Monday, November 15, 2010

Mamaw Audrey....Great Balls of Fire!

I believe that ole' Jerry Lee meant for this to be an exclamation.  And an exclamation is exactly what my Mamaw is.  Where do I start?  To truly grasp my relationship with my maternal grandmother, one must realize just how close we are.  She has always lived next door to my parents, and has had a fundamental role in my "raising".  I have spent probably just as many nights at her house as I have my parent's, and got to go back as an adult and live with her for a month and a half before my wedding to Woody.  (Much to Woody's chagrin, he says that made me waaaaay too spoiled!)  Everyone in my home county knows "Mamaw Audrey" or simply "Mamaw".  It is true.  She is so larger than life that she only needs one name (move over Cher).  She is a fireball with the determination and business sense of Scarlett O'Hara, the brutal honesty of "Weezer" Boudreaux, and the kindness and neighborly friendship of Aunt Bea. 

Honestly, I could fill pages with "Mamaw Stories".  Things that she has said or done (mostly said) that could keep us entertained for hours on end.  Mamaw is truly a "ball of fire" and she says absolutely what she thinks.  And her grandchildren (now great-grandchildren, too)  do no wrong.  Just ask Woody.  Before our wedding we were sitting at Mamaw's kitchen table when she gave him some unsolicited marriage advice.  It goes something like this, Mamaw:  "Woody, now you need to know that I don't believe that Mandy has ever made a mistake.  So if you and her feel the need to squabble and you disagree with her, don't come running to me.  I will always believe that she is right."  Woody: "Mamaw, that is EXACTLY what is wrong with her!"  And it is.  But shouldn't everyone be spoiled rotten by their Mamaw?  But while she was cooking me my favorite foods, letting me pluck snacks and gum off the shelf at the station, or letting me run up a tab at the Village Shoppe, she has passed on some pretty great traits.  Here is just a few:

1. Keen Business Sense
This might seem a little strange when one is describing their grandmother, but Mamaw truly has the best business know how of anyone I know.  She has impeccable accounting skills and according to many a sales tax auditor keeps the cleanest, clearest bunch of books around.  She ran a full service gas station after my Papaw passed when I was two years old.  Her and the men.  This is back when people actually pumped your gas for you(oh, how I miss those days!).  The men pumped gas, changed oil, worked on tires (more often than not, timberjack tires.  In case you didn't know they are pretty huge), and washed cars.  Mamaw supervised it all from a stool behind the cash register.  Along with several old men who sat around, drank Cokes, and talked about everyone who came through the gas pumps.  Some of my fondest memories involve being up there at that service station.  It is on that concrete wall that my height was measured year after year with black magic marker, and it was there that I learned to handle money, balance books, and keep track of profits.  I was always so proud of her, she seemed so sure of herself and so smart.  And I wanted to be just like that.  She also made everyone feel welcome, which leads to the next point....

2. Politician-like personality
Award winning personality. Yep, she's got it.  Adults and children adore her.  Mamaw is as charming of a lady as they come.  We often joked that she could have been governor if she would have just decided to do so.  She doesn't forget names and she remembers everything about you after you've met.  Probably because there has been lengthy discussions about you and "where you came from" after you've left.  Must figure out whose child you are and your mother's mother who was the sister of so and get the point.  She also sees the best in people which I believe leads to her charm.  A person is never too high or too low to receive her undivided attention. One of the lessons she told me on one of our Friday night eating outs is, "You need to speak to people and hug their necks."  Which meant, to make everyone you come in contact with feel special.  Speak first, speak often, and people will fill welcome.  She truly believes that we are all God's children and deserve her respect.  However, once you are the recipient of her love and respect, you get the truth....

3. Brutal Honesty
Gained a few pounds?  Not been attending church?  Hair too long or short?  Dressing terribly? Again, gained a few pounds?  If you are one of the chosen ones to be in Mamaw's "love circle", you are getting the truth, whether you like it or not.  I have heard her give the what for to many of the old men that passed their golden years away up at the station and I have also been the recipient of the "gained a few pounds" comments.  Whew! It's tough. When I would come home from college, I would always stop at the station (or later on the Video Store) first.  It was tradition that I see her before Momma or Daddy and that is just how she liked it (and me too!)   But before I walked in after a long three hour drive, I managed to slide on a little lipstick and I never wore slouchy driving clothes.  Because intense scrutiny lie inside those glass doors and when you have been gone for a month, it is even stronger.  She assessed and hopefully I came out favorably. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't, but you can be sure if I didn't, I deserved it. That is what is so grand.  It takes someone who loves you to tell you "like it is" and the world would be a much better place if their were more people just like her.

4.Devotion to God
Mamaw is extremely faithful and her devotion to Jesus Christ is amazing.  For as long as I can remember, she is there every time the church doors open, even when she worked six days a week.  Every night, she reads her Bible and prays for her loved ones, the sick, and missionaries. The latter of which she read aloud to me every night from the book, "Open Windows", a practice adopted by her mother.  By the way, I asked her just yesterday does she still do that, and she said, "Yes, every night."  What faith!  It was she that I loved to follow to church, to the alter, and to the Word of God.  It was she and I that would head up to the Gospel Mission on Saturday nights and listen to old time gospel music.  (I still love that old gospel music now) I hope that my in my adulthood, my faith and love for Jesus can compare to hers.  She is truly an inspiration and a blessing from our Lord and Savior!

I must be honest, in reading back over this blog. This truly does not capture everything about her personality.  But she is not one to be summed up in one simple article, as I stated before, a book could be devoted to her story and the stories that she herself creates.  A pillar of strength, a bundle of charm, and a dash of simply hilarious, I love everything about her.  The impact that she has had of my life cannot be measured, but I hope that the lessons stick.  She has tried her best to instill in me the best things that she has to offer, but as hard as I try, she cannot be duplicated.  And that is truly for the best, because she is one of a kind. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Momma....You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet.

Momma with Cooper, the day he came home from the hospital

In honor and recognition of the lovely month of November, the month in which I was born, I am writing a multiple part series on the people that have influenced my life the most, or people that I want to imitate in my life but I am failing miserably in doing so. (doesn't mean that I will ever stop trying)  Featuring a new person every few days, (let's face it, I am not disciplined enough to make it EVERY day) these articles are identifying various people who have impacted me in the most dramatic ways.  I only feel that it is appropriate to make the first entry about my Momma, my best friend and my steady rock.  So without further ado,  here are some things that she has tried to instill in me over the years, either intentionally or unintentionally. 

Momma and Caroline at Christmas, 2009
 1.  Sacrifice and Selflessness.....we always came first 
 Ok, so I didn't say that I am a fast learner, because I haven't exactly learned these two traits well, but looking back over the years with my more seasoned hindsight, I have realized to some extent how selfless my mother is regarding me.  She has truly went without material possessions so that I may have.  I cannot count all the exact instances of these precious sacrifices, but I want her to know that I see them clearly now.  I see the love that pours out of her heart for Mack and I, and the wherewithal to go barefoot in the snow for the two of us if she thought it would make us happy.  I believe that it took having my own children to realize the magnitude and scope of her love for us.  I truly (along with my brother) feel like my momma's proudest possessions, and she has never done a single thing for me to doubt otherwise.  This also makes me feel ashamed, however. To have grown up as I did with blinders, seeing only what I wanted to see, seeing only what relates to me and my comfort.  I have wasted 35 years (oops! didn't mean to let that age slip...moving along)  not letting her know everyday how much I love and appreciate everything she is and everything she does.  I would love her desperately no matter what, but her selflessness makes me want to repay her with all my love and admiration every day.

Grandparent's Day
2.  Dry sense of humor....or laughter through pain
My momma clearly has the driest sense of humor of anyone I know, and she always makes me the MOST inopportune times!!  Momma can take the most morbid and sad moments and manage to comment (sometimes unintentionally) a quip that can make you grin through the tears or seriousness.  However, I believe this comes from having superb emotional strength.  She is truly a "steel magnolia" and has been since way before the phrase became so popular.  Not one to wallow in self-pity or give into melodramatic drama that is so characteristic of our gender, she can truly make a strong face in a bad situation.  Laughter through tears is truly a wonderful emotion.  It reminds us that life does go on, and that what is waiting for us in eternity for those who believe in Jesus Christ, is sorrow free.  Isn't that grand?  Therefore, it isn't necessary to take this life here on earth too seriously, for "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."  Proverbs 17:22  Just ask my momma, life is truly too short to spend it not laughing about the little things that get you down.

3.  Girls can like football, too....and look good at the same time
Football as a spectator sport has come a long way.  I truly feel in this day and age of all-access, twenty four hour a day media coverage and the soap opera-like drama going on off the field, more ladies watch the sport that I have channeled into since I came into this world.  My momma has always been an avid follower and watcher of college football (so was my great-grandmother, but that is another story).  She can call a block in the back before the yellow flag is flung from the pocket of a referee and cheer with gusto a spectacular catch that results in a touchdown for her beloved Crimson Tide.  Few women I know watch the games with as much attention and fervor (much to her blood pressure's chagrin).  But never one to be labeled with a stereotype, my momma is what you would call today a "guy's girl", but she is as prissy and conscious about good grooming as the next princess that wouldn't know a wide receiver from a defensive lineman.  Don't let her looks fool you, she can get as feisty as a firecracker about a erroneous (depends on which way you look at it) pass interference call (or lack thereof). But then lower her blood pressure after a particular stressful game with some good old fashioned retail therapy.  Everything in moderation, my momma has good balance, she can hang with the boys and giggle with the girls.  And everything else in between.

4.  Her foundation is set upon Jesus Christ....and she showed us how to lay our own stones
My momma has always taken us to church, no matter what.  There was never a question of if we were going on Sunday morning.  We got up, we got ready, and barring sickness we were there.  She and her two little troops.  Looking back, sometimes for her it would have been easier to be more lackadaisical about church attendance.  She was a young mother, and most of the time she went by herself for whatever reason.  The young sometimes do not realize the importance of Christ in their own lives, much less the lives of their children, but my momma had us in Sunday school and taught us at a young age about salvation and the love of our Creator.  Maybe this is the most important thing that she ever did for us, surrounding us in Christian love and a showing us how a devotion to Christ and his church was a never failing source on strength and power. I have been blessed with many Godly people in my life, which you will see in the coming blogs; however, it is my mom's persistence, prayers, and presence that have helped me the most in my struggling walk with Christ.

Caroline's 4th Birthday
 There you have it.  A small glimpse into the personality of my Momma.  I probably should clarify that this blog and the following ones that will honor and revere the some of the most important people to me will contain certain aspects of each one's character that I have and that I also WISH to have.  For some reason or another, each of these people have things about them that I admire and that I pack away in my memory for my journey in this short life.  My mother is no exception.  She is strong, beautiful, selfless, and chock full of common sense.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving me her as my mother. 

Any love is good love,
So I took what I could get.
Then she looked at me with those big, brown eyes
And said, "You ain't seen nothin' yet"
                                                      - Bachman Turner Overdrive

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Only Thing that Separates Us From the Animals....

Caroline in a self designed tooth fairy costume, poor Cooper doesn't know what to think. our ability to accessorize!  I really don't think that I have comprehended this legendary quote until I have taken up residence with a true diva, Princess Caroline.  Fortunately, her foray into fashion has given me inspiration to write, and that is something that I haven't had in quite some time.  Call it writer's block, call it blog funk, call it lazy, but I just haven't felt like taking the time to indulge myself in this particular hobby.  But just this week, I was called to the carpet by a 5 year old.  She stated plainly that I haven't blogged about her lately, (how would she know this?) and I haven't mentioned to cyberspace about her fashion.(her word not mine)  Clearly, I cannot fill an entire space entirely dedicated to her and her many accessories.  But I can tell you three traits of her multi-faceted personality that defines her as a true diva-in-training.

Note the zebra print backpack and sunglasses..and we are driving a tractor!
1.  Never, ever leave the house without a handbag.  One may find themselves thinking that this is a very practical habit, you have everything that you need in case of a speeding ticket, car accident, emergency milkshake run to McDonald's.  But need I remind you the subject in question is 5.  There is no driver's license or credit cards.  There is however, multiple hair clips, plastic bracelets, and enough Bonne Belle lipsmackers to grease the lips of every frostbitten resident of the state of Alaska.  Throw in a small stuffed animal (why?) and a kid tough camera and you have the idea.  Might I also add that a bonified meltdown will ensue if we manage to get a mile down the road and we realize that we have left the bag.  I am talking wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It is borderline ridiculous. So to combat these periodic leaps off the fragile emotional state cliff, she has taken to leaving a "spare" handbag in my car, filled to the brim with "spare" accessories. You never know when you might need to call a friend from that plastic cell phone.

2.  Wrists and/or ankles must be adorned  I must admit that I can relate to this one on the surface.  I truly feel a bit bare without a watch and wedding rings when I leave the house, but this is a whole other level.  Miss Priss must always have something, whether it be the multiple plastic bracelets (see #1)  or a silicone wrist watch or simply an elastic ponytail holder.  You will not catch her without something.  Sometimes we just loop the ponytail holder around the ankle. This helps when we have to do activities such as gymnastics where the bracelets aren't practical or go to Kindergarten where they are just banned. Such absurdities are simply a natural part of life for her, it separates her from the masses.

3. Must have high maintenance demands  Maybe I should have labeled this one needy personality quirks.  Call it what you want to, but in order to be a true in training diva, you must have a couple of "need these to get through my day" demands tucked away in your back pocket. A good example is that Caroline must always be accompanied by a stuffed animal, two blankets, and a pillow pet dolphin when she is lounging around the house or traveling or sleeping.  Flippy the Dolphin and BB and Soft B (the blankets) are a staple, but the stuffed animal or animals are interchangeable.  This week it may be a Care Bear, next week it may be a stuffed horse. Who knows?  There is no rhyme or reason, and that is what keeps her entourage (that is us...the rest of the family) on our proverbial toes.  Bedtime and we don't have Jessie's hat, oh how can we ever sleep?  Going to church and we don't have Shiny GaGa, (which by the way is a very specific Care Bear, thank you very much)  we can't possibly learn about Jesus without her!!  See how this works? 

In summation, our little fashion queen is truly very sweet and smart, and her little quirks make her love her all the more.  But remember, to be truly fancy as she is, you must think, eat, and breathe fancy twenty-four hours a day.  Not a task for the faint of heart to be sure.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Baby, We Were Born to Run!!

And run, and run.  Not talking about me, mind you.  Not at all.  If you by chance see me running, please look for the wild animal that is chasing me, or look ahead and find.....Cooper.  Because that is who this story is about, Cooper.  My two year old energy-packed bundle of defiance.  In another words, a little boy.  Cooper has not been getting a lot of mentioning in this blog, but that is not because he hasn't done anything to warrant mentioning.  He more than likely does something every day.  But sometimes just thinking of all the hi jinks makes me tired.  Anyone who has had a boy will know exactly where I am coming from, a place of exhaustion combined with laughter and a little exasperation.  A place where Cooper resides, a place of contradiction. 
1.  Cooper is as Fleet as a deer, and mischievous to boot  What can I say?  Every mother in the world with a two year old child can tell this story.  Cooper can run through Walmart quicker than a thief.  If you ever make the mistake and give in to the pleading to get out of the cart and simply "walk" (I am sure better moms than me never do that!), that's it.  It's is like he has been let out of the chute at the Kentucky Derby.  You immediately run after and the embarrassment of the moment doesn't set in until you have actually caught him and brought him all the way back to the cart (which by this time is halfway across the store).  Then, you threaten him with everything you can conjure up in your red faced mind, trying to disappear into the concrete floor. Of course, he thinks it is hilarious.  And you know what IS hilarious, these moments are very unpredictable.  You never know when he is going to actually take off running.  Just yesterday, he had been playing so nicely in the salon with Woody and Caroline while I was getting my hair cut, and then, in a split second, he bolts out the front door and down the sidewalk of downtown Monroeville. When we caught him, he just didn't understand what the problem was.  Like Forrest Gump, he just felt like running!  All of these instances are punctuated with a mischievous smile that only accompanies times when he does something so wrong and it feels so good! (Like when he gives Sissy's stuffed animals a "bath" in our toilet...good times!) The random acts of wildness exasperate me so until.....

2.  Cooper Baffles with his Extensive Vocabulary  It's true.  I know that every Momma worth her salt can pick out the absolute best about her little chickens, but one of Cooper's is his ability to communicate.  Seriously.  The quintessential politician, he remembers every one's name that he meets and can usually drum up an interesting fact about that person during the conversation.  There are no strangers in Cooper World.  He remembers song lyrics, (get him to bolt out, "Hello, I Love You" by The Doors), movie lines, and anything that is said in our house.  Which can get you in some sticky situations sometimes. (the Momma and Daddy quotes usually come out when we are in public, refer to #1 for mischievous!)  There are no words too complicated and he seems to enjoy it when people comment on this fact, which also leads to the fact that he loves being the center of attention.  He likes all eyes on Cooper, and whatever he has to do to achieve that, is done.  Whether it be acting like a wild man, running, talking, or even dancing.  (He dances like Elvis Presley...just ask him)  He soaks up admiration like a sponge, and usually that attention warrants more antics, which leave me tired until.....

3. Cooper Grabs your Heart with Unabashed Affection  Huge hugs.  Loves to snuggle and be held. Cooper has loved to be close to me ever since he came into the world.  After he gets in trouble or if he is sleepy or if he is watching a movie, he wants to sit in my lap and be held. See #2 about his name memory, and that, combined with his uninhibited affection, gives him the ability to make any person at any time feel special.  He honestly loves and cares for all of God's creatures, and he is always doing what he can to bring smiles and happiness. Also, he loves to bury his face in my neck and when he is tired, twirl my hair with his pudgy fingers.  In fact, that is how he goes to sleep.  He lays in bed right beside me and runs his fingers through my hair until he drifts into a peaceful slumber. (There is nothing peaceful about my hair when he is done,though, I come downstairs looking like I stuck my finger in a light socket)  He will periodically throughout the day..every day...come to me and say, "Momma, I love you sooooo much."  And my heart soars.  He will put his arms around my neck so tightly and I, for a moment, do not want to let him go.  This week, we were in the grocery store, and I put popsicles in the buggy.  He announced loudly and repeatedly,  "Thank you, Momma" and repeated his "so much" mantra.  And gave me a huge bear hug.  Over a box of rainbow popsicles.  So at the end of the day, when he is being such a two year old, that is what you need.  That is what keeps you going.  When Cooper loves, I am no longer tired or frustrated, angry or exasperated.  I simply feel joy.

There it is.  A tiny glimpse into the roller coaster of emotions that I roll around with every day. Sometimes, even when he is misbehaving, it is funny. When he scolds Sissy and tattle-tales (which I strongly dislike), and then he says, "Mommy, Sissy is aggravating me."  Or when Woody leans down for a night night kiss and Cooper decks him with a right cross to show Daddy how tough he is, I hide my snicker.   And sometimes when he is being lovable, I want to cry.  Because one day he will not want to hug on Momma as much. In that same vein, I am just fine with that.  I want him to grow and prosper and stand on his own, without my help.  I just need to make sure he has a solid foundation on which to stand.

And then roll my eyes, because when you are late for church or school, and you need Cooper to hurry......

He walks.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Seven Colors

My friend Tory at Head in the Clouds gave me an award! Thank you, sweet Tory! This award requires me to share seven things that make me happy.  So here goes:

1.  God's Amazing Grace  I am an unworthy sinner.  This is a fact that I have known growing up in church and have bandied about for years.  But here lately, I have realized how truly unworthy I am of God's love, and I wept.  I wept for the despicable person that I am and for the undeserved blessings that have been bestowed on me throughout my life.  Then, the Holy Spirit hit me.  You can't earn God's grace, none of us are worthy.  And that is what makes it so amazingly wonderful.  God's love is unimaginable, our human brains can't even fathom this type of love.  And in the place of my grief, there was remaining, a great joy, independent of outward circumstances.  God created me, God loves me, and no ebb and flow of life's sorrows can change that. 

2.  My Children Laughing  Let me clarify.  My children laughing WITH each other. Or apart.  Just not AT each other!!  There is nothing better than riding down the road in my car and Caroline decides to actually entertain Cooper and sends waves of giggles flowing from the backseat.  Or when you are outside the playroom and they think no one is watching and they are playing a silly game, resulting in peals of laughter.  When these tiny moments of unadulterated bliss happen, it creeps into my heart and I smile, from the inside out.

3. Riding Around with my Husband  This one is a classic. Without realizing it, when Woody and I get a few hours alone (which is rare)  we love to pile up in the vehicle, stop at the gas station and get two cold cokes (or Diet Dr. Pepper for me) and ride.  To nowhere.  Preferably a small town or a back road where we have never been.  We happen upon landmarks and small forgotten towns left to dry up by the end of  a railroad. We see old graveyards and historical markers.  We admire the change of landscape and marvel over rows of farmland or high peaks that look over bends in the Alabama River.  It's relaxing and makes you realize how much more interesting everyday life is "off the interstate".

4.  The First sip of an ice cold Diet Dr. Pepper  Ok, so I alluded to this one in #3.  This is a small joy, but it makes me extremely happy.  If my day gets too hectic or for a number of reasons, I can pop the top or unscrew the cap on a icy Diet Dr. Pepper and in that fleeting moment, I can sigh the sigh of the blissful.  It's true.  It's something about the sharpness of the initial flavor and the frigid bite of the first swallow, that makes me...calm.  Now this only lasts for a sip, but it is, oh so worth it!

5. Full Moons  Not the dropping the drawers kind, but the actual full moon.  The moon that seems to have punched a hole in the inky black night.  The luminescent orb that turns the earth around you into a silvery glow that makes an ordinary night seem more magical.  It's when the pale light drifts through your windows and you have to stop, look out, and drink it in.  My whole life I have loved the moon.  Dating back to when I slept on the top bunk and my bed was even with a high window.  I would gaze out this window on a full moon whenever it shown down on my upturned face.  It represented hope and a watchful eye, a possibility that God was showing you His power to make the dark less scary for a little girl.  I could sit on my porch at night bathed in moonlight for hours. Everything just seems better.

6.  Late afternoons watching the sun set on the Gulf of Mexico Pick a town, doesn't matter.  It has the same lure, no matter which chamber of commerce brags that theirs is the best. I love to be on the beach all day,skin kissed by the sun and sunscreen.  Small granules of sand stuck to every thing that you own.  Then, to come in, shower it all off, and sit on the balcony overlooking the water.  It is something about that moment.  Hearing the waves crash on the sugar white sand while the sun flirts lazily with the water.  At this point, you are relaxed.  You allow yourself to think of...nothing.  And this is happiness.

7.  Music or The Right Song at the Right Time  I am a music lover.  Unabashedly singing to the top of my lungs in the privacy of my car.  (I didn't say I was good at it, just enthusiastic)  And there is nothing better than the right song at just the right mood.  If you are sad, happy, bored, thoughtful, restless, etc.  the right song blasting from the speakers that really says what your mood is thinking is nothing but joy.  I love all music, and I have eclectic mix of "mood" songs right on my Ipod.  They range from Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of my Tears" (which reminds me of my friend, Meg) to KC and the Sunshine Band's "Give it Up" (which just makes me happy).  Music speaks and stirs one's soul if you will really listen.  When I here Elvis Presley's version of "How Great thou Art", I tear up thinking of my precious Saviour and his mercy and wonder how anyone could truly listen to this song with a dry eye. 

So here it is, a self indulgent post on the things that make me happy.  Maybe they make you happy, too.  Thank you, Tory for giving me this award.  I am happier today for having wrote it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Man of Constant Sorrow

Today is Woody and I's eighth wedding anniversary.  Title seem confusing?  It won't be to Woody, and I will get to it later, but today I am celebrating eight blissful years with my soul mate. The man that God meant for me to marry, and I can't deny it, it is a nice feeling.  Knowing with all my heart and mind that this person was put on this earth to be my companion and the father of my children.  That idea alone will get us through most of the bumps along the way in our journey together. So to figure out how we got here, when it seems like on one hand that we have been married forever and on the other it seems like just yesterday,  (then I look down at the post-baby, older body and think, "It took eight years to look like this?", but I digress)  we must travel back to where it all began...the beginning of the fairy tale.

Once upon a time, in Montgomery, Alabama, there lived me.  And Woody.  I was a rookie fresh out of graduate school starting a new job at a CPA firm in town.  Woody had been out of college three years and was a senior auditor at the very same firm. At this particular firm, a different division of the company took the rookies to lunch every day of their first week at work.  One of the days in question, another newbie and I were taken by the utility division group to Tomatino's pizza for lunch, a crowd favorite.  We were escorted by a manager and two staff members, Woody being one of them. As we rode along in the car, we all laughed and talked the usual get-to-know-you talk of young professionals in the South.  Such as:  where are you from? What football team do you pull for?  After discovering that Woody and I were on the same side of the gridiron, the manager, who clearly enjoyed humor at Woody's expense, suggested that this may be the springboard of a lot we had in common.  We both laughed it off.  Upon arrival at the esteemed pizza joint, the manager looks down and discovers that when Woody takes off his coat, he has popped a button on the cuff of his dress shirt.  Woody, having already been aware of that fact when he got to work, had cleverly "tied" it together with a paper clip.  The manager apologized profusely to me saying that he would have a hard time convincing me how good the firm was when his top senior was wearing a paper clip for a cuff link! It was clearly meant to tease Woody, but my future husband never missed a beat.  He replied, " I just thought that you would praise me for my ingenuity, not every firm has staff this smart."  The quickness of his retort earned my admiration, but it wasn't until several months later that the spark would turn into flame.

Caroline snapped this picture of us all by herself at Disneyland.  I felt inclined to include it in this blog.
Over the next several months, Woody would invite me to watch football, go to movies, and even have dinner when he was in town.  (He traveled a lot back then with the firm)  We were great friends and I started looking more and more forward to the times when he was in town.  I didn't even realize it at first.  Then one night, a friend of mine pointed out how much my face lit up when Woody was around, and that got me to thinking.  Everything was a little brighter when he came in the picture.  So isn't wasn't very long before we were officially dating. 

So on February 22, 2002, Woody proposed.  We were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, celebrating the end of our busiest season.  He had told me that the trip was my Valentine's present and I was completely surprised.   He had gotten me a card for Valentine's that read, "I was going to write something sappy in this card, but I thought that just wouldn't be me.  Love you."  That was one of the sweetest things that I had ever read.  It said to me, "I know that you love me just the way that I am" and I did. 

When it came time for planning, Woody did not want to be involved AT ALL.  To reinforce this point, one day I asked him did he have any song suggestions.  He suggested that the bridesmaids come in to "It's Hot in Here", and I come down the aisle to "Man on Constant Sorrow" from the soundtrack of "Oh Brother, Where are Thou?".  It worked. No more questions came his way, and the Constant Sorrow song story traveled far and wide through the family, making it now a staple of the West family folklore.  Even today, eight years later, Woody has it on his phone as my ringtone.  I can't complain, it could be "Fat Bottomed Girls".

There you have it.  The beginning of the sitcom that has been the marriage of Mandy and Woody.  Since Constant Sorrow, we have had two beautiful children and still laugh and carry on today just like we did back then.  We still share the same love of sports and our favorite date is an Alabama football game, bar none.  On a more serious note, Woody makes me a better person.  He is a strong Christian and loves the Lord.  He would walk on glass for the kids and I, for our happiness has always come before his own.  He is smart, funny, and yes, handsome.  He is a hands on Daddy and loves playing with the kids.  And he still thinks I'm beautiful...even after two kids. (at least he better!)

"I am a man of constant sorrow, I've seen trouble all my days"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby!

Yesterday, my firstborn started Kindergarten at Monroe Academy.  I wish that there was a more profound sentence than that to sum up all the emotions that are jumbled inside of me as she begins this journey.  It all started last week after I picked up her school supplies from Central Office Supply, and right on top, there was a pencil box.  A simple, little, cardboard pencil box with her alphabet and numbers painted on the side along with a place for her sweet name.  That did it.  We have preschooled since she was 18 months old in varying degrees and she never once had her own pencil box.  That pencil box represents responsibility.  The ability to keep up with your own stuff without any help, the decision that one makes to keep it neat and orderly or jumbled around, the first telltale signs of the adult that she is going to be.  Tears well up in my eyes as I type, and I know deep down, this is when life presses the fast forward button.  Because before you can blink, she will be so much more.  So much more than this precious child who holds my hand into class and likes to snuggle with me on the couch while we play "The Think Game".
Caroline, with backpack, headed to preschool at Gulf Beach Baptist Church.

Speaking of random emotions,  I am not just a basket of tears.  I am also excited.  Kindergarten is so important and I can remember so many things about it that I can't remember about other elementary classes down the road.  Their are a lots of firsts, and firsts always stick in your mind.  It's these firsts and the wealth of learning opportunity waiting for her that I can't wait for her to experience.  Although I have already figured out, her Kindergarten is going to be vastly different than mine.  As different as mine was from Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie with her chalkboard slate and my fat pencil and actual paper.  She learns computer, she learns how to read at a higher level, she learns science, social studies, the states, etc. She will have tons of homework (we have been warned) and a part of me is actually looking forward to sitting down every afternoon and opening new doors for her.  And she is excited.  She is a sponge and wants to learn and experience new things, and I am tickled that she is beginning her academic endeavors.  I am also excited for her to see her first pep rally.  We love football, and she will get to wear her Volunteer cheerleader uniform every Friday during the fall.  Cooper and I can go also, and he has a football jersey, #7 of course, just like his Daddy, in Monroe Academy orange.  Let's not even mention the actual football game!!

I love that this first day has allowed me a little retrospection, however.  Sometimes my daily life is so planned out and I spend so much time looking forward, you forget those special moments along the way.  I can remember the day she came into our lives. Woody and I didn't sleep a wink the night before, knowing that I was to be induced the next day.  Around noon, when she breathed her first breath, I cried.  I cried because she was quite possibly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  And the love that I felt for her was almost too powerful.  I cried because I was so grateful to my Lord and Saviour for this gift from above. It was one of the most glorious moments of my life.

Now it is our job to help her realize her purpose. To help her access all the tools that she has been given to fulfill the perfect plan that God has laid out for her.  To teach her to understand that she was uniquely formed by her Creator.  To show her to always give Him the glory.  To focus her eyes on the One who gave his life so that we might live.   

And to think it all started with a tear and a pencil box.......

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vacation...Had to Get Away

Had to get Disneyland!  The happiest place on earth! You can call me the cheesiest person on earth but I actually believe that.  I am not a cynical, every-thing-here-costs-too-much attender of Disney, I am a full-fledged, I-believe-in-magic, roller-coaster riding, character-seeing Disney enthusiast!!  The place really is magic.  The magic that you see in your child's eyes as she sees Tinkerbell face to face or as she is asking us to look at every single dancing doll on "It's a Small World".  My a-ha moment is this:  Caroline squeals in delight when she meets Ariel or when she is getting soaked on Splash Mountain. Woody and I then make eye contact over the top of her head, and without saying a word we know exactly what the other one is thinking, "This is why we came here, this is why you use your hard-earned cash to buy tickets, souvenirs, another stuffed animal (yes, another one!).  At that moment, we feel like good parents.  And we can't wait until Cooper gets old enough to go himself, it's a Christmas morning feeling that I feel when I see her eyes sparkle at fireworks or dance in a character parade.  So there it is, we hit DisneyLand in Anaheim, California with enough zeal to start our on fireworks show, now let me give you some details.

Caroline, me, Angie, and Olivia riding teacups.  Woody doesn't do Teacups!
We rent a Suburban and drive from San Diego to Anaheim when the conference is over.  There are six of us, 4 adults and 2 little girls.  I am a bit skeptical that all of our luggage is going to fit in this vehicle, and am thinking we maybe should have just rented a U-Haul, but miraculously it does and we are settled in comfortably for our short 80 mile trip up the freeway.  The ride is uneventful and we check into our hotel in Anaheim about 2 miles from the entrance of Disneyland.  It is already afternoon at this point and we, of course, use our spare time to check out the swimming pool. It is a bit warmer here and Woody and Caroline get in the big pool. Still a bit too cold for me to swim, so I happily sit, watch, and relax, knowing what a high impact day we have planned on the morrow.  Eat, swim, bathe, and get ready for bed, and eagerly anticipate our arrival at Disney early in the morning.  Caroline falls asleep pretty quickly, after a little TV time, Woody and I turn off the light to go to sleep around 10:00.  At 10:30, my head pops up with a start.  Someone is drilling into our bathroom.  Or at least that is what it sounds like.  As I clear my head and really listen, I realized that the maintenance man is snaking out the drain on the tub of the room next door to ours.  In the middle of the night.  (You can't make this stuff up)  I hear him drill, then run water to test, then drill again.  This goes on for about 10 minutes because any minute we think that he is going to stop, and the slow or stopped up drain will be successfully unclogged.  No, he is persistent.  Woody finally calls the front desk and asks them politely if they could possibly perform plumbing maintenance during the day. Soon after, he stops.  I am fully awake now, and do not fall asleep until after midnight.

However nothing can quell our excitement the next morning as we enter: Disneyland!!!  We ride as much as we can, see as much as we can, and eat as much as we can for the next 13 straight hours!!  You heard me, 13 hours.  We do sit down the last hour and simply wait for the fireworks show.  Everyone's feet and legs were screaming protest enough at this point for us to heed what they were saying. Before this plop down, we rode every fast pass ride in the Magic Kingdom, met Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Ariel, Tiana, Jasmine, and a host of others, and pretty much did anything else the girls wanted to do.  (One time you may have caught the parents catching a seat in the shade inside Donald's boat!) 

Woody and Caroline catching a breather outside Roger Rabbit in Toontown.
The next day we were at it again. We went back to the Magic Kingdom to ride Space Mountain and meet Tinkerbell and a few of her buddies.  Then we headed over to California Adventures.  This is the other park at Disneyland and it is all about California.  When you walk in the gate, you are greeted with songs pertaining the Golden State (California Girls, Do You Know the way to San Jose? Wasn't surprised by the Beach Boys, wouldn't have predicted Dionne Warwick)  We rode a few rides, ate...again.  And headed over to the part they call Paradise Pier.  The top photo is the scene from afar.  It is set up like a circa 1900 California amusement park/boardwalk and it is neat.  We waited in line a loooong time to ride Toy Story over there, but it was worth it!!

Our vacation is now drawing to a close, but it was lots of fun. I missed Cooper terribly and I loved hearing his sweet voice on the phone.  I don't think that he missed us much at all!!  He had a blast playing with PawPaw and Pug's and  had fun the last weekend at Danna and Pop's.  He probably enjoyed having all the attention and not having to split it with Sissy! Here's a picture of Cooper having so much fun at his birthday, so he will be included in the post.

Of course, it wouldn't be us if the last night in California just went off free and easy.  We get back to hotel and see lots of young teenage boys in baseball uniforms.  Our hotel is hosting all the teams in the 13 year old Pony League World Series.  Four teams from the USA and one team each from Mexico and the Bahamas.  Let me tell you something about 13 year old boys, they are loud at the pool.  Here I am again, 10:30 at night (we have to get up the next morning at 4:30 a.m sharp)  listening to "MARCO" , and the response, "POLO".  I dreamed about it AFTER I went to sleep around midnight.  That's OK.  Tomorrow I was leaving on a jet plane to sweet home Alabama and my sweet, jolly Cooper!

So that's it.  That's our summer adventure, 2010.  The kind of vacation that you need a vacation from...oh wait, that's true with all of them, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vacation...All I Ever Wanted

Title sound familiar?  Let me take a moment to refresh.  Imagine the lovely Belinda Carlisle and the other Go Go's water skiing while crooning one of my favorite eighties guilty pleasures.  You got it, Vacation!!  That is what the West family took last week to sunny southern California.  Well, to be honest, Woody had a conference and Caroline and I tagged along and made the most of it.  The last sentence is not a typo, Cooper did not go.  Chalk it up to awful parenting, but we decided to leave the little man at home with both sets of grandparents splitting the time.  Before you judge me too harshly, Cooper turned two last month and if "typical two year old boy" was an entry in Webster's, his picture would be there loud and proud.  Just today he was standing on the security scanner in Gymboree trying to shake it loose from the confines of stubborn concrete....but that's another story for another day.

Back to vacation....making memories.  We flew across the country to San Diego, California where they have absolutely perfect weather...or lack of weather.  The high is around 70 degrees and the low is around 62 degrees and they have no rain...ever.  Pretty interesting considering all parties we knew were leaving the tropical climes of south Alabama.  So bye bye humidity, hello cool mornings in July.  This is Caroline and I at Seaport Village in the late morning.  Note all the clothes. Also, check out Woody's long sleeves, that is really the tell all, he is never cold!

First things first. We set out on the first day and walked around downtown and Seaport Village, took in the shops and the WWII walk.  Then, back to the hotel, because Caroline felt the need for a swim.  Did I mention the weather?  That is entirely too cold for any self respecting Southerner to be swimming, even at 2:00 in the afternoon.  But my daughter wanted to swim and since you want the trip to be fun for her too, I don my suit, take a deep breath, and brace myself for the wind blowing off the bay.  We head for the hot tub first.  (which unbeknownst to Caroline is the only water that I intended to submerge myself in)  She sits there for a few minutes, declares it boring, and wants to head to the regular pool.  About the time I am searching for an excuse not to be her swimming buddy, a cannonball contest is announced over the loudspeaker, open to all children. Nice!!  Caroline enters, makes a friend or two, and I am off the hook to watch from my lounge chair with my swim cover and a beach towel draped over my shivering frame.  (she doesn't win, unfortunately. She is rather small and didn't create much of a splash, but I gave her a 10 for form)
Caroline on 110 year old carousel in Seaport Village.

Next day: San Diego Zoo.  Or as Caroline calls it, the San Di-Lame-O Zoo.  (more Madagascar references, I really need to get out more)  Very large zoo.  Very large hills and hollows.  We took a double decker bus tour when we first walked into the gate.  It took 45 minutes and you got to survey the whole zoo and map out where you wanted to go and what you wanted to see while riding.  Highly recommend it. You get to see tons of animals and you can decide what animals you don't care to see up close. (crossed off the list, all the birds, simply not enough personality, apologies to all the Audubon Society members) We loved the hippos and elephants.  Pretty cool getting to see the hippos up close.  Also, as an added bonus,  reading the narrative on the side of their habitat describing the size of their "dung" and how it enters our food chain.  Thankfully,  I had eaten lunch prior to this section of the zoo!  We also rode the Sky-fari which is an ariel view of the zoo from a ferris wheel gondola that floats along like a ski lift.  Not as many animals to see, but cool to ride, especially after a long day of walking.  Fortunately for me, the West family are suckers for a souvenir glass.  We paid $11 for a massive plastic cup adorned with an equally massive elephant. (not quite sure what to do with it now that I'm home, but that is beside the point)  However, this beverage toting monstrosity entitles you to free refills at every soda pop stand in the park.  Highly intent on getting my money's worth, I am refilling it constantly, therefore chugging massive quantities of Diet Coke in my zoo trudge.  Fortunately, that coupled with all the walking up hills kept my sleep patterns normal.  I was much too tired after that trip to let a little (let's say a lot) caffeine affect my slumber!!!  Also, I discovered that kids are more entertained having their picture made with fake animals than the actual animals themselves. 

This is Caroline on a statue of an elephant.

This is Caroline with an actual elephant, not as enthused.

Just when you think that you have seen all the animals that God ever created, we head to Sea World the next day.  (oh, I forgot about the ocean, they have animals too!)  There lives the famous Shamu.  Or should I say Shamus because there are three of them.  The lady at the deli that morning told Caroline to try to sit on the 7th or 8th row in the middle to really get wet, so I made sure that we didn't get to the stadium soon enough for those "coveted" seats.  Do I have to mention the weather again?  Too cold to be walking around in wet clothes!  But the show was pretty amazing.  Caroline was enthralled, and I must say that I was, too.  Shamu times three are spectacular to see and when they leap into the air on command, well let's just say it is better than watching my black lab do tricks in the yard (and yet not so different).  Sea World also has cool exhibits for penguins, just like on Happy Feet.  Wasn't sure if any of them were trying to communicate with us, but it was neat to see.  Caroline loves animals, by the way, real and stuffed.  So we managed to pick up a stuffed animal commemorating every attraction.  Which she also insists on toting to every family event at Woody's conference.  But this is how you know it is Caroline: she makes sure that even though she is taking a stuffed animal to a formal dinner, it is poking it's cute little head of a matching evening bag that also carries her Bonne Belle lip smackers.  Shamu in a gold purse?  Don't think it can't happen.

Next stop: Disneyland!

And you thought we only went to San Diego......

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Zumba Dancing and Slip n Sliding

I have come to a harsh realization over the past few weeks:  I am not as young and as agile as I used to be.  I have known this for a while, but have managed to keep it compressed deep in my mind recesses.  Sometimes it hits me hard, like when I do the math and realize how long it has been since I have graduated high school.  (How could it be that long ago when it seems like just...?)  You get the point.  Then, unfortunately for everyone around me, I joined a Zumba class.

Zumba is a Latin dance exercise class that they have at our local YMCA.  They recently began it and it has been a huge hit this summer.  I decided that this was right up my alley and I attended my first class a few weeks ago. Now to preface this rash decision, I was a cheerleader.  Mind you, not the greatest one to ever grace the sidelines of the gridiron, but I LOVED it.  Loved everything about it.  Loved the uniforms, loved the dancing, loved the grueling practices for hours in south Alabama heat, loved the excuse to be annoyingly cheerful, loved the camaraderie with my best friends, LOVED IT!!!  Now, something I despise, is the treadmill.  Now that I am of an age where I need to take care of myself more(why does this topic keep popping up?), I feel that I must go to gym and grind out 30 minutes(and not a millisecond more!!) on the treadmill or elliptical, or on some other mind numbing machine.  I trudge along, sweating like a pig, counting down the seconds until I am finished. (only 8 minutes and 37 seconds to go!)  That is how I found zumba, I decided that I didn't hate exercise, just BORING exercise.  So here I go.

For those of us that came up dancing in the college era of Dave Matthews Band, we, make that I, was not equipped with the skill set needed to perform the Latino gyrations of my class.  In the first five minutes, I was rolling hips all over the place like Shakira.  (well, not like Shakira at all, but that is the goal!)  Remember the scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby has been invited out on the staff dance floor by Johnny Castle after she carries the watermelon?  Here is Patrick Swayze: sexily beckoning her onto the dance floor and he is attempting to teach her to roll her hips and shoulders at the same time.  Remember her initial attempt?  The awkward pelvic thrusting that just comes off as embarrassing?  Well, you got it.  That is me in Zumba!!!  There are several Beyonce' followers in our class that can just shake their moneymakers like no body's business.  And there are some who just shake.  I believe that I fall somewhere in the middle, and it is the most fun that I have had in a while!!  My friends who stand beside me are having just as much fun.  We laugh at ourselves(also great exercise) and just have a ball being silly!!  It is as much a social gathering as it is a cardio workout.  Also, another perk.  I can actually see results!  I am leaner in my abs and my posterior.  (Thanks to squats to the tune of "I like 'em big, I like 'em chunky" from Madagascar 2!)  But the hard part mentally is realizing that you are not young enough to be in the bootylicious group!  I am older!!  And you know what?  I am glad. 

Another age awareness tool.: the proverbial slip-n-slide.  Yesterday, stretched out this wretched piece of vinyl across our back yard.  This particular one is a double slide, with water shooting out this way and that.  It also comes with two inflatable kickboard-looking devices that you use to assist you in the best possible slide.  How I got involved, you say?  Cooper was napping and Caroline did not want to slide alone.  So I donned my bathing suit and prepared  myself for the  inevitable broken arm/hip/collar bone.  I starting running, gathering speed, and flung myself across the wet plastic.  The bruise today on my outer thigh and the soreness of my left shoulder should tell the tale.  However, no matter how hard the ground was, I kept sliding.  We pretended like we were on Wipeout (great show!) and gave each other nicknames.  (I was "Working Mom", because I also used outside time to prune some plant life growing around my house)  Caroline gave us the names, hers were:  Fancy Caroline, Working Sissy, Sissylou, Fancy Lady, etc.  I am suffering today, but it was worth it for sure.  We had some girl bonding time and lots of laughs. (mostly at me!)

However, I have come to the realization that age isn't necessarily worse.  I honestly wouldn't trade places with that twenty something Mandy today. (maybe her pre-baby body, but that is why I am in zumba in first place!) The thirty-something Mandy is wiser, kinder,  and less selfish.  She listens to God more and herself less.  She has security in the man she loves and her children and her faith. 

And she is learning to Zumba better every week!!!  Bring it on, Moto Moto!!  (see Madagascar 2 for reference)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Will I Remember?

This is it. This is the official picture that Cooper is going to lament over years from now. I can here it now, "why mom, why did you let Caroline dress me up in a red lace housecoat and a green glitter leprechaun hat?" "And why did you feel it necessary to take my picture? Do you enjoy my humiliation?" I will smile knowingly remembering this night and how much we all laughed when Cooper came parading down our stairs proud as punch over his "new" outfit and Caroline behind him grinning evilly like the Cheshire Cat!!

At least I hope that I will. I hope that I remember how we scrambled for the camera and had a fun photo shoot just making silly faces and taking turns wearing that hat. (Did I mention it is glitter filled? Scalps full of green glitter for days!!) Caroline received that hat on St. Patrick's Day this year at school when the leprechaun invaded and trashed their school rooms. That was fun stuff! Love our creative teachers at Monroe Academy preschool!!

But that got me thinking, will I remember these moments? Sometimes life goes so fast and we don't stop to make sure these memories are implanted for the long term. Therefore, I wrote a little poem about it. I write poetry periodically. Mostly as gifts or as funnies or if I have time to feel inspired. So I am including this one today:

Will I Remember?

Now’s the time when the children are small,
Caroline, 5 and Cooper, almost 2.
I trudge through the hours and give my all.
Falling exhausted in bed, when each day is through.

The time passes quickly, seemingly trying to survive.
Errands and chores are the order of the day.
Then a fear grips my soul and into my memory I dive.
Will I remember the precious gems my babies do or say?

Will I remember the way my son,
Presses his soft cheek into mine?
And rubs my hair when the day is done,
Signaling the arrival of sleepy time.

Will I remember my daughter’s charm?
Her personality and sassy remarks.
Her need for all things fancy, with bracelets on her arm.
A “Dancing Queen” with lip gloss that sparks.

Will I remember Cooper’s sweet loving grin?
And that baseball was truly his first love?
The force of his home runs, he always wins,
And Daddy catching him with his glove?

Will I remember the imagination of Caroline?
Her stories so big and tall?
The take charge way she keeps everyone in line,
Her stuffed animals she loves, no matter how small.

My friends, time is fleeting, and I need not forget.
They won’t be little very long.
For into their adulthood I see, if my Savior will let,
Will I remember how they loved me so strong?

Those sweet little words, those hilarious phrases
When their language is honest, fresh, and such.
I hope I remember this sentence all of my days,
“Momma, I love you so much”.