Wednesday, March 23, 2011

For the Love of the Flea Market

I've been a little blue. But my mom, wise in the ways of therapy, knew just the trick.

"We need to load up the kids and head to the flea market tomorrow morning," she insisted. "We'll pick up some of those sausage biscuits they love so much and make a morning of it."
And so we did.

I threw all three of my young 'uns and the rusty beach stroller {the one that's good for dirt and sand} into the van and we took a "field trip" to the Wednesday morning flea market with Nana.
We're a classy bunch, no?

Lest you think the flea market is some rinky-dink, small-scale establishment, let me tell you otherwise. Our flea market is the size of a small city. And I do say that with a strange sense of pride. Brownie informed me that he had walked two miles by the end of our excursion and he may have indeed been correct. 

You can buy everything from roosters to razor cartridge refills. I'm quite certain a not-so-small percentage of the wares are not exactly legal or legitimate. But we shop there anyway.

The flea market never fails to deliver in five key areas. I now look for these items, turning each outing into my own personal, junky, scavenger hunt: Eiffel Towers, Elvis tchotchkes, Jesus art, Confederate flags, and ammo.

{Expired pharmaceuticals are also gaining in market shares.}

Sometimes the Eiffel Towers are well-concealed. But if you look hard enough, you can always spot one. See? Here's one masquerading as a fluorescent, plastic, corked decanter. I don't think I want to know what's been "decanted" in there.

And all of this is what makes the flea market one of my favorite local haunts. My mom and I visit the flea market on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. No kids allowed. We sip hot coffee, buy Christmas presents and stock up on a year's supply of local color.

{A photo from Thanksgiving}

But this was my first spring excursion. It will not be the last.
We walked past vendors selling forsythia clippings and baby bunnies, farm-fresh eggs and newborn puppies. We trod dirt aisles lined with antiques and auto parts and gently-used sneakers, all the while inhaling a blend of fried food, fresh produce, baked bread, truck exhaust, and cigarette smoke. Call me crazy but it's actually a really pleasant aroma and strangely comforting.

I picked up the noteworthy homemade biscuits from the snack bar while the kids and my mom listened to a musical posse crooning and plucking everything from Johnny Cash to Vestal Goodman.

{The same musician I saw at Thanksgiving evidently plucks this painted bucket-broomhandle-stringed instrument year-round.}

One side of their "stage" was blocked off by the biggest, rustiest, coolest antique truck ever. As Brownie eyed the truck, an older gentlemen told him, "If you look up 'truck' in the dictionary, a picture of that there vehicle will be sittin' beside it."
And on the bed of the truck? Cages of "back-up-singing" roosters that seemed to cock-a-doodle-doo right on cue.

Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up. The market should charge admission.

It goes without saying that the flea market is a literal treasure trove of people, junk, and seriously amazing loot. I spent $10 and came home with a lovely bottle of organic olive oil, an Anthropology-looking necklace, one tube of my favorite lip balm and four jars of face cream. My absolute favorite brand...for $1 a jar!

Truly, the Confederate-Parisian-Elvis-Gospel-Gun-Totin'-Rooster gods were smiling down on me today.

The kids bought some slightly-expired gum and a sweet old lady gave Cupcake an ancient Motorola flip-phone. Honestly, people take one look at that toddler head of curly hair and they give him whatever is in his hand. He's a veritable 3-year-old shoplifter. No wonder he's such a mess.

My mom purchased a cast-iron skillet. For me. I can't believe that I've lived this long without one. It's downright shameful. She can't believe she raised me on skillet cornbread and failed to provide me with a seasoned pan of my own. I think this sobering reality guilted her into getting one for me. Plus, it was a bargain at $10. When you are southern and a mom, it's never too late to impart the domesticity you overlooked when the kids were young and driving you bananas. This gives me hope for my own neglected and undomesticated children.

For someone who just can't help but take note of people and irony and the idiosyncrasies that define us as individuals and sub-cultures, a few hours at the flea market is like drinking from a fire hose. My dream job {the realistic one, not to be confused with the unrealistic Food & Wine travel writer / photographer one,} is working for a local newspaper, covering people and places that make our locale unique, colorful, and vibrant.

In the meantime, I'll be an enthusiastic poseur with my every-now-and-then blog post and amateur iPhone photos. And in case you're wondering what to get me for my birthday, there's a darling Eiffel Tower decanter I just can't live without. A Terrorist Hunting Permit wouldn't hurt either.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grace Like a Child's

The boys use unkind tones with one another and their patience seems non-existent. With edgy frustration, I correct them constantly.
The older two have trouble staying focused on their schoolwork. I am bothered by their distractibility.
They forget to pick up after themselves and they'd always rather play or make art.
I fuss at her for not being ready on time.
She misplaces things, often, and it flies all over me. And every time it happens, I am quick to remind her of how frequently she does this.
She asks 20 questions about Jesus and demons and the Pharisees and I become exasperated that I cannot even get through a chapter of the New Testament without all of why's and what's. She is such a skeptic, I think to myself, annoyed by her unending dialectic.
They tend toward selfishness with their stuff and their space and I tell them to share and treat one another the way they would want to be treated. But it seems they don't listen.
I pray for patience. I don't like my tone. And I can't seem to change as quickly as I'd like to. Or at all.
Many days, I'd rather write or read or make art than teach them math or grammar.
I struggle to be ready on time and have them ready too.
This morning I lost my phone.
Distracted by e-mail, I forget to finish breakfast.
I read through one chapter of the New Testament with them and ask 20 questions in my head. I'm not brave enough to voice them like she does.
I keep my chocolate out of their reach and don't share my soda. The mama deserves a few things of her own, I rationalize.
They mess up all day long. And so do I, their messes often mirroring my own and vice versa.
Instead of the circle of life, we are the circle of mess.
They are desperately searching for assurance that they are just as loved when they screw up. And I'm searching for it too.
In case you can't tell, there's been a lot of mess around here, literal mess and soul mess. And with that comes desperate longing for grace and forgiveness and consolation that we are still okay.
Recently Blondie turned 10 and requested a trip to Build A Bear, just the two of us. On the way we had a conversation that went something like this:
Mommy, do you miss me being a baby?
Yes, sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish I could go back and start over because I feel like I'd be a better mom.
But you can't be a perfect mom. Everyone makes mistakes. Even if you started over you wouldn't necessarily be better. Nobody can be a perfect mommy.
I turned away so she wouldn't see the tears and I scribbled our short, profound dialogue on a piece of scrap paper when I stopped at the next red light.
Often I wonder why she's not the mommy. At times, she seems wiser. And she is certainly more gracious. All three of them are so very forgiving each time I ask their forgiveness, something I do a lot of and yet probably not enough of. They never deny me grace, not even for a second.
They don't expect me, at 37, to be perfect. But I have a default tendency to expect them, at 10, 7 and 3, to get it right more than they get it wrong.
It stings to write that but it's the truth.
Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to "such as these," that we grown-ups would be wise to take off our blurry, scratched, grown-up lenses and see the world like a child sees it. That we should model our faith after little ones.
The upside-down-ness of it all gets me every time.
Desperately, I pray that He will grow up my grace and my faith to be more like theirs.
And in one way they do listen to what I say about treating others the way they want to be treated...they teach me, through their unconditional love toward a failing, flailing mama, how to love them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Evolution of a Word Girl

This post is part of the Cecil Murphy Scholarship opportunity offered through She Speaks conference {Proverbs 31 Ministries.} For more information on this fantastic conference for aspiring speakers, writers, or ministry leaders, see the end of my post or visit the conference web-site.

She Speaks Conference


I started blogging several years ago. I didn't have an audience or an agenda. I just wanted a place to share and write and connect. Before long, the fun but superficial posts on recipes and furniture makeovers and family outings gradually gave way to posts about motherhood and struggle and finding joy in the everyday.

And the more I wrote, the more I realized I couldn't not write.

I wrote posts I never published. I wrote through tears in my journal. I wrote to others and I wrote to Jesus. I scribbled hard on receipts in the Publix parking lot and memorialized thoughts at stop-lights with a golf-course pencil and the back of a bank envelope. And it slowly dawned on me that I wrote...a lot.

The "writerly me" I’ve located in the midst of motherhood and marriage and mess feels both new and nostalgic, like getting back in touch with a childhood best friend.

As I backwards trace through youth and young adulthood, I see shadows of a word girl. My 5th grade poetry book? A prized possession. Diagramming sentences? My favorite. What I got in trouble for in 7th grade? Passing notes. {Lots of them.} Letters and notebooks from college filled with tales of love and lament? Check. I loved literature and mythology and the power of a great story.

And I recall my senior year of high school, going in early before school to get special tutoring from Ms. Joyner, my quirky, brilliant, gray-haired AP English teacher, who painstakingly helped me maintain consistent tenses and locate compelling themes. One-on-one, she taught me composition and I loved it.

But I didn't become a writer.

I became someone who had to do a lot of writing for her profession. And while I felt at home in academia and loved my career, I wasn't telling much story. Writing then lacked the personal narrative I never knew I was longing for.

And now that there's more space for my thoughts to run free, I'm able to write about the real.

Last year I wrote for the first time about marriage. My marriage. The imperfect, almost-wasn't marriage and how God brought redemption out of mess. It was a guest post for Chatting at the Sky so I sort of chalked up the response to Emily's larger audience. But last month I wrote a bit more about marriage and once again, it seemed to resonate.

I never thought I'd write publicly about that part of my life. But I've now had an opportunity to encourage other women who are tired of putting on perfect every day for the outside world yet struggling desperately behind closed doors.

I know how that feels. I did it for years.

And 15 years after "I do," it's still hard. Marriage is not for the faint of heart and sometimes I want that story to have its happy ending already so that I can move on to more glamourous tales. But God...He keeps writing His story out of our failure and I guess we've been good at giving Him a plenteous supply of material.

I didn't see the struggle as a story but someone else did. Bonita, an encouraging writer friend, left this comment on last month's Love Story post:

Scooper, I thought it before, but now I know it. You need to write a book. This is it--your book--this trudging up the hill and sliding back down and clamoring back up again. This is your story.

You write it well. You live it well. And you express what so many of us experience in the day-to-day living out of love.

And so many will relate to this, to your transparency and willingness to let us peek into your tear-filled closet.

I don't say these things to everyone and I have a really good track record for picking winners. You are one of those winners, Scooper. Not many people can write this way and express it all so well. You have a book in you, sweet friend!

I cried. I felt scared and exhilarated. Why? Because someone called me a writer and I dared to believe her. What's more, she read the words of my big ol' mess and she said it's a story others need to hear. And whether I delve further into that plot or write something entirely different, whether I publish a book or continue to narrate the grace-drenched everyday in relative obscurity, I know that God has woven story through my DNA. He has given me words and they are my offering to Him and to others.

That's why I would love to win a scholarship to She Speaks. I want to connect with other writers, to learn, to share, to be equipped, and to see where story leads. I've longed to go to the conference for several years now and a scholarship would provide that opportunity. As my heart is unmistakably being pulled in the direction of writing, I'm ready to put my "work" out there beyond the scope of my blog, to follow this dream and see what God may have in store.

So thanks for reading my story. And I really hope to see you at She Speaks in July!


She Speaks is a conference for Christian women who aspire to be speakers, writers or ministry leaders. The conference is part of Proverbs 31 Ministries. At She Speaks,

You will learn how to make the most of your messages, the nuts and bolts of speaking, writing, leading and influencing, and have the opportunity to meet with some of today’s top Christian publishers.

She Speaks is not just another conference … it is a true experience with God and a revival in your calling!

-Lysa Terkeurst, Proverbs 31 Ministries

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Decade Girl

I laced up my sneakers and set out for a 10-mile run on that hot July day, ten-and-a-half years ago. I had recently finished a half-marathon so the run should have been easy but I felt awful, overheated and ready to puke. Something was off. Coffee hadn't tasted good in a week either. I should have put two and two together.

We returned from our annual July 4th trip to Michigan with The Man's family and in the wee hours of the next morning, the pregnancy test immediately showed positive. So did the next one...and the next. I was 6 weeks pregnant. Shocked and exhilarated and already sick, I felt like I was the first pregnant girl in the history of the world.

From the first flutters, she never stopped moving. Never. Stopped. And as my womb grew cramped, she kept kicking, my cracked rib testifying to her in-utero acrobatics. When the time came for her to make her long-awaited and long-labored entrance into the world, she burst out posterior, pulling clenched-fists up by her head just as she crowned.

She cried and I cried and they remain the most precious tears we've ever cried together. I had never known love like this. And when they put her in my arms, her crying ceased and she stared me down hard and I felt like she could see straight through to my soul. She intimidated me with that knowing stare.
She still has a way of doing that.

She didn't sleep in the hospital and she didn't sleep once we got home. In fact, she did not sleep through the night for two years. Her favorite place to sleep was with me. And while she did not snuggle or cuddle or really take to people much in general, she seemed to find solace nestled up against me when the sleep finally came.

I nursed her the longest of my three...16 months. She refused a bottle and so I just kept nursing. It seemed like forever, living in that attached state with one another. And then one day she was done and now it seems like no time at all.

As for that active baby restricted by her mama's belly, she never stopped moving. Alert and intense from day one, she spent the first eight years of her life not being still. It drove me crazy. Time and maturity are mellowing her and I find myself ironically nostalgic for those years that she squirmed and fidgeted all the live long day. Her relative stillness these days reminds me that she is growing up...and that one day I'll be nostalgic for the things that drive me crazy now.

I wasn't sure either of us would survive those early years. She was strong-willed and so was I. I wanted her to wear one dress and she wanted another. She never seemed to tire of trying to triumph over me. I was worn slap out by the end of every day.
And now? She is much the same. Intense and infinitely observant, she still asks more questions than any of my children. And she is determined to mete out truth in any situation, no matter how inconsequential {which does not always go over well with others.} She has a way of being both blunt and quiet, unaware of how she comes across. This makes me cringe at times and want to stand up and applaud at others.

She is a quirky blend of ironies and I spend a lot of time wondering what she'll be like when she's grown. Seemingly aloof and yet compassionate. A dreamer and also a realist. Fiercely engaged in whatever is going on but easily distracted by what's on the other side of the window.

Time will tell.

And it's days like today that I want to shake time by the collar and tell it to stand still.

The days are long but the years are short. That's the phrase I've heard from several different people recently and it's the truth. Is it ever the truth.

For that clenched-fist baby girl who never slept is 10 years old today.

I get a little weepy over birthdays. And when I get weepy I write and this is probably more than anyone besides her mama really cares to read.

Last night I tucked her in, her final night in single digits, and she asked, Mommy, what was your best age? Honestly, I don't know. But I have to say that where she is right now, this point in time with her? It's pretty sweet and I don't want to forget a minute.

Weeks ago she submitted a special birthday request...that I would sleep in her bed on her birthday. And of course I said yes.

It will be just like old times.

Happy 10th birthday sweet girl.


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