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…

But…that’s NOT us!!!

Ferris-Wheel

Still summer…so I am still in vacation “mode….”

Some of my best childhood memories are the family vacations that we took. Our family was not rich financially, but Mother and Daddy were able to save enough to take us on a few wonderful vacations. As I look back on the experience now, I am not certain how they were able to afford them. We would load up everyone; immediate family, cousins, uncle, and take off! We would have a carload full (no station wagon, just a regular sedan), and we were squeezed in. It did not matter though, we would laugh from the time that we got into the car, until we returned home, several days later.

One of the more exciting vacations took place when we went to AstroWorld in Houston, TX. Oh, as kids, we just could not contain our excitement over being able to go to this new amusement park. All of us were “riders,” and we had viewed brochures detailing the rides and attractions at AstroWorld. It was our plan to ride everything!! Mama would go with us on some of the “calmer” rides, but Daddy rode every ride with us.

They had a huge ferris wheel from which you could see a view of the entire park, as well as much of Houston. Since I worked part-time through high-school, I had a little “extra” money, and had bought a small, inexpensive camera prior to the vacation. It was my goal to record every wonderful moment of that vacation. When we got to the ferris wheel, I gave the camera to Mama, showed her how to use it, and asked her to take a photo of us as we came around. I told her that we would be waving our arms and hollering so that she would know it was US! We went up, got to the top, and began to come down on the other side. I told everybody to start hollering and waving arms to pose for the picture that Mama would take. When we came around to where she could get the shot, we all noticed that she did not have the camera up, aimed in our direction. She was smiling so big, and giving us the “thumbs up” sign. I knew right then that she did not get our photo, but had taken a picture of another family. We kept trying…each time we came around, we would whoop and holler, trying to get her attention, and hoping that she would take another picture. Each time, she would just smile and wave. 

When we finally got home and had the pictures developed, it was confirmed…we had a great picture of someone else’s family. Mama felt so badly, but I assured her that it was the best picture of the entire vacation, and something that we would all remember. We had a good laugh then, and continue to have a good laugh whenever that photo is mentioned.

We spend so much time attempting to make situations in life “picture perfect.” And…if the usual happens, life situations are NEVER absolutely “perfect!” Do we miss the wonder of those imperfections by focusing on what was “not right?” Does striving to be “picture perfect” make one less satisfied with the reality of their life, even when that reality contains much good in it? And are things truly, really that bad? We took so many pictures during that Astroworld vacation, all “picture perfect!” However, you know the only one that I remember in vivid detail?? The one that my Mama took of the other family…I can still recall the way that “other” family looked on the ride. I remember how we were whooping and hollering trying to get Mama’s attention so that she would know which “ferris car” to capture. I remember laughing so hard when we realized that she had captured someone else’s family. I remember her laughing along with us at her mistake. Such good times…and the memory of that one photograph will be in my head for always. Why do we waste so much time worrying when something doesn’t happen exactly as we planned it? Why lose those moments of your life with that stress? I try to always go with the attitude: “One day we’re going to laugh about this….” And you know what, we usually do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Just. Let. Go.

the-end

OK, OK, I KNOW!!! I took off an entire month from the blog. All I can say in my defense is that I apparently needed a little “breather.” So, if you will all forgive me, I am back, and I am going to try my best to continue to post on a weekly basis. Being right in the middle of summer, and seeing and hearing about family and friends’ vacations, I was reminded of some of my own that were more memorable than others. So, this week’s story is about one of those vacations…

One of the most wonderful benefits of having friends all across the nation, is the knowledge that at some point in time, you can arrange to get together for visiting and fun times. A number of years ago, there was a group of us that would go on vacation together each summer. It never really mattered where we went…we always knew there would be good food, lots of laughs, AND adventures!!!

This particular summer we decided to meet up in Lake Tahoe. Each of us had rented a little “Theme” cabin at a resort, close by the Truckee River. Of course, it was our plan to raft down the river during our stay. Although the river was listed as “white water rapids,” the part we were going to be on did not look like anything more than “mild swirls…” (Now, a little aside…I am not known for my expert swimming abilities and/or water skills. Make no mistake, I LOVE the water…as long as I am wearing two items…a life vest…and nose plugs. I can’t help it! I just suck up water through my nose when underwater…I’m like a human vacuum cleaner…Nothing I have tried has helped or made it better. So, you can imagine what I look like…go ahead….picture it…) All of my friends know about this particular “attribute,” and they watch out for me. They know that it would not take much for me to panic and lose even the small skill of swimming that I do possess. So, whenever I am in the water, someone is in with me…within reach…Go ahead and laugh, but know this. This “respect” for water does NOT inhibit my actions. I will try almost anything. I just take “necessary” precautions…

The day arrived for our rafting adventure. There were eight of us. Since the rapids were very mild, and the attendants told us it was very rare for a raft to be overturned, and…not wanting to really look like a nerd, I chose not to wear my nose plugs. So there we were, two at the front of the raft, two at the center, and my best friend and I sitting on the back. We set off and were having such a wonderful time, laughing, enjoying being together, and just being outside in all that glorious beauty. One of my friends at the front kept wanting to make the ride a little more adventuresome, so instead of just allowing us to “drift” down the river, she would try to direct the raft toward the more “active” rapids. She was “admonished” the entire time, and asked not to do this, as all of us just wanted to make the ride last as long as possible, and not have to “work” at it. She just could not help herself, though, and she kept trying to redirect our path. I was enjoying the trip so much, that, eventually, I zoned out and did not pay her anymore attention. Everything was fine until she had somehow gotten us over to one side of the river. The last words I heard from everyone was, “Cat, watch out for that tree…..!!!” I looked up just in time to see the branch swiftly approaching my chest. There was no where to go! The branch caught me in the chest and flipped me over backwards into the water. Knowing my fear and my ability to panic in a heartbeat, my best friend grabbed the waist of my swimming shorts as I flipped over, to keep me from being tossed from the raft. However, she (and I) now had a new quandary…she was holding my bottom up on the raft, but my chest and head were underwater. She knew that if she kept holding me in the raft, that I would surely drown, so she just let go. She and some other friends jumped in immediately to help. Here’s the funny part…when she let go, I simply flipped over and then stood up in about two feet of water. I was safe!! Even without the nose plugs!!!  Since the rapids had taken our raft on down the river, we were stranded, until a raft came by with a bunch of guys on a bachelor’s party/trip, drunker than a skunk! They pulled us into their rafts and we made it to the end of our river journey safely.

If my friend had held on, trying to save me, I really would have drowned in two feet of water. By letting go, she allowed me to take my own action…and she placed herself in a position to offer assistance. Some times, in life situations, we hold on, when letting go would have the better result. We hold on to children, scared that we will no longer be able to protect them from the world’s harms, or that they might grow distant from our love…we hold on to old beliefs and biases that limit our growth – personally, professionally, and spiritually…we hold on to relationships and friendships, trying to make them work when they will not…we hold on to grudges that hurt only the ones holding the grudge…we hold on to an old way of life, when a change in direction would be so much better…we hold on to a job, when there is no joy in the work…we hold on to “worries,” when no amount of worrying has ever changed an outcome…we hold on to fears, and “cultivate” them, instead of facing them and educating ourselves…All of us usually have good intentions, but maybe right now is the time to JUST. LET. GO. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Please…don’t EVER lose that look…

My brother has two children – one girl and one boy. As you know, from earlier posts, our little girl (now a Mommy with two children of her own) was adopted. And as you also know, we, as a family, have never known the difference…She is truly, completely ours, just as the little boy. He came afterwards, and was quite a surprise to my brother and sister-in-law, as they had been told that it would be impossible for them to “create” a child. Enter, the little blonde-headed, brown-eyed rascal boy. He was named after both my father and my brother, which made him a “3rd.” He opted to be called Jay. So he is my “Jay-Man,” and this post is about him…

You probably have figured out by now that I am known as the “Cool Aunt.” I don’t have grandchildren, so my nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews receive the benefit of that situation. I can spoil and love as much as I want, and we do, indeed, do that. Most of them realized early on that I was not truly an adult…that I was really a kid, who would take time with them, and PLAY with them. I was the one that got the “Christmas Lists.” They knew that if it was in my power, I would make certain they received whatever they “requested.” I have told each of them that there is nothing they could ever do that would disappoint me, or keep me from loving them. And…that if they were ever in trouble, they could call me from anywhere, at any time, and I would be there! And, yes….I have received some of “those” calls…

Jay was so tenderhearted from an early age. He was, and is, such a daredevil that he takes my breath away (like attempting to ride his skate board off the roof of a house…), but you will not find a sweeter, more gentle young man. When he was little, he would get so excited to see me, that his body would almost vibrate, and the minute I left to go home, he would say, “I already miss her…” But the thing that always got to me, and touched my heart, was the way he would look at me. Those big brown eyes would just latch on, and follow me the entire time we were together. And, oh my, the expression in those eyes…If you have ever heard the phrase, “eyes full of love,” his would be the definition. Even as he got older, the “look” remained the same. I often tell him, “Promise me this…as you get older, don’t ever stop looking at me that way.” And each time he responds, “I promise!” He is now a Sophomore in college, and yes, he still looks at me that same way…and for that, I am very thankful!

I had always wanted to take him to Disney World when he got to be the “right age,” just like I had his sister, but my financial situation could not afford the trip. He will never know the disappointment and sadness that I have felt over that. I wanted to do something, and it just so happened that I was going down to the beach for a 4-day weekend. I called his parents and said, “Pack his clothes…he’s going to the beach with me.” He was 8, and just a ball of energy and excitement. He had never been on vacation with Aunt Cat. The first thing we told him was…”there are no rules on vacation…” We play the entire time, get up when we want, go to sleep when we want, and eat whatever we want…(I’m sure you get the idea…) Oh, he had the best time…making memories that will hold me for a lifetime. We were in a huge pool, playing with other family members, and he swam over to me. He wrapped his arms around my neck, hugged me so tight, looked at me with “those” eyes, and said, “Aunt Cat, this is the best vacation I have ever had!!” I hugged him back tightly, willing him to not grow up!!

I learned a valuable lesson that day. I was so disappointed that I was unable to take him to Disney World, that I had almost decided to do nothing. I realized that it is not necessarily WHAT you do, but that you DO something…anything, as long as you are spending time with a child that loves you.  We had the best time together, and I am hoping that the memories will remain fresh in his mind for all of his life. I don’t want to ever take for granted those wonderful gifts in life. In this case, those beautiful brown eyes, full of love, looking at me…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

You’re not a part of our group…

For over 30 years, my parents operated a personal care home for older adults who were mentally challenged. They kept adding room after room, until the house that all of us children grew up in could accommodate approximately 12 additional people. My parents loved each person and felt they were a part of our family. In fact, all of the residents called my father “Daddy,” and my mother, “Mama Jo.”

When this “extended” family was younger, we would take them on vacation each summer. They loved country music, and more times than not, we ended up vacationing in Nashville, TN…which leads me to my story for this week…
On this particular trip, we were going to spend all of one day at the Opryland Amusement Park, and then finish the day by going to The Grand Ole Opry. If you have never worked with an older adult who is mentally challenged, you need to understand that it is difficult for them to “adapt” to a new environment. On outings, it is so easy for one of them (or several) to get confused and wander away from the group. So, all day long we had been “counting,” making certain that everyone in our group stayed with us…and that we ended up with the correct number of people each time.
 
We were in the amusement park, going from musical show to musical show, when suddenly the bottom fell out of the sky, and it was pouring down rain. It was just a summer shower – no thunder or lightning, so I gave everyone a choice: we could buy rain slickers and continue to go to all the musical shows, or we could leave the park and go explore the Opryland Hotel. Now, they did not know what a “slicker” was, but they wanted to stay in the park, so that was their choice. I went to a nearby store and purchased said slickers. (Just to give you a complete picture, and in my defense…the slickers were either orange or blue, and once you put them on, all you could see was a face and legs…)
 
I began removing the slickers from their packaging, and put one on each person in our group. As I did so, I would place my hands on their shoulders, and line them up together…always counting, making certain that we still had everyone with us. I stopped suddenly when I realized I had my hands on the shoulders of a man that I did not recognize. (I had lined both him and his wife up with our group…) I didn’t even have sense enough to remove my hands from his shoulders. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re not a part of our group.” He said, “We know it.” I then said, “Well, why did you let me line you up with our group?” He gave me the cutest little grin, winked, and said, “Ma’am, we thought it was best to do EXACTLY what you said…”
 
So…this week I am going to recognize and understand that I don’t have all the answers…that I don’t need to “direct” anyone’s actions. I don’t HAVE to take care of everyone else. I am going to fully appreciate that others can contribute and be responsible for their actions. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…