sheep on a mountainside, old age, Jonah

Getting Old; Sigh. And, Jonah on the Art Loeb Trail

I decided to hike today.

I did the Art Loeb trail in the Pisgah National Forest, about two seconds from my house. It’s a 30 mile trail that mostly winds up ridges and peaks, but I only did an hour of it. I have no clue how far I hiked. I was having a massive, peak-10 panic attack, and I was walking it off, as they say.

I did that trail (pretty much straight up) instead of the old people’s trail (pretty much not-straight up) that follows the Davidson River. That’s what I call it, the “old people’s trail,” because it’s easy. Gentle incline. Nice views of the river. Kids riding bikes. Elderly couples walking side-by-side, doing their daily walk.

But, let’s stop there. With the elderly couples doing their daily walk. Because that’s when my panic attack started.

See, to get to the Art Loeb trail, I have to walk a ways on the old people’s trail. So, I was passing elderly couples in jogging suits right and dang left.

Elderly couples look like elderly toddlers to me.

Passing them, I could hear the doctor’s voice in the background. “I want you to walk every day, and do it outside, so you’ll get some fresh air. And, don’t forget to eat your heart healthy diet.” Like talking to children. With a sing-song-y voice.

That’s when the panic happened, because I am not so far away from the jogging suits, daily walks, and soft foods, myself. I’m getting old.

With the panic at mock-10, I took my right up the Art Loeb trail, telling myself, “You’re not old, yet. You don’t have to stick with the old people’s trail. You can do this trail.” Which is so much cooler than a jogging suit. Talking to yourself as you’re panting your way up a mountain.

What happened next, I’m blaming on Aggie, not the fact that I’ll soon be buying jogging suits. I fell across a tree-root. I’d probably walked about 25 minutes, and Aggie pulled too hard on the leash, and the tree root jumped out at me, and down I went. I was out cold, and when I came too, Aggie’s nose was touching my nose. I thought we were on the floor at home. Except we weren’t. We were on the cold, very hard ground of the forest. The movie, Into the Woods, came to mind. I had no clue where I was.

Still lying on the ground, I grabbed my phone to check the time and my compass, because knowing if I was north or south was so going to help me. And, because I am getting old, and my head was throbbing, I could barely make out the time. I had to ask Siri, who replied, “It’s 1:34 p.m. Cinthia.” (Thank the Lord for Siri.)

Good. I had time to figure out where I was before it got dark. I stood up. Everything seemed fine. Nothing major but a bump on my head. Then I remembered why I was on the Art Loeb trail, and promptly repented because being face down on a trail in the middle of a National Forest with no clue which direction you came from is a real reason to panic. The jogging suits were looking pretty good.

The good news is, Aggie was sick of hiking (it wasn’t the sort of outing she’d hoped for), and wanted to head home. She’s got good direction sense, so I followed her, my own sense returning as we hiked. Pretty soon, I remembered where we were and I said, out loud, “Oh yeah, we’re on the Art Loeb trail.” Which again, is so much cooler than the old folks in their jogging suits on the easy trail, if anyone heard me.

Then I got to thinking about some advice I got from a friend once I started living alone. He said, “You need a 2 a.m. person.”

That got me to wondering, if I had hurt myself, and couldn’t walk back to my car, who would I call? I checked my phone. Yes, I had full bars, but the battery was almost dead. So, who would I text?

My list was super picky. It went like this: My ex is the best choice because he’s a forester, would know where I was if I texted him, and would know what to do. He’s got com-MAN sense. But, who knows? If he read my text, he might think, oh good, no more alimony. So, he was out. Next, I considered my boss who lives just a few minutes away, and knows the area because he’s that rare bird, a native. But, because I text him all the time, there was the chance he’d figure it was a work thing, and decide to wait till Monday to read it, thinking, I’ll see what she wants later. Then he’d go eat sushi at the new sushi bar in town, and I’d die from exposure while waiting for him to finish.

My sisters were out, because they’re too far away, and besides none of them could hike up that trail even if they knew where it was. And, they’d think I had butt-texted them, and skip the whole text entirely.

A couple of my girlfriends were possibilities, but they all had family in town, and well, we have rules regarding family being in town. Don’t bother us while they’re here. So, they were out.

Finally, I remembered a guy I used to work with. He’s a bit like my ex. Knows the area. He and his wife are hikers. So, there’s a good chance he’d know the trail I was on. He lives close by. Perfect! And, since I never text him, unlike my boss, he’d probably read my text, which I envisioned as only saying, “Art Loeb trail.” (I am nothing if not dramatic.) I figured he would figure out my cryptic message, tell his wife, and the two of them would come find me. I think she went to medical school, so bonus! He was fast becoming my guy if I ever fell in the woods again, and ended up with a broken leg or some such.

Except, no, not really. Because after running the whole scenario through my head, I had to ask myself this very real question: Would I text him? And, then suffer the utter humiliation I would feel because I had to ask for help, or would I die on that mountain-top to avoid embarrassment.

Pride reared its head a second time in less than 24 hours. I don’t like asking for help, and maybe that’s one reason I don’t like the thought of getting old: What if I need help? What if I need to ask for help?

Here’s where the Jonah part comes in. If you’ve ever read the story of Jonah, you know he’s a big, whiny baby who sits on a hillside overlooking Nineveh, refusing God’s help. God just saved an entire city of evil people, but God can’t save Jonah because Jonah won’t let God. So, not only is he on a mountaintop, hot and miserable, he is helpless while refusing help. I’m going to call that pride, and sit down beside Jonah on the mountaintop to die.

I made my way back down the mountain (cautiously), while thinking that if pride hadn’t taken hold, and caused me to panic, I could have skipped the whole Art Loeb thing, and enjoyed a leisurely hike along the river, without the knot on my head. Which is the moral of this little tale. Don’t be a knot-head. When the time comes, buy the jogging suit, and enjoy the fresh air.

BatWoman, Cinthia Milner,

To My Granddaughters: Go Be BatWoman!

My darling grandgirls: Go be BatWoman.

Let’s start with boys. It ain’t about the boys.

We live in an age where women have more freedom than they likely have ever had, and sadly, I’m watching girls (ages 18-21), make idiots of themselves over your uncle. These are college girls that are old enough to know better. I asked one girl if she’d ever heard of feminism. And, I don’t mean the kind of feminism that promotes freedom of sex for everybody and their brother.

I mean feminism where women learn to treat themselves with respect, and to invest in themselves.

I’ll quote my dad (your Biggie) here: “Don’t worry if the boy is going to choose you. Are you going to choose him?”

Your personalities are developing, and I’m watching you become these ultra-cool girls (one day women) with specific characteristics that make you, you. But, I’ve seen it happen a billion times. Around age 12, you’ll disappear, and what will take your place is a boy-crazed girl who will do whatever it takes to get the boys to notice her. That disappearing act, it lasts a really long time. Sometimes a few years, sometimes decades, sometimes forever. And, it’s hard to make a comeback from that. So, fight for yourself. Fight for your quirky, smart, silly, lovely selves to stay present and open to the world.

Don’t disappear.

You’re beautiful, smart, amazing and wonderfully made girls. Go be BatWoman!

That’s enough about the men.

go be batwoman


Now for the women in your lives. Pick great women to follow as role models and keep good girlfriends close.

Preferably women who have suffered and survived. Because you will suffer yourselves, that’s a given, and you’ll need the inspiration to keep going. But more importantly, pick women who are humble. Arrogance, pride, haughtiness–the whole diva mentality our culture promotes–it suits no one. Skip the Kardashians, and look to women like your mom, or my mom (Maurme).  Aim to be like them. Aim high.

I chose a woman at my church. She decided she would be silent no more. Women would participate in church. The pastor (male) agreed. They chose a Sunday and she served communion that day. Almost all the men ignored her. They would not receive communion from her–a woman. Twenty years later, I serve communion hand-in-hand with the men in my church, thanks to her. I never forget the road she forged for women in my tiny church.

See, that church is tiny. That community is tiny. That meant her friends and neighbors shunned her. But, she stood up anyway.

It isn’t always on a world level. It’s generally in your small world of friends and family, and girls that is hard.

And since I brought up Maurme, follow her example and cultivate good friends. She had such wonderful friends, and her life was so full because of them. Follow her example, and be a good friend. Choose your friends wisely. Don’t go for popularity, go for sincere. Go for the girl who’s got your back. Go for the girl you can call at 2 a.m. Go for the girl who doesn’t ditch you because she has a date. Go for the girl who would never utter the words, “I don’t have a lot of girlfriends because I really prefer a man’s company.” That girl. That girl is poison. Translated, all that means is, I like to flirt with men and prefer their attentions over trying to be a real friend. Avoid her. She’s the one who will seduce your boyfriend or husband. If you find a real friend, be a real friend to her. Be known for being a good friend.

You will need your girlfriends. Keep them close. Keep each other close. Never abandon your sisters.

go be batwoman

Find your passion.

Find something you love, and let that be your work. God created us for work. God gave us talents and skills. So, discover your’s, develop them, and use them. And, do not let dream-dashers destroy your dreams. There are so many dream-dashers in the world. Mostly, they’re people whose own dreams were dashed, and so now, they dash other’s dreams. Just skip telling those people anything about your dreams. You’ll end up second-guessing yourself. Instead surround yourself with cheerleaders. And, don’t forget to be a cheerleader for somebody. There is a center in the universe, and as much as you are the center of my universe, you are not the center of THE universe. Remember that.

You have an obligation that is hand-in-hand with your dreams. To help others.

There is a world out there, with women who don’t have what you have. They can’t study, drive, vote, own property, they are property. Remember while pursuing your dreams to find a way to help them pursue their’s.

And by the way, it’s okay to fail at your dreams, but it is not okay to never try.

Go be BatWoman.

Okay, I did a little man bashing, but really let’s do some real talk about men.

Let’s talk about the ones who are already a part of your life. How fortunate are you to have your dad? He adores you. He will protect you and guide you. Let him while he can. And, don’t forget the other men who love you, and will always be there to support you. Your uncles, your grandpas. Our society likes to make men look pretty stupid. Any sitcom will teach you that, but the men in your lives are awesome. You’ve been blessed with some of the best. Call on them for help when you need it. Anything from fixing your car, to making you laugh. They love you so dearly.

And then, when and if you’re ready for a relationship, remember how they treated you and expect no less.

BatWoman, Uncle and Niece, Cinthia Milner

Uncle and Niece

Finally, hold tight to Jesus. People will tell you he’s not real. But, your YaYa has been holding tight to him since she was 32, and she knows, he is real. Listen, sweeties. Life won’t be all candy and sisters, and Frozen and Star Wars and all the things you love. You will suffer and be broken.

Remember this, my darlings, your YaYa prayed for that very day when your suffering comes. She prayed that you would stand firm, and stand up under it. She prayed for that day while you were still in your Mama’s womb. Not that you would be protected from suffering, but that you would be fierce under it. You have strength you do not yet know about it, but it is there. Access it, and then give the glory to God. He has promised never to leave you, never to forsake you. Believe it.

Now go be BatWoman.



cinthia milner transplanted and still blooming aggie lives next door to a hot dog truck

Aggie Lives Next Door to a Hot Dog Truck

My dog, Aggie, loves me more than any dog loves any pet owner, ever.

Because we live next door to a hot dog truck.

And, she thinks I moved here for her.

My neighbors own a hot dog truck. They used to own a hot dog restaurant. Just a little shack on the side of the road that made the most amazing hot dogs. They sold it for a small pull-along hot dog truck. And, I do mean, pull-along. It travels behind their Honda CRV with no trouble.

It has two windows for those wishing to purchase a hot dog, a small hot dog oven, a bun warmer and a tiny drink machine. Honestly, it reminds me of the Easy Bake Oven I got for Christmas when I was six, which made miniature brownies. They were darn good brownies, maybe not as fabulous as the neighbor’s hot dogs, but for an Easy Bake Oven that ran on a light bulb, they weren’t bad.

My neighbors and their hot dog wagon are on the road 24/7. They have kids in college, and while the college kids are home fairly frequently, the parents seem to spend their time peddling dogs. I’m assuming to pay tuition fees, which seems backward to me, but who I am to judge? My own College Son is currently enjoying sub-tropical weather while attending college classes in Costa Rica, and I’ve noticed, that while the college refuses to send me his grades, they have no qualms about sending me the bill. Woe is me. The worst of it is, I still haven’t gotten a hot dog, and I feel I should, since we are neighbors and all.

But, after the “Aggie incident,” I don’t think I’ll be partaking of the warm, mustard-y delicacy anytime soon.

It goes like this: I was ready for work, which means Aggie gets in the car for a quick trip to doggie day care, and Little Kitty goes outside (kitty door left open so she can come and go). Then, off I go. It was a Monday.

Only my tire was flat. Since I don’t change flat tires, I called Triple A, and began the hour wait. Back inside for Aggie and me, but I forgot something: the open kitty door, which Aggie fits through. Thirty minutes later, Aggie is not at my feet (her usual spot), and I hear a ruckus that sounds like a small earthquake next door. I panicked, thinking Aggie had gone outside, and was trapped in a neighbor’s garage, and being the diva she is, was tearing up heaven and earth to get out.

If only.

Aggie had found the hot dog truck with the hot dog warmer wide open, and full of hot dogs. The little pull-along hot dog truck was bouncing on all four wheels.

I found her with, like, ten hot dogs in her mouth, and hot dogs on the floor, the counters, the driveway, the shrubs, up a tree. Hot dogs were scattered for miles. Aggie was sprawled in the middle of it, looking at me with pure adoration. Truly, how could she have landed a better home? She started howling with satisfaction, alerting all the neighborhood dogs about the dogs.

I tried picking them up, and wiping them off with my shirt, which only made the grass and gravel stuck to them worse. So, I went with option two: leave the scene of the crime quickly. I decided to get Aggie out of there, and hightail it through the hemlocks, back to my side of the brick wall, but Aggie was having none of it. Finally, grabbing her collar, and pulling her with yelps and squeals and clawing at the metal floor to stay where she was, I managed with brute force to pull her away from the truck. Just in time for Triple A to drive up.

I’m going to confess. I acted 0h-so-innocent to the neighbors. What? Hot dogs everywhere? My goodness what do you think happened? Aggie was already in the car, crafting her story for her doggie friends at day care. All about her morning in the hot dog truck. It wasn’t the idea of repaying them for the hot dogs. (How much can a box of hot dogs cost?) It’s them, my neighbors. They’ve intimidated me ever since I accidentally cut down their tree (so another story for another time). After the tree incident, I just couldn’t own up to the hot dog incident. Plus, I was already late for work due to my tire, and I saw no reason to compound the stress of the day (it’s called justification).

I climbed into the car and found this face waiting on me. Miss Innocent. The duck looks way better than the hot dog truck.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, aggie lives next door to a hot dog truck


























It’s Called Empty Nest & it is a Syndrome

  1. A syndrome, in medicine and psychology, is the collection of signs and symptoms that are observed in, and characteristic of, a single condition.

No wonder we have so many syndromes. Somebody is collecting signs and symptoms and giving that a name.

  1. Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. (Psychology Today)

Note, it does not say feelings of exuberance, joy, relief or downright giddiness. This surprises me. I totally expected to just jump right into this empty nest thing, and soak it up. It has been 25 years since I was alone, as in, all by myself.

So okay, it’s been a DAY since the College Son departed for Costa Rica to do the student exchange thing, and I can officially claim the syndrome of an empty nest. “Hi, my name is Cinthia, and I have Empty Nest Syndrome.”

I realize, for those returning from Afghanistan with PTSD, it just loses something when said out loud. But, this dang house is too quiet. And, I swear, not making it up, someone just tried to open my back door, but they did not because it was locked, and I was screaming. So, instead they ran off, and are presently telling the neighbors, “Um, yeah, don’t try making friends with the lady in the house on the corner. She’s cr-ra-azy.”

Well, I feel a tad crazy. I mean, all the hubbub that goes into getting your 20-soon-to-be-21-year-old son ready to live in a foreign country is crazy making. (As in, in two weeks he’ll turn 21 in Costa Rica. He’ll have his 21st birthday in San Jose. I feel so good about that.) It was/is an emotional roller coaster for this family whose favorite place to travel is Jekyll Island for a two-week stay at the Hacienda where we speak English, and sleep on the beach all day. Adding stress to our lives by experiencing “another culture” is typically not our M.O. because life is stressful enough in this culture, why go looking for it in another one? A real global girl, here.

At any rate, I expect the College Son to come back all tanned, 21, immortal, and ready for the next big challenge. Because he is almost 21. But, me? Well, the Psychology Today newsletter that gives us the Empty Nest Syndrome low-down, says part of the dilemma for we women (and men) whose children are leaving home is that we are also facing  “so many other life challenges.” Like caring for a parent, or losing a parent, menopause (I cannot believe I just wrote that word in public), looming retirement or disabilities. Disabilities? I should be offended. But, as I type, I have my foot propped up because I am in pain equal to childbirth, and assume amputation awaits me. Adding insult to injury, this is not the result of an injury, so clearly, old age has arrived along with my empty nest.

Just a quick note: Let’s catch Psychology Today up with the times. Right after Empty Nest Syndrome is the now popular, I’m Never Retiring Syndrome, shortened to the Remember-When Syndrome.

All in all, first empty-nest-day down, put me down for a no. I preferred my children at age 3. They hadn’t learned the word no yet, were still in my constant care, and loved to snuggle. The problem? It seems that’s about the age I should have started the letting go process. Susan Newman, Ph.D., says in her article on the topic, that the first step into the kindergarten classroom is a benchmark for the first day of pulling back, preparing both child and parents for final departure day.  Okay, so I am WAY behind. Typical me. Now, it’s about the cram.

But, alas, I have no choice. The baby literally flew the coop, and the eagle has landed in a sunny, tropical spot, no less. So, what’s a mom to do? Costa Rica sounds like a nice place. I hear it is a great place to retire. If such a thing existed, I mean. Psychology Today also said I should embrace new adventures at this juncture of my life. So who knows? Maybe I could be a global girl.

cinthia milner, transplanted and still blooming, empty nest syndrome

The eagle in a tropical paradise. (Photo courtesy of SnapChat. Yeah, like those things work.)

FYI: this is a fun blog for empty nesters: Adventures of Empty Nesters

I’m Donning My Cape and Becoming Robin Hood

If ever the world needed a Robin Hood, they need one now. I’m seriously considering donning a cape and becoming a female Robin Hood. You think I kid. But I am not kidding because I am so sick of hearing Republicans say blah, blah, blah, and Democrats say blah, blah, blah. Really, everyone just be quiet for a bit. People need help, not principles (Republicans) and definitely not ideologies (Democrats). At least, that’s what I’ve found out.

The biggest thing about my newly transplanted life is that I have developed an entirely new group of friends. I know, that isn’t so weird, considering I moved. But, I didn’t move that far away, and the weird part is this: My new friends couldn’t be anymore different from my old friends than if I had moved to a foreign country on the opposite side of the world. The culture shock is just as real as an immersion program in Guatemala, which is fascinating, to say the least, but mostly eye-opening. Something I needed.

My new friends are people who work 2-3 jobs, don’t travel to Europe, don’t have second homes, don’t belong to clubs, their children don’t go to private schools, and they live minute-to-minute financially. It actually takes courage to live that way. Like I said, where’s Robin Hood?

They live hand-to-mouth, and yet are the most generous people I’ve ever known. I’ve benefited from their generosity. I’ve had a few bills slipped into my pocket with no expectation of a thank you. No expectation at all, except that if I am ever able to bless someone they hope I do. It is a code of honor among them. Those that have now, give to those who do not. Their biggest fear is the weekly work schedule, which goes out a week in advance giving them their work hours. It can change for reasons they have no knowledge of, and leave them with less hours and trying to find work in-between, which is anything from mowing yards to cleaning houses. They will do whatever it takes to make ends meet.

Here’s a recent example of the generosity I’ve witnessed. It happened this past week, Christmas week. One friend works for a very successful woman. That woman chose Monday, December 22, exactly three days prior to Christmas, to tell her employees (most of whom work 12-15 hour days for her) that this year there would be no Christmas bonus. Her timing was impeccable, don’t you think? How thoughtful of her to let them know before the actual day of. I seriously wanted to go all Robin Hood on this rich chick, as I had prayed with my friend that she would receive the much needed bonus, and we were both awaiting that decision anxiously.

cinthia milner--transplanted and still blooming--robin hood

Here’s how my friend and the other employees handled the sad news. The ones with more money (we’re not talking millions here), gave the ones who had children and less money, the bonus the employer felt she could not give. They did this by forgoing their own Christmas, or delaying the payment of an upcoming bill for a bit, and giving cash out of their own pockets. They calculated the amount the bonus would have been, and between them were able to provide bonuses for a few. (Again, we ain’t talking millions here.) So, where you ask was their rich boss while this was happening? Well, her company did not make enough this year to pay her workers a Christmas bonus, but it did, thankfully, earn enough to pay for her annual Christmas trip to the Cayman Islands for 2 weeks. We can all rest a bit easier now, knowing that her yearly trip was not interrupted by the company apparently making less money than per normal. Whew.

I’m going to call this what it is. Oppression. Making money on the backs of others. I’m also going to call it what it morally is. Wrong. God himself has a heart for the poor and counts kindness to the impoverished as kindness to himself. We’d do well to remember that, and all be Robin Hood in some way.

My last life included friends who considered health care, grocery buying, sick days and vacation days all part and parcel of everyday life, along with lunches with girlfriends, shopping when you felt like it, travel athletics for the kids, and exercising at the gym. I’m not excluding myself here, which is why the lesson of my new friends is so poignant. I thought everyone had these things except the very poor with no jobs at all. I didn’t know about folks who work dawn to dusk and still cannot provide for their families.

Tired, sore bodies, who are leaving one job to head to the next, was not a part of my back-then world. And sadly, I must say, neither was generosity–at least not on the level I see it now. One very rich friend often chided such workers for drinking Starbucks coffee, I mean that extra five dollars could go a long way, you know. (And no, don’t point out to me that it adds up. What do you do with your extra money? I thought so.)  Seriously, my rich friend would’ve done better by offering to buy their coffee, remembering that that worker earns in two weeks what she earns in five minutes.We’d all do better buying that cup of coffee for someone, and stop our projecting on how others should live.

We’d all do better to done a Robin Hood cape, and take from our own pocket books to distribute to those in need. And we’d all do better to stop expecting an impotent government to do anything other than argue, and be about the business of making things right ourselves.

Why am I on this rant? Well, besides donning my Robin Hood cape, I am awed by new friends. They have taught me a larger lesson that extends beyond their generosity–they don’t give up. They don’t close up their hearts, and their gladness, and their joy, and their love in the face of ugly treatment, shabby pay, rich bosses who haven’t a clue, no way to pay the rent again, tired feet, sore legs, heads hurting, and dreams dashed. They don’t quit or stop loving and living, they do just the opposite, they love more, they dream more, they risk more, they open their hearts more, and they leave more on the table. They hang onto hope, and make room for more.

They live abundantly, though they have no abundance.

What inspiration I have found among them. I, whose broken heart and broken pocket book was leading her straight down a bitter road, learned from those who live on little to open up my heart, even in the midst of it breaking, and make room for more. More laughter, more joy, more gladness, more love, more hope. Life is hard, and Robin Hood but a myth, or perhaps, a legend? At least, that’s what some people say. But, I’ve seen Robin Hood in the midst of my friends, as they take from their own pockets and place in another’s.



Need More Christmas Ornaments!

One Christmas morning we’d opened all the gifts, and were ready for church, which started at 10. It was snowy and overcast, but I braved the cold, and took the compost bucket out before we left. It was reaching the smelly stage.  The compost bin was up a hill, on the opposite side of the driveway from the house, and a little ways into the woods. After dumping it, I turned back to the house and saw my three guys framed perfectly in the living room window. Twinkly  lights and Christmas ornaments behind them, big smiles on their faces, my youngest in my ex’s arms, and my oldest playing with his toy (I think it was a transformer), they were having some fun time while waiting on me. It was definitely one of those moments. I was wearing my just-unwrapped Christmas sweater from Coldwater Creek. I am wearing it now.

Magical thinking isn’t just for children and I thought, if I stay right here, in the sleety, snowy, cold muck, in my garden-green rubber clogs, then they’ll stay there. If I move, I thought, then they’ll move. So, I stood completely still, sort-of holding my breath, freezing and watching my family. I framed that window-picture of them in my mind, wishing I could encapsulate time.

People say you don’t lose those moments, instead you keep them in your heart forever. I never really know what that means.

Our tree had those big colored lights on it because my kids preferred those, and ours was a family tree, not a themed tree. The ornaments were very personal to us.  It had Brett Favre, arm back, ready to throw for a touchdown (oldest son), a Pac Man machine (me), the Chelsea soccer team logo (youngest son), a logging truck (ex). We had a tradition of picking out a new ornament every year.  It started with me and my ex. Our first married Christmas we chose one ornament each, hence a tree with 2 ornaments and a lot of lights.  The second year my oldest was crawling around, so there was 5 ornaments on our tree. The third year 8 ornaments, and so on. By year 20 the tree was loaded. I kept a record of each new one, the year it was purchased, and who it belonged too. They’re in a box in my attic, now.

That presented the problem of decorating a Christmas tree in my new home, sans family. Do I? Don’t I? Because if I do, what do I do with a box of family ornaments collected over 22 years. So, I settled on a Fraser Fir candle until I figured it out.

You’re thinking, one stinking candle? Scrooge.

Yes, but here’s the thing. It’s a Fraser Fir candle. If you’ve never smelled one, then go ahead and consider me chintzy. But, if you’ve smelled one, I know you’re thinking ah, good choice. You’re deciding that’s what you’ll do next year–skip the tree and get the candle that smells exactly like the tree. I might even go so far as to say they smell better than the tree. And, since they are pretty pricey, I think we can take chintzy off the table. The candle presented itself as a good solution for my Christmas dilemma.

Until this year when I caved to the Christmas tree pressure. See, everyone wants me to be happy at Christmas, and they think having a Christmas tree will make me happy. But really. It was just me making them happy. (It’s because my Christmases are mostly spent alone now, and that frets my loved ones.)

My Christmas was stuck in the attic, with ornaments counting off like soldiers in a row. One ornament, two ornaments, five this year and then whoa, 8 ornaments and more ornaments until the Christmas tree can’t hold a bow. (Okay, a bit cheesy.)

But I’m gonna have to be honest here. My new cute, little tree (cute and little do not equal cheap–just FYI) decorated with birds, a fox, a badger, and an owl is kinda nice. A very native-y, natural thing going on. I call it my S-L-O-W, L-O-C-A-L tree. And, turning the lights on at night does make the place cheerier. I’m not sure it’s the Holy Grail of happiness, but it goes a long way toward not being depressed at Christmas.

Here’s what I think happened. I got confused. How could I honor the 22 years of Christmases–all every bit as perfect as that moment by the compost pile–if I had a different one? How could I open up that box of ornaments and decorate a tree when I celebrate alone now? And how could I possibly decorate without those ornaments that literally told the life story of my family? And so, I did nothing but light a candle that smelled like a tree. I suppose I thought if I decorated another tree I was forgetting the old one. But now I know, I wasn’t replacing it, I was making room for more. More grace, more people, more love, more Christmases and even more ornaments.

Fox in a Tree

My adorable ‘Fox in a Tree’

Merry Christmas.

One Good Mama One Bad Mama

One Good Mama and One Bad Mama

This is a tale of one good mama and one bad mama. I am the good mama.

My youngest son works at our local Ingle’s running the U-scan. That’s a grocery store. He’s worked there for 2 years earning spending money for college. I was buying groceries, and I did what I always do, stop to chat at the U-scan, and give him money for snacks. He was helping a woman who looked to be in her early 30s, and she got confused when he said goodbye. Was he talking to her?

“Oh, that’s my mom,” he said. “I’m just telling her goodbye.”

“That’s your boy?” she asked me.

She had blonde hair, was smallish in build, and if life had been kinder to her, she’d be stunningly beautiful. But, poverty was spread over her like a ratty blanket, and the lines on her face were too old for someone so young, not to mention the missing three front teeth.

“Yes, he’s mine,” I said, smiling and shaking my head. My goofball son was cracking jokes with the managers.

“You raised a good boy,” she said. “He treats me with respect, and is always kind to me. Some days, I come here because nobody else is ever nice to me, and I know he will be. He makes people feel like they matter.”

She had my full attention now. I’d been sort of half-talking to her. and half-watching my son. Her eyes were big and blue with a hint of the little girl she used to be. I grabbed her arm. “What is your name, please?”

“Amy. It’s Amy. Your son. You raised him good. You raised him right.”

That’s my son, alright. His heart is tender toward everyone. Especially those who are poor, who are overlooked, ignored, discounted. Oh, the friends he has brought home. Like lost puppies.  I was so desperately proud of him right then that I had to call a friend and brag on him. I also hugged Amy and cried standing in front of the automatic doors, so they kept opening and shutting while I was hugging Amy and crying.

I work in a store, too. A garden nursery that high end clients frequent. We’re busy making custom wreaths and swags and centerpieces for ladies who are having huge Christmas parties this weekend or next. Ribbon flies out the door, made up into festive bows: Bows for valences, mailboxes, mantles, gifts, light posts and tree-toppers. I listen to tales of just returning from England, or Italy, or France, or wherever, while I hot-glue red berries onto Fraser fir. It’s fun to pick out ribbon and colors for the garland, and chat while making up holiday greenery.

Today, a lady, about my age, who’d just moved to our mountain city from London, England was doing what I’d done the night before–bragging on her son–a college student at Fordham University who’d just scored a job on Wall Street.

“One thing is for certain,” she said, “He won’t come here.”

“Oh, why is that?” I asked.

“The rednecks, the uncouth ignorance that abounds below the Mason Dixon line. It’s too much for him. It’s really too much for me,” she said as if she was not insulting me, my family and every friend I ever had.

Because I prefer to keep my job, I kept my mouth shut and did not say what good Southerners say in that situation, “The road that brought you here will take you right back. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

Just FYI before I carry on with my little tale of good mom/bad mom here: We Southerners do not care what you think about us. We never have.

Here’s what I wanted to say to her, even more than how she could find her way back to bloody England, one good mama to one bad mama, “You did not raise your son right. You raised him to be unkind, to be disrespectful, to shun others who aren’t his “equal,” and to look past the person and only see their circumstances.”

And if I had really gone redneck on her, I’d have said, “So, you raised a snobby little brat, did ya?”

I didn’t say any of that because we’re in a recession and I need a job. But I am saying it now because I am proud of my son, and his ability to see Amy, and not just her circumstances. I am proud that he knows everyone is deserving of his respect, and that kindness can make a person’s day better. It can make them feel like they matter, because whether you live above or below the Mason Dixon line, you do matter. We all do.

So one good mama to one bad mama: I am proud of my son who isn’t on Wall Street, but is on the U-Scan at Ingle’s helping folks like Amy feel like they matter. Really, in the big picture of life, does anything else matter?




The Burn Rate, Profit Margins and, Hiring the Next CEO

My very first boyfriend (age 15) remains a dear friend these 40 years later. He gave me great advice while going through my divorce, “Remove the emotion, Cinthia. This is now a business deal. You’re thinking profit margins here.”

Well, obviously divorce is very personal, but it was the best advice I got during that mess. The minute I felt a stage 10 meltdown coming on, I’d repeat to myself: This is a business deal. It’s not personal. Remove the emotion. Mind games, maybe, but true nonetheless. The person who was on my team for 20+ years was no longer on my team, and I had to get the best deal I could for myself. That was when I began to see my financial life as a small business, a mini-corporation. And, since, I was about to be one income short of broke, it gave me a way to view this new financial life without getting so wigged out that I was discussing it with the check-out-chick at the grocery store (who has her own D-I-V-O-R-C-E story, and little time for mine).

Now, when I am paying bills, considering purchases, or updating the budget, I view myself as the CEO of the Cinthia Corporation. It’s got a good ring to it, doesn’t it? Applying business tools to your personal finances is a good way to evaluate the overall health of your little corporation.

Ex: What’s my burn rate (defined as how fast I am running through funds, debt and savings)? Companies that have a high burn rate aren’t given much hope in the business world. For myself, let’s just say, I have prayer on my side.

What’s my profit margin? A simple definition of profit margin is the amount by which revenue from sales exceeds costs in a business. If you’re putting profits back into the business, and not spending it on drugs, which has crossed my mind recently (I’m just talking pharmaceutical prescriptions here, don’t panic), then that would be the retirement account.

Looking at your personal finances this way actually helps to remove the emotion and frustration, and let’s you play fast and lose with the numbers if you’re clever. Sadly, I’m not.

It also helps when evaluating long-term investments. Ex: Furman University, my alma mater, comes in on the tuition front at about 50K a year (that’s almost 10x the amount since I graduated). That’s 200K for 4 years if you’re slow on the math, and we’re not talking incidentals like books, etc. When my youngest was being considered for the Furman soccer team, I was proud but not crazy. We did the tour, and when the tour guide asked for questions, I raised my hand. What’s my rate of return on my investment, the 200K?

Excuse me?

Okay, so the tour guide was a sophomore, probably not the person to ask that question since she was currently contributing to her parent’s burn rate, but I know you hear me. And, was I really the only pareent there with that question? I mean, come on, like Junior is really going to pull that off? They say financial securities are commonly judged based on past rates of returns. Well, there you have it. Past rates of returns indicates I should give that 200k to the local homeless guy who walks the streets with his dogs. I mean, I totally like his dogs.

I knew the burn rate would be high for a couple of years after my divorce. I knew the profit margins would be negligible. I knew the gross margins would have no margins.

Setting up a new life after 2 decades of being in the same place is not cheap. But, I was clueless as to the challenges this CEO would face. After long meetings with the Vice-President of Human Resources (that would be Agapanthus, who prefers her full name in matters of business), I am considering Elon Musk, for the job, CEO for Telsa Motors, SpaceX, and designated the sexiest CEO alive by Business Insider. Hey, that doesn’t mean he isn’t smart. If he can get the job done while being cute: Bonus!

As a friend of mine says, “We is po.” Yes, we is.

Investopdeia suggests that when one is “po,” they should a) get a higher paying job (trying) b) get two jobs (done and done) c) get a roommate (I have one, he’s 20, I’m losing money on him). Investopedia aside, I think I’ll just do what Detroit does; hire the next CEO.  Burn baby, burn.

Or, consider non-profit. I hear they’re doing great these days.


The Guilt Trip on the Holidays: It Works

My mom, Frankie Ann as she was known to her loved ones, could guilt her children into anything. I was annoyed by that talent for many years. I now am awed by it.

Aggie and I walked downtown today, and my charming tourist town was buzzing with folks who’d just arrived for the holiday. I watched the families coming together over coffee at our local coffee shop, and lunch at the local sandwich shop. Everyone was on their best behavior (it is only Wednesday), and smiles were everywhere.  I love the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the day before the big meal prep starts, when families are arriving, and there isn’t much to do except enjoy each other. You can run errands for the cook, while squeezing in some time for coffee and talk. I literally had to stop myself from pulling up a chair, and getting in on the coffee, conversation, and catching up.

So, how’s college going? Any girls?

How’s the new job? Tell me all about it.

So, you’re pregnant! Do we know if it is a boy or girl? How exciting.

You bought a new house? Oh wow. Show me pictures.

I adore those boots. Where did you get them?

I love that first glow of family togetherness when everyone is excited to see each other. That caught-off-guard feeling of how much you missed one another because life has been too busy to notice until this precise second when you are face-to-face again. And then, there are the hours of talking, laughing and telling stories. Awesome.

But these days I find myself, more often than not, on the other side of an empty table, with no family to catch up with, and my mother’s voice ringing in my ears.

There are lots of reasons for my present alone-ness. Children have moved away, parents have passed away, sisters live far away, and they’re trying to figure out how to gather their families under one roof, which is the theme of this particular post. Getting everyone together. Something I feel should be a offered as major in college for future moms, because it takes such finesse to pull it off.

It’s a strange time.

I fear I have missed a step. I missed the step where my family comes home to my house for the holidays. I have been each of those people at the table catching up over coffee, but one. I was the college student, the new career woman, the excited pregnant mom, the new home owner, and the stylish boot wearer, but I have not been the mom prepping the Thanksgiving meal as my family walks through the door. I have not been that mom with a cup of good coffee, sitting across the dining room table from my children, the night before Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or Easter, or fill-in-the-blank) soaking up their personalities and lives. There’s a good reason why not. I have children (son and daughter-in-law) in the military. (So that is an entire semester of study for the mom major. How to get past the government and corral your kids into one spot.)

Here’s the truth of the holidays for the mother. Every mother on the dang planet wants her children, in-laws, and grandchildren to come to her house for the holidays. Along with a whole host of friends for dessert.

Frankie Ann was unscrupulous about it.  She cared less if she guilted you or forced you, so long as you ended up at her house. Feel free to grumble and complain all the way back to your own house, whiile she tidied and reflected on her delight that we were all together.

For years. I swore I’d never do that to my kids. I’d never guilt them into a holiday trip home, but now, I might reconsider. It worked so fabulously for Mom. I even scolded her over it once, “Give it up, Mom. Debbie (my oldest sister) has 10 kids, who all have spouses, who all have mothers who want them to come to their houses. It’s impossible because of Debbie.” It was nice having a sister with 10 kids. She made a good scapegoat.

My scolding didn’t phase her. She repeated what she always said. “It is important for everyone to be together sometimes.”

This past spring, she sent out an email invite to everyone for Mother’s Day, about 2 months prior to Mother’s Day. It read, “Join me for church and then lunch at Fuddrucker’s on May 11. RSVP. Immediately.” That was sent to 4 daughters, 2 husbands, 17 grandchildren, 5 spouses of grandchildren and assorted boyfriends and girlfriends, and 11 great grandchildren. All but a few accepted, and we were almost all together that day. Here she is with my youngest. I love this picture of them.

Guilt Trip for the Holidays; It Works

Mom and Micah

The church was full of her family and we took up the back section at Fuddruckers. There was lots of picture taking, and lots of hey there’s, and hugs. It was a scene reminenscent of this morning as I watched families giving big hugs across tables covered with coffee cups, highchairs, booster seats, and walkers. Brothers jostled each other, sisters gloated over babies, and the mother? Well, she was in her element. Her family was in town and yes, she had a ton of work to do, turkeys to cook and dressing to make, but she was happy. Dad looked pretty happy, too.

Frankie Ann was in her element. Her family gathered around her and smiles everywhere. It was a good Mother’s Day for her.

So, while I miss my family this Thanksgiving, and am planning my guilt moves for next year’s holiday season (you think I kid), I am so tremendously thankful for May 11th 2014. Sometimes it is important for everyone to be together, because you don’t know if it will be the last time. I am glad Mom ignored me and did just as she pleased, guilt-ing us all into one last Mother’s Day together.

Frankie Ann and her “girls”

Frankie Ann and her “girls


"pouring rain, brothers with umbrellas"

Pondering the Past in the Pouring Rain

It is pouring rain and I have spent the day pondering the past. I would add that I have spent the day curled up in my bed, pjs on, drifting in and out of sleep, while I reflected and considered. It is good practice. I recommend it.

My backyard is a puddle. The Weather Channel is now calling for flash flood watches, and staying indoors seemed the most profitable thing to do, and so I have. I have given myself the delightful, but unusual for me, rare treat of doing absolutely nothing all day. The animals were thrilled. Their owner was home and rarity of rarities, she was still. The cat, or Little Kitty, as she is called, went as far down under the covers as she could go and wrapped herself around my feet and slept. Aggie, the dog, curled into a tight ball and crammed herself against me, sleeping the day away.

I allowed myself the time to think.

I wondered this: Do I see my life correctly? Can I see my life correctly? Could it be that God, who calls things that were not into being (Romans 4:17), looks down upon my life and sees something I do not, and cannot?

What does God see when he sees me?

  • I see that I did not stay to my budget this month.
  • I see that I did not hold my tongue when I promised myself I would.
  • I see that I forgot to call my perfect grandchildren because I got busy with mundane tasks.
  • I see that I still do not have a successful career.
  • I see that I have not mopped the kitchen floor.
  • I see that I still did not get the car cleaned out.
  • I see that it is Sunday night and Monday looms, and there is still so much to be done, and I am typing away at a blog that has 15 readers. Seriously?

And that is the small stuff. Early this morning, knees bent, head bowed, the question is prayed, “Lord, how could you love someone like me?”

Early to bed. Early to rise. Work like hell: fertilize. (Emily Whaley) is my motto more than not. I look for meaning and comfort, and believe that if I just work hard enough, I can right wrongs. If I figure out a way to get life “right” now, then my past–those places and memories I hate to remember but cannot seem to forget–will be redeemed, by me. Oops. That is the very place my thinking takes a quirky turn. I cannot work that hard. No, I need not work that hard.

Those places, those memories, those very things I want to strangle myself over while somehow setting them right, have been redeemed in Jesus.

How do I keep forgetting that?

What does God see when he sees me? Jesus.

That means, this day spent sleeping in the rain, is exactly okay. The work I tirelessly strive to do is the work Christ has already done. I can put my pjs on, roll over and let it rain.