Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Summer State of Mind

Walking outside is like wading through bath water. It's every bit as hot, and the humidity adds resistance to the air. The heat almost has a smell, or maybe that's just the grass baking in the summer sun. I can hear the locust chorus singing from inside my living room, and no doors or windows are open. Fireflies are blinking their hellos to me as I look through the windows of my french doors into the dusky woods. It's the time of year when heat lightening can be seen almost every evening out here on Lake D'Arbonne, and the gathering clouds bring a welcome drop in temperature and a gentle breeze to kiss perspiring faces.

My refrigerator is overflowing with summer squash, crisp cucumbers, fresh peaches and juicy blackberries. Soon, there will be more watermelon available than I can eat. Oh, how I love watermelon! My grandfather and father-in-law both take an interest in summer crops, so there are more than enough delicious and non glutenous things to eat for at least three months out of the year.

Summer holds more nostalgia for me than any other season. I don't know why that is. I have an asthma attack whenever I'm near a freshly mowed lawn. My blood sugar becomes uncontrollable if I spend too much time out in the swoon inducing heat. I sometimes break out in hives if I eat too much watermelon. So, why do I love it so? I'm not sure, but I think it's because when I was a child, my entire household relaxed out of its school year tension when summer came. My dad was a school teacher, and while he's always liked his job, he's always found it a bit stressful. But each year when the school doors closed, light shone into our home, and the only thing on the agenda was to have as much fun as possible until mid August. And boy, did Dad know how to show us all--Mom included--a good time! We would go out for snow cones and play in the park. He would set up a sprinkler or a slip n slide which would provide hours of cool, wet fun. We went to the zoo, summer art camps, and Vacation Bible School. I loved staying up late watching movies, and waking up late to the comforting smells of coffee and bacon. We always took at least one vacation a year together. For several years in a row, summer wasn't complete until we had gone to a Texas Rangers baseball game, eaten one of the stadium hot dogs and spent the following day at the big waterpark in Arlington, Texas. And don't even get me started on the year we began planning an annual trip to the Florida coast! I became a beach bum for life before I was legal to drive. It's a good thing I married a fellow beach bum because that could have been a deal breaker.

The fact is . . . I love, love, love summer. I love summer so much, in fact, that one of my primary reasons for choosing to get a degree in education is because of summer vacation. It's just lucky happenstance that I like children and that I'm a gifted teacher. Here's the strange thing--I teach private piano and voice lessons, and I'm not taking the summer off. I'm primarily a stay-at-home mother of a toddler, which means seasons aren't as significant as they once were, and I am still caught up in the intoxicating nostalgia of summer. I cannot help myself. The heat is miserable, and my Eustachian tubes won't quit itching (which is super annoying because you can't scratch your Eustachian tubes), and I know I'm gonna have to cut myself off and/or down a couple of Benadryl after a slice or two of watermelon, but I am absolutely, irrevocably in L-O-V-E with summer.

Honey, it's summertime, and the livin' is easy. I have kicked up my heels, let down my hair and let the summer high take me away into the D'Arbonne sunset (which happens to be spectacular, by the way). Inspired by one of my new favorite blogs, I have compiled a summer "to-do" list. Some of these items have been checked off once, but it's summer! I'm not limited to one check!

1. Audition for a show. Check.

I auditioned for Peter Pan at Strauss Theater in Monroe, and was offered the role of Mrs. Darling. It's a perfect role, really. It's different from anything I've done before. It's small, so I don't have to give up my summer late nights with my main man. I get to sing a little and show off my British accent. I couldn't ask for more.

2. Buffalo River canoe trip. Check. I even caught a couple of nice bass.

3. Spend time with seldom seen friends. Check, but more of that to come . . .

4. Finger painting with Micah on a hot afternoon. Check.

5. "Swimming" in the backyard with Micah. Check. (But there's not much actual swimming going on. He won't even sit in the water.)

6. Cook more. Half a check. I can cook more because I'm not teaching evening lessons. I like to cook more now that I'm not teaching evening lessons. Sometimes Micah and I cook together. Sometimes, I cook, and he adds the whine. And sometimes, Brandon watches Micah while I cook, and I get to listen to awesome music on my Ipod Touch as I stir, season and create.

7. Discover great, new music through ITunes. Check! See previous post.

8. Eat more vegetables. Fruit is too easy. Check!

9. Do more yoga. Check!

Now, on to the things left undone . . .

10. A family swim in a real pool.

11. A family vacation to the beach (minus the oil-slick). To make this one happen, it will be in combo with the remainder of number 3.

12. Sing more.

13. Read more non-fiction.

14. Seriously work on the novel.

15. Make at least 3 library story hours with the little guy.

16. Rent a canoe from D'Arbonne State Park, and float around with my boys as the sun sets. Like I said, D'Arbonne sunsets are something to be seen.

17. More bass fishing. Brandon and I leave for Arkansas next weekend to make this one happen!

18. Share a popsicle with a curly red.

19. Read more fiction.

20. Take another trip out to where Grandmommy grew up, where she lived and where she died.

21. Eat figs fresh off the tree at Grandmommy's old place. Watch Micah's face as he tries one.

22. Figure out the proper amount of bug spray required to keep the horsefly hordes from attacking me so that I can play outside with my child in peace.

23. Share all of my favorite summer foods with Micah.

24. Drink a homemade cinnamon dulce daily.

25. Lay out in the sun as often as I can for as long as I can stand it or until I smell like man.

26. Watch several summer storms.

27. Take afternoon naps.

28. Finish sewing our curtains.

29. Go on a movie date with Brandon at least twice a month.

30. Go on an unplanned adventure.

31. And as I do all of these things, taking as much pleasure in life as is humanly possible, I will remember from whom all blessings flow. I will revel in His many gifts with joy and gratitude. He was the one who was clever enough to imagine and create summer, after all.

So raise your paper cup of Country Time lemonade purchased from your neighbor's five year old daughter. To summer!

Monday, June 14, 2010


I love antique shops, which probably means that I'm getting old. I love digging through old junk that at one time had been important to someone, junk that can only hope to be important to you so that it won't sit in a musty old shop for ages and ages or end up in a landfill. I like the smell of old books even though it makes me sneeze.I like pilfering through those old books until I find one that's rare, beautiful or an absolute must-read. I love finding something unique and whimsical to add to my decor or jewelry collection. Okay, I really dig antique shops. You get the picture.

So, when dad asked if Brandon and I would like to do some antique shopping on the way home from Ponca, Arkansas a couple of Fridays ago, I couldn't help but follow. We drove the winding, always sickening road from Ponca to the little town of Jasper, nestled neatly on both sides of the Buffalo River. By the time we stopped, I was wondering if anything we could find would be worth the nausea I felt. I stumbled out of Brandon's giant GMC truck into the mild Ozark heat, and crossed the street to join my parents. Brandon brought Micah, and together we entered a little shop with a very promising title, "Emma's Museum of Junk." That title is promising for three reasons. One, I've always liked the name Emma, and if I ever have a little girl, she may very well bear the name. Two, that is one of Jane Austen's best books. And three, the sign says "junk," which means we should be safe from the outlandish prices of more pretentious old junk stores. No "Emma's Fine Antiques" here. We found a junk museum. Right on, Dad.

One step over the threshold, and I immediately liked the place. The inside looked like a general store from the turn of the century.(That would be the 20th century.) The walls, ceiling and floor were all made from beautiful, grooved wood given character by time and business. The merchandise was in organized disarray. The faint smell of must delivered by the books and antique clothing and the sound of classical music set the perfect tone as I shopped. It also helped to settle my stomach. I was right. The prices were good. There was a lot to look at, and I took my time. I found a lovely necklace made from silver beads and a newer copy of the The Secret Life of Bees. As I continued thumbing through the stacks of books and magazines, the music changed.

A voice I had never heard, but had always wanted to hear drifted out of the speakers. The voice was perfect--clear, pure, poignant and beautiful. The songs were from several different genres, but all comfortable and familiar even if I didn't really know them. I found myself looking over the store's contents again so that I could listen to more of the music. I wasn't the only one who noticed and appreciated the beauty of the voice. Others in our group were whispering, "Is that Sarah McLachlan?" I answered them, "Definitely not."

When it was obvious that my group was finished shopping and wanted to leave, I approached the register to make my purchases. Behind the counter stood a woman who obviously enjoyed her work. She was talking with a man who was likely a local friend. He stood on my side of the counter. They both had an aura about them that whispered, "mountain hippy." I liked them both immediately. I've always liked hippies. Before I even handed her my items, I spat out, "Who is the singer?" She grinned at me, and shot a knowing look to her friend.

"Her name is Eva Cassidy," she said, "and everyone asks about her."

She told me a little about the singer. After my own research, I must say here that much of her information was inaccurate, but the part I took away with me was that Cassidy had died in her early 30's of cancer, and she never "made it" before her death. Her music has been promoted posthumously by her family. That information cut at me because here was my idea of the perfect voice, and she would never know on this earth how much it could have been appreciated. I branded the singer's name to my memory, mentally vowed I would buy the album I had heard in the store and paid for my finds which now seemed minuscule in light of my musical find. The man, the owner's friend, said to me, "It's rare when someone young like you appreciates good music." I smiled and said, "I'm not that young. I turned 26 yesterday. But I have been trained to appreciate good music." He invited me to his son's music gig later that night. I had to decline as I was leaving town. I smiled at both of them and took my leave.

As soon as I was home, I researched the singer. I discovered that she had done several recordings, but did not promote them because she never cared for fame. Eva Cassidy is described as having been introverted. She would play for family, friends and small gatherings, but did not have the makings of the international star her voice could have helped her become. She died at the age of 33 of melanoma, and sang her final song in public only weeks before her death.

I wax overly philosophical now because I listened to her album, "Songbird," last night while I cooked fajitas. It's weird to say an album has the power to change a life, but if it's possible, this album has changed mine. It's that good. I wept as I chopped last night, and it wasn't the onions. It's because of her knack for selecting good music to sing, her stirring interpretations of familiar songs and the passion laced into her vocals. So, I had to write about it and let you all know about this treasure that I found in a junk museum. You may laugh, but I believe that destiny led me to this singer. Those of you who know me, know that I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of all destiny.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow or turning." James 1:17

As I mentioned, my birthday was the day before I found out about this great singer. Because I had also been given enough Itunes gift cards to buy all of her albums, this ordained discovery is truly a gift that will keep on giving.

And I call that serendipity.