Inspired By Houston

I am a chronic dreamer. For the past several years I have pined away about where I live. Each time I visit a new and scenic locale, I want to move. This sickness took hold of me and has ruled my life. Seeds of dissatisfaction were sown and all I could think about was what I didn’t have. Then, just as I worked to adjust my attitude, we would go someplace new and the cycle begins again.

Two weeks ago we were in Arkansas looking at property for just such a move. Several days into it I tapped my husband on the shoulder in the middle of the night and said, “Would you be mad if I said I wanted to stay at 2434?” Bleary eyed and confused, he said no and went back to sleep.

We spent days in beautiful locations and could envision this new life; however, in the stillness of the night, that small, still voice reminded of what I have rather than what I am missing.

Houston

Ask most people outside of Houston to give you a one word description of the fourth largest city in the United States and you will likely get answers such as, hot, humid, traffic, crowded, crime, more traffic, but then at the bottom of the list might be food, friendly people, and even more traffic. As of November 1, 2022 I have called the metro Houston area home for the past forty-three years. Despite dreams of moving somewhere with better weather and less traffic, I’m still here. Why? I’m not sure, but I am starting to get used to the idea that this is home.

June 1976

I graduated from high school on June 11, 1976 and within a week had boarded a plane bound for Houston. I was to spend the summer with my best friend in a suburb of Houston called Friendswood.

She and I had both lived in Harlingen, a town in the deep south Texas region known as The Lower Rio Grande Valley. After our sophmore year of high school, my parents decided to move back to California and her dad accepted a transfer to Houston. That last night before we left, she and I drove around in her car, cruising through Sonic among other hang out spots; we drove past homes of boys we thought were cute, all while listening to the radio, laughing, and finally and crying as we said goodbye.

We spent two years writing letters with only an occasional phone call to bridge the gap. This, after all, was in the days before computers, cell phones or the internet. Long distance phone calls were expensive leaving us to pour out our lives out to one another in letters that were several pages long. It was a different time…in many ways a sweeter time. I miss hand written letters.

I left California on a Continental jet from Los Angeles International Airport – LAX for short, and landed some three hours later at Houston Intercontinental Airport, now known as Bush Intercontinental. I looked out the window during takeoff and all I saw was buildings, concrete, freeways and cars. To me, this was a normal sight. Most of the lush greenery, orange groves, and other forms of natural beauty had long since succumbed to development. What I saw on approach to Houston was green. Green as far as the eye could see. I was absolutely enchanted. At that time the land around the airport in Houston was undeveloped heavily treed land. I thought I had landed in a magical forest.

When Kay and two of her friends greeted me at the gate, the first thing I gushed was “This place is so green!” She and her friends laughed, but I didn’t care; I was on my first grown up adventure and like Mary Tyler Moore, nothing was going to stop me now!

The rest of the details of the summer are inconsequential to my story about Houston. When I returned home in August, I had a Reader’s Digest article about Houston becoming the largest city in the country by the year 2000. It cited the oil industry, space program, the medical center among other economic factors as the reason for their prediction. I can still see my family walking through the long tiled hallway from the gate to the exit telling my them they were “lucky I came home” and that I was going live in Houston one day. Ahhh, the arrogance and attitude of eighteen year olds who have just tasted a bit of freedom. Never once did it dawn on me to be happy to see my family.

Three Years and Three Months Later

On November 1, 1979, my ex-husband and I left Brownsville, Texas and pulled into an apartment in a part of Houston known as Champions Village. An elite master planned community in far north Houston, we were surrounded by trees. I had arrived back to the Houston I had fallen in love with.

In the years since then I have lived in nearly every corner of the city. I am not sure whether Houston rubbed off on me or I was divinely inspired to live in this city because we are very similar.

Despite the bad publicity, Houston is a friendly and welcoming city. It is the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the country. Cost of living, an abundance of housing and job opportunities make this a very good city to live in. Houston’s identity is closely intertwined the identities of people from other cultures. We have always been a place where everyone can maintain their cultural heritage while being members of a larger group of Texan/Americans. We are a blue collar town. Folks work hard and they play hard. We may not be as sophisticated as that other big city to the north, but we will feed you, care for you and extend the hand of friendship. There is a sophisticated side to Houston as well. From theater to symphony and opera, museums, many colleges and universities, art galleries, and it has become known among foodies as must visit town.

I want to think that Houston has brought out the best in me. Living here has helped me see the plight of others in a way I never did in California. I learned tolerance and became curious about things that seemed foreign to me. I matured here. I came as a twenty-one year old naive young woman in an unhappy marriage. Living here brought people and experiences into my life which allowed me to grow and become someone who could stand up for herself; I found strength and determination where there was none. When the time was right, I remarried and built a life with a man who loves me despite the grimy, messy parts. My daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren are all here. I have a life here that matters. I’m friendly, creative, kind, and like to think I make room for everyone…just like Houston.

So, despite the traffic and the hot humid weather we endure six months out of the year, I am inspired by Houston. Houston is home.

Peace & Love,

Sheryl

Family

I am not biologically related to these people, but their family and cookbook connect me to a part of my heritage that I am unable to fully access. Tracing a family tree from the last years of nineteenth century China is not an easy task. Language, documentation and a host of other issues makes it difficult even with today’s technology.

I’ve provided a link to the Leung family’s website. Click on their photo to read about them and their culinary heritage.

I have very few tangible things that connect me to my father’s side of the family. His mother’s family immigrated from Guangdong, China in the late 1890s. His grandfather came first and then his grandmother. The only date I have to begin documenting their life in Hawaii is their marriage in 1894. What I do know seems mysterious and romantic. In fact, they most likely worked long, hard hours and did their best to raise their children. By 1926, my grandmother, her sister and her mother had all died. The two sisters both died from tuberculosis and their mother drowned under mysterious circumstances that was later ruled a suicide.

I wonder about their life. Did they maintain their Chinese language and traditions? How much of the Hawaiian culture crossed over and affected them. What did they eat? Food is such an important part of family heritage. We gather around food and celebrate the connection we have. New people come into our life and those traditions change and new things get added to the family cookbook. What kinds of meals would have been passed along from Nellie to my dad and then to my generation? I suspect that inside the home lived a very traditional Chinese family of the time. I envision them speaking in their native tongue, cooking and eating the food from their home. Outside, in the changing world following WWI, they were business people contributing working long hard hours learning to function in a new society.

I don’t know what kind of work my great grandfather did, but I have found links to their address which was a souvenir shop in the Punchbowl area of Honolulu. I also know that my grandmother worked at this shop. Maybe that is where she met my grandfather?

This is one of a very few cherished pictures of my grandmother. In this one she is sitting on a motor bike on a country road in what looks like a school uniform. She might have been around ten years old, maybe older. I pictured her as having to work in a family business at that age, but it seems she received some education.

I also have pictures of her as an older teenager posing with men. She wrote in a photo album that she showed one of them around Honolulu. I’m not sure exactly what that means and if was a friend or if this was some sort of paid arrangement. I simply have no idea what kind of person Nellie Liu Perkins was and what she would think of who her son became…and of me and my brother. And, since there is no evidence, I get to make her story, our story, whatever I want it to be.

My grandfather was in the Army, stationed at Schofield barracks north of Honolulu. How did they meet? Did they “date” or “court” in anyway? How long did they know each other? What did her parents think of her marrying a “haole” (a slang, and now derogatory term for someone who is not native Hawaiian; generally applied to white or European people)? I think the fact that they were not listed in a newspaper story of the wedding could be a clue. Or, were the two witnesses simply the only ones listed in the article. I will never know.

I often thought she might have been pregnant with my dad and the marriage was forced. I used it as an excuse for my grandfather never talking to his son about his mother. I believed that could have been the reason grandparents were not involved in their grandchild’s life. My father and grandfather lived in Hawaii for thirteen additional years before coming to the mainland. Research on Ancestry proved this theory to be wrong. The date of their marriage was one full year prior to my father’s birth. As an adult, my dad went in search of one of his uncles. I don’t think he every made contact. I don’t know that he every really knew any of his biological family. Such a tragedy for all concerned.

So many questions and no one to ask. My grandfather never talked about Nellie to my dad. Communication was never a strong suit of either man. I asked dad, as my mother had before me and all he said was that he really didn’t know anything about her. Fortunately, before my grandfather died, I asked my him some of the questions. We weren’t close, so this took a great deal of courage on my part. This conversation, which took place approximately sixty years after Nellie’s death, was as difficult for my grandfather as it was for me. At twenty six my grandfather suddenly became a single father to a one year old son. With no family support and in a time where men were not seen as nurtures or care givers, I have a feeling that my dad was on his own for most of his life. Grandpa didn’t have any answers. He said he had forgotten most everything. I was too young to ask the right questions. I asked for information on her family and their life. I should have asked, “What kind of person was she?” “Why did you want to marry her?” “What made her laugh?” “What is one thing you have always remembered about her?” He may not have been willing or able to answer those questions either. I accepted that he locked all of this part of his life away in a box, buried it, and threw away the key. That generation didn’t wallow in emotions. They survived. Life was different. Attitudes towards children were different.

I want to romanticize their relationship and attribute his distant, nearly nonexistent parenting to grief. A more likely answer is that a young man, free wheeling and single one year found himself with a newborn baby and a wife in a tuberculosis hospital the next. Experiences like this change a person. Knowing my dad, and his similarity to his father, I think everyone just dug in to survive. We all have wounds and baggage. Some of those things make us stronger and better; other times they beat us down until there is no tenderness left to share. I think, at that moment in time, that was my grandfather.

Rabbit Ears

Folks of a certain age know that rabbit ears are not auditory appendages for cute bunnies; rather, rabbit ears are old fashioned antenna devices used for television reception. As kids we would work at adjusting each one for optimal picture and sound.

Lately my rabbit ears have been way out of whack, and the fault is all mine. My last post was in August. One day I just didn’t feel I had anything to say, so I didn’t. When I continue too long on this path, my ability to receive God’s guidance gets fuzzy. I begin wandering and wondering what I am really supposed to be doing with my life. Nothing satisfies. I just feel listless and lost; adrift without a compass.

I am constantly shocked at how easy it is to fall out of the habit of doing things, even things we love and are good for us. I tend to turn inward and blame myself for being weak, lazy, or any other of a number of degrading adjectives. The truth of the matter is that I am human. Just like everyone else on earth, on my own, I am frail and lost.

This time it took a trip to where I thought I would find my best life only to be reminded by God that I already AM living my best life. Does my house look out over mountains and rivers…no. Do I live where the weather is “perfect” and I get the seasons I crave…no. So what do I have here?

I have a house that is just waiting for me to dig in and make it the home I have always wanted; a home where I can welcome family and friends; a home where my grandchildren will love to come to make more memories; a home where my husband and I can live out the rest of our lives in security and peace. I have a huge backyard that just needs landscaping to create a natural environment not only for me, but for birds, butterflies and family fun.

God has provided for us all these years and now, we have abundance for ourselves and others. It may not be perfect by the standards of the world, but the Lord has provided me with riches I could never have imagined or created on my own. It just takes getting tuned in to realize all I want is right in front of me.

My plan is to work with God to post something everyday. My desire is to share and allow God to use my words wherever they might make a difference.

Peace & Love,

Sheryl

Life’s Work

In today’s highly connected, technological world, it is so easy to become discouraged. Social media creates the illusion that, it seems, there is a life out there we are not only missing out on, but that none of us can ever live up to. It is a conundrum for me. I enjoy engaging with folks who have similar interests as I do; I love sharing what I am doing; but I detest the inevitable discontent it breeds.

I am a creative person and all of my hobbies, in my mind, become possible business opportunities. I allow this mindset to suck the joy right out of everything I do. I am constantly pursuing validation through the work of my hands.

This morning I read this verse:

God in heaven appoints each person’s work.

John 3:27

No, I don’t believe God finds us our next job. But I know that we are all created with a certain set of abilities, gifts and talents along with the personality to use these things for good. In my case I am a nurturer. Though I never became the teacher or the mommy I always wanted to be, but all of the strengths needed for both of those were put to work in every area of my life.

I became a medical assistant so I could work in a doctor’s office; several years later I became a licensed nurse which led to working as a school nurse. I stopped working and came home when my step daughter’s mother died and I was needed here. That led to many years of nurturing her and then her children. And now, we have our oldest granddaughter living with us as she navigates her place in the world.

At sixty-four I spend much time analyzing where I’ve been as I look to where I might go next. It is clear to me that God appointed me as a caregiver to the next generation. One day when my work inside my family is done I will step out once again and care for the children and youth in need in my community. I don’t know where or how, I just know that God put that work on my heart and it will be my work for life.

May you find and know your worth and purpose; it comes from God and no one can separate you from it.

~Sheryl

Out Of The Fog: What Happened To 2021?

I feel as though I have been living in a fog the past two weeks or so. The last thing I remember was researching and writing about Charles Schultz and the significance of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And now here we are, January 4, 2022. The simple story is that I got sick. Covid test was negative, I only took one; however, the symptoms were very much like a friend of mine who did test positive. In addition to the physical symptoms, I was in a mental fog. I just existed, interacted when needed but basically was not mentally with the program. I felt like I had hit a brick wall, both physically and mentally. Fortunately by Christmas Eve I felt well enough to host my family and then I collapsed for another week. And, that brings us to today.

Onwards Into 2022

I have the well deserved reputation for starting things but never finishing them. Call it short attention span or creativity run amuck, whatever causes this personality trait, I wish there was a vaccine for it that actually worked. Therefore, there are no big resolutions. I don’t need the baggage of failing yet again – said very tongue in cheek. I don’t really feel bad about quitting; I accepted this part of me many years ago and I avoid people who try to make me feel bad.

No, instead of resolutions I have a couple of things that I am calling my Focal Points for this year. No specific tasks or firm goals, just areas of my life to focus my heart, mind and body. We will look back at the end of the year to find how this focus shifts the quality of my life from so-so to rich and full.

God

Without God nothing makes sense. This is a complicated subject in many ways. My relationship with God is uniquely mine. I have written about my move away from organized religion. But I have not moved away from God, in fact that relationship is stronger than when I depended on an organization for the definition of my relationship. I feel a definite tug on my heart to give back and do more. Now that I know we are staying in this community I want to get involved somewhere – maybe even get to know my neighbors, most of whom are new. There is much I can do to move outside of myself and allow God to work through me. It just requires leaving the house occasionally.

Family

Family Fun

We are all born into a family and then we go into the world and make our own families. These days what is considered a family doesn’t look like it did when I was growing up. Friend circles, blended families, adopted families all fill the need we have to belong.

In June we made room for our oldest granddaughter to live with us. The details aren’t important. She needed a safe place to land and we are that place. In six months she is well on her way to creating her own life and learning what it means to be an adult. It is a joy to watch the transformation. This move caused some stress in other areas, but as the months rolled by, those things began to ease and it all culminated with the best Christmas we have spent together, maybe ever. Our daughter, son-in-law, and other two granddaughters joined the three of us for an evening of laughter, giving, eating and love. It was the perfect ending to a crazy year.

So, this year I will focus on my family – the one I chose. I married a man and received a daughter in the deal. These relationships deserve my time and attention and quite frankly, I love being the mom who sets the stage for family fun. Also, while we have our granddaughter here to care for the house and the dogs, we are going to do some of the traveling we have been unable to do in the past. Our lives together have always been focused on externals – parents, child, grandchildren, ex-spouses, etc. Our life has not been our own, but now it is our time. We have earned this, and will live out the motto, “If not now, when?” Neither of us are getting any older.

Home

Christmas at Stately Means Manor

We have vacillated for many years on whether this is where we would live forever. I wanted to move; he didn’t. Just when I got him to agree (despite little voices of doubt in my head), we moved heaven and earth to make room for a teenager. Shortly after that I realized that my home is here. I have bargained with God for years to let me live somewhere else. It has only taken me thirty three years to finally decide to settle down and stay put. So, I will now focus on making this house the home I have always wanted.

Kitchen Remodel

First comes a new kitchen. Other than new appliances and my attempts at DIY, this kitchen has not seen an upgrade since it was built in 1985. It is time. After the kitchen I will move outdoors. We have a large backyard that has never been used. That is going to change. My goal is less grass and more fun. I want this to be the home our family wants to gather to make more memories.

Continuous Threads

Textile collage: “Security”

I come from a long line of creative people and I must have a creative outlet. One day, as I looked at one of my grandmother’s quilts, the name Continuous Threads came to me and I knew I wanted to use it in some way. I saw myself and my desire to repair her quilt as a way to continue her life and story. I got nervous because I knew I didn’t have the skill set yet, so I set it aside. But, this will be the year I will patch, mend and sew to bring this cherished quilt back to life.

It has been a journey of a couple of years, but the vision is beginning to form. For now I am learning all I can about hand stitching and embroidery including reading books about the historical aspects of textiles and their relationship to us and our quality of life. The past seventeen years have been very much wool, hand spinning yarn and knitting focused, but now I am ready for something different. I am ready to create with needle, thread, fabric and assorted found objects that tell a story. I am ready to mend clothes and my grandmother’s quilt. I am ready to weave cloth for uses I haven’t even determined yet. I am ready to learn and share with a younger generation so that these skills continue to be valued and passed to along. Our history matters.

Textiles Tell Stories

If this subject interests you as well, I have an Instagram account, @continuousthreads as well as Continuous Threads, a separate website and blog for my textile adventures.

Onwards Into The Future

With my new focus this year I am not promising a posting schedule that life can erase in the blink of an eye. I would like to post once a week and have it be an informative and entertaining glimpse into my life. But, truthfully, from now on I write this for my family and a few close friends who care. I want to leave something behind. I have no biological legacy, but I have left a trail of Sheryl everywhere I have been in my life. For the most part I think the trail has been a good one but I’m working very hard to stop over thinking and analyzing. It is a worthless waste of time and emotion.

So, there you have it. Out of the fog of 2021 (how appropriate the year ended in a state of mental fog?) and into the light. It is going to be a good year despite what goes on in the world around us. By staying connected to God and focusing on living a life that is full of loving kindness to all who cross my path I can’t go wrong and the trail I leave in my wake will make the world a better place. What more can we ask for in life?

Until next time,

The Day That Has Lived In Infamy

Today is December 7th. So I take the liberty of postponing my Charlie Brown Christmas stories to reflect on what happened eighty years ago today.

Our World Stood Still

There are two events in our country’s history that forever changed the trajectory of our politics, and permanently destroyed our innocence and perception of our place in the world; both involved violent attacks that resulted in death and destruction. Today we, as a nation, will be focused on the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii in 1941. I, however, am taking a more personal view of these events.

My Dad’s Home

In 1905, my grandmother was born in Honolulu to Chinese immigrant parents. I know so little about her, but her story is for another day. Today is about my family’s connection to Pearl Harbor through her and the missed opportunities to learn more and understand my father just a little bit better.

In the upper left corner of this map is Schofield Barracks. This is the army base where my grandfather was stationed when he met and married my grandmother. It is also where my father was born in January 1924. Honolulu is 23 miles south of Schofield, a relatively easy drive in today’s world. In 1922 when my grandfather would have been traveling that road I am sure it was two lanes, at best, and most likely dirt or caleche.

The landmark that makes it easy to know where my grandmother grew up is now the Honolulu City Hall. She lived in the area of King and Queen Streets near the Punchbowl. Both my grandparents lived there until their deaths, and for all I know I still have distant relatives in the area.

Pearl Harbor is only nine miles from Honolulu City Hall. This morning, as I sat to write this story, I realized for the first time in my life that my relatives would have experienced this attack on their home first hand. The sounds and smells of the explosion and subsequent burning of ships and people would have made their way to the area my family lived and worked. This realization has left me speechless and quite emotional.

Google map of Pearl Harbor and the surrounding area.

Opportunity Lost

Dad and his family moved from Honolulu when he was 14 years old. His mother died from tuberculosis when he was an infant and my grandfather remarried a woman with two sons when dad was two. There are no stories of my grandmother’s family after her death which leads me to believe my grandfather was on his own with his infant son. The only story I remember dad telling us was about him, as an adult, trying to find an uncle who worked at the Honolulu newspaper. This tidbit allowed me to find newspaper stories about Clifford Liu who worked his entire career as an office clerk at the Honolulu Star Bulletin. He was 33 when the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor.

My great uncle Clifford Liu worked for The Honolulu Star Bulletin in 1941.

As was typical for the times we never talked about the war. I knew my dad served as a paratrooper alongside Rod Serling who would later become famous for The Twilight Zone television series. We also didn’t talked about my grandmother Nellie. It wasn’t because dad didn’t want to talk about her but rather that he, himself, knew virtually nothing about the woman who gave him life. He just said that grandpa never talked about her. It could have been as simple as once he remarried, grandpa put the past in the past and moved forward. I tend to romanticize the events and think that because his heart was broken he could not bring himself to dwell in what had been. There is also the possibility that her family did not approve of her relationship and marriage to my grandfather, shunning both he and my dad. I will never know. Those stories passed with the men who lived them.

More digging on Ancestry turned up an address where my father lived after Albert, my grandfather, married Beridgetta Ivy and set up housekeeping with her two sons. In the 1930 federal census, the family of five lived at #55 Pearl City Village. Pearl City, as shown on the map above, is just a few miles north of the harbor. Fortunately by 1941 my father and his family had moved to the mainland and were living in Indiana. But what did my other grandfather and his surviving children experience on this day? What were the emotions and fears that radiated through them, Chinese people living in Hawaii, as the United States officially entered WWII? Martial law was declared and thousands of Japanese were interned. There are so many questions that I will never get the answers I seek. I lost that opportunity when my dad passed away sixteen years ago.

Heartache And Grief

I have never thought about all of these questions on December 7th before. For some reason this year is different. I am asking so many questions and the only place I might get a glimpse of my family history is through the little green leaves on Ancestry indicating there is a hint waiting for me. In all honesty, most of those lead me nowhere; but sometimes, a small nugget of information moves me just a little further down the path of my personal history.

So, today as we all look back together, it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will look back as Americans who acknowledge that our leaders did what they thought was best for our country and the world. My father, grandfather, along with Beridgetta and her two sons all served in the Army during WWII. They did their bit for the cause. Our country was united and proud; I am proud of them and their service.

Dad never liked talking about his service. My grandfather didn’t like talking about my grandmother Nellie. I think the commonality was heartache and grief over what they had experienced. So, today I honor them both and remember all who sacrificed and died to keep our country free.

Friends Giving

Before moving on to Christmas, I am not done with Thanksgiving. I would be remiss if I didn’t share a story of generosity, friendship and thankfulness for the people God gave us for neighbors over thirty years ago.

It is a rare thing, in my life anyway, to have friendships that span decades. As a child once we started moving for better opportunities, I never lived in the same place for more than five years. As an adult my friendships have been all work based; when the job changed those relationships slowly faded away. None of the usual ways people make lifelong friends seemed to apply to me. I didn’t have a mommy group or college friends, and I didn’t stay long enough anywhere to establish and maintain relationships.

I do accept responsibility in this matter. I am not a great friend. Well, let me clarify. I am delightful to be around and willing to help anyone with anything. But when it comes to initiating contact, following through and actually doing things to maintain a long term friendship…well, let’s just say I could do better.

Mr. Means has been a tremendous help in this department. He is a quintessential extrovert who pushes me out of my comfort zone and into social gatherings. Unlike me, he does have friendships that have stood the test of time primarily because he is the person who will call and stay in contact; every relationship group needs that person.

February 1989

In February 1989, I took up permanent residence in Stately Means Manor — living in a historic house with a name has been a running joke between us so we gave our house a pompous sounding name. We were engaged and I didn’t want to renew the lease on my apartment. I thought I had won the lottery living in a nearly new home in a lovely master planned community. Never in a million years did I envision this for myself. It was a magical time. Kids playing in the cul-de-sac, neighbors visiting while doing yard work, decorating and playing house. One day Mr. Means called for me to come outside and meet the neighbors; they had a new puppy.

Puppy was the magic word. Little did I know that meeting Buster and his mom Lisa and dad Tim would change and enrich our lives forever. A friendship was born that has spanned thirty two years, and experienced births, deaths, laughter, tears, and lots of Mexican food. These dear people were our first couple friendship and to this day the only couple friendship we have made together. We dearly love these friends – they are an extension of our family.

Loss – Closure – Generosity

When we first met there were eight parents between the four of us. Now we have three. A few months ago, after several years of battling an invisible illness, Lisa’s mom was tired; she went home.

When the time came for her to prepare her mother’s home for sale, Lisa made an incredibly generous offer. Knowing my affinity for mid-century modern decor she offered me a king size bedroom suite. I was elated. The day came to go see it in person to be sure it was a fit and I walked into a home full of furniture from that era. All of it was mine for the taking. I stood in disbelief in the middle of the living room and wept. I had to talk to Mr. Means and figure out what I could make room for in a home already stuffed with furniture.

This offer was so big that I initially turned it down. I felt a sense of responsibility for someone else’s family memories and wasn’t sure I was up for the task. But two days later I agreed to take a different bedroom suite as we will be needing guest bedroom furniture one day. It pained me to leave the rest behind but I just couldn’t accept so much. It was too generous.

There were two items I could not forget about. I could envision them in my home. I kept thinking, “surely someone else had snatched them up…but what if…” After sharing this story with family at Thanksgiving, I decided to ask if they had been given to anyone else. In hindsight it sounds kind of insensitive. “Happy Thanksgiving, and oh by the way can I have the coffee table and china cabinet?” Fortunately they have known me long enough to not think twice about my methods.

I am now the proud owner of these items.

All of the furniture came from the same collection manufactured by Drexel Heritage in the early 1960s. Lisa’s mom was a fastidious lady and she cared for her belongings so well that, despite a cross country move, her sixty year old furniture looks brand new. These amazing pieces are now living at SMM and will be cherished for as long as I live.

Tim and Lisa would not accept money for the furniture or even the rental truck required to move everything to our house. What was important was knowing that her mother’s furniture had a new home where it would be loved and cared for as her mother had lovingly done for so many years.

Humility & Gratitude

I am humbled to have been entrusted with these precious items. My heart skips a beat every time I walk in the living room and see my beautiful new treasures. I am grateful beyond measure for these friends. Not because they gave us stuff, but because they have been part of the fabric of our lives for so many years. It is easy to take people for granted. We go through our days preoccupied with the mundane and suddenly wake up and realize something has changed. I am getting too old to live like that. I know that in the blink of an eye life can change.

If we have learned nothing else from the Covid invasion it is the reminder that life is fragile and fleeting. We are mortal human beings with a finite number of resources at our disposal and the rest is left to God. How many times and in how many different circumstances does God have to tell me, “Trust Me. Lean not on your own understanding.” What I see with my eyes is only part of the story.

As we decorate and plan for Christmas, it is important to remember what we celebrate on December 25th. The real story is Jesus. Jesus came to earth as the embodiment of God and His love. To follow Jesus is to love others better than we love ourselves. To see the pain and need in the world then help as we are able; to love people not because of who they are but more importantly, despite who they are. Jesus turned the world inside out and left us to do the same. We are here to love because like the song says…love is all there is.

Let Go

Life is just one long exercise in letting go. Letting go of something requires change — and most of us resist change. Too frightening. Too unknown. No thank you. I’ll stay right here in my safe little world and hold on tight.

Letting go is an all encompassing fact of life which begins the moment we are thrust out of the nurturing womb of our mother’s body. From warm and safe to the cold, harsh reality of breathing on our own, our little body is forced to let go and learn independence. We crave the safety of the womb yet some unseen force pulls us forward; an internal drive to grow, change and break free. It is a life long battle.

I Don’t Want To

This is my first response anytime life seems to want me to let go of something or someone. Nope, I’m fine. I like the safety and security of my little world. And that is the key. Without letting go of something, our world just keeps getting smaller and smaller until one day we suffocate from the trap we have set for ourselves.

When toddlers begin discovering their independence, the first word they learn to use is “No!” And when that word does not yield the desired result they resort to crying, screaming and sometimes amazing displays of physical wailing and flailing. We really aren’t so different from a toddler, our bodies are just bigger and we get more sophisticated in our wailing and flailing skills. But, really, we often react with similar maturity when the change of letting go is knocking on our door.

The Letting Go Season

There are seasons of life that go hand in hand with letting go of something or someone. And, there are times when letting go is forced upon us unexpectedly. I am in a season of letting go and, in one case, I am hanging on for dear life.

Turning a child loose into the world is, without a doubt, the scariest letting go of all. First of all there is nothing to be done about it; it is inevitable and short of locking them up in a closet (for which a nice long stint in prison would be the likely outcome) there is nothing to do but stand by and wave goodbye. Hopefully when this moment comes the years of nurturing and teaching will pay off as they learn to make their own way in the world. We walked this path once but that doesn’t make this current season any easier on our hearts. What we do know is that there is life after letting go.

I am in a different kind of letting go season. This season seems to be a tsunami of letting goes. Some of them are small and seemingly insignificant, others, such as releasing a new adult into the world, are huge.

Letting Go To Grow

Life, as in nature, we must let go to grow. I am having a hard time letting go of certain possessions. Hanging on to them is making me anxious and yet I can’t let go. I’m just going to rip the bandaid off and do it. No looking back or second guessing. The what if you need this again voice will be ignored. But first, Thanksgiving.

I wish everyone a memorable Thanksgiving. Remember those that don’t have a home or family; that could be you one day. Invite them in, serve them a meal, and experience the blessings of the day.

November 1, 2021

Today is the first day of November; 2021 is drawing to a close and my favorite time of year is rushing by far too quickly.

The last three months of any year means different things to different people. It can be the season when summer is finally over; the financial fourth quarter and time to focus on ending the business year successfully; or in years like 2020, relief that the end is in sight.

I fall firmly in the first camp. Houston summers are legendary and true fall weather doesn’t usually arrive until the end of October and even then it is fleeting. But, I embrace whatever we receive and rejoice in the cool dry temperatures. I feel energized and optimistic.

This year I have stopped to ponder and analyze what these three months represent in relationship to the big picture of life. Each month is significant and represents some very powerful life lessons. For now we will look at October and November. December will come in due time.

October

The month known for brilliant colored leaves, pumpkins, and Halloween is my favorite month of the year. It is a month of anticipation…when will the weather change, the leaves turn, and how much longer before we can wear scarves, hats and sweaters without looking ridiculous? There is so much about October to love.

We have made four trips to New England in October. We are overdue; it is time to go leaf peeping again. The fall sky is a particular shade of blue. Brilliantly blue without the harsh glare of the summer sun. The gold, red, and orange leaves stand in stark contrast to this blue sky and the affect is almost three dimensional. It is beyond breathtaking and should be experienced at least once in your life. Vermont is the most gorgeous place for fall leaf peeping. It is an idyllic place that must be experienced in person.

Once the brilliance of the leaves burns out, they wither and fall to the ground. In the perfect cycle of life, they must die so that the tree can rest during the harsh winter months. Those leaves, in turn, decay and nourish the ground which feeds the tree. What a beautiful metaphor for so many areas of life.

I am in the October of my life. I hope this season lasts for a very long time. I have completed most of my early and mid life tasks. The final one is in the home stretch right now, so maybe I’m still in the last days of September…but either way the best is on the way.

November

And this brings us to November. In our house November ushers in hunting season. The preparation for this season actually begins in August. By November the rut is underway and the time comes to go sit in a stand for hours waiting on just the right buck to cross into the right-of-way. I am not a hunter. I am a deer hunting widow for the better part of November and December.

Early in our marriage I resented him getting to go out into the woods with his friends and have a grand time while I was ‘stuck’ at home. I’m over it. I now relish this time as I view it as the gift that it is. With age comes wisdom.

I used to book a weekend to myself for the first full weekend of November. Then we had a beach house for a while and I went there for opening weekend. For several years I have just stayed home enjoying the peace and quiet. But I am still home. There are still things to be done – or ignored only to have to face them later. This year I decided to do something for myself again. I am simultaneously excited and nervous.

Image from http://www.journal.getawayhouse.com

I have booked a tiny house in the woods for two nights. There is no WiFi, but all the other conveniences are available. I plan on reading, writing, knitting on my sock project, walking in the woods and taking a few pictures. Mostly I want to spend time in nature. I feel the presence of God most deeply when I am surrounded by trees and the expanse of His creation. I find myself in awe and so very grateful to Him for the beauty and serenity.

And that brings me to the significance of November. Yes, we in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, but I think the entirety of November is a time for thankfulness.

Thankful for time to prepare for winter’s rest.

Thankful for life, breath, and each new day.

Thankful for pain because it is a necessary part of life.

Thankful for the people in our lives.

Thankful for….

The list could and should go on and on. In the world of mindfulness we are instructed to write down the things we are grateful for so that we take nothing for granted. I have never subscribed to this practice as I would likely only express gratitude for the good stuff, get frustrated because I couldn’t think of something new every day and ultimately feel like a failure and give up. Instead, I thank God each morning for a new day and all that it brings. I am constantly thankful to Him for every aspect of life, the good and the not so good as it all serves a purpose.

Just like the leaves letting go of their hold on the tree and falling to death below, the heart breaks and disappointments in life serve as a foundation for new growth. I embrace them and know that only good will come from the experience as long as I am connected to the One who makes all things right.

May your November be filled with thanksgiving.

What’s Your Season?

Words like seasons, cycles and circle are often used to describe the life we lead and the never ending nature of life. Last weekend our family celebrated together as we witnessed a marriage and the beginning of a new season in all our lives.

Golden hour stroll

Endings

Though life itself is continuous, there are endings and beginnings within the natural cycle. Just as the deciduous trees drop their leaves each year to prepare themselves for the long winter, so we too must let go of certain things so that we may be ready to move forward when a new season arrives.

The leaves do not go to waste. They are not forgotten. They return to the soil to provide what the earth needs for new growth. And so it is with people. A life well lived doesn’t stop when life on earth has ended. Whether genetically or through relationships and nurture, that life will continue to impact and nourish all who follow. This is a particularly comforting thought for someone who has no biological heirs.

Thus, one phase of the bride and groom’s life ended as this new one began. So, too do the lives of their parents and siblings, aunts, cousins and friends. Parents are now free to relax knowing they have completed this task and the future holds something new and exciting for them.

Beginnings

As the young couple begins their journey they do so taking all that has been given them both in nature and nurture. Who they are biologically, spiritually, intellectually and socially is all a product of their family and experiences; and now they will begin a new life and family passing along their unique qualities to their children.

Career choices, children, first home, where to live, and what kind of life do they wish to create…both parents and children are now free to make these choices. This should be a glorious time for all.

Letting Go To Grow

Every culture has their family and social norms and these tend to modify and evolve over time. My maternal grandparents never left the immediate area where they lived most of their lives. As coal miners and farmers there was no expectation that they would do anything besides stay where their families had been for generations. My father’s mother was born in Hawaii to Chinese immigrants. She was the first generation born somewhere other than China and most of her siblings stayed in Honolulu. My paternal grandfather’s family came from England and settled on the east coast and then Indiana.

The leaving home to begin a new life has been recorded nearly as long as humans have been on earth. It is a natural and normal evolution. My great grandparents and great great grandparents all did it; they left family behind in search of something new and hopefully better. I am so thankful for people with such intrepid spirits as they are the reason I am here today.

My Dream For This Season

I want to be like them. I would love to live a nomadic life for a short period of time. I don’t think I could do it forever, but the lure of the open road and living in a way that is completely different from my suburban Texas existence is very exciting…and romantic.

I believe there are certain physical locations where we connect on a spiritual level with the land, the people, and the way of life. I don’t believe I have found mine. And, at this juncture in my life, I may never find it. But I would love to try. I thought I felt it the first time I visited Vermont. Vermont is possibly the most beautiful state I have visited; mountains, lakes, streams and waterfalls visible from the side of the road…no billboards or other visual pollution…it is simply magical. But I don’t fit. My values and beliefs are not the same as the people there. So, I will be content with visiting but I could never live there.

I am, however, convinced that there is a place somewhere in the United States (I have to clarify as my dream would be England or Scotland) where I would feel at home in all the ways that are important to me. Or…I could discover, that I am indeed in just the right place – Texas – I just need to get out of the suburbs and away from the coast.

Just as the leaves must release their hold and drop from the life giving tree, what must die in my life to live this dream?

What Must I Let Go Of?

1. Putting Others First: I have a destructive habit of basing my decisions on what pleases others. While thoughtfulness is an admirable quality, when it moves into a way of life that denies ones own truth and purpose, it becomes a cancer that must be removed. These thought processes are created throughout a lifetime of small decisions until one day one wakes up not knowing how to make even a simple decision for their own pleasure. This in turn leads to a sense of powerlessness and ultimately anger and bitterness.

2. False Identities: I am not always sure who I am apart from created identities. I am nearly sixty four years old, I think it is way beyond time to figure this out. I know who I am as a wife, stepmother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend; but who am I? I create social media identities, business names, and creative pursuits, all in an effort to forge something that says to the world, “This is Sheryl Means.” I explore my ancestry to gain an insight into the genetic code that might reveal a hidden key to unlock this door. Thanks to the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, I am working on unlocking many of these questions. I finally feel as though I am beginning to find my path.

3. Expectations Of Others: This is tightly connected to the first point. I perceive a certain level of expectation that others have of me and believe I am powerless to do anything except be the “good girl” and do as expected. This is a deeply rooted and difficult mindset to change. To disappoint someone I love is my ultimate fear. It seems selfish and wrong. Yet, living to the expectations of others is another denial of self; thus I live in a constant state of being disappointed in myself resulting in bitterness and frustration.

What Comes Next?

As grim as all that sounds, I am really in a good place. Now that the issues have been identified I must come up with specific and actionable steps to move forward from this place I currently inhabit. We have an obligation to our granddaughter to live life as it currently exists until the summer of 2022. Once she graduates from high school, our life as full time parents and grandparents will be over. My husband is self employed in sales and has the freedom to travel. Our time is coming.

We plan to move to the city where my mom lives. I had hoped we would be there by now but helping our granddaughter was a commitment we made eighteen years ago and we had to honor it in full. But once finished, that leaf from our tree will drop. It will be time for a new life to emerge. What will it look like? Where will we go? What will we do? Who will I be? It all remains to be seen but what I know for sure is that this season is just for us. As long as each of us is able we will travel, have fun, and I will be right here documenting the journey.

Where Are You?

No matter what season of life you are living there are things to learn; things to let go of; relationships to heal; and experiences just waiting for you to bravely step out and enjoy.

I highly recommend Julia Cameron’s book. When I am through with this one she has written several others I will read. However, and through whatever methods you choose, it is my sincerest wish that you are able to work through the old messages of your life so that they can fall, decay, and disappear so that new ideas and choices can take their place.

As Always…Sheryl