Conversations and a Red Cup

Hey how are you? I was putting mushrooms and spinach into my grocery cart, placing them next to the olive oil and yogurt already in the basket. Carson and I were at Aldi, stocking up on produce and a few other items we needed for the week. I glanced up. Was someone talking to me?
Hi, good to see you! I responded, recognizing one the the former employees who I've grown to know in the past three years of shopping there almost weekly.  As we chatted Carson ran down the isle and turned the corner, suddenly out of sight. I'll catch you later, I need to find my kid!
Minutes later Carson was held prisoner, in with the mushrooms and spinach, and our conversation resumed. How are you doing? I haven't seen you in so long. Her expression was bleak, even before she answered, I already knew. In the past few years her life has been rocked dramatically. One day they were a happy family of three, and the next left her a widow, a single mom. To respond, she held up a box of tissues and package of chocolate Debbies. I'm counting on these to get me through the week, I'm going to need them, and some prayer too, if you think about it. She's in the thick of legal papers and insurance claims, every day reliving the moment that made her a widow, as she fights for her rights.
How about now? And there, surrounded by toilet paper and Windex, we prayed.  
If someone would have asked the the same question this week, I too, may have broken down. My hard-slogging is nothing compared to what my friend is going through. But in the thick of motherhood, in the piles of laundry and upset stomachs and diapers that aren't holding the runny content well, I've been feeling completely drained. Empty and lacking. Ready to throw in the towel - which would only result in more laundry.
And it was in the midst of one of those days, a day where yet another nap resulted in only ten minutes of peace and quiet before the small boy was roused, crying and whining and demanding so much, when Herm walked in on one of my break downs.
Babe, why don't you and a friend go out tonight? Carson and I will stay home. No need to worry about supper, I'll take care of it. It'll be good for you, for us.
I gratefully took Herm up on his offer, but I went alone. Motherhood can be lonely and isolating, especially with young children, but what I felt like I needed, even more than companionship that night, was complete silence and solitude.
As I slipped on to the chair in the far corner of Starbucks, away from the conversations across the room, I marveled at how lovely and rare time alone like this was. The Gingerbread Tea Latte tasted amazing in that highly controversial red cup. In fact, I rather like how it looks without snowflakes and whatnot, even if it does supposedly take Christ out of Christmas. (Is anyone actually offended by that?) But that quietness quickly ended as the door swung open and a lady, short and wirey, with close cropped hair dusted in gray, strode in.
She carried an air about herself, but her tattered clothes and glasses held together by medical tape gave her secret away. She was homeless.
Right away she started complaining to anyone who would listen. This place isn't very cozy, is it? Nothing like the Starbucks in Pittsford. Yeah, there they have leather chairs, and they're open late. It's Pittsford where I like to go.
She tried to chat with a student who was studying, every couple of minutes getting up to ask another question, each time forcing the student to remove her earbud before answering, then returning to her textbook and laptop. She complained about something to the man reading the paper a few tables over.
I tried to tuck myself further into the corner, but it didn't help, she noticed me and sat down.
I could tell she was lonely, wanting someone to listen. But what about my silence and solitude? The conversation jumped from place to place, she asked where I lived, and what I do for work. She wondered how I was ever able to survive out in the sticks, surrounded by all those Amish and Mennonite folks. Life is so backward for them, she stated, having no idea that I am one of them.
Somehow, in the midst of this, we began to talk about refugees and poverty, and that is when I quickly learned that she had complete disdain for immigrants and Mexicans and Blacks and anyone who wasn't of a higher class. She told me how she was currently fighting potential jail time for assaulting a Syrian pastor in a neighboring town. That man has got to learn that he can't come to our country and show disrespect! I've got rights, I will not go to jail because of him. They come and take our welfare and live off of us. I won't have it! My main concern in life is for my well being, my safety comes first. You might not agree, I know you don't, but they aren't welcome here.
Over the next 15 minutes she spoke bad of everyone of a different ethnicity then her and brought class and economic status up again and again, as though that was the most important thing in this life. I found this ironic, considering her obvious state, living on the streets, possibly even taking our welfare, in tattered and torn garments. 
As I left Starbucks that evening, I kept replaying that conversation in my mind, and comparing it to conversations I've had with refugees. The ones who were the 'lower class of our society', as she would have put it -- even though I would consider her to be in that class as well. She was completely miserable, her life only about her. The refugees I met, they were grateful to be together as a family, in a safer place. They were concerned about the safety of their family and friends back home, in the countries they fled. Life was not simply about them. If class would be based on happiness, they would be classes apart.
After two hours and fifteen minutes of alone time, I was ready to come back home again, back to the hard-slogging of upset stomachs and chewed up raisins pressed into the carpet, back to the  man I love more than anyone else, and back to this career as a stay at home mom, which I don't exactly love, nor do I hate. And I was so thankful to be reminded that this life isn't about me, about my safety, or my protection and well being. There is so much more to it than that.
If I had to pick only one thing I am grateful for today, it would be that controversial little red cup and the many conversations and perspective shifts that happened around it.


11. Write 52 Love Notes to One Man

Tucked somewhere deep in the attic of my parents home is a brown cardboard box, the corner labeled Love Letters. That box is filled to overflowing with cards and letters that were sent the many miles from Dryden, Ontario, Canada, to Fair Play, South Carolina, and back again. While my mom and dad were dating and later, engaged, they lived hours and hours apart. With limited phone calls and visits, hand written letters was a major part of how they got to know each other.
Even though I don't know the stories hidden away in the box, I've always thought it was a gem. The yellowed paper, brittle, valuable.
Fast forward quite a few years and I'm dating Herm. But our relationship was completely different than that of my parents. Instead of long distance, we saw each other daily. We were coworkers who attended the same church and for the most part had the same group of friends. Instead of years of getting to know each other better before committing to forever, we dated for three months and were engaged for four. We had known each other for only 13 months before we said I do.
Sure, we left each other notes once in a while, but for the most part those notes were sent via text or written on a scrap of paper or neon sticky note -- nothing nearly as extensive as that box hidden so deep in the attic.
My goal for the 52 love notes was simple; I would write one per week for the entire year. I'm not a hopeless romantic...  so please, when I say I wrote love notes, don't imagine sheets of unlined paper and perfectly penned beautiful never-ending words. The reality looked more like this: I love you, scribbled onto a napkin tucked into his lunchbox, or Today I am thankful for you! <3, scratched on a sheet of notebook paper.  It was nothing fancy. And, unfortunately, while I only have about two more weeks before my deadline for the list is here, I still have a good 10 - 15 more notes to write.
But last night happened, and I have this feeling last night could have counted for at least a half dozen of those unwritten notes...
We had dinner plans with friends, Carson was going to Papa's house. (My dad is his  hero, and he is always so excited when he gets to go see his grandpa.) It was beautiful outside, remarkably warm for this time of year, and I wanted to finish up some painting before I got ready to leave for the night. As I was brushing a coat of white over the door propped on sawhorses out by the garage, Herm came out to let me know he was going to go for a quick hunt on our property before we left. He still had about two hours. I didn't say anything, but seriously, wouldn't that ruin our plans if he did get a deer? Wouldn't we have to stay home and gut the thing instead of enjoying a delicious meal with friends?
Herm came in just as it was getting dark. He didn't say a word, so I asked. Well, did you see anything? Yeah, three deer. Did you shoot? Yeah. Did you hit it? Yeah. You killed a deer?! Act excited about it, Babe! That's meat in the freezer. He just smiled mischievously and said, I wanted to see if you would ask. 
This didn't cancel our dinner plans. We still went out and had a lovely evening. But after dinner was over and we were heading home, I went to pick up Carson while Herm came back to our house to start searching for the doe.
He hadn't found the doe by the time I came back home, so after I tucked Carson into bed I pulled on an old pair of yoga pants, slipped into hiking boots three sizes too big for me, and stomped off to the dark woods, like a real outdoors women, in search of a blood trail.
By the light of our iPhones and a headlamp that seemed to grow dimmer with each passing minute, we hunted, the trail growing faint at times, next to impossible to see. Briers and burrs tore at my skin and got caught in my hair,  but still we pressed on. (I know I am making this seem like a real adventure, right? Don't ask me how close we were to our house. That detail makes the story seem less extreme.)
About 20-30 minutes after I joined Herm, I kept noticing a bush with thick undergrowth. It looked like mangled roots, but my light wasn't bright enough to see exactly what it was... My gaze kept going back that direction, and that's when I saw it — the faint, dark outline of a hoof. Babe, I found it. You mean you found her?! He asked. No, "it", I thought. Her sounds too gruesome and heartless.
I got a kiss for my help in tracking the doe, and then I got to watch, help even, as Herm butted and gutted "her".
And I'll just tell you outright, as there's a high chance you may have never had the pleasure of experiencing this first hand, butting and gutting is awful. Not only is there blood everywhere, but the smell —oh the smell!— and in my pregnant state, where scents are ten times more intense than normal, this was bad, real bad. The calamari and tortellini I had so enjoyed just a few hours prior was churning. I somehow managed to hold myself together, and as the hour hand on the clock neared 11pm, I checked for ticks, showered, and fell in to bed exhausted and humored. My love for that handsome hunter obviously runs deep, because you certainly wouldn't have found me in the woods late at night, butting and gutting, unless it was with someone I truly loved.
Yes, this surely was worth more than six love notes written on little neon squares.