer at Camp Greenbriar.” When I still didn’t look convinced, he reminded me that the army allowed him to blow stuff up for many years, way bigger stuff than a dead tree. Still.

Before he pulled the cord to crank it, I yelled, “WAIT!” I ran inside the house and came back with the phone, so I could call 911 if anything horrible happened. Again with the eye rolling.

Richard studied the space between the tree limbs and the power lines and decided on the angle he needed to cut to get the tree to fall in the right direction. I clutched the phone and braced myself. He placed his hand on the crumbling bark gave it a little shove to make sure none of the branches were ready to fall right on his head.

The tree moved a good three inches. He looked up at me on the porch and grinned.

He put both hands on the trunk and gave it a good shove.

The tree fell flat over onto the lawn with a whump.

The trunk was so rotten that the ivy had been holding it up.

We laughed. God, how we laughed.

“Well, I’m glad we didn’t call the tree surgeon.” Then I went back inside and put the phone on the charger.

So much of my life has been like that episode with the tree–the hours spent in worry and planning, buying safety goggles and wondering if I shouldn’t leave it to a professional. When I finally get around to attacking the thing, it’s a whole lot easier than my mind has made it out to be.

I haven’t written in eleven days, because I didn’t know how to begin. How can I stop writing about my grief when I’ve barely scratched the surface? But how can I write again about grief when last night was Halloween and it was lovely to see my tiny Iron Man run from house to house? Today is All Souls’ Day or All Saints or Dia de los Muertos, depending on where you grew up. Terri is walking the labyrinth; Brantley and Luis built an altar in their home. The picture of our friend Spencer is right next to the photo of Lola the pup rescued from Taiwan. But I don’t want to write about that–I don’t even want to think about the ones who have passed through the door.

This little story about the tree seemed as good a way as any to get my fingers moving again. To get myself off the porch. To start with a good shove.

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A Flower to Say He Was Sorry

Jasmine lobbed out a great conversation starter today on Facebook: “Let’s play show and tell. Post an image in the comments then tell us something about it.” I love threads like this, so I checked my phone to see what pictures I had taken in the last few days.

An apology, twelve years after the fact

An apology, twelve years after the fact

I posted this picture of a white gladiolus that is blooming in the higgledy-piggledy overgrown strip next to my driveway. My story: “This is a scraggly lone gladiolus in my yard. I keep it because my late husband bought me the bag of bulbs in the Amsterdam airport as an apology for an argument we had at five a.m. in the Berlin airport.”

I’ve been hanging on to this flower (and his one wonkier orange cousin) for over a decade now. We had a vision of turning that dirt next to the driveway into a garden, but that never happened. But you know how bulbs are–you throw them in the dirt and forget about them until a year later. You enjoy them for a while, then forget that they are buried down there, still waiting for another time to bloom. Life moves on past the bulbs, so that every year, I am pleasantly surprised by daffodils, delighted with the grape hyacinths, then sentimental over the wonky gladiolus.

Richard and I didn’t argue much, maybe five times in four years together. And two of those happened when he was jonesing for a cigarette. Yes, he smoked. He HATED the fact that he was a smoker. Hid it from people, quit over and over. He was mostly 100% quit here at home (gave himself a pass during tax prep), but every time we went to Europe, he’d fall off the wagon again. As he put it, “Everyone smokes in Europe.” As soon as our plane landed in Amsterdam or Berlin or Paris, I would rush off to buy a pound of Leonidas candied orange rinds in dark chocolate and he would run in the other direction to buy Marlboros he could have gotten for half the price in Atlanta. But he only smoked in Europe–no fudging of the rules.

So we were in Berlin one time and on our last full day there, he finished the pack of cigarettes before dinner time. “You gonna break down and buy a new pack or start bumming them?” I teased. He had it all worked out. “I’ve got three left in a pack in the hotel. One for tonight, one for in the morning, one for at the airport.” Always a man with a plan.

But when we got back to the hotel, he couldn’t find the three cigarettes. He ransacked the room. He opened every pocket on his back pack and mine. He looked under the bed, in the bathroom, behind the curtains on the window sill, in the night stand drawers that we had never opened. He went through our luggage again.

When he started to grumble that the maid had probably stolen them, I said, “Why don’t you just go downstairs and buy another pack?” Nope. That was not the plan. He continued to stomp around looking high and low in our Ibis Hotel room that was probably 80 square feet total. He was bound and determined not to break down and buy another pack with so little time left on the Smoking Continent. He went to sleep, a bundle of bristly nerves.

He woke up the same way at 3:45 a.m. We stumbled around getting dressed and packing the last of the stuff. It was so early that the desk clerk had to call us a cab to Tegel. We didn’t talk much. Because he WAS FINE AND DID NOT SEE ANY REASON TO DISCUSS IT FURTHER THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

We got to the airport with plenty of time before our 6:30 a.m. flight to Amsterdam. It was still too early for much to be open, so I sat there hurting for a Diet Coke and four more hours of sleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Richard zipping and unzipping pockets on that godforsaken back pack, still muttering about the larcenous hotel maid.

“Would you PLEASE just go buy a pack of cigarettes?” I snarled.

He snapped right back. It makes me sad to realize that I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of “I am a grown ass man and will make my own decisions.” After someone dies, even remembering a fight gets sentimental, because at least they were there and snarling at you. Together.

That was that. We flew to Amsterdam in silence. At Schipol, we found the gate to Atlanta and I plopped my ass down with a book, a Diet Coke, and a very high wall of GoToHellYouRatBastard around myself. He wandered off to buy cigarettes.

He came back smelling of Marlboros and carrying a mesh bag of flower bulbs. He held them out to me like a bouquet and apologized. “I would have bought you flowers, but we couldn’t bring them in through Customs. These will get past the sniffer dogs.” Ever the romantic.

That was the only spring we got to live here together. I planted the glads along the driveway. The next year when they bloomed for the first time, he was gone. I had my apology, but he was gone.

After remembering this story today, I did some research on glads. Turns out, Gladiolus (plural gladioli) is the birth flower for the month of August, Richard’s birth month. This spiky, colorful flower is also called the Sword Lily for its likeness to a gladiator’s sword. With its connections to fearless warriors, Gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, faithfulness and honor.

But here’s the fact I learned today that made my hand flutter up to rest on my heart. The Gladiolus flower signifies remembrance.

Every summer, I remember that morning in a strange airport, the smell of smoke, the way it felt to argue and the way it felt to forgive ourselves. It makes me glad.

 

The wonky orange one

The wonky orange one

The Memory Keeper

It’s pouring tonight and I can’t sleep, so I took my magical notebook and sat by the tree to listen to the rain.

Fred and Ginger, Innsbruck Austria

Fred and Ginger, Innsbruck Austria

This adorable pair smiled down from the top of the tree. Their names are Fred and Ginger (because they make such an elegant pair) and I bought them many years ago on a rainy night like tonight in Innsbruck, Austria. I chose them for their clumping big feet and his crooked smile. They are the hopelessly dorky and clumsy embodiment of how I felt when I went skiing in Austria. We were really there for Richard, who was a double black diamond, ski backwards down the mountain with no poles kind of athlete. I have been skiing exactly twice in my life: for the first time on a fraternity trip to Boone, NC and for the second time on the Stubaier Glacier 11,000 feet above Innsbruck….where they had the Olympics. Let’s just say it was inelegant. I prefer sports that include oxygen.

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Jumping Johannes, Salzburg Austria

This is Johannes, also from Austria. One year, I got a stomach bug on our Christmas trip. I was sick as a dog from Griffin to Gay to Atlanta to DC to Berlin to Salzburg. I crashed into the clean white sheets of a hotel room. The white plaster walls glowed with Teutonic cleanliness and order. I slept for a few hours and when I woke, Richard had returned from his explorations with a dinner from a schnitzel cart owned by a Bosnian family. He brought me soft cheese, flatbread still warm from the oven and an ice cold Diet Coke. I ate a bite and came alive again. The next morning, we wandered into a church square just in time to hear the carillon play “Silent Night.” The whole square stopped and listened as the notes rang out across the cold, clear air. That carol was written in Salzburg. The joy that I felt in that moment, feeling alive again after all that sickness, comes back to me when I see Johannes. I bought him in that square.

 

A pilot from Munich, a bell from Salzburg, Pere Noel from Paris

A pilot from Munich, a bell from Salzburg, Pere Noel from Paris

On that same day in Salzburg, we were exploring a part of the city wall next to the cemetary where Mozart’s wife is buried. We rested in little turret and discovered a bell hanging there. I asked Richard to take my picture pretending to ring the bell. And you can guess what happened next. I tugged just a little too hard and the damn thing went CLANGALANGALANG across the city. Oops. So I bought that little beaded silver bell to remember that moment.

And yes, there’s a black velvet Elvis painting on the tree, too. I found him in Maine, on our last trip together. My family has a black velvet Elvis that makes the rounds every few years at Christmas. G got him last year!

The Queen of the Ball, Munich Germany. The Frog Prince, New Orleans. The Cat King, Luxembourg.

The Queen of the Ball, Munich Germany. The Frog Prince, New Orleans. The Cat King, Luxembourg.

This elephant? She’s my favorite on the whole tree, of the hundreds of stories I remember every year. I found her in a shop in Munich and it was love at first sight. She was part of a pair, with a bull elephant in white tie and tails. I couldn’t afford both–she was almost $50. Richard used to tease me about my ornament mania as I collected them on trips. I knew he would give me hell if he saw how much this one cost. I gave him hell about smoking–but on this cold night, I said, “Why don’t you go outside and have a cigarette while I finish up here?” The owner of the shop spoke beautiful English. As soon as he was out the door, we shared a good laugh at men and the excuses she had heard to get them outside. I treasure this belle of the ball because she is so happy to be herself, so sure of her beauty, not in spite of but BECAUSE she is an elephant.

Putting her with the Frog Prince and the Cat King is new this year. I like it. With my old fake tree, I bent limbs and made her a little stage of her own. With a real tree, I had to find a sturdy limb to hold her, up high and off to the side in case Carlos or the cats brought the tree crashing down.

Grandmama Eunice's bell. Pink sand from Bermuda. A Star of David from Prague.

Grandmama Eunice’s bell. Pink sand from Bermuda. A Star of David from Prague. Scots Presbyterian from Charleston SC.

That blue glass bell? Daddy was warned not to touch it when he was a boy because it was old then. The ceramic Santa is from Paris. He always hangs sideways and seems a little judgy. I bought the Star of David in Prague to remember how I was moved to tears in the empty synagogues of the Jewish Quarter. Not every memory on the tree is a happy time. I have an angel that I bought in the gift shop of Johns Hopkins, and a little nest of robin eggs that reminds me of a quilt that hung on the wall in the chemo room there. It had the line from Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

 

That tiny white church near the top? It’s another memory that needed to be remembered, not for joy, but for solemnity. It’s one of the first ornaments I collected–when Fartbuster and I went to Charleston, South Carolina for our honeymoon. The church is Scots Presbyterian. During the Civil War, the church donated its bells to be melted down and turned into ammunition. After the devastation of the war, they decided to leave the bell towers empty as a silent reminder of all that had been lost. A quiet memory.

Well. I could go on. But it’s after 1 a.m. and tomorrow is a busy day.

May the memories that visit you at this time be quiet ones, filled with reminders about how wide the world is, and how welcome you are to explore it.

Happy Birfday, Mommy

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

Eventually.

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.

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On My Honor, I Will Do My Best

tryI put a lot of effort into living–and living right. I live like somebody’s going to be handing out ribbons at the finish line.

This week, I was pretty convinced that if that did turn out to be the case, I would be handed a “Participant” ribbon.  You know, the one in the weird color that’s definitely not blue. The one that they order in large quantities to give to everyone who didn’t win, place or show.

I wasn’t excelling at anything, just participating. My kids were eating a lot of sandwiches. My running shoes couldn’t be located. Tasks at work kept piling up, no matter how hard I worked. I still hadn’t written a book proposal, much less a book. The wreck of a house was just getting wreckier. The Usual.

But one thing was really eating at me–Light the Night. It’s the big fundraising walk held by the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. I raise money every year in Richard’s memory. It’s a way of fulfilling a promise to him, so I’ve tried to give it my all every year. For TEN YEARS.

The first year I walked, I set myself a goal of raising $1000. My friends and family donated $3000. So the next year, I set a goal of $3000 and raised $7000. The next year, a $7000 goal turned into $11,000 raised. The year after that?  We managed to donate $15,000 in Richard’s memory. People are so generous! So this has been a big deal for me for a long time.

When Richard knew that he was dying, and knew that he had been poisoned by toxins in his workplace, he made me promise that I would sue on his behalf after he was gone. He pointed his finger right at my heart and said, “If you win, you keep a third, give my sister a third, and give a third to the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.” I promised. Scout’s honor.

I tried. No lawyer saw a way to pin it down. There’s no suing pockets that deep. So I let the wrongful death go. I started raising money through Light the Night. I had made a promise.

It takes a lot of work to raise those kinds of dollars. I’ve organized bake sales, silent auctions, coin drives. One year I sold sponsorships on my t-shirt like NASCAR. Twenty five dollars to get on the shirt. Fifty to get on the front. Two hundred and fifty to be in the boob area! One year I did a crunches for money–my sister donated enough to make me do 1000 crunches.

Even with all that work, the momentum slowed. The total came in at $13,000 when it had been $15,000 the year before. The next year, it went to $11,000. Still amazing, but…less than it had been. Last year, I couldn’t do a big auction at work that had been a money-maker for years. My total fundraising came in at about $7000.

Seven thousand dollars and I felt like I had let Richard down.  Crazy Alert.

This year, I was having trouble even getting started. July was so busy, I thought I would begin in August. Then the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept the world of charitable giving. So here it was, September 1st and I hadn’t raised a dime. The walk is on October 10th. Gulp.

I wasn’t even participating!

The negative voices started dogging me. “Don’t even bother. You can’t do much at this point.” The evil demon, Inertia, pulled me down.  “This could be the year that you stop.” I was beating myself up because my best didn’t seem good enough any more. And I had promised Richard that I would give something to LLS.

Well, well, well. It seems that ONCE AGAIN, I have failed to take my own advice. Just last week, when I spoke to the senior class at Wesleyan during Fall Convocation, I gave them some simple advice:  Do Your Best. Don’t worry about anyone else’s best–do your best.

We’ve all heard it a zillion times–do your best. But here’s the kicker that I shared with them.  Do your best, but remember that your best CHANGES. From day to day, year to year, maybe even hour to hour.

When I made that promise to raise money for LLS, my life was very different. It was just me and three weiner dogs who didn’t like to go on walks anyway. I had plenty of time to spend on tracking down sponsors, holding events, collecting donations, building a sense of community for the cause. I spoke on behalf of LLS. I taught newer teams how to raise money. I kept planning bigger and better events.

Now, 10 years into it, I’ve got 3 kids, a full-time job, Wesleyan alumnae stuff, a writing gig, and grown-lady bills to pay. I still love the excitement of making a difference, but I make a difference in a lot of ways these days (even if it’s by helping with spelling homework or crafting juicy and delicious blog posts). I’m not shirking my commitment to LLS, but I am giving myself some grace. My best changes from year to year. My best is spread out over so many beautifully creative adventures. boy_scout_with_oath

I’m doing my best in memory of my Eagle Scout. My goal this year it to raise $5000 in a joyful, easy-hearted manner.

And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I got the fundraising website up last night, the donations started coming in–$1430 in the first 24 hours!

So do your best, but remember that your best changes.