Is that your duck…or just a quacker?

lessons-from-ducks

As many of you know, I live on a beautiful lake in east Tennessee. Words like “breathtaking” or “beautiful” are so inadequate to describe the beauty and nature that I am fortunate enough to see each day. It would be like saying that a hurricane is a “little wind.” Words are just useless…but, hopefully, you catch my drift. Each morning, I look forward to what the day may reveal in the way of natural beauty and nature. We have had a wonderful Spring – not too hot, not too cool. Just right! And, oh my, the flowers, smells, sunrises, sunsets and new little “nature babies” are everywhere. So this week’s post is about some of those little babies…

We don’t know what happened to her, only that she was hurt. At first, we couldn’t figure out whether she had been hit by a car, been in a fight with a predator, or had gotten her foot stuck in a crevice or between rocks. The bottom line, however, was that she could only hop around on one foot. There was no way we could catch her, to take her to the vet. We simply had to watch her struggles, and each morning we were greeted with apprehension as to whether she had made it through another night, or had succumbed to the injury and died. Despite all the odds, she seemed to get stronger each day, and although her foot did not completely heal the way it was supposed to, she could still fly, and she now walked with a limp – a little “hop” actually. So one of our neighbors (the animal-loving ones…) named her “Hoppy.”

For the past three years, we have looked forward to Hoppy returning to our lake (and homes) each spring. This year, she had a little surprise for us…she was pregnant, and ended up having 11 (count ’em – ELEVEN) little ducklings. They have been adorable and we have had so much fun watching their “antics,” and watching them grow each day. As a result of my doing this, I have made some huge discoveries regarding motherhood.

Each day, this little mother has been responsible for feeding all of the ducklings, teaching them the “ways of the wild,” and keeping them safe every moment of their lives. (By the way, she really is a single Mom, with no help from anyone else, with the exception of a few neighbors who put out food for her and the babies.) We usually try not to count how many babies there are, because when you see that one is missing, you know that something bad happened. But I can’t seem to help myself, I count. So far (and they are almost totally grown now) she has only lost ONE baby. That is remarkable for this lake area, as we have eagles and hawks!

I have spent hours watching them, and what I see amazes me!! On one occasion, she apparently sensed some “danger” nearby, emitted a little sound that I could just barely hear, and every one of those ten babies swam to her side as if she were a magnet, and then they swam as “one unit” away from the danger, with her wings spread over them. You could hardly tell where a duckling started or ended. They looked like one bundle of feathers going down the lake.

I have watched as she finds a food source, and makes certain that each duckling is eating – all while she fervently scans about for danger. She is at attention and on guard every moment. Once they have all eaten, she will eat a little herself, and then off they go. It has been so much fun watching those babies learning how to eat. Some times they get too tired and will simply lay down in front of the food and eat. Other times, they will peck around the area quickly, getting as much food as possible. On another occasion, we had just put a little cracked corn out for them, knowing that they would be showing up within minutes to eat. In fact, they were in the next lot, watching us, waiting for the food. Mama took her time, but as she was watching the area closely, three HUGE crows zoomed into the tree just above the pile of corn. “In a New York second,” Mom gave another signal (I never heard it…), and ALL TEN of those babies raced over to the food before the crows could even get out of the tree! One crow made the mistake of trying to peck a little one, and Mama gave him a pretty good bite. He did not make a second attempt, and the babies got the food that was intended for them.

After eating, Mom took them back down to the water, and showed them how to “clean up.” She ducked her head under the water, came back up, spread her wings and flapped, all the while cleaning herself. Once she had done that a couple of times, she then gave another “silent” signal and all the babies began doing the same thing! Some got it right; some had to work at it a little harder. They were so adorable, doing everything that Mom did in perfect synchronization.

Those babies are smart! When Mom gives them direction, they respond immediately! They don’t lag behind, they don’t question “why,” they just act upon her instruction. Somehow they know that their livelihood and success depends solely on the teachings of their parent. And, of course, watching them got me to thinking about human parents and what lessons they are teaching their children. Do they let their children “slide,” and not follow directions or advice? Do they teach them lessons for failure or success? Do they love the children enough to be disciplined and to discipline? And most importantly, do they teach them by example? Those baby ducks get it! They KNOW that if they don’t do exactly what Mom is doing, they will not live to see another day. What are your children, grandbabies, nieces, nephews, etc., seeing when they watch you or observe your daily life actions? Is it something that will help them face the battles in life? Will they learn love and respect by watching what you do? Will they learn how to treat others with kindness and compassion? Will they learn how to work together? Will they realize the wonder and joy of what it means to be part of a family? Are you teaching them skills that can be used to succeed in life? Just WHAT are you saying to others as you live your life each day? Animals seem to get this…wouldn’t it be wonderful if humans got it too? Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

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It’s just what I do…

One of the great blessings in my life is that I have wonderful friends who live all over the world! We can go weeks, months, or even years without seeing each other, and still slip into that easy comfort of closeness and friendship when we do actually get together. What makes things even more fun is when we meet for a fun-filled vacation at various “spots” that appeal to our sense of adventure and relaxation. This week’s story is about one such “adventure….”

Anyone who knows me, knows what I have done in my career, and why… I have worked all of my life working with, advocating for, protecting, providing care, and LOVING “old” people. The correct word to describe them is “elders,” but I wanted all of you to understand who I am talking about. I know that my love for this special group started as a child, loving my grandparents. And, oh my, did I LOVE them!! That love continued to grow as I fell hard and fast for each and every old person who attended all of my Daddy’s little country churches over the years. So, when I say I LOVE old people, it is not said lightly. It means they FILL my heart, that my emotions swell with joy, love, compassion, and that I just want to take care of them and make certain they have a wonderful quality of life.

Now, getting back to the story…As much as I love elders, there are times when I don’t want to feel the responsibility of caring for them; times when I simply want to turn off all the feelings, just relax and take care of me for a little while. I call these times vacations! And to be honest, I really have to work at turning off those “nurturing” feelings during this all too short timeframe. I don’t want to see an old person, think about an old person, take care of an old person…

So, some of my friends and I decided to go the “islands” for a vacation, and we were all going to meet in Atlanta at the airport and then fly to our final destination. All of our flights actually arrived on time in Atlanta (which was EXTREMELY UNUSUAL – lol!), and we had a “decent” layover before the next connecting flight. As we were sitting at our gate, waiting, we began to smell freshly popped popcorn. Our noses went on alert, searching for the source. I finally said, “I’ll go find the popcorn and get us some!” I began making my way down the terminal, just like an old coon dog, sniffing out where the popcorn was. I finally saw a little kiosk…the source of that wonderful smell. Standing behind the kiosk was an employee who obviously thought that this was her very last day on earth, and she had to come to work!! Really, what an attitude!! Grumpy and rude would not even begin to describe this woman accurately.

Standing in front of the kiosk was a short, very old woman, who would have fit Hollywood’s usual portrayal of a Russian itinerant worker. Her face was tracked with hundreds of lines reflecting a very long life of hardship, poverty, and possible sorrow. Shoulders stooped, the woman wore a dark olive shawl, draped over her head, and a long, thick skirt in the same color and material. Workman boots completed the outfit, and there was not one tooth in her mouth that I could see. And, she was OLD! From my observations, I determined that she could not speak the English language, and she did not have any money; however, she wanted some popcorn. She was trying to convey to the horrible employee that she just wanted a little taste of the popcorn, but did not have any money. I was standing in line behind the Russian woman, and there was this monster-sized cowboy standing behind me. He had to have been from Texas! He wore a huge 10-gallon hat, had cowboy boots the size of watermelons, and I’m certain he had to turn sideways to get those shoulders through a door!

As I was standing there, I began to feel my heart starting up…FEELING…wanting to put my arms around her…wanting to protect her…wanting to simply love her…My brain kicked in to counteract those feelings…stop it…you are on vacation…not your job…not your responsibility…you NEED this break…I emotionally took a step back to see how the situation might develop. The little Russian woman continued to try to convey what she wanted, and the employee continued to get uglier and uglier in her actions. The employee then “shushed” and waved the woman away, like she was a fly or insect. That was all it took for me. I swept into action, vacation or no vacation, it did not matter at that point. I leaned in to the employee, and in a voice that you hope you don’t EVER hear from me, said these words, “Give her the largest bag of popcorn that you have. Put a smile on your face as you are giving the popcorn to her, and THANK HER for her business! I will pay for it!! Do it NOW!” The employee hurriedly did exactly what I asked. As she was doing this, the cowboy leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Ma’am, if you had not done that, I was fixin’ to!” (Yes, cowboys ARE wonderful!!) The Russian woman realized what I had done, and followed me all the way to my gate, blowing kisses to me, with a big ole’ smile on her face. That is what my friends saw as I came back to my seat with their popcorn. I gave them all of their popcorn, and nobody said anything until we had “settled in.” They then all looked at me, and said, “What did you do this time?” My response? “Oh, you know me…It’s what I do…”

How can you NOT do a kindness for someone when it is well within your power to do so? Whether a person is old, young, middle-aged, poor, rich, in-between, what does it matter? The compassion and power to help others is something that lies within all of us. Some of us just act more readily when prompted. Amy Grant’s grandfather, A. M. Burton, made a statement years ago that went something like this: “Life is made up of golden chances, opportunities to do good. One lost is lost forever. If we miss doing a kindness to a friend, we can never do that kindness again. If we might speak a pleasant word, or offer a bit of worthwhile counsel or advice and fail to do so, we can never have just that opportunity again. Giving is a way of life.” How about joining me in giving as much as we can, whenever we can? It’s what we do! Just for this week…

How do you know all of that???

I live in a very small town in east Tennessee, and absolutely love living there; however, there ARE a few drawbacks. The one that I have the biggest adjustment problem with, is the lack of restaurants. We only had two…that is, until recently.  The sweetest couple from New York (by way of Florida) opened up a little pizzeria/Italian place, and the food is simply wonderful. That, along with the fact that they treat me like a queen when I walk in, assures that I will be a life-long customer! I eat there about once a week, and eating so much Italian food got me to thinking about another Italian restaurant in Georgia…

My best friend’s cousin was getting married, and the entire family was invited, not only to the wedding, but to the rehearsal dinner as well. It was going to be a fun, family time (with lots of talking and laughter) at a wonderful restaurant named Maggiano’s. The tables were reserved for us, and decorated beautifully. They had placed all of the cousins at one large table, so we knew it was going to be fun. The menu was simply unbelievable!! They had decided to give us a sample of almost everything on the menu for our meal! Scrumptious!!

My friend’s first cousin was sitting next to me, and we were visiting, talking, and eating. Each time they would serve a new sample, he would look at me and ask,” What is that?” I replied, “Spinach and Artichoke al Forno.” He commented how good it was! They served the next item. Once again, he looked at me and asked, “What is this?” I said, “Tomato Caprese.” It went on like this all night…he would ask, and I would reply, “Shrimp Fra  Diavolo,” or “Four-cheese Ravioli,” or “Lobster Carbonara.” You get the idea. Finally, he looked at me, and said, “I am some kinda impressed! You know ALL the names of the food dishes. Just HOW do you know all of that?” I smiled sweetly, and said, “Well…it’s all printed up for us on this little menu sitting in front of your plate.” We all just busted out laughing!!! He had never seen the printed menu laying there in front of him! He was a good sport and joined in with all the laughter.

There are times in life that we simply do not know the answers to any of the questions. We immediately begin asking others for advice and information; however, sometimes the very answers we need are right in front of our eyes. All of us possess innate skills and abilities, but far too often we are convinced that we are inadequate, or even inferior, to the knowledge, education and experience of others. We sell ourselves short! And I have found that when you continually compare yourself to others, you can ALWAYS find someone who has more expertise or knowledge than you do. On the other hand, there are also many that do not have the knowledge or experience in areas in which you excel. So why are you comparing? Look deep inside yourself first, do the research, really look at what is around you before you begin asking others for those very necessary “answers.” Sometimes the “menu” is right before your very eyes! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

 

 

The sweetest lady took care of me last night…

Those of you who have followed this blog have noticed that I have been “quiet” for a while. Every now and then you simply need a little time to “refresh” yourself, and I guess that is what I have been doing. “They” tell us that most individuals conduct a “self-analysis” of their lives every 10-12 years – to determine if we are on the “right path;” or if our accomplishments have been what we strove to attain; or simply if we are “happy.” This self-examination often coincides with those birthdays that end in a “zero.” I have always been off schedule in that my self evaluations never coincide with the BIG birthdays…So I guess that is what I have been doing for the last 9 months or so. I keep thinking that maybe people are tired of my stories and that I should stop, but then I get an annual report that indicates I have thousands of followers in 77 countries. Those numbers simply take my breath away! I am humbled, and think, that maybe, just maybe, people need to hear some of my truths…and some of my craziness. So……I am back for a while. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, please become a follower, and leave me a comment now and then. I love hearing from you guys!

Most of you know that my Mama is the main reason for this blog, that she had Alzheimer’s Disease, and that some of the stories involve our journey through that living hell. Today is such a story. We tried to keep Mother at home, as long as possible, taking care of her ourselves. My Father was the main caregiver, with help from each of the children. Each month, I would go down and stay with them for a week or two at a time.

On this particular visit, Mama certainly recognized me, and during the days, we would visit, laugh, and love on each other. Each night, I would sleep in a bed right next to hers so that I would be able to hear if she needed something, or attempted to get up by herself. On this night, she woke up around midnight, needing to go to the bathroom. We kept a potty chair at her bedside during the night to make everything easier and more comfortable for her. I got up and helped her get out of bed, and assisted her with both verbal direction and physical assistance. When your brain is atrophying, and signals are being neither sent nor received, something so simple as going to the bathroom can become a huge challenge for both the caregiver and the person needing care. It took us a while, but with patience, compassion, and simple communication, we were able to accomplish what she needed.

The next morning, Mama woke up early, all bright and cheerful. I jumped up, went over to her, gave her a kiss and said, “Good morning!” As I was helping her up for that first cup of coffee, she looked at me and said, “The sweetest lady helped me all night long! She was so nice!” I looked at her and said, “Mama, that is wonderful! I am so glad that someone sweet was there to help you.”

Now, as we know, I WAS THAT SWEET LADY! In the night, she never knew, or recognized, that it was her own daughter providing care and assistance. And for me, it just did not matter! I did not care WHO got the credit for providing the care. I was just glad that she saw me as someone who was caring, sweet, and willing to help.

This event made me wonder how we view ourselves when helping another person(s), and why we choose to help someone else. I am not referring to just health care, or physical assistance. I’m talking about ANY time we provide help, whether it is giving someone directions who is lost, holding a door open for someone out of courtesy, slipping someone a little cash to cover an unmet need, lending physical assistance when friends are moving into a new house, or just listening when someone needs to talk. It could be ANYTHING!! Do we provide help because we want recognition or credit that we “did a good deed,” or because it makes us look good to others? Is it a selfless act, wanting nothing in return? Or do we want “credit where credit is due?” I often wonder if we would be as generous in our giving, if we knew no one would ever know… A.M. Burton, grandfather to Amy Grant (a well-known gospel singer), stated the following: “Life is made up of golden chances, opportunities to do good. One lost is lost forever. If we miss doing a kindness to a friend, we can never do that kindness again. If we might speak a pleasant word, or offer a bit of worthwhile counsel or advice and fail to do so, we can never have just that opportunity again. Giving is a way of life.” I want my giving and helping to be selfless. I don’t need the recognition or credit. I want it to be given out of caring and love. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

“We beat it 2 death. Lol! Hahaha!”

I have had to wait to write this post as I have been so heartbroken and outraged over what happened to this little dog. If you are wondering what I am referring to…Two weeks ago a family in south FL could not find their little Pomeranian. The next morning they found the sweet pup laying at their front door, dead, with a note attached saying…”We beat it 2 death. Lol! Hahaha!” WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE????? Most of you who know me, know that I have such a tender heart and that I cannot, and DO NOT, accept or tolerate the abuse of any living being, especially children, women, elders, and animals.

When did our society become so barbaric and uncaring that someone could do this to a little innocent dog, and so far, get away with it?? Are people so enraged within themselves that they have to take those emotions and feelings out on some innocent? Why is it that others suffer when an individual or individuals cannot deal with their own failings as a human being? Do we not care as a society? Is it a case of “out of sight, out of mind?” Do these things just not matter anymore? I keep asking myself those questions, and keep trying to figure out how to correct what is SO WRONG with our world…

I want the world to be different. I want it to be a better place. I want people NOT to hurt or harm any other living being – EVER!!! So how does this happen? Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” So, let me tell you, I am going to start that change with me. I cannot “fix,” or be accountable, for everyone else, but I can certainly be accountable for me. Some things I intend to do so that this event is not forgotten and does not happen ever again…

I am publicizing this event on every piece of social media available so that maybe, just maybe, some neighbor in FL will know something, or have heard something, that will lead to the arrest and punishment of the individuals who beat that little dog. I intend to push my legislators (and support those organizations who lead this action) for stronger laws governing this type of crime. I will financially support those organizations (who I have researched and properly vetted) that rescue those precious animals who have no one to love them. I WILL REPORT any abuse and mistreatment that I see or become aware of to the appropriate agencies within my city and state. I will help support our local humane shelters. I WILL get involved!! And I will continue to show love and compassion to all of God’s wonderful creations. Me, you, ALL of us, “can be the change.” Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

My Mama and the FBI…

I don’t really know whether this is just a “Southern” thing, or not, but whenever I mention this particular “event,” most people from the South, if they were raised in a small town, readily identify with what I am about to say. It was not uncommon in the summer (or Sunday) afternoons, for my Mamaw Barber to swing by and pick up my Mama and us kids to take us riding “around town.” The ride ALWAYS ended with a drive-by, or swing-through, the local cemetery. All us kids were jammed together in the backseat (usually laughing and/or fighting – but ALWAYS having a good time…), but we would get really quiet as we rode solemnly through the grave yard. We would hear Mamaw and Mama commenting on the different people, whose names appeared on the various headstones. Comments such as, “You know his wife has remarried, don’t you?” Or, “She used to make the best apple pie around!” Or, “Do you know whatever happened to….?” It was as if they were visiting old friends. For my part; however, I was always thinking…”WE’RE IN A CEMETERY!!!”

(Now, as an aside, I have to tell you that our neighbors ran a little hamburger stand just down the street from where we lived, and my Mama, at one time, worked there. She pretty much knew everyone in town, so when someone came by that she did not know, it got her curiosity up. So, it happened one day, that a stranger, a man no one in town knew, began coming by the hamburger stand and, of course, would order a meal of some type. This began a daily event for him and my Mother.)

On this particular evening, Mamaw picked all of us up for the traditional ride around town. As we were riding around some of the neighborhoods, Mama got all excited when she recognized “the stranger” sitting out on the front porch of one of the houses we had passed by. She began sharing how this man had just started showing up everyday at the hamburger stand, and how “mysterious” it was that no one seemed to know where he came from…or what he did…We all listened with delight, but did not think too much of the situation. However, we teased Mother unmercifully about being a detective and made fun references to her “unpaid” role as an FBI agent.

After a month or so, a black sedan pulled up to the hamburger stand, and two men, in black suits and sunglasses, got out of the car. They approached the window of the hamburger stand, where my Mama was waiting, with a smile, to take their order. Her “detective” radar and energies were on high alert. One man approached the window as the other one stood to the side. He identified himself as an agent with the FBI, and wanted to ask Mother a few questions. He was asking about a specific man…a man who turned out to be Mama’s daily visitor at the hamburger stand. The FBI agent pulled out a photograph, and asked Mama if she had ever seen this man. She immediately told him that she did recognize the man in the photograph, and, even better, she could show them where he lived!! The FBI was more than gratified, took the information, and left. We never saw the mysterious stranger again, never knew what had happened to him, or why he was being hunted by the FBI.

That story has given our family more laughs than you can imagine! We lived in such a little town, and everyone just knew everyone else (and all of their business, it seemed). Whenever a new person moved into our area, we got to know them, and it usually did not take more than a day, to determine their life history. We were a “community” in every sense of the word. Neighbors knew all of the kids that should be present, and went on alert when the “normal crew” did not show up. Parents did not worry about their children being outside, or down the street, because they knew some sweet, caring neighbor was watching. It really was a “village” helping to raise the children, and protecting them.

That “neighborly” philosophy has followed me all of my life. No matter where I live, I have always gotten to know my neighbors – not in a nosey, “in their business,” sort of way, but with genuine and sincere interest. I chose my current neighborhood with purpose. I wanted that “old-fashioned” feel of community. I wanted to pass neighbors and friends each morning on my daily walks, to stop and chat and “catch up,” to watch their homes when they were out of town, to have them watch my home when I was out of town, and to just drop by for impromptu visits. I can’t begin to imagine living next door to someone I don’t know…or even attempt to know…or speak to when I pass them on the street.

It seems we have become millions of little islands to ourselves…only interacting with whoever we live with, or whoever we work with. When did this happen, and is it a good thing? I don’t think so. I think the more we invest in relationships, and genuine caring, we begin creating those wonderful neighborhoods and communities, where we love, argue, support, defend, protect and share…all for the common good. I think I will make more of an effort to love my neighbors, and leave the “investigating” to the FBI… Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…