Surprise!

My Ring camera alerted me that there was a young man on my front porch. He didn’t ring the bell, but it looked like he left something on my rocking chair. I went down to the front door, but he was gone. What was left were two beautifully wrapped gifts, tied up with a magazine-worthy green satin bow.

I recognized the bowmanship immediately. It was a surprise from my friend Karen, the best gift-giver and gift-wrapper I know. I carried the presents inside and opened the card. It was all about MAINE! My friends know my love of Maine and my impending trip. The first package were two of Karen’s needlepoint canvases. Both Maine themed, a lobster waders and a lobster LL Bean Bag- so cute! The name of her needlepoint business is Tout Le Monde and her canvases are available at Chapel Hill Needlepoint and all the best Needlepoint Store across the country.

I will be kitting these canvases out and will certainly try and finish them in Maine, along with the Nantucket Basket Pocketbook I am stitching now.

The second gift is a fabulous 1000 piece puzzle that is of a cover of Gourmet Magazine (rest in peace) with a lobster and lobster pot! I had been looking at all my puzzles trying to figure out which one to take since there is nothing better to do on vacation than a puzzle. Well, Karen answered that question in spades.

How thoughtful and generous to celebrate my vacation with the most perfect gifts. I hope that when I grow up I can be as kind as Karen.


Dedication Day

During the height of the pandemic I was quietly working on building Westminster’s new fellowship hall. Very few people were on campus other than the workmen and some staff once in a while. Next to the fellowship hall is the most sacred part of our church campus, the memorial garden.

The memorial garden had a brick wall with missing bricks in the center in the shape of a cross. The wall had small plaques attached to it with the names of the church members whose ashes are interned in the garden. The old wall was failing. There were cracks star stepping to the cross opening. The foundation of the wall was not built deeply enough to hold the wall. If you add a small boy or two who are sometimes drawn to climbing on the wall and bad things could happen.

While working on the fellowship hall I had structural engineers on campus so I asked them to look at the wall. Sure enough, it needed to be replaced. I asked our architects, DTW if they would design us a new wall in the flavor of our old one, but bigger and stronger. So Robert Sontolongo donated a plan for the new wall.

As I was basically working alone on the fellowship hall I was able to find some money and was able to get the wall rebuilt while we had masons on campus working on the building. It was all done quietly in consultation with our Pastor and some of the family members of loved ones interned in the garden. Everyone was in favor of the improvement.

All the name plaques were carefully removed before the replacement was done. The ground where ashes are interned was protected and the old wall was lovingly taken down and the new one went up. It took a while to have the plaques replaced, but now it is done. The wall has new lighting. Betsy Mangum is leading an effort to improve the landscaping and adding more benches. Anyone who is interested in helping her can contact the church.

Today, after the regular church service, we all went out and put our hands on the wall and prayed over it. It makes my heart so happy that this project has been turned over to the loving hands of the whole church. Someday I am certain my name will also be on that wall. A wall built to stand for hundreds of years.


New Digs for Mom

My mother has done the most wonderful thing. She decided all on her own that now is the time for her to move to a retirement community. Five and a half years ago, when my Dad had a bad heart issue and spent 12 days in the hospital I asked my mother if she would go look at places to live. She agreed, but on the condition that she could not go with my father since he refused to go to anyplace that he did not build.

After he passed away in September, she was not ready and no place she had her name on the list was ready to have her. Earlier this summer Croasdaile called and they had a two bedroom unit if she wanted it. It was not exactly what she was looking for, but she took it anyway. “I’m not getting any younger.” Which is rich since she looks about 65.

She closed on her place last week and is going to move in September. Today Russ and I went over to her apartment and delivered a rug she had picked out. My mom had alerted them that we would be coming and asked that security let us into her unit. They could not have been nicer. The man at the gate knew we were coming. A second man at the door closest to her apartment let us in the building and directed us to the elevator and a third man met us when we got to her floor and led us to her apartment and opened it. Such great service. Everyone could not have been nicer.

We unrolled the rug and it was perfect in her living room. I think it is going to look wonderful with the furniture she is bringing. I know she is going to make lots of friends and play lots of games. Having her in a place with other people to look out for her makes me very happy. I know that moving out of your home is not what everyone wants to do, but being alone is worse. Welcome to Durham Mom. I can tell you it is the best place to live!


Catching Up

It is wonderful to go to new places and make new friends, especially at my age, but it means I am not home getting to be with my old friends enough. After three great beach days, being hosted by the always generous and kind Reba I came home for a few days before my big month off. I have a lot to do to get ready to go and today I got none of it done.

I started my day with Physically therapy, which I quite frankly wish I could start everyday with. I followed that up with an Al fresco lunch with Stephanie. A lunch was hardly enough time to catch up, especially since she is filling in for me at garden club while I am away, missing the first meeting. I ran home to meet my Decorator’s assistant Sarah to do some work on some window treatments. As soon as she was out the door I sprinted off to needlepoint to pick up some finishing and a canvas.

I wanted to catch up with Needlepoint Nancy, but before I could do that I go a visit in with Lousie who I have not seen in years. Nancy and I had the shop to ourselves after Lousie left and we thankfully got a lot of ground covered before Christine came in the store and we practically squealed we were so happy to run into each other.

We yakked a good half hour and I eventually said she needed to do her shopping so Nancy could close the store. I figure if I were to sit at Nancy’s one day I could probably see most of my friends without going anywhere else.

Tonight Lynn and I went out to dinner as our husbands were out together. Lynn and I have friends’ birthdays to celebrate, but as I will be gone, Lynn may have to start the celebrations and I will finish them. Including her for birthday.

It was a good day to catch up with so many friends, both planned visits and serendipitous meetings. It was so normal it almost felt like 2019. I never thought a day of so many friends in so many different places would ever come again.


Beat The Teacher Day

After my final Mah Jongg class today I stayed at Coral Bay to enjoy the Mah Jongg Luncheon and game play. There were probably fifty people there. Most had learned Mah Jongg from me, so it was fun to see so many friends. I ate lunch with one table of ten and we laughed about the fact that they secretly played with blank tiles. I continue to encourage people to play standard Mah Jongg and not to make up their own rules. Adding blank tiles to the game makes it a much easier game.

When I explained to them that I wanted them to become expert players and be able to travel anywhere and play with other real Mah Jongg players they agreed that blanks were a handicap. It is a little like riding a bike with training wheels and never taking them off. Also making up your own rules can cause fights because of differing understanding of the fake rules.

After lunch, more people arrived and it was time for game play. Instead of four players at our table we had seven at one time. One was just observing as she had just finished her beginner class. Two were helping other players so they could all try and beat me. As a teacher I want everyone I teach to get good enough that they can beat me. That makes me happy.

We played five hands. Anna Ball and Coles both won a hand. Congratulations to them for such a wonderful accomplishment. They all got a lot of free coaching from me and I hope everyone at my table felt like they went away a better player.

I am thrilled that Mah Jongg continues to be a welcoming and kind game. It makes my heart happy when people cheer for the winners at their table, when they just got beat. Good sportsmanship makes the game more fun for everyone.


Small World Smaller

Day two of Beach Mah Jongg lessons went well. The beginner class is ticking along and the strategy class finished strong today. I appreciate that my students enjoy the classes enough to want to take multiple classes. There are not enough days in the year to satisfy all the requests for classes. I just scheduled three more days in Kinston on October 26-28. I got two requests for Raleigh beginner classes that I will announce as soon as we have a location. I have a request for a Durham/Chapel Hill beginner class so if you are interested in learning this fall please contact me. You can do it through the comments on this blog if you want.

After the whirlwind of Mah Jongg My hostess Reba and I got to go out to dinner with two friends, the sisters, Susan and Gwen, who are past students of mime and now Mah Jongg players. We went to Blue Moon in Beaufort, which is owned by my old neighbor Doug Townsend. He was always an enthusiastic guest at my dinner table so I think being a restaurateur is a wonderful thing for him to be doing. We had a yummy dinner.

As we were being seated I noticed Cynthia and Marvin Barnes at the table behind us so I greeted them. Not long after we ordered old Durham friends, Page and George Littlewood came in the restaurant and we had a fun reunion. They introduced us to their neighbor down here. Her name is Annette Williamson.

Annette looked at me and asked if I knew Shannon Ray. Of course I know Shannon, we are old friends from boarding school. Shannon’s father was Annette’s godfather. Shannon had told Annette about me when Annette was moving to North Carolina from Texas. It’s about time we met, even if it was by happen stance.

It was a very busy dinner getting to see so many friends and friends of friends. The world is just a small place.


Packed Too Much In

It’s official. I may be too old to wake up at five in the morning. Drive three hours. Teach six hours of class – and still remember to pack my tooth brush. Today is the first day of the last of my summer Mah Jongg classes at Coral Bay. Like all things at the end of the summer, things are starting to dwindle down. There are fewer people at the beach. Kids are gearing up to go back to school. Parents are counting the days until they do.

So it is only fitting after being away all last week, I forgot one of my travel cosmetic bags, with my tooth brush, paste, floss, pain killers, etc. Thank goodness I am staying with my friend Reba who stocks he house better than a Ritz Carlton. She promptly found me a tooth brush, which I must say was also a gum massager and better than my own tooth brush.

Reba made me tea, squeezed me lemon juice and has sweet n’ low all ready for my to have my first iced tea in the morning. Then there is the breakfast spread. All I do is take her out to dinner, which is hardly a fair trade for my Ritz Carlton room.

I am so exhausted I know I will pass out quickly tonight and sleep soundly. I need it since I have six hours of class tomorrow and I must ensure that everyone leaves Mah Jongg Class a bonafide player. I may have packed too much in today, except for my tooth brush.


Farewell Olivia Newton John

The summer of 1978 I worked in a printing factory in Stamford. It was a 45 minute drive from my house in my 1972 gold Chevy Impala that got about 12 miles to the gallon. There was a gas crisis and I would wait in gas lines on the odd numbered days to fill my tank’s tank.

The best part about that summer was that the movie Grease came out and my boyfriend Charlie and I went to see it five times. Sometimes our friend Jack would drive us. The benefit to that was he had a car which used less gas and Charlie and I could sit in the back seat and make out.

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta sang us through summer. I had the cassette tape and could sing along in my Chevy, when no one else was in the car with me. I think we ignored the fact that there was a pregnancy scare in the movie. We were just kissing back then so that never crossed our minds.

To us the innocence of Sandy was the best part of the movie. I can remember both Charlie and I did not like when Sandy came out smoking and dressed in black leather at the end of the movie. Still we went back to the movie over and over. Obviously there was not much for us to do in Wilton, Connecticut back then. I also was exhausted from working in the printing factory so sitting in an air conditioned theatre was the best. Everything was a lot simpler then.

So it is with great sadness that I learned of Olivia Newton John’s passing today. She always will be young and beautiful to me. Her voice will forever be stuck in my head singing, “totally devoted to you.” Grease was the soundtrack to that happy and carefree summer.


Two Days Home…Not Enough

Russ and I arrived home from Pawleys yesterday at 3. I promptly took a nap. I guess my extrovertedness saw the empty house and crashed. Russ was happily alone and awake.

Today was no better for me. I did laundry, but that was the extent of my productivity. I am resting up for my next trip in a day. Back to the beach for my final Mah Jongg classes of the season there. Seems like I have packed too much into my summer in anticipation of my month off in Maine.

I have a romantic idea that I will get to read, write, make art and cook a lot of lobster. Russ has even bigger hopes. Preparing for such a big break in our day-to-day life is not easy. Paying the bills in advance, lining up people take care of our house, getting prescriptions are just the easy things.

My list of things to do is growing and I have mere hours to complete it. I should never have taken that nap when we got home, let alone have such an unproductive day today. Sometimes you just have to take everything one day at a time.


Still Has It

Still Has It

When Russ and I started thinking about all the stuff we were taking to the beach, like chairs we never needed up taking out of the car, we decided to drive our 22 year old land cruiser. This car is a tank, but it is still a boss. I stopped driving the land cruiser regularly when I got my hybrid ten years ago. We kept the big car because it was great to take to the hardware store or dump. My dad had given Carter a VW when she got her learners permit, but after her new driver inaugural crash she started driving the land cruiser.

That car took her back and forth to Camp Cheerio all the years she worked there. I felt better knowing she was driving up the mountain in the tank. She and her friends even drove the car far into Tennessee to go to Bonnaroo, a big multi-day music festival where it turned out to be so hot they would go back to the land cruiser and sit in the air conditioning.

Since Carter left for College five years ago the land cruiser mostly sat in the driveway. Workmen would stop at my house and ask if I wanted to sell it. Absolutely not. With only 169,000 miles on it, which is only middle aged in land cruiser world. Yes, the leather seats have seen better days and the paint on the hood is a disaster, but as a work horse it can’t be beat.

On our journey home today I noticed gas prices were anywhere between $3.99 and $3.44 cents all in the state of North Carolina. It did not cost us much more to drive to and from Pawleys in the land cruiser as the price of gas is coming down continually the last two months. It did provide us with a great comfortable drive. The highlight was when we had it in limo mode. I was in the driver’s seat, Russ had the front passenger seat pulled up so he could sit in the back with Shay in her safety harness, but still standing on his lap with her head draped over his shoulder. The comfort level was high for everyone, especially Shay.

If you are ever planning on driving across the Sahara dessert or through the alps I highly recommend a late model land cruiser, if you can find one. People don’t get rid of them once they have one.


Last Dance

The ocean was perfect today. The water was cooler than it had been, making it feel refreshing. The jelly fish were someplace else. The waves were not so thunderous so you did not get thrown to the ocean floor. The temperature on the beach was warm, but not blistering. The breeze was not a land breeze, so it was sweet and pleasant. It was the perfect last day.

I enjoyed one last really good swim. I only had to save one small boy, who got in over his head. Thankfully there was no undertow and I got him to the sandbar easily. I have no idea where his parents were as there were just a few people on the beach. His two “older” sisters, maybe a nine and ten year olds, thanked me for saving him. I suggested they not swim any deeper and kept my eye on them while I swam.

Mary and I got lots of Mah Jongg practice in before we had to start packing things up in preparation for our early morning departure tomorrow. It was already getting to be a little sad that our beach week together was coming to an end. These small branches our our large family tree have never spent this much fun time together.

It was especially nice to get to know grown children who have turned into delightful adults. We are so sorry Carter was not with us and have promised to bring her on the next trip we will certainly have thanks to Meredith who is our official travel planner.

Tonight was our farewell dinner. Everyone who is still here all showed up. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. I love this extended family.


Demanding

For the most part the members of my very extended family have a few traits in common. Most of us love games and we are also very demanding when it comes to customer service. I can remember going to a fancy ladies store with my grandmother, Granettes, and when she was somewhat ignored standing at the front counter, she pounded her foot on the floor and bellowed, “who’s going to wait on me.” That was a very Michie way of acting.

Tonight we all gathered at one house to play some games. I continued my Mah Jongg lessons with the faithful and my cousin Mary won again, setting herself up to be a future shark player. The rest of the family was in another room playing poker. I heard from the young ones that my Sister Margaret cleaned up. I love that since she was always the least interested game player in my family.

After gaming we had no specific dinner plans. This was an oversight on all our parts. Since it is high season here, getting into any restaurant, especially with a group was impossible. We decided we could just go for Pizza and we picked the highest rated place called Rosie’s. Since it has only been open 8 months and four days none of us had ever been there before.

The place had plenty of room for us and we had possibly the best service any of us has had since we arrived, the manager and another waiter took care of us, never letting a glass get empty. We felt like we hit the jackpot as we are all so demanding.

Russ tricked everyone by paying the bill secretly, which was so like him. My mother complimented him on being the only person on earth who ever paid the bill before my father had a chance to do it.

We have one last day of our MichiePalloza and I have to say it has been a most successful family reunion, right down to the unplanned meals.


Some Observations From Large Family Gatherings

This has been a wonderful week of being with many kinds of family members. There are siblings, parents, in-laws, out-laws, first cousins, second cousins, first cousins once removed, second cousins once removed, third cousins and even foreign exchange students and of course pets. We have had a number of EVERYONE all together events and meals. We have had large and small gatherings on the beach or at a pool. We even had fourteen for one table at a dinner out.

Here are some observations from the week and we are only half way done. Not everyone likes the same food and some are not afraid to tell you. Some will come to any meal they are invited to and it never dawns on them to contribute. Some will contribute way more than their share and do it quietly. No matter what, there is always too much food. No one goes hungry and there are even leftover from meals that were made up from leftovers.

Not everyone knows how to put their glass in the dishwasher. There is almost always one person who does the majority of the cleaning out the dishwasher. If you ask someone who you are not a close relative to get up and clean out the dishwasher they will do it.

If everyone stops talking when you walk in the room it is a bad sign. If it happens twice within fifteen minutes you might want to skip the next reunion.

You should really pay attention when someone is telling you a story. If you are not, saying “Isn’t that wonderful,” to a pause in the story might alert the story teller that you were not paying attention to the story about the excruciating pain they were enduring.

It is probably not a good idea to comment on another person’s parenting style, especially if you are not a parent. Everyone should be given the benefit of consideration that this might not be their child’s best day.

If you are invited to participate in an activity you don’t have to, but letting people know before hand gets you lots of points. If you really want points get up and pour people more wine. You get double points for clearing the table and triple for cleaning the kitchen.

In-laws are allowed to slip out of the room and leave a group. Family members must hug and say goodbye before they go.

Rather than speculating about how someone is, ask them about it. Everyone is happy to talk about themselves.

Sharing what is a joy to you is often a joy to others. Listening is the most important thing you can do.

Remember, these are the people who are most likely to show up at your funeral, make sure they have wonderful stories and happy memories to share about you.


The Perfect Goodbye

Twenty something years ago my parents lived in South Litchfield, SC. My Dad had built a house he thought was worthy of visiting. He always wanted to give us a pool and comfortable bedrooms so we would spend our vacations with him. It was a beautiful house over looking the marsh with a dock for boating. We did all visit regularly and loved it.

There was one thing about the house my father found frustrating. In order for us to get to the beach we had to walk down a long road, because there was a canal between us and the beach. So my father took it upon himself to get a bridge over the canal built. It wasn’t easy. He had to enlist other neighbors to lobby the provincial Local government officials who put up as many road blocks as possible. Being turned down, by state and local authorities did not stop him.

My Dad started a campaign to raise money to build the bridge and by hook or by crook got it built. In 2003 the people of the neighborhood, now thrilled to have a fast way to get to the beach, named the bridge in my father’s honor. The funniest part about his doing all this work to get this bridge built is that he never went to the beach himself. He just wanted it to be easier for us and for others.

So it seemed only fitting that today we scattered his ashes from his foot bridge with many of his favorite people together.

We started the service at the house where my sisters and Mom are staying. My sister Margaret was in charge of this memorial and did a beautiful job talking about my Dad. She had gathered some things for us to read and my cousins and our friend Judy, Janet and I all read our parts. Right before the service started Margaret took the reading she had given me, the 23 Psalm, which I knew by heart and said, “No, I want you to read this.” I did not have a chance to look at it before we started.

After Everyone else had done their reading I was last. It was a perfect poem about not feeling sad about someone dying, half way through my reading the tears came and my throat closed up a little bit, but I continued.

We all went to the foot bridge and my Mom and sisters and I opened our little urns and scattered his ashes into the water. We wish that Carter had been with us physically, but she was with us spiritually.

It was the perfect way to say goodbye to my Dad, who always did everything for others.


Camp Pawleys

There is nothing I like better than an adult camp. That is exactly what it was like here with my cousins today. I got up early to drive into Georgetown to go to Independent Seafood to buy freshly caught shrimp for dinner tomorrow. You just can’t beat $6.95 a pound for the most perfect South Carolina shrimp.

I came home to camp in full swing. My cousin Leigh had brought the rock painting equipment and girls were busy painting rocks. I go in on this program and painted three rocks for markers in my vegetable garden.

After rock painting came Mah Jongg lessons. Meredith, Margaret and Mom arrived for their first lesson since I had to catch them up to everyone else. Once they got the basics down the rest of the cousins joined in for the second lesson. Hopefully they will get to playing soon, but we have so many activities it is hard to fit everything in.

After lunch there was a field trip for the teenagers and Mary and I prepped food for the Shrimp Creole I am cooking for 25 people tomorrow night. Then came free swim. One by one we gathered on the beach. It was hot so I went directly in the ocean. Sadly the jelly fish sent us back out of the water.

We had a good fellowship hour on the porch with Janet, Harry, Mason and Meredith, but we realized it was time to clean up for dinner.

Fourteen of us went to Bistro 216 and had a yummy dinner. Now after the exhausting day I am going to try and get to bed early. We have our biggest day tomorrow. I wish everyone had cousins they loved as much as I love mine.