Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Birthday Stories and Flowers

Birthdays can be like flowers, lovely and bright, different even as they come on the same day year after year. The birthday stories some of you have been sending me are the same. Some of you have birthdays where not much fuss is made, maybe cake and ice cream. Others of you have had parties and special vacations and surprises. All fun as you celebrate the gift of another year here on Planet Earth. Some of the stories are touching. Some funny. Some loving. Some sad. A few have been a combination of all those emotions. 

That's the way the story is tonight. Chris shares about her mother who is in a nursing home suffering symptoms of dementia. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have a birthday to celebrate or reason to smile. If you can find those smiles on that hard Alzheimer's road, then life gets easier if only for a little while. Here's some of the story Chris shared with us.

"First, thank you for sharing your journey with your mom with us. My mom's 90th is this month and ...I am getting her a small tiara to wear for that day! (& balloons for the wheelchair...maybe a wrist corsage?) Last year, my sister and I took her out to lunch but the nurse forgot to let the cafeteria know that she wasn't Mom found out and felt bad since they had gone to the trouble of fixing her fried shrimp. (I think she forgot we were coming.) Anyway, we pick her up and she insists that I take her lunch from the Center with us because she wants to eat it too! ... So off we went to our little favorite restaurant...,a 1950's cafe with the best food in the world... So Mom insists on bringing the food from the Center in...I am like Mom! is rude to bring food into a restaurant and not eat their food...this is the best food ever. My sister...trying to please Mom pushes for the Center food to come in with us. Of course, the owner & the chef notice we brought our own take out food in. :/. She is so gracious, wishing Mom a happy birthday...and she asks about the food. Mom explains she couldn't hurt the Center's staff's feelings by not taking the food with us. Then she refuses to eat food at the restaurant...only soup and just a bit because she doesn't want to get full. And she eats the Center food! Crazy time!"

With someone with memory problems you might as well just go with the flow, Chris. Hope this birthday was less crazy for you but fun for your mother. But here's a preview from Chris on how things might go this year in another story she shared about her mom. 

"My mom has Alzheimer's/dementia, and the other day I got a call from her. She spoke to my husband first...asking him how it was going (like she was perfectly in control). Then I got on the line...she said she was working all day at the college and needed to go home but apparently she was home...her roommate got to go home with her husband! I said, "You're confused, aren't you, Mom?" She said she was very confused and we talked about the college she worked at, what she did...then I said she had a birthday coming up and did she know how old she was? She didn't, but then when I asked 50? No. 60? No. 70? YES! I said, "Well, there you have it! When you were 70, you did work for the college, and if you are confused and think you are 70, of course you'd be going home on the weekend! I said she was going to be 90 and she denied it over and over! Ha! What a hoot. So I said, "Well, we could pretend to lose 20 years, but then we won't have my youngest daughter (who's 19) yet!" I asked if we could pretend we don't have 20 extra pounds instead and we laughed and agreed."

Thanks for sharing, Chris. That last story made me think about my mother who drifted in time to different ages. Sometimes she was only 16 and sometimes in her thirties. She looked at me like I was  nuts if I told her she was in her nineties. She knew that wasn't right. But it definitely might be good to forget those 20 extra pounds, Chris, especially after birthday cake and pie.

Since I last talked to you here, I got another year older, but I'm still celebrating all month and you can celebrate with me by entering my birthday giveaway contest. Check out details here. Deadline to enter is September 30.

Also, today and maybe for a couple more days, The Blessed, one of my Shaker books has a special e-book price of 99 cents or less. Check it out at Amazon; Barnes & Noble (Nook); or Maybe other internet e-book sites too. Be sure to check the price to see if it's still on special before you download.

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your birthday stories with me.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mothers, Feed Sack Dresses and Sparklers

"My mother taught me about the power of inspiration and courage, and she did it with a strength and a passion that I wish could be bottled." ~Cathy Fiorina

I know you were expecting more birthday stories to go along with my birthday giveaway. (Remember you can check out details here.) So the mother quote may have surprised you. But without our mothers, we couldn't have a birthday. Mothers and birthdays have an undeniable connection. Plus, our mothers may be the first to give us wonderful birthday celebrations.

One of the fun parts of these contests I have is hearing from you, my reading friends. Some of you have shared stories with me over and over in different contests, and I'm so grateful for that. The stories make me a winner every time I have one of these giveaways and I do hope you enjoy sharing your stories too. 

Sometimes a friend will share something more the way Ola did here when she sent me the above picture of her on her 7th birthday in a dress made by her mother. It's so pretty and you can see how Ola loved it. When I asked Ola if I could use her picture, she wrote me a little more about her mother. So many of you have shared about your mothers after I shared about mine in my newsletter. A good mother is a blessing and a gift and Ola had one of those good mothers. Here's what she told me about her.

"No, I don't mind if you share. That's one of my favorite pics of me. I wish I had one of the dresses my mama made me now. I would really love to have one made of feedsacks that she made. She was an amazing woman to raise 7 kids mostly by herself. She raised a big garden and canned it to feed us. She sewed, knitted, crocheted, quilted and made all sorts of dolls to sell. She went back to school and graduated from high school when she was 67 years old. She's been gone 10 years now and I still miss her but see her all around me."

Thanks for sharing about your mother, Ola. She does sound like an amazing woman and I'm sure she raised some amazing children. You also brought back memories of those feed sacks or flour sacks. I don't remember if I had dresses made from them, but I do remember others talking about those cotton sacks. The feed sacks I remember were gunny sacks and the flour companies switched over to paper bags. But here's a pattern I found on this blog, The Country Farmhome, all about those feed sack dresses and some interesting photos and history. Any of you remember these?

Sometimes our mothers have parties for us and sometimes we have parties for them. Here's Stefanie's story about how she tried to make her mother's birthday special, but sometimes great ideas need to be fine tuned a bit. Even so, mothers know how to take it in stride with a smile. 

"My birthday story is about my Mom. She was born on July 10 and loved the 4th of July. Well, one year I decided to put sparklers on her cake. Let's just say that there were quite a few burning in place of candles. We could not eat the cake because the metal sparklers had left a gritty, black soot on the frosting and the cake itself tasted like the sparklers smelled!!! But Mom, being who she was, loved it anyway!!! She has been gone 16 years and I miss her like it was today. Love you, Mom."
Thanks for sharing with us, Stefanie and warning us off those sparklers in place of candles. 

Hope if you haven't thrown your name into my drawing hat for the giveaway for gift cards and books, that you will. You can find out more about the prizes and how to enter on this post. As always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Surprise! It's a Birthday Party!

All right, how many of you have had a birthday party? A real party with a cake and candles to blow out (like this doghouse cake my granddaughter had a few years ago complete with  dog biscuit look-alike cookies) and friends singing happy birthday to you? I hope all of you are nodding and thinking about some special birthday when everything came up smiles and even if there weren't lots of people around, you felt loved and appreciated and didn't mind getting older. 

I'm celebrating my birthday month all through September by having a birthday giveaway. You can check out details on my blog post, September Means Birthday Giveaway or at my website events page. Easy to enter and I think you'll like the prizes. Three winners too.

But on to the parties. I invited readers to share birthday stories and I'm working through the e-mails reading them all. My surgery last week has slowed me down a little so if I haven't responded to your e-mail, be patient. I will. Meanwhile here are a few stories about parties I hope you'll enjoy. 

Missy's Spooky Halloween Birthday Party

A birthday story. Well... My birthday is in October. So every year my mom and nana would throw me a Halloween themed birthday party at a dance studio they worked at. We had the works: Carnival room, including cake walk, costume contest, etc. We had a fortune teller. We had a face panting and spray on hair dye room. And we had, of course, a "Haunted House". The haunted house was the locker room. Bowls were set on tables that were filled with grapes, spaghetti noodles, etc, and mixed with creams and water to feel like guts and brains. Parents dressed in scary costumes and waited to scare you. The decorations were hung. Two people went in at a time. I went in with my girlfriend. We walked in. A werewolf jumped out of a closet. We laughed and continued on. We made it to the table, where we grossed ourselves out by feeling the gooey mess. We were laughing so hard we didn't see anyone behind the table. Hands shot out and grabbed our ankles and we tumbled to the floor. Ouch. Not a second after we hit the floor did a door bang open right beside us. A witch jumped out. The lights were dim, only the glowing decorations giving any light, but the witch's costume was intense. Scary good makeup. My friend and I shrieked and jumped up, our trip to the floor forgotten. We raced to the door, the witch on our tails. Slamming the door behind us, we started laughing. Later that night, after most everyone had left, we were talking to one of the parents, who had admitted to being the one to pull us to the floor. We asked if she knew who had dressed up as the witch. She said, what witch? My friend and I thought she was kidding. So we asked around. No one admitted to seeing a witch that wasn't one of the kids, and none of the kids had put as much effect into their costume as the one in the dressing room. I asked my mom and nana. They said they didn't ask anyone to dress up as a witch. To this day, I still have no idea who that freaking witch was that scared the holy heck out of me and my friend.

Okay, Missy, I think I'd start celebrating my birthday in July!!! Now to a less scary party. 

Susan's Aunt Hattie's Birthday Party

For my great aunt Hattie's 95th birthday, we decided to throw her a big party and invite all of her friends and family. We used the town fire hall and all of the attendees brought food. At 95, Aunt Hattie was still sharp as a tack, out in her garden planting the flowers that she loved and always busy socializing with people. About 75 people were able to attend and boy, was she surprised! She had a great time chatting with everyone and eating a little of everything. The following year, her health declined and she had to move to an assisted living home. I'm so glad we were able to give her this party because it gave us a nice way to remember her in her prime and having fun!

You know sometimes the best parties are for someone else. We celebrate with one of our church members every year. This year she was 98. I'm looking forward to celebrating 100 with her. Some of you might remember that I had an Aunt Hattie in my Heart of Hollyhill books. Aunt Hattie could pray down the power. Loved it when she started praying in my stories. Okay, one more party story. This one is when a couple attending a surprise party got a surprise themselves. LOL.

Debbie's Oops Birthday Story

My favorite birthday story isn’t about my birthday, but a surprise birthday for a friend. This was years and years ago and his wife invited us and told me all the details…my husband and I showed up at his parents' house for the party. They let us in and took us to their den and we sat and talked for a little bit and then they awkwardly said, we have to leave to to go Raymond’s party. Well, we died of embarrassment because we thought the party was at his parents' house not His house!!!! We meekly laughed and left red-faced and proceeded to the right house for the party. I know it was just as awkward for his parents, because I’m sure they were sitting there thinking, why are they here? What do we do to get rid of them? Funny!!!

Isn't it good how we can laugh at ourselves and embarrassments can turn into great stories? Thanks so much for sharing with us, Debbie, Susan, and Missy. Who knows what surprising stories I'll find in the rest of the messages I'm getting? Thanks so much for joining in my birthday fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stories to Celebrate and Prizes to Win

"Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon." ~A.A. Milne

Have you ever had balloons on your birthday? Balloons just seem to say let's celebrate. Just ask Winnie the Pooh. That old bear can float around with a balloon and enjoy every day, birthday or not. 
So today here are some balloons to get us in the birthday mood and to remind you that this month I'm celebrating getting older by giving away some prizes. Three winners will get gift cards and their choice of one of my books. Check out complete prize details on my website. Entry is easy. Just send me a message from my website or leave a comment here on a new blog post in September. Please remember to leave a way to contact you in case your name rises to the top of my drawing hat. For fun, you can share a birthday story and get a bonus entry in the giveaway. 
I love hearing your stories and I will eventually get around to reading them all. My surgery has slowed me down a little, but I'm getting back up to speed. Of course, with adding on another year, speed is a relative term. Perhaps I should say I hope to keep plugging along. 
Age wasn't a problem for Karen in this birthday story she shares. She was turning that magical "I can drive" age. But the license issuing offices just would not stay open for her. Here's Karen's story.
I'll be ?? on November 11th. Now my birthday is a federal holiday so all state & federal government offices are closed on 11/11 and where do you go to get your driver's license? Right, a government office. Well, when I turned 16 I was very anxious to get my first driver's license. I was so upset that the DMV office was closed on my birthday that I called about a week before to see if I could get my DL on the 10th since it wasn't MY fault they weren't open on the 11th. LOL Well, of course, the answer was NO. That year my birthday was the longest day ever waiting for the 12th to arrive and I could get my driver's license. Don't we sometimes wish we had those youthful days back again?
Indeed, Karen. Oh, to be 16 again, but then I don't think I want to take that driver's test again. I was soooo nervous when I had to take a ride with the state policeman giving the test. But maybe not as nervous as he was. LOL. 
When Karen told me I could share her story forward she added how the story makes her smile now when she thinks about her impatience. To add to her anticipation, her brothers were both in the service and had left their old Chevy at home and given Karen permission to drive it. So there was that car in the driveway just begging her to get under the wheel and start it up, except her parents hid the keys. Our parents just know us too well sometimes. For sure that day had to be Karen's "longest day ever!"
But about those balloons again. They aren't much fun until we put a little effort into filling them either with our own breath or some helium to make them float. Did you ever wonder if you could float up in the sky if only you could hold onto enough balloons? 
As Karen says, oh to be young again with a zillion dreams clasped in our hands as life beckoned us down dozens of exciting roads. Each birthday is a milestone and one we're celebrating with balloons today.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

September Means a Birthday Giveaway

September is my birthday month and as I've told you all before, I love birthdays. I've just quit counting them up. Not enough fingers and toes to count on for that. :) I'd have to call the fire department if I had a cake with candles. But if you don't count them, then you can consider Satchel Paige's question. "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" So, what do you think is the perfect age? 25? 35? 55? Or maybe the perfect age is whatever age you actually are.
I just sent out a newsletter with all the details, so if you're on my newsletter list, you may have already entered. (If you want to be on my newsletter list, just let me know.) I've gotten lots of e-mails, but since I had surgery yesterday, I haven't started going through them yet. The surgery went well. I'm sore, but the surgeon thought everything looked good. They will run more lab test to be sure they got all the cancer and I will have to have some followup treatments after I heal for a while. I do appreciate all your prayers and sweet concern. After I tell you about the Birthday Contest, I'll tell you another story, I think you'll like. But first the contest.
I do enjoy having birthdays and it's even more fun when I celebrate getting older by giving something away to my reading friends. This time I thought and thought and came up with nothing exciting to give away - well, other than my books. :) Then I remembered how green always fits. So 1st prize in my Birthday Giveaway is a $50 gift card to the winner's favorite online book place (Amazon, B&N, or Plus the winner gets his or her choice of one of my books. Two 2nd place winners will get a $25 gift card and their choice of one of my autographed books.
How to enter? It's easy. Just send me a message. You can send me a message from my website or leave a comment on a post here on my blog in September with a way to contact you. That's very important for without the contact info, I can't get in touch with you should you be one of the lucky winners. Comments on blog posts don't automatically include your return address. Deadline to enter is September 30 at midnight EST. You must be 18 to enter. For fun and for a bonus additional entry, you can tell me a birthday story. It can be about your birthday or someone else's birthday. You don't have to share a story to enter - any kind of message will do - but I enjoy reading your stories when you want to share one with me. I sometimes share a few of them forward here on my blog but I won't without your permission.
Now for the other story. Last night after my surgery, I was missing Mom. The other times I've had surgeries, Mom was always there for me, helping me with whatever needed to be done, sympathizing with me, loving me. Moms are just good at that. So I was missing her and when I went to bed, I was thinking about her and it was as though I felt a hand gently caressing my hand. It only lasted a minute, but I couldn't help thinking that Mom had reached down a little comfort to me. Just writing this today brought tears, but it was good.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

1 in 8 - The C Word

Turns out I'm the 1 in 8. A couple of weeks ago I heard the "c" word no one wants to hear. This week I'll have surgery to remove a cancerous lump from my breast. The lump is very small and the possibility of a complete cure is very good. But I'm still 1 in 8. 

My mother had breast cancer when she was a couple of years older than I am now. And yes, that's definitely a risk factor and the reason I've always been diligent about doing mammograms - at least until Mother needed someone to stay with her all the time. Then there was never enough time for all I needed to do with her care and my writing deadlines and .... well, you know, everything I wanted to do. 
I put off the mammograms for three years. Not a wise decision. So I feel blessed that the lump is small and that my delay in getting a mammogram may not have mattered. It probably wouldn't have shown up last year anyway. But the mammogram did show up a lump when I went for what I thought would be a routine test after Mom died. Further tests confirmed the diagnosis. And now on to surgery and radiation treatments. Not something I'm looking forward to, but something I know some of you have already faced. You may have faced even more drastic treatments.

There's a young woman I know in our community now who is taking her second round of chemo. Another dear writer friend, Judy Sliger, just passed away after a heroic fight with cancer. Not breast cancer, but ovarian cancer. She did years of chemo and was ever a spiritual light to her friends. She wrote a book, Take Heart, Prayers for the Terminally Ill. (See it on Amazon.) I just got my copy in the mail and the next day hear that she's gone on to heaven.  

Since my diagnosis, I have been humbled by the many people who are praying for me. What a special gift to give me! Their time, their moments with the Lord. I know you will be praying for me too and I thank you in advance. 

Kaelyn and me
You may remember my blog posts a couple of years ago about my great-niece, Kaelyn when she got to have her no more chemo party at St Jude after three years of chemo treatments to fight the leukemia that was trying to steal this beautiful child from us. She was diagnosed when she was five and she was covered with many prayers. Some of you prayed for her too. She's ten now. A couple of weeks ago I saw her when we went to a revival service her father was preaching. The first thing she said to me was "Aunt Ann, did you hear the news? I'm cured." St. Jude had given her that news a couple of weeks before when she went for a check-up. Now that's the "c" word we all want to hear. And one I expect to hear in due time. 

Thank you for reading. I do so appreciate each and every one of you. Also, if you're on my newsletter list, watch for one to show up in your e-mail boxes this week with a new giveaway chance. If you're not on my newsletter list, you can be. Just sign up here,  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sorting through the Odds & Ends of Mom's Life

The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life. ~William Morris

Mom's been gone for over a month now. For a while it's felt like she's still at the memory care facility and I need to go see about her. But that's not so. She doesn't need anybody to see about her now. She's in a better place. Her smile is back. She's laughing and glad to finally be "home" with her mother and dad. She would sometimes say when she had a moment of clarity before the dementia got worse that she was ready to go on except she didn't want to leave us. Then at the end she no longer remembered us so perhaps that made it easier for her to leave. 

We've begun going through her things. So far we've just scratched a little of the surface, but already we're seeing things with no real value except that they meant something to Mom. All the odds and ends of a life well lived. There's the newspaper article with my picture when one of my earlier books was published. Then we find a certificate she received for work with the Homemakers. We go through piles of bird magazines because she did love her birds. We find enough greeting cards and stationery to fill a shopping bag. I know she intended to send each and every card to her many friends. The old Scrabble game that dates back to our childhood is in a shirt box. She saved it even though someone gave her one of the deluxe game boards that swiveled and had little pockets for the tiles. We found the dictionary so well used as she worked her crossword puzzles that it was falling apart. 

Mama's memory is soaked into everything we pick up. We find Dad's jacket with his horseshoe champion patch sewn on it. And there in the back of a closet are his clay court croquet mallets. We take garbage bags full of things to Goodwill and put other garbage bags in the trash. But we also have piles we keep for ourselves. Things we can't seem to part with. I think we're all going to have to build on a storage room. And we haven't even started on the real memory drawers. 

But it has to be done and I'm fortunate to have two sisters to work through the memories with me. What can we save? What will we do with this? Do you want it? Where will we put it? How can we part with it? The questions echo between us.

Mom has keepsakes from her family and from Dad's family too. And now we are going to have keepsakes too. But the best keepsake is all the memories of times with her. We will part with what we have to with sadness, but we'll never part with the memory of her love.  

Have you had to sort through a loved one's things? What was the hardest part of that for you?