Memorial Day: No Greater Honor


My grandpa would be ticked at me for showing this array, but what you are looking at is part of what you  honor when you celebrate Memorial Day today. These are the medals earned by my grandfather, Captain Jack McKay, during his career in the United States Army. From the sandy and bloodied beaches of Normandy in June of 1945 where he led his men ashore, to patrols into occupied enemy territory in France, to being given credit by his superior officers with being the first American soldier to set foot on German soil, these are the honors accorded a soldier. Yes, there are really five Purple Heart medals. That is not an error.

For any longtime readers of Dandelion, you know that my grandpa Jack died when I was pregnant with Abigail, and I was unable to fly to Washington DC for his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. He was buried with all the honor accorded a soldier of his caliber, and his final resting place is now marked by the same simple white marker that names every other in that vast memorial.  It is only fitting and proper.

Because men like my grandpa were willing to set aside their own fears and aspirations for their lives and fight for something greater than themselves, countless people the world over live in freedom. There are still men and women, soldiers, who lay their lives on the line every hour of every day to protect our lives and liberties. Indeed, life and liberty is so precious and so valued that our soldiers are willing to fight to the far corners of the world to secure these precious ideals for people of other nations, faiths and creeds. No greater honor, indeed.

Today, wherever you may be, take a moment to stop and think. Pause in your grilling, or your picnicking by the lake, or your mowing of the lawn, and say a prayer or lift your heart in gratitude for those who came before you, and perhaps teach your children a little bit about whose shoulders we stand on each and every day. The mighty, the strong, the selfless, the brave. Don’t forget them.

Here’s a tribute I wrote to him when he died.

The medals are: Combat Infantryman’s Badge, The Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Bronze Star, Silver Star with Oakleaf Cluster, Silver Star with Oakleaf Cluster, the French Croix de Guerre (awarded by France), five individual Campaign Stars, and five individual Purple Heart Medals, each honoring separate instances of being wounded in combat. 

Healing Beautiful

Riffling through the garage yesterday, Abby and I came upon a treasure- at least to her five-year old sensibilities. Even little girls who dress as Darth Vader most of the time fall in love with wedding dresses, and her eyes lit up as I slid the zipper down on the thick garment bag and pulled out the confection of tulle, satin and pearls. In the bottom of the case were also my shoes and veil from that happy day so long ago, and we spread them out across the living room while she oooh’d and ahhh’d.

“Ooooooh, Mom! It’s beautiful! Can I put it on?!”

I’ve never gotten my wedding dress out before. Not once, not since the day in September twelve years ago when I zipped it away. A lot has happened since then- three babies, several moves, two houses bought- one lost, my marriage destroyed; I wasn’t sure how I would feel pulling that giant pile of fluff and tulle out. Oddly, not a thing. It kind of surprised me- no gut-lurch, no hot tears being blinked back- just kind of quiet detachment, looking at a pretty relic.

Abby’s right- it’s a beautiful dress. I fell in love with it when I saw it in the window of the bridal shop; it was the only dress I ever tried on. Seriously. Unclasping the tiny silk buttons down the back, I readied to lift it over Abby, who had already eagerly stripped down to her knickers and was wiggling with joy. Of course it was huge on her, the tulle ballgown skirt swamping her and puddling in a cloudlike poof- but she felt beautiful, like a princess, she proudly proclaimed.

And that’s just how she should feel in a wedding dress. It belongs to her now. A beautiful reminder of something that was, and isn’t anymore, but has finally scarred over and become smooth with time. We had fun playing dress-up, and I zipped the gown back into it’s bag and hung it in Abby’s closet. She’s gone in to look at it a dozen times since yesterday. I think maybe Darth Vader has been supplanted by gossamer… what I really want though, is to see her try and put the veil on with the Vader outfit. Now that would be awesome. Turns out time does, in fact, heal all wounds.

BEAN: Two Different Ways

Wind storms blew through last night, taking down a giant bough from the Elm shading our front yard. This morning, when Bean tore open the front curtains to see what the day brought him, he was utterly delighted to find the enormous bough lying on the ground like a leafy gift from the gods. Rushing to get dressed and find his shoes, he flew out into the yard, peanut butter English muffin still clutched in his hand, oversized BYU sweatshirt floppy around his legs, and climbed into the branches.

Tucking my legs under me for warmth in this crazy May weather, I curled up on the couch, rested my chin on my hands, and settled in to watch him out the front picture window. The sky was still heavy and laden with pewter clouds and a dull drizzle threatened. Bean stomped in circles around the bough, like a lion circling his kill. He’d take an absent-minded bite of his muffin, his other hand on his hip while he surveyed the damage, and then looked up at the sky, and then the standing tree, where the bough had been high only the night before. Shoving the last bite of muffin in his mouth, he wiped the crumbs on his shirt and resumed his circling, which was becoming more of a stomp.

Glancing at the clock in the kitchen, I called to Jeffrey that carpool would be here in 10 minutes and to gather his things. He wandered in, one shoe on, hair in a bright orange haystack, and plopped next to me on the couch.

“What’s he doing now, mom?” Jeffrey rolls his eyes as he leans on me and looks out the window. Bean’s antics and tirades are a source of both amusement and pain for my oldest child. I understand- I do. As his mother, I straddle the fence between charmed, bemused amusement, and utter frustration and consternation at my second son. Mostly though, I think he’s fantastic.

“Well, it would appear that the tree-gods granted him a wish last night, and he’s dancing a joyful dance and stomping a fearful stomp.” Jeff rolls his eyes again- almost 10-year olds are good at that-  and goes to rummage for his snack in the kitchen.

Bean is now, from within the bough, dragging it across the front lawn. Through the green leaves, I can catch glimpses of copper hair and bright blue pants, but mostly the giant branch looks possessed as it lurches in fits and starts across my front lawn. Now I’m curious what he’s got planned. Five minutes now before carpool should arrive…

He gets it to the far fence near the driveway, and begins to heave the branch- easily 20 times his size- over the side of the fence. I tap on the glass, and he turns to look, to see me shaking my head at him. He grins, front teeth still all missing, and keeps shoving the branches and leaves anyway.

Carpool arrives, and both boys tumble out the gate and into the waiting minivan- Bean covered in leaves and dirt and English muffin crumbs Jeffrey shaking his head and rolling his eyes still. I really hope Bean’s teacher knows he does have a mother, and that she does, in fact, love him a great deal.


At his request, I made Bean jello. Well, I should clarify: he asked for grape jello, and since I could not find grape, I thought perhaps I could trick him and bought the black raspberry instead. Unlike the orange jello I spilled all over the entire kitchen the other day in an unholy sticky neon mess, I actually achieved success with the raspberry and even was a good mom and cut it into fun shapes.

You’d think I’d know better by now than to try and fool this kid.

Last night, when I gave him his bowl of jello shapes, I was so pleased when he bounded off and returned the empty bowl a bit later. I thought I had tricked him with my raspberry/grape switcheroo. I continued to think that until this afternoon, when I went into the spare bedroom downstairs- when I was greeted with carefully cut out, good-mom approved, black raspberry jello shapes… all over the ceiling.

Yeah, you read that right. The ceiling.

“BEAN!!! Get down here RIGHT NOW!!” He thumped happily down the stairs and bounded into the guest room. Even at this point he doesn’t realize why I might be calling him. Until he sees me looking at the ceiling.

“Bean? Is this… JELLO on the ceiling? HOW DID JELLO GET ON THE CEILING?”

He has the decency to look slightly sheepish. His brows knit and he scowls at me. “I wanted grape! It wasn’t grape!”

Honestly, at this point I am trying to keep a straight face and not crack a smile or give in to the fits of giggles I feel coming. “Bean, WHY did you put the … wait- no… HOW did you get the jello on the ceiling?”

He perks up, and looks at me and pulls a spoon stashed under a blanket on the floor, “Like this mom! It was SO COOL!” as he demonstrates the flinging potential of a toy on a spoon catapulted across the room. “Abby did it too!” he tattles.

Abby peeks around the corner- she knows enough to be sheepish and hide from me- and I ask her if she contributed to the jello on the ceiling. She denies it, and when I press her, with Bean protesting that she is lying, to tell me the truth, she says “Nuh- uh! I didn’t! None of mine hit the ceiling!!”

I burst into laughter. There was simply no other option.

Both of them spent the next hour with sponge and a step ladder scrubbing jello off the ceiling in my guest room, and they are grounded from TV and computer time for the weekend. I’m sure this is going to be far more of a punishment from me than it is for them- and Bean is never having jello again. Grape, or otherwise.

At least he has his branch in the front yard to entertain him. Can’t wait to see what he come up with next.

Shoes, Beauty and Flipping the Ship

Everything is falling off of me. Absolutely everything. It’s kind of awesome, I have to admit. Even my shoes. Did you know when you lose weight and exercise, even your feet get smaller? I mean, I’m still Sasquatch, but instead of being tight, now I need to go find some of the little grippy things to keep my heels from slipping. I had shoes stashed in my closet that were like Drusilla trying to shove on the glass slipper, and now- whooosh, right in, baby.

In this picture, the shirt and jeans are Mo’s old ones. It feels so good. I’m down a whole human being since my divorce. Now, here’s where you’re gonna want to kick me: It hasn’t been hard. What I mean by that is I stopped focusing on food as my problem- because it never was- food was a symptom. When I tried dieting, counting calories or measuring what I ate, all of my focus was still on food. What I needed was to forget using food as currency, and learn to pay attention to what my body needed. This was finally how I figured out the gluten allergy- something that had effected me all of my life, and has now been confirmed medically- but was nearly hospitalizing me. My gluten allergy had me taking nebulized albuterol three times a day and still not being able to breathe. Since I cut out all gluten, I have not taken my asthma medicine. Not once. This from a lifetime asthmatic who has been hospitalized before. Turns out it was the mother of all allergies.

This was the beginning of my figuring out how to listen to my body.

I no longer use food to soothe hurt feelings or painful emotions. Sure, sometimes I still eat too much- but since medicating with a bag of Oreos is no longer an option without several epipens on hand and ready to go, I HAD to find and face what was hurting me and deal with it. The ironic thing is, once I let go and started truly taking care of myself, the weight issues kind of solved themselves.  Yeah, I exercise now. Not fanatically, I don’t even go to the YMCA anymore, with gas prices being what they are. I jog around the block a couple of times a week and have some 5 lb weights in my room that I play with. That’s it. It’s moderate.

It’s also about putting myself on the priority list. Yeah, I’m a single mama to three busy kids, and a fulltime student. Some days are horrific, but I make sure I take a few minutes to do things for that make me feel good. It’s not about trying to impress anyone- a lot of days I don’t see anyone besides my kids- but I feel better when I take the 20 minutes to do my hair, put some makeup on and get out of a my workout clothes.

It’s a fine balancing act, and it kind of feels like that part in Pirates of the Caribbean, where they have to flip the Pearl over to get back to the land of the living. Everything looked one way, but it just wasn’t. It’s a fine line. I make myself look nice because I already like myself, not because looking nice is where I get my value. Does that makes sense? So rock the boat, ladies. Take a look around, and figure out if you’re in the land of the living, or if somehow you lost yourself somewhere. Maybe it’s time to flip the ship.

Patches of Blue

Her heart is aching as she sets the phone down. The white laptop is humming importantly to itself and yellow legal-pad notes and piles of homework are spilling off the edges of the old, scarred oak table. Rain blows onto the window glass on gusts of wind and runs in rivulets down to pool on the sill, as she crumbles into her chair and the sobs roll over her.

“Mama, why are you crying?” a sweet little bangless face peers at her from through the teary tissue in her hands. Mascara and salty tears have turned the bright white tissue into a sodden grey mess that matches the sky.

Why? Because life is hard, and sometimes it just hurts too much to hold it all in anymore. Because school is hard and she shouldn’t have taken four classes this quarter. Because it hasn’t stopped raining in what feel like weeks and her heart needs needs needs something yellow and sunshiney and beautiful. Because hopes dashed hurt especially badly when you have so little. Because because because…

Because it just doesn’t matter. She wipes at her eyes, smiles at her daughter and pulls herself up. Homework is waiting, children are waiting, groceries, laundry, bills, writing, carpool, grad school applications and more homework… waiting. She takes her daughter’s hand and walks down the hall in her sock feet, thinking idly that by this time of May, her feet really should not be cold anymore. Sunshine… sunshine would be welcome. She sops the last tears and tosses the tissue away, and notices, through the gray roiling clouds and dots of rain peppering her window that there is a tiny patch of blue sky.

That’s all she needs.

Random Crap: Spring- with Pictures!

Last weekend, Mo flew over to hang with me, and we each others’ dates for her coworker’s wedding. It’s been years since I attended a full Catholic mass- I forgot how beautiful it can be, and I noticed the distinct similarities (and differences) in their liturgy and ours. It was a beautiful wedding (aren’t they all?) and it’s nice to see two people really happy. Plus, Mo and I got to get all prettied up and go out without kids- that’s a WIN no matter how you spin it. I sure hope everyone has a friend like this. Mo has singlehandedly made me believe and trust in friendship again.

It’s been a brutal quarter so far with school. Four classes was probably a mistake, but I still have hope I can pull it off. This is part of why I’ve been scarce at my recreational writing- I’m tapped out most nights. I’m taking a class on teaching teens with ADD, a class on education and the abused child, a communications class and an elective on music theory. I know, I know… what was I thinking?

I have developed a serious problem with Diet Dr. Pepper. I am ashamed to admit it, but it’s keeping me afloat through the utter lack of sleep and candle-burning I’m doing right now.

This morning I turned on the tv, and there was Rick Bayless on PBS cooking with Julia Child. The foodie geek-girl in me sqeee’d with delight, and I nuzzled under the covers to watch him in her familiar Massachusetts peg-board kitchen. That show was followed by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and I sunk deeper into my bed with delight as she made garlic cayenne potatoes and showed how to roll orchiette. Then the kids woke up and my reverie was over.

So the other morning, I woke up and threw the living room drapes open, only to be greeted with this enormous, disgusting bird poop on my window. It wasn’t there the night before… now someone tell me HOW a bird (the size of an albatross, judging by the size of that disgusting rorschach) shot that baby at a vertical window surface in the dark?? Seriously!? And GROSSS! The kids have been marveling at it and making up stories about how it happened.

I think my hamstring if finally healed. Okay, it’s been healed for a bit- but I need to get back to running. I can feel my legs atrophying and I miss the rush. You never, ever want to hear your hamstring make the loud noise mine made a few weeks ago. Bad. Very bad. All better now though. Back in the saddle.

Speaking of strange wildlife, this little critter usually greets me coming and going from campus for my Thursday night class. He’s quite brassy and seldom runs away- and just hangs out on his rock pile. I posted this pic to Facebook and the consensus (very scientific data gathering) was that he is definitely not a snake, and most likely a marmot. He’s the size of a cat, and quite beaver-ish looking, only not. There is a spring in that rock pile, so he’s living large. What think ye?

So a friend and I were talking the other day, and she commented how she finds great, brand-new, tags-still-on lingerie at DI thrift stores. I’ve been thinking about that and I think I have some things to say, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what and exactly how I want to approach it. This is, I think, indicative of a much bigger issue that I am unfortunately very aware of. More later, I promise.

The boys got to attend a play with some good friends last night, and were given the grand-tour backstage after the show. The got to check out the prop department, the costumes, the hydraulics under the stage, the rigging and the lights. They were returned home completely amped and both wanting to become thespians. I’m totally okay with that, and loved seeing them so excited. Bean even made it through the whole play, with only minimal processing issues. A definite win.

While the boys were gone, I took Abby to our favorite hole-in-the-wall taqueria for dollar tacos. She received several compliments-as she does these days- on her coiffure, and she glows under the praise. She also killed a taco and enjoyed some spicy salsa, then asked me if we could go get manicures. We peeked in the window of the salon, but I told her manicures were more expensive than tacos, so we could skip to the car instead, and she was satisfied. I love five-year olds.

I’m looking at grad schools. Shhhhh. Not ready to talk about it yet.

Bean’s garden is coming right along. He even snuck some seed packets out and scattered them, without telling me. We should have an interesting melange of plants here in a few weeks. I love seeing him so excited about growing stuff. Now if he would just eat some of it… a mama can hope.

Hey mamas? A final thought: Go out and buy yourself something pretty- maybe lacy or ruffled or silky. Cut the tags off, and put it on. See how you feel. Remember how good it feels to be pretty- and you are. And then roll with it.

Bean’s Garden


So we have the best Home Teacher ever. Seriously, if you’re a single mama in need of someone awesome, angle to get the last bishop, who was just released, and doesn’t have any grandkids in the area assigned as your Home Teacher.  Last spring, he fenced our front yard and put in sprinklers and flower beds, and moved the Rainbow playset from the big house to Little House. This spring, much to my surprise and Bean’s utter delight, they are planting a garden in the enormous backyard.

Rototilled, weedwacked, raised beds filled with compost… So help me, this man personifies Saint. Bean’s got some grand plans, including watermelon, cantalope, tomatoes for mama, as well as bell peppers and eggplants. We also now have a peach tree. Abby has asked for some flowers, preferably pink tulips. Jeffrey wants blackberries. We’ll see how that goes.

Trust the Tide

This is the beach I grew up on in Northern California

Once upon a time there was a girl, and she believed she was special. She read pulp romance novels her grandma would give her, and read Gone with the Wind so many times that she could recite the entire first page. She stayed up late each night watching the stars spin in the heavens and drawing charcoal pictures of the dancing moon. During the day she would stand out by the street, tracing patterns in the gravel with the toe of her shoe and feeling the wind whip her hair, and then write mediocre angst filled poetry about the seldom-overcast California sky. She was waiting.

What she was waiting for was unknown, but the hollow place sought filling. She began to feast upon life, trying all things to see what might fit neatly in that hollow place under her heart. Rebellion roared up on a motorcycle and she thought she might try that on for size. Sunsets and road trips and late nights, chased with great gulps of decadence and paintings and sleeping on sandy beaches far from home became woven into the fabric of who she was. She learned to be fearless; the tides might shift the sands under her feet, but that same tide brought more, and the waves were outside of time, unending. Trust the waves, trust the shifting sand to be replaced by new sand. The whipping winds on the outside were nothing compared to the gales within.

Then came the season of quiet in her heart. Enough had been wrested from life that the hollow spot seemed full. But the waves, always being waves, were taking tiny grains of sand– before she had felt the bounty, the erosion had already begun. She had forgotten what the sea taught her, in her complacency and comfort. The only constant is change, and the waves will roll.

Snapshot of Right Now

Abby’s hair. My paintbrushes. It really looks like I need to hide all cutting implements from Bean. I’m still mourning my paintbrushes, and haven’t figured out what to do- paintbrushes are something artists collect over years, and some of my brushes I’d had for close to 20 years. I can’t walk by the sheared pile without wanting to cry. It’s a good thing he can’t reach the birds… or can he? Oh crap, I should go check the birds…