Five Minute Friday: Visit

Visit.  When I think of the word visit, I think of my friend of 12+ years, Lisa.  I met her through the hub, as her hub and my hub used to attend graduate school together.

Our first meeting was at a Chinese buffet in Champaign, IL.  She had recently given birth to their first baby girl, Miss Olivia.  What I remember about that first meeting is Lisa’s beautiful red hair and how calm and collected she was handling a newborn while eating her dinner.

Over the years, she, her hub, and their now three children have visited my family often, and our friendship has flourished.  Besides tasting levee-high pies together and attending a local “luau” (in Illinois) together, we have shared our hearts with one another.  During several visits, she generously answered my many questions about her faith and theology in general.  This is a woman of great belief as I have learned over the years.  Repeatedly, she turns to the Lord in times of sorrow, worry, and thankfulness, truly unwavering in her connection with her God.

Recently Lisa sent me a picture of a cake creation she made for a friend.  A stay-at-home mother who homeschools her children, Lisa’s talents often always leave me with a sense of awe and renewed motivation;  I can never wrap my head around how she does all she does.

Despite her multifaceted expertise, Lisa’s response to my “oohs” and “aahs” over her latest creation was, “All from God.”  Visit.

Five Minute Friday: Open

Open.  This past Friday I scurried to the store in order to gather groceries before the impending freezing rain.  The temperature outside seemed to chill me to the bone.  A breast cancer warrior, my thoughts were, “If I had real nipples, they would be piercing through my winter coat at this time.”  Then I thought I need to text that to my BFF/partner in crime/cheerleader/sounding board/lifeline.  Yes, immature beyond a shadow of a doubt, but this is how we roll.

Fast forward to my return home and my retrieval of the mail.  As I lowered the plastic black door, I spied a rectangular piece of correspondence addressed to none other than “Tits McGee,” and I could not help but smile one of those smiles that borders on painful due to its width.  This, I knew, had to be a “small package” (what I consider snail mail) from the same woman who said without hesitation, “Cansah Schmansah,” when I told her of my diagnosis.


The real joy came in the form of tears as I opened this card, for inside was the inscription, You’re the sister I always wanted.  Open.

Five Minute Friday: When

When.  The hub and I gifted our girls with miniature porcelain tea sets for Valentine’s Day.  Found at the grocery store for $3.99/set, it was a deal I couldn’t pass on . . .  I remember wanting a set like this as a little girl, but it seems to me these delicate teacups and saucers were not affordable then as they are now.

I have to admit I wasn’t sure how they would react to these fragile gifts;  I was taking a gamble.  My girls like their crafts and stuffed animals.

To my delight, they were thrilled with these tea sets and immediately hosted party after party for Miss Piggy, each other, and Barbie.  I was fortunate enough to be invited this morning where I was told to say “when” when the proper amount of cream had been poured into my cup.

IMG_1615Not wanting this moment with my girls to end, I reluctantly uttered the word, “When.”  When.

Psalm 23:5:  ” . . . my cup runneth over.”

Happy Birthday G.G.

We met my first year of teaching.  I was enthusiastic, motivated, and, without a doubt, wet behind the ears.  You had fifteen years of teaching under your belt, so you were seasoned, honed, and realistic.  I needed you that first year, your encouragement, advice, support, and not just in regards to teaching.  I have needed you every year since then too.

After meeting and talking and talking and talking, we realized we grew up only a hop, skip, and jump from one another, and I think this simply solidified our similarities.  Perhaps, the Midwest can do that to people.

You welcomed me into your home, allowed me to play with your kiddos, and invited me to your various house parties.  Come to think of it, I am just now truly making use of those stamps I bought years ago.

We laughed until we cried riding on a school bus with a driver who spent more time looking in his overhead mirror than looking at the road.  Grateful you were with me on the first field trip I ever hosted, you took the lead when a child’s mother ended up having diarrhea while this yellow means of transportation was in motion.  I, in the meantime, had my nose poked out the window in an attempt to put an end to my retching.  Yes, I was useless.

This same year, we fell in love with crew neck sweatshirts adorned with various patterned fabrics and sayings due to a student’s talented mother.  With overwhelming trust, you permitted me, with no beauty expertise whatsoever, to trim your hair in your classroom after school one day using a student’s borrowed scissors.

At the end of that first year after we had said our farewells  to the rest of the staff, we walked out the doors of this school together.  You would be returning the next year while I took a teaching gig in another town.  I remember panicking at the thought of having to teach without you down the hall and the idea that perhaps our friendship may grow apart with distance.  This did not happen;  if anything my heart grew fonder for you with the absence.

Fifteen years later, we have so many more tales to tell and so many more memories to create.  So, on this your birthday, I wish you great love and much bliss along with bus rides free of diarrhea.

Writing Workshop Wednesdays (22)

Reading the acknowledgement page of my daughter’s book club book, Three Times Lucky, the author, Sheila Turnage thanks her parents for instilling in her the love of reading.

Thinking of my own love of reading and wondering when it developed, I remember being so excited for library day in elementary school.  There was what I remember to be a structure known as The Pit which we, the students, basically fought one another for in order to claim the ideal spot.  We were even allowed to drape our legs over the back of the structure if we wanted which, at the time, seemed so scandalous.  Now I think if I attempted to sit on The Pit, I don’t think I would be able to walk right for a week;  padding was definitely not a component of The Pit.  The librarian (aaah, when all school libraries employed librarians) would read us stories in The Pit much to our delight, and then ultimately a uniform groan would rise from The Pit when our teacher told us it was time to return to class.  I can still feel the disappointment of quality storytelling coming to an end.

So, for today’s Writing Workshop Wednesday, who or what instilled your love of reading?

Five Minute Friday: Welcome

Welcome.  I think I have had this discussion about feeling welcome over fifty times in the seven years I have known woman blessing Sarah, my co-leader to two Girl Scout troops (only one in which she has a daughter), my co-coach in soccer, my co-teacher at church, and my co-yogi.  In these endeavors, we always make it a priority to make the children as well as the parents feel welcome.  We send invites to events we are attending outside of our scheduled events which range from VBS to Zumba at the library.  We do this because in our conversations with one another we have discussed our experiences with the warm, nurturing feeling of being welcomed with open arms as well as the opposite, the loneliness which inevitably accompanies a feeling of being unwelcome.

We ended up at the church where we attend due to woman blessing Sherri who continued to welcome, invite, engage, and inquire whenever we saw her in the hallways during preschool pick-up.  She is one of those people whom you feel as if you have known forever upon meeting her on day one.  We finally succumbed to her advances and eventually ended up teaching Wednesday evening Bible studies to preschoolers under her direction.  Now that was a warm welcome which created results.

As a child, I changed schools four times in three years as the aftermath of my parents’ divorce.  As an eight-year-old, I can tell you how much a difference it made when I felt welcomed by students, teachers, and parents and when I did not.  I think of this always when I work with children of all ages as well as adults (who inevitably house an inner child).  Perhaps, they, too, once, twice, or several times have felt unwelcome.  Wouldn’t it be incredible to be that person who allows him/her to feel welcome for the first time?

This evening I plan to welcome my Daisies and Brownies to the Cookie Rally, and I definitely plan to welcome my two volunteer Cookie Queen Goddesses with open arms.  Whom do you plan to welcome today?

When I Thought It Was Love

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Sometimes I wish I could take back experiences I had in the past. For example, my first shot at love. My first love (or so I thought) was an affair I wish I had never engaged. I may not remember the fights, but I still remember the bruises. I cannot think of the arguments, but I still have the scars. What he left me with I remembered the most is a valuable lesson, not to trust a man simply because of a  reunion with an ex boyfriend.
It is finally happening, my first love is coming back to me, or so I thought. I would have never dreamed I could have had the chance to see him again. Of course I have always wanted to; I mean he was my first after all. He seems so different yet still the same boy from three years ago. My ex was short, dark skinned, with an overly large nose. His lips at the top had the perfect crease in the middle. That smile of his used to always make me forget any of my worries, and it was now approaching me. I am sure I could never forget that walk; he strutted with such cockiness it won me over. Now looking back I realized he was never my type, yet as I stand waiting for him my smile does not fade.
My ex-lover walks up and hugs me as if I just arose from the dead. I have planned out this date perfectly as I always do. Our date was an outing to the theater; we watched a movie about a man on a building of some sort. As I was sitting next to him, I could smell the scent of that expensive cologne I used to love so much. Throughout the show I had many flashbacks of times like this. Did I honestly miss being around him? At the beginning I do believe I missed his company. That was before I learned what he actually was.
Now it has been four months since my reuniting with my ex. At first all was going well until he found out about “The Instance.” This particular instance was just three months before we made up our relationship. “The Instance,” is what I call the short period of time me and the close friend of my ex were on a romantic level with each other. I often regret this because it was at first only out of spite. My ex and his friend Dee were extremely close once upon a time. That was until Dee finally found his way to me. I admit that I was tempted when I saw that he cut his locks off. One part of a male I adore is a low fade haircut. It did not take long for me and Dee to have relations. Looking back the instance was the biggest regret of my life. I regret the instance that turned a boy I thought I loved into someone I never knew.
My innocent mind thought the worst was over, but there would be more to come. After my ex learned about me and Dee, our relationship decreased dramatically. He told me he would never trust me again. Every other day we were arguing about what I did. I knew it was wrong, but I did not know it would drive him insane. If I had known, I would have ended it sooner. Still till this day I cannot believe I did not see the signs.
For a long time, I could not admit to anyone I was in an abusive relationship. The first time I experienced his abusive side was on the Fourth of July. We were at a barbeque together, and as usual we were arguing about “The Instance.” Note that I was always crying throughout our relationship due to our arguments. This time I just wanted to ignore him and have a good holiday. He made sure for the rest of our time being together that I would not have joy if he did not authorize it. My natural reflex was just to walk away from the argument, that was until he pushed me. After he laid hands on me, he proceeded to threaten me. Take to heart I was not a weak individual, but I did once love him. That is the only reason I did not involve anyone else in my predicament. My family would have raised hell on him if they ever found out about his abuse. By raise hell I mean he would not be in the living world, he would be dead. I never told them; I just waited for my chance to escape the madness.
The fighting between us went on about four whole months without anyone having a clue of what was happening. Now I saw what it was like to be hurt by someone who claimed to love me. Then I came to the conclusion that this was not love at all. People who claim to love each other would never put their loved one in a position like this. Since my ex was such a danger to me, himself, and my family, I just waited for the day to be out of this position. Soon enough the day came where we had an argument about a case of him cheating. I personally was happy he cheated because that led him to believe I was hurt and needed time to myself. Honestly I was not hurt at all. My ex and I broke up, and this might have been the happiest day of my life. This was the day that he finally left my bed, my home, and most of all my life. My dark cloud had finally moved past me.
After we broke up, my life was going well. My job was going well so I bought all the necessities for college. On one particular day, my ex called trying to make his way back into my life. I was not willing to hear him out at that moment; I had a flashback. This flashback showcased like it was yesterday. There I am sitting on the couch while he comes to join me. I tell him “No I will not give you any more money.” That is when he hits me so hard on the side of my face that my ear started to ring. In a flash I am back to reality. What I had to endure over the past five months was not love, and I learned the hard way. I told him to never call me again, then I hung up the phone.
An important lesson was learned from reuniting with my ex was that people change. Once upon a time I had this guy whom I thought was sweet, who turned out to be anything but sweet. Where did that guy go, the one who I was just so happy to see a couple of months ago? He was gone with the wind, never to be seen again. Now I cannot bring myself to trust a man. Since I cannot trust a man I do not feel the need to look for one. There is no point in finding a spouse anymore, or merely having a new relationship. The fact is I used to think I knew what love felt like. Now it has been a year and a half since the last time I saw my ex’s face. I am currently still not ready to commit to anyone. This is fine with me because at least now I know what love does not feel like which was this.
By Taraya Turner
An Individualist . . . The Weird Girl on Campus

Lesson of a Life

I just finished my last day at work and it was time to say goodbye to my colleagues. It was late July, and the sun was up in the sky. They were sad or maybe pretended to be, but at this point, I did not care. It was a good time and I learned a lot in that company but it was time to move on and the next step was about to be exciting. I worked as a commercial assistant in a company called “Air Liquide Welding” who was selling industrial supplies. I was fired because the activity was low but actually it was perfect for me because it was my plan to quit because I had others plans for my bright future. My parents were sad that I was fired because they were worried about my future and were scared for me. Nowadays, the work market is quite difficult, and it is hard to find a job because of the crisis. I can understand that they were worried but I was not because I had this plan in my head that I wanted to go back in school but in USA, and I was going to do everything possible to do it. The plan was clear and simple : go back to school in USA. I did not know yet, but life had a lesson for me.
         The 2013 year, I just had one goal : working and save my money to go back in America to study and play soccer. During this year, I thought about coming back to the U.S every single day. Every move was in relation with my future student life in America. My mother was kind of angry because she did not want me to go far away from her once again. She likes her babies close to her. I can understand that but I also needed my space, and life in France was not for me anymore. Too much negativity for me in this country right now and I did not need this in my life. I love my country but I felt like I had to leave it for so many reasons. The reasons were because people always complain and I felt like I was not moving forward in my life anymore, so I needed change in my life. Just after leaving my job, I received this call from the soccer coach of McKendree University, and he wanted me to come to play for August 2013; the fall season. I cannot explain my joy. I felt like all my hard work finally paid off. My little brother was so happy for me. My parents were happy but not that much because they knew I will have to leave the family house once again. The coach wanted me to come in August 2013, but I told him it was impossible due to all the papers I had to send and all my diplomas I had to translate so I asked him if I could come to the university in January 2014, and he said yes. I was so happy, and I could not wait to start doing all the papers and begin my workout plan to be fit in order to be ready for soccer season. All I was thinking about right now was this future adventure, and I was totally happy about that because I take soccer and school seriously.
However, during this summer, my father made an announcement that was going to change every aspect of this adventure and also my future life. He was taking us to Angola in Africa to visit my mother’s parents. My brother and I started to laugh because we had heard this a lot and, we did not believe it anymore. We felt like we were never going to see our roots and motherland. That was sad, but actually we were used to it right now. This time my father was being serious and already had the plane tickets. I was excited because this was my first time in Africa, and I could not wait to see what Africa had to offer. Anyway, we were almost ready and booked all the doctors’ appointments before we went. We were not be allowed to go to Africa if we do not take all the vaccinations before. They are strict about this. The hardest part of a family trip was to pack. It was pretty long, and we had to take with us the right clothes. It was easy because in Angola it is hot, so bring on the shorts and t-shirts. What we also have to know is that in Africa, we cannot come without our hands full of presents. Any kind of presents : clothes, accessories but the most important : medications. They need it, and they will be happy to have it. The packing was finished, I think we were ready to go. The worst part about this long trip were all the connecting flights and the wait.
We flew from Paris to Brussels and then to Luanda, the capital city of Angola. One word to describe this priceless moment : WOW! I felt like a new-born right then. New people, new language (Portuguese), new smells, it was intense and interesting. The best moment when we landed there was when my mother saw her sisters. It was an emotional moment, and I almost cried. They all looked alike, same face, same laugh, same height. I saw my aunts for the first time of my life. I cannot understand when they spoke in Portuguese but I understood when they spoke in Lingala. They were nice and already treated me like I was their new son. In Angola and in Africa in general, people respect family. It was the most precious gift they had instead of money or materials. We were heading to my grandpa’s home, the father of my mother. She had not seen him since 1985. I looked forward to experiencing. We were in different cars my family and I because we brought a lot of luggage. So I tried to talk with my cousin with a mix of French, Portuguese and a lot of English.
We arrived at my grandpa’s house. It was a huge fancy white house the government gave to him because he used to work for the government during the war in Angola. Most of African countries had their independence during the 60s but Angola had it in 1975. So the peace in the country is new. The first time since 1996, I saw my grandparents again. They came to see us in 1996 in Paris. It was the first I met them. My grand-father was an old man. He is also blind, but he can see through his others senses and he is the wisest man I have ever known. My grand-mother is like my mother. A small old lady who talks a lot and likes to take care of people. She also had back and feet problems; the same problems my mother is starting to have. We also met a few of my cousins, around forty cousins. We have a huge family. My mother has nine siblings and my father has twelve siblings and all his brothers and sisters have children. Anyway, we were tired from the trip, but they wanted us to eat before bed. There were a lot of fish and potatoes. We finally went to sleep to be ready to attack the next day. The second day was nice. All sunny, warm weather and warm family. We were finally all reunited together for a month of vacation. My grand-father is blind, but he wrote a book about roots of Kikongo ( Ancestral Language in Angola ). When I used to talk to him, I was fascinated by his calm and wise words. My whole vision of the world changed when we started talking together. He gave advice to me and my brother. He showed me alternative thinking to have a different outlook on life. I will never forget these long night conversations with my “Avo” (Grand-Father in Portuguese). He wanted us to come back in Angola to help the country. He said “Africa needs you, you are the tools of our success. The resources are here and we need your skills to exploit them.” This quote stayed in my head since then. He was right. We came there to visit my mom’s family, but my father also had a few members of his family there.
We went to my uncle’s house. It was a house in a poor neighborhood with no water and electricity. These conditions were rustic, but we had to adapt. But I had never seen a happier person than my uncle. He was so welcoming, always smiling and had this impressive positive outlook on life even though he was poor. That was another lesson here. The world was not based on money and materials. We miss a lot of moments in our lives because we are stuck into “routines” that make us selfish. Back from my uncle’s house, we went back to my “Avo’s” home. After that, we went to the beach; my parents finally received their official Angolan ID, so that means we can be Angolan by affiliation. I am happy about that because it will be easier for me to go back in the future. Life was beautiful. We spent one month in Angola, moving from house to house, cousin to cousin, eating different food and sharing. I was not thinking of my trip in USA anymore. I clearly had the time of my life, and I now had a different vision of life. My goals were the same, but I embrace them differently.
This month gave me now more energy to finish my project to go back to America. Now it was time to go back to Europe. Everybody came to say ” Au revoir ” to us. We cried because my “Avos” were old, and it was maybe the last time we would see them but it was a precious time. Now we went back to France, and my motivation to achieve my goal was renewed. I already knew where I was going, but now I also knew for whom I was doing it.

By Boris Kiesse-Makangu
Young French/Angolan man trying to reach his dreams.  The best way to enjoy your life is to live it!

Larry McMurtry’s Books: A Memoir Book Club

Who would have thought reading a book about a man’s love affair with books would be so addicting?  I’m a bookaholic, and even I wasn’t so sure when I checked Books:  A Memoir out from the library.  I was hooked on the cover photograph, though, gaggles and gaggles of books.
McMurtry discuss in great detail his own obsession, “I had to have books,” (20) with books which eventually led to his buying and selling books.  In fact, he utilizes his love of books to remember prominent points on his personal time line:  the beginning of his teaching career, the end of his marriage, the growth of his son, etc.  
The wit, intellect, and characterization found in this memoir is mesmerizing to say the least, and I noticed I read with a permanent smirk on my face throughout.  When McMurtry tells of some eccentric book sellers he came across during his book hunts, such as the owner who had books piled high in a one-room shop, I had no choice but to laugh out loud.  In order to “view” the books, a customer was to make use of provided binoculars for which McMurtry spent hours scanning the titles giving a whole other meaning to browsing the shelves.”
For the purposes of book club, Coca-Cola served in the bottle should be the beverage of choice served for your discussion.  Without giving too much away, this would be an ideal conversation starter on the topic of difficult customers McMurtry encountered at his own book shop, Booked Up.  An assortment of chocolate ” . . . we might offer our children”  (20) to accompany the soda in lieu of beef intestines would be my preference.

Susanna Sonnenberg’s Her Last Death Book Club

Having read about Susanna Sonnenberg’s latest memoir, She Matters, in a newspaper, my interest was piqued about not only this as a potential read, but also her first memoir, Her Last Death, the true story of a troubled (putting it mildly) childhood and the effects of which infiltrate adulthood.  The honesty with which Sonnenberg arranges her words grasps the attention of the reader in much the same way an automobile accident may engage passing motorists. . . too horrific to comprehend, but impossible to turn away.  Blushing while reading one passage, empathizing while reading another, this is definitely a page turner.  Feeling as if I now know the Susanna on these pages, I yearn to know the rest.  What has happened between the final page until now?
For the purposes of book club, many gourmet delicacies are discussed throughout.  However, a defining moment in the memoir comes when Susanna realizes she favors her eggs scrambled, not a soft scramble, but hard.  Thus, a brunch with the eggs in question would be a compelling conversation starter.

Susanna Sonnenberg