Saturday, February 15, 2014

You know you've been stuck inside a little too long when....

You may have been stuck in the house too long when...
  You walk outside, and the neighborhood wildlife surround you like you’re Snow White because you’ve been feeding them all sorts of treats. In fact, the deer come to your office window and want to know what’s for lunch.
   You get such a close shot of last summer’s fawn you can see her eyelashes, which I didn’t even know they had....You keep looking over your shoulder for little people with long white beards.
  You find yourself on the window seat with the cat watching the birds, but you’re not sure which one of you is having more fun. He growls and chirps, and you brag to him about how pretty they are and isn’t that big fat woodpecker something else?
  You’re wearing the same clothes you went to bed in and you won’t disclose how long you’ve had that Armor-all shirt on underneath.
   You find yourself a little bored, but then you open the door to let the cat out and you both shudder and shrink back. That’s when you thank God you don’t have to go anywhere.
  You make a mug of real cocoa with milk and everything. Who does that???
  Your photos, recipes, and mail piles are in pretty good order, and you actually sent real Valentines to people....You suddenly have time to pour over the vintage cookbooks you’ve hoarded.
  You’re calling people you haven’t heard from in ages. And boy, was it nice and you wonder why you don’t do it more often....You answer your land line, knowing it will be a robo-call, but maybe there’s a real person on the other end. If there is, you open your mouth and nothing comes out, because you haven’t talked to anyone all day. And then they hang up on YOU.
  You Facebook way too much, confirm people you don’t even know as friends and like all sorts of news and craft pages so you won’t be lonely.
   You start eating the gingerbread house until you force yourself to share it with the birds....You start cleaning out the freezer. So far I’ve made cranberry muffins, banana bread, rhubarb and blueberry jam, chili, and beef vegetable soup. You’re thinking of making homemade noodles, something you’ve done maybe twice in your life....You make Chex mix with all the leftover nuts and cereal from Christmas.    
  You start eyeing the bread machine which hasn’t been touched in, like, three years. Wonder if that jar of yeast dated March 2011 is any good? I guess the birds will eat it if it flops, although they clearly prefer expensive sunflower seeds....You send boxes to your kids and nieces filled with your goodies and little presents you scarfed up from the one post-holiday sale you were able to ski across the parking lot to get to, that no one else was shopping at, with the cashiers watching you with their arms crossed, because you interrupted their slow day.
  You watch the winter games at length and weep over the Russian figure skaters because you wonder what happens to the ones who lose.
  When the sun comes out, you run to the window like a toddler watching the school bus bring her big sister home....A trip to the store is an event....You pester your grown children with text messages that include pix of the cat and the birds and the deer and the cat on your head and the cake you baked and the snow on the tire swing.
   And you wonder how poor people pay for heat so your write a check to someplace out of the guilt you have over your own good fortune.
  You finally set up the watercolors and you find you have no interest in it. The tension of fitting it in your busy life is gone.
  You purchase some great fabric and actually FINISH something with it. My four kitchen windows now have stunning poultry-themed valances..
   The couch has two indentations in it, one big, round one from you and a little oval from the cat.
  You fix dinner, complete with an appetizer and dessert, and realize you’ve just spent four hours in the kitchen and there is still a mess to clean up. But he really did enjoy it. And you wonder how the generations of women before you did this.
   And you try to savor the quiet moments as your life passes you by and yet you catch up on your reading, and hope your soul is getting fed, and your body is getting better, as you watch for signs of spring, like the purple finches getting more purple and the cat shedding an orange hairpiece on the couch.
  And Bob just uses the difficulties of bad weather to find new methods of doing things. He brought a holey branch up from the woods, stuffed it with peanut butter, suet and sunflower seeds, and hung it out. All our feathered folks love it. He made one for some friends we know, and so I think the Bird-on-a-Stick feeders are catching on. 
   And you should have seen the joy on his face as he shoved a 50-pound bag of birdseed down the driveway instead of lugging it. It floated down over that ice like a lumpy magic carpet!  
  Well, that’s an odd silver lining in this winter from hell-froze-over, but I’ll take it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The new math

   I'm just old enough that I still send Bob after a "5-pound sack" of sugar when we all know that sugar has been sold in 4-pound bags for at least the last 20 years.
  Also I recall when a "No. 2" can of green beans weighed 16 ounces. You know, one whole pound. The last one I bought weighs 14.5 ounces. Who are they kidding? Well, I admit they fool me for awhile most of the time.
  What gets me is how the 99 cent stores have managed to keep a brisk business by selling items that are now weak, sickly impostors of their former selves to "bargain" lovers like me. (It's a sort of minor addiction, on the order of gambling, I think). Sure, you can still get a package of 2 dozen chocolate chip cookies for 99 cents, each of which is now the size of a quarter, dotted with brown dye to resemble the chips. Wash cloths have become see-through patches measuring 5 inches square.
   Then there are those jumbo, 2-gallon zipper plastic bags. Not very long ago, you could get 7 in a box for a buck. Then it was 5 and now they must be too embarrassed to sell a box of just 2 or 3, so they don't sell them at all anymore, which is awful because I have lots of STUFF that needs to go in those things!
The sad decline of Cindy's clothespins.
   But the cheapskate-pipe-dreamer in me still thinks I can get away with something in those places, so I was a little smug when I left with a package of 36 spring clothespins the other day. (Yes, I still hang clothes out to save on the electric bill a little). Only a few years ago, the package would've had 50 in it. Still, I thought 36 for a dollar was a good deal. Until I tried to hang Bob's wet jeans with the things. I turned around and those pants flew off the line like a great blue heron in search of minnows. That's when I really looked at them, comparing my new ones with whatever else was in the tub. You can see the sad decline of this simple tool in the photo at right. No wonder they can't grip a pair of wet work pants.
   Honestly, I'd rather shop in the TWO-dollar store and get something worth using. I'd rather come home with 20 real clothespins than 36 pretend ones. And I won't even get started on the "fashion dolls" whose heads and extremities come off in your hand as you wrestle them from the packaging as a teary-eyed little girl looks on....
   And I think it's an apt metaphor for life in these United States in 2014: Everybody is always squeezing out more from less, cutting corners, substituting with inferior ingredients, searching for some new math that will inject another hour into every 24. Making sure our kids have every experience, even if the whole family is run ragged, so that our multi-talented offspring can show off on their college application. Because, of course, all properly-reared, smart children are multi-talented, right?
   Attaching ever more items to the list of accomplishments on our resume, things that would also look good in our obituary one day. So everyone will marvel, "How DOES (did) she do it??"
   Someone has said if you do too many things at once, you probably aren't doing anything particularly well. Plus you drive people at home crazy. And God is not fooled if you are laying up treasures for yourself instead of for whomever it is you claim to be serving. Trust me, I know.
   And regarding those obituaries many of us have already written and saved in the "ME" file on the desktop just so our survivors get it RIGHT, I'll be honest here: I pretty much skip over those long obituaries that go on and on. NOBODY is that important. In fact, the ones you tend to remember, that make you wish you had known this person, are the brief little stories that sum up a real life with something like, "She loved her family, tried to serve her Lord, and really hated junky clothespins."

16 A simple life in the Fear-of-God is better than a rich life with a ton of headaches. Prov. 15:16

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Home for the holidays

By Cindy Bailey, Waynesburg, PA
This is the house that Bob and Cindy built. Well, Bob mostly; I just supervised and stomped my pretty little feet about it every now and then.
And in this house we raised two girls and the girls are coming home. For the holidays, not to live, thank God. (Oops, did I say that?)
And you can always tell when the girls are coming back to the house that Bob and Cindy built.
For one thing, Bob has a little extra spring in his step in the yard of this house.
Which I take advantage of for getting some of those little nagging jobs done around here, without  nagging Bob the builder of houses.
And on the red door of the house that Bob and Cindy built, a new fake floral item has arrived, my weak effort to appear current.
And the fridge in the cellar of this house is stocked with Coke Zero and Diet Dr. Pepper. You may already know that neither Bob nor I drink that junk. Ick.
The upstairs fridge now features lactose-free milk, orange juice with pulp, mangoes, and funky fat-free yogurt flavors… in the cupboards are donuts and potato chips, as well as numerous baking supplies in case we get in the mood to you know, actually BAKE something in the new stove that sits in the kitchen of this house where Cindy rarely cooks anymore. (It's a struggle to keep Bob from opening the chocolate chips).
I force myself to pick up my craft junk and pile my books and papers in obscure corners in the house that Cindy has cluttered. (I'd like to blame Bob, but we all know I can't). If the girls saw the variety of items I've been making and reading lately, I'm not sure they'd understand….I had not realized how many fungus and moss specimens I've been collecting on my woodland hikes out back of this house built among old oak and hickory trees, an activity in which I was searching mostly for improved mental and physical well-being. The black and white shadow usually lurks me several yards behind me as I walk, like some sort of a timid conscience.
Back inside, I dump out whichever plants have died, which I was supposed to babysit, and I actually fold and put away plenty of towels and washcloths, not just pick them out of the basket, in the house that Cindy neglects, and I find that there's no need to hide the Christmas presents I've been piling up in my office; I think God would have trouble finding anything in there.
Bob, who maintains the cars at our house, spruces up the old brown car and gears up for a week without wheels. Sometimes I swear I hear him humming. Or maybe Spike has a little animal in her mouth....
Speaking of resident felines, by now, Ned starts getting a little cagey, instinctively knowing that the peace he normally enjoys in Bob and Cindy's house will be soon filled with humiliation and infant clothing.
 I find myself cleaning and organizing stuff I haven't even touched for months in the house Cindy and Bob dreamed about for many years before our girls were born.
And the first night they're in the house, Bob and I look at each other and smile at the chaos going on directly below us and it reminds us of the days when the house we built was full of kids and animals, ours and who knows who else's. After that first night, however, it gets a little annoying.
And after all this time, I've finally started taking Bob's advice, "Cin, when they're in the kitchen, just stay out." Who knew I am considered too bossy in my own house in my own kitchen where I hand-picked every cabinet, utensil, and pot?
But when everyone, including the orange mouser in the house, has finally quieted down, I snuggle into the knowledge that we're all four together on the same continent, in the same country, not to mention state and city, in the same house that Bob and Cindy started building over 30 years ago, all of us safe and content, at least for this one night.
And that is a housewarming gift without price.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Exodus of the tomes

Exodus of the tomes
By Cindy Bailey, Waynesburg, PA
  When my father-in-law was getting ready to move out of the old farmhouse where he and my-mother-in-law Lil had raised three boys, he started giving things away. At different points, I’ve been an educator, librarian, journalist and writer; of course he thought of me first when it came to his dusty collection of books in the attic. Chester and I may have disagreed on many things, but the love of books, history, and the quest for knowledge were our mutually respected common ground.
   He taught school for 42 years, starting out in a couple of one-room schools shortly after the end of the second world war. From there he moved to the new centralized elementary school built around 1950,  where he stayed until he retired. Through all those years, every time the district purchased new textbooks, he took the old ones that were headed for the dumpster. Many came from the one-room schools and have copyrights dating back to the early 1900s. They are way too beat-up to be worth anything, monetarily, that is.
   “I just couldn’t see throwing those good books out,” he explained as I began rifling through the old readers, science books, mathematics, geography, and on and on–some of which he had a dozen copies.  “There’s a lot of information in there.” And of course I had to agree. And of course I couldn’t toss them out, either.
   After I was sure the other two families involved in this de-householding project had collected what they wanted, my group started in. Annie the scientist took the biology, anatomy, mathematics, algebra, and physics; Julie the humanitarian picked up old readers, plays, history, geography and politics. 
   Me, I loved it all. I was like a dog in lovely pile of fresh, bloody bones–each one delectable! I went back again and again, stockpiling more and more as I dreamt of the possibilities....
   Maybe one day there will be grandchildren....Maybe I would be working with kids again (which I later did as a library director)....Maybe I could create book art with them, especially with the quaint pictures of little children in the readers and the still vividly colored maps in the geography books. 
   But of course, I just CAN’T cut a book to pieces, no matter how old and ratty it is. My hands just freeze up on the scissors. It’s like telling Superman to eat Kryptonite. If I did it, I think my heart would break in two and that would be the end of Cindy. Sometimes I scan some pages and print out copies, but it still makes me feel like I’ve stolen something from a toddler.
   But then I came across Pap’s nearly 90-year-old assortment of very old ones with personal inscriptions inside. Who could toss out a Mother Goose book with this: “With love from Aunt Flo to Lilly on her 5th birthday.” Aunt Flo was a librarian at West Virginia University and someone who had major influence on Lil, whose mother had died young. Lil also became a librarian. I also found also a wee picture Bible of Chester’s, a Christmas present from his parents when he was a small boy.
   My husband was torn about this whole process. Of course he was glad I was interested in his family, but not that crazy about all these sentimental tentacles that were tangling around in my brain, plus he was sweating and grunting as he dragged box after box down the skinny attic stairs, hoisted them into the car, and finally dumped them in the basement where we all tripped over them until I found them homes.
   As we pulled out of the driveway with all those boxes shoved up against the windows, Chester was smiling from ear to ear as he saw his little bound friends being passed down to unknown generations. It is one of my fondest memories of him.
   Later, after he was gone, the house STILL hadn’t been emptied, but now I was working in a library and volunteered to finish off the books, one way or another. I catalogued quite a few and put them in the library’s collection, and put some in the book sale, but of course, this was AFTER I had picked through them again. What I had not yet perused were his religious and local history items. They made me sad because as long as he lived, he would not have been able to part with these, the most important volumes he owned.
   I hoarded every single piece of Greene and Washington County, Pa. history that I could grasp in my greedy, gnarled claws, and then I started on his Christian works. Meanwhile, my husband and his aching back soldiered on until my rescue was completed.
   This Exodus of the Tomes was not just about the books; it was about keeping a connection with people we loved who are now gone. 
   Sometime later, I dug through the boxes and cleaned my treasures up and examined them for inscriptions and even old photos tucked inside. (I knew there was no possibility of a single dollar falling out of one - Chester was one of the best stewards of money I ever knew, with the exception of Annie, who is definitely her grandfather’s granddaughter....) And so I put them away and tried to move myself on from the past.
   A couple of weeks ago, I thought I might work on writing some devotions for women. I knew I had two books called, All the Women of the Bible, one by Herbert Lockyer; the other by Edith Deen. I soon had them in hand, and certainly one of the joys of collecting books is reflecting on where (or who) they came from. 
   I recalled buying the Lockyer book several years ago when I was leading a women’s group. But the Deen book was significantly older and I couldn’t place it until I opened the cover where it says, “Happy Birthday, Lil, from Iva Lea and John.” Copyright date is 1955, close to the year some of us youngsters were born. 
   And I wanted to cry because I was wishing Lil had been around to see our girls grow up (Julie is so like her, especially when she starts humming if there is trouble afoot, but I digress.... ) But then I couldn’t help smiling thinking of Lil looking for things in these same pages, like she was always looking for the scissors or scotch tape....
Chester Bailey on his 90th birthday.
   And I can’t really put it into words, but there’s something almost miraculous about my search, just as my mother-in-law’s before me, through these sketches of Bible women, gleaned from the Ancient Words, both of us trying to understand whatever it is that God wants from us daughters of Eve. 
   And I think she would be proud of me and Bob and her granddaughters.
   And Chester would just be glad nobody threw out a book that cost his sister $8.95 fifty-seven years ago.
   Cindy’s Wind also has a Facebook page:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Upon this rack

By Cindy Bailey, Waynesburg, Pa.

   On the one hand, I have all the time in the world to think, read, and write, my three all time favorite things to do.
   On the other hand, I spend my day managing pain and trying to avoid further injury to an annoying muscle in my back that got injured, how, only God knows for sure.
   I had no idea that this obscure ligature controls not only everything down to both elbows, but also is now the evil despot controlling my life.
   My chiropractor who is not really an evil despot–contrary to my experiences in her care–but rather a friendly young woman who is not offended that I've never been handled by a person of her profession, despite my "advanced" age.  Nor is she puzzling over the cause of my unfortunate state, like House, the guy who isn't a doctor but plays one on TV and who always solves the oddball disease mysteries, saving the day.
   When I protest that I NEVER have had back problems, she shrugs and says "You're lucky." Which if I could form a fist, might change her luck a little.
   She gingerly comes after me with her man-hands like I go after a room full of public officials who've been oppressing the citizenry, jabbing my back bones into submission with frightening snaps, crackles, and pops, like my poison pen jabs holes in the arrogance of my friendly neighborhood self-serving servants. At least one reader tells me my editorials can be "brutal," a word that could also describe this otherwise nice person who puts me on a rack covered with clean tissue paper for me to drool (and bleed) on as she thrusts her entire weight upon my injuries, with her knee in my back, OK not really....
   After several whacks at me, she one day tells me I'm ready to go upstairs and "see George," otherwise known as Executive Assistant to the Grim Reaper, who dwells in Torture Chamber No. 2. You know, I could never have imaged that I would be seated upon a table with a full grown man who really does jab his knee in my back, while simultaneously folding my person backwards in HALF. He tells me he is "loosening me up." It's more like loosening one of the few marbles I have left. Oh sure, he tries to make me "comfortable," constantly explaining to me what he's doing, but I can't see his face to detect a smirk, yet I'm sure there is one, especially when he regales me with tales of his ex-wife, but I am stretching out this story a little too much. Pun intended.
   Well, I will grudgingly admit that there actually has been some improvement. They're doing the best they can; consider what (who) they have to work with!
   A maverick publisher who until now traveled my rural county far and wide in pursuit of truth (and scalps), my days currently consist of ice packs alternated with a heating pad and hot soaks in the tub, as well as a small,  shocking device meant to electrocute me little by little, I think, not to mention a new $30 gel pillow, $40 strangely curved contraption you sit upon to "improve your posture," and a vat of Advil, which may or may not be responsible for the bursts of euphoria ("I think it's getting better!") interspersed with despair ("What if the rest of my life is like this?")
   Normally a procrastinator who avoids my work until the proportions are epic, I now sit and fret over all the things I could be doing if I was able. I watch the clock ticking and feel that life as I knew it is slipping from me. I think of the hours and days I frittered away shopping, complaining, boob-tubing, gossiping, you name it, when I could have been accomplishing something.
   I have wondered what God is trying to teach me, or if he's trying to teach me anything at all, and if he is, how could I hear it in this state.
   You find yourself taking stock, with an ugly apparition over your shoulder chanting, "It can always get worse." Maybe you should start paring down, dump the 12 zucchinis languishing in the fridge, consider smaller digs, give away nine of your 10 sets of dishes, find a new home for Ned, who is indignant anyhow about being thrown on the floor for stepping an orange-striped paw upon your clavicle.
   You think of the times in your life when perhaps you weren't sympathetic to someone else's pain, either emotional or physical. Of the times someone was nasty or rude to you, and you never for one minute thought that the person might be experiencing their own agony and that you should cut them some slack.
   You think of the people who are this minute living under the tyranny of some sort of pain every day all day–catastrophic illness, loss, or abuse–but who yet have hope, and you feel ashamed.
   And you think of all the things you've been asking from God–maybe just some time to catch your breath, to ponder and reflect and lean not on your own understanding. And now, only because everything has been stripped away and your soul has been laid bare before him, he has given you what you've asked for, and from this fertile ground, whether or not you are healed, will come your harvest.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  Psalm 51:17


Friday, August 2, 2013

The pelican at my elbow

The pelican at my elbow

By Cindy Bailey, Waynesburg, PA

No Thai, Indian or Vietnamese cuisine.
No mini golf or bumper cars.
No tack shops or "upcycled" clothing stores.
No swimsuit shopping!
Beach combing was moderate and I didn't even have to share my unbroken shells with anyone.
No fussing around about applying sunblock or combing out our hair or taking a bath, even if we did spend the day in the water.
No one forgot her underwear. (Annie)
Or had to put up with someone else borrowing hers. (Julie)
We did what we wanted when we wanted to do it. Or not. (Cindy and Bob)

   It was the first beach trip us Old Folk took without any Younger Persons of Interest in tow.
   And the undertow of that fact disoriented us and within an hour of getting in the car, we were thinking maybe it was a bad idea and we should go home and work in the yard and really, all the computers needed updated anyhow.
   I kept thinking of a day on the beach over 15 years ago when Julie, then about eight years old, and I were hoarding shells in buckets. We were having such fun that we didn’t even notice we were being followed, until Bob called out, “Look behind you!” About a foot away were two pelicans that were under the impression that we had seafood in those buckets.
  Time, I was thinking in the car with my now senior citizen husband, is like those pelicans, right at your elbow, trying to rob you of precious things.
   But, we soldiered on, wanting to see how this vacation would all turn out.
   As we gingerly stepped out on the sand that first evening, where all these young parents were working so hard to keep everyone happy so their kids could take these memories along with them into life, I'll admit we felt like beached salmon, used up by our own years of parenting, waiting for the seabirds to pick at our bones, well it wasn't that bad....
   But an experience is what you make it, we said to ourselves, so by the next morning, over second cups of coffee, we resolved to step back, enjoy our freedom and try to see things as they really are and not as recent empty nesters tend to romanticize every little thing.
   We'd see a toddler with her hair standing up on her head and look at each other and say simultaneously, "Annie"! And there was this young dad who had a giant, inflated sea turtle strapped to his back, reminiscent of the alligator Julie spotted and cajoled us into buying in a beach shop once. We figured on "forgetting" it in our motel room so we didn't have to drag it on the plane, but that didn't work out so well. For several years, we always managed to find a way to pack up that green wonder, and Bob dragged the girls around in the water on it–after we exhausted ourselves blowing the doggone thing up. I think that ol' boy (the alligator, not my husband) is still in the cellar somewhere, a shriveled skin, beaten into submission, languishing like me and Bob, among the remnants of two childhoods. But I digress.
   As our beach day wore on, you could see the moms and dads deflating like that alligator, and we were both thinking, "That was fun while it lasted, but it sure was exhausting." And you could see the kids getting crankier as the sun slipped behind the horizon; one dad looked at us with desperation as his little girl sobbed over a pink ball that had floated away unnoticed with the tide. "Some other little girl can play with it," only made her wail louder–the type of memory she will repeat as a teen when she wants to make him feel bad about something. The type of memory you spend your seven precious, expensive vacation days trying to avoid.
   And sitting in our lawn chairs, snoozing and reading (guess who was snoozing), our feet in the tide, an unspoken sigh of relief wafted around us that the day-to-day parenting job had come to a satisfying conclusion at our house, through the grace of God, who watched over us all, including us befuddled parents who still don't have the answers.
   Because we couldn't keep them from hurts and bad influences anymore that we could keep Julie from that nasty jellyfish on Sanabel Island. And we still can't. 
   And so we said private prayers of thanksgiving and saw each other in a renewed light, realizing that without the two of us working every together single day and hour to steer our wobbling craft and bring them up in they way that we thought they should go, it really could have been a ship wreck.
   But on our last day, the nostalgia returned, and wanting to take part of the experience back home with us from the sea shell store, I noticed Rob's eyes got a little glassy. Because most every parent takes their kid in that store to make sure they get to bring home at least a few perfect sea specimens from the area, although they usually want the dried baby octopus for $12.99. Anyhow, by the time he found me in the bookstore, his eyes were shining because he had a present for me: Four carefully wrapped starfish to replace the one I was mourning over from a long ago beach trip. I had put it in the flower bed, and some flat-footed deer stomped around that night and massacred it. 
   And you see why I love him (Bob, not the deer).
   We packed up a little early in search of roads not taken by the masses, discovering a small public beach, where a middle-aged couple sat with books under an umbrella in the town of "Slaughter." Despite it's unfortunate name, the community there devoted itself to rescuing the endangered horseshoe crabs, which had been crushed into fertilizer by the millions as they came to that beach to spawn each spring.  Some 10 years later, the crabs, whose faces you'd think only their mothers could love, now flourish. And somehow all this this care of a creature so formerly unloved touched me.
   Then we hiked to a tiny lighthouse, which still stands inspiring people, though its light went out a generation ago. We found an inlet full of blue crabs and watched them knocking each other off the rocks, just because they were, well, crabby. Fortunately we didn't have to catch any and put them in a Styrofoam cup to take home.
   And truly, there was something liberating about not having to explain why little baby crabs die if you take them from their homes and mothers.


Monday, July 22, 2013

And the relatives came....
Our young patriots 
from the Potato State!  
Photographed July 7, 2013.

By Cindy Bailey

   The night you finally got here, after your dependable Uncle Bob picked you up at the airport, I was so glad to see your face, and touch you and hug your little skinny bones. And it was like you never left a year and a half ago.
   You and Livi loved my oatmeal cookies, or maybe it was just the baby M & Ms I put in them. And you couldn’t wait to show me your flips and cartwheels, and I smiled but couldn’t help feeling a little afraid for you. 
   And everybody rolled their eyes when we squeezed into Pappy’s old chair and I taught you the Dot Game and you beat me, but only by two. And we drew kidney bean art and no one understood it but us. I sometimes wonder what your dad (my little brother) tells you about his big sister (me). Wait. Don’t tell me. Anyhow I love that you used the kidney bean to make shades for a girl with a long, high pony tail.
   And later in the week on our way back from Chuck E. Cheese, I heard Livi say to herself, “I had so much fun.” And I did, too.
   By Wednesday, Aunt Cindy’s Fun Meter was a little droopy, but then the contingency forces arrived from Brooklyn!  And your grown-up cuz Julie took you on the roller coaster rides, earning the honor of being the fun-est relative in Pennsylvania.  
   It was about this time that I think you were seeing the real me and it disarmed us both that the real me is not as exciting as the boxes of surprises Gramma and I send to Idaho in the mail.
   But I saw glimpses of the real you, too, and I think it occurred to us both that maybe we weren’t who we thought the other one was (or something like that), because people can’t be put in a box. So we started to drive each other a little crazy. 
   You missed your dog. And Ned my cat certainly missed his solitude. Me and Grammie’s houses had become hazardous to anyone who tried to walk through them. And I could tell you when were thinking about stuff like your tumbling class and your  polka-dotted in your bedroom.
   But by the time the birthday picnic arrived, we had all gotten our sea legs back from riding the waves of emotions swirling around us, and then Annie called us from Poland on the FaceTime thing because she knew we’d all be together. She was at a playground with some of her students; I know she was wishing that two of those kids were you and Liv. 
   And I’m pretty sure you were thinking you might want to be like Julie and Annie one day. And you will.
   You look so much like your mom, but I’m picking out some stuff from the Pennsylvania side of the family, too – your interests in books and reading and music, and writing stuff down.
   I’m glad you have a little sister/shadow who watches all you do with those wide blue eyes. And I think that will help you, always wanting to do things to make her proud because you know she looks up to you. I love it when you call her “bubba” - something she will one day be mortified over!
   By Saturday, Julie introduced us to the wonders of Snapchat, and we were sending our ugly mugs all over the place, and blackening the teeth of people in your teen magazine, and you and I thought we were so funny.
   And boy, did we eat. We not only ate, we snarfed whatever was nearby – all sorts of fun, bad delectables that people eat at reunions and parties – pies and creamy desserts and greasy meats and white bread, and most of us had stomach aches off and on and by Sunday we were sluggish and glassy-eyed. But it wasn’t just the food; it was that you were all leaving us old folk and taking the excitement with you on that plane back to the Potato State.
   And the two of you put up with the patriotic outfits, swimsuits, and T-shirts I forced on you at the last minute for photos. But you really were in your element, quite comfortable with your graceful, photogenic self, but by the time the photo shooting was over, Livi was ready to shoot me.
   And thinking on it all now is bittersweet, but this is the only time I’ll  indulge myself in the bitter part. Mostly, I’ll try not to think that when you return you will be in the double digits, and I’ll be missing most of what’s important in your life. 
    But we had a good time, didn’t we? And it really perked Grammie up to see you all. And not to worry, dependable Uncle Bob is here to pick up the pieces of what’s left of Aunt Cindy now that this house seems like a cold, dark cave since you and Livi are gone. He always puts the toys away in the basement so I won’t cry when I come home. 
  Guess I’d better put all these reflections in their rightful place, too, and press on to the day when I’ll be seeing you again. Because there are worse things in life than temporary good-byes. But that seems really hollow now that I see it written down.