Navigating the Middle

through adolescents, menopause, aging parents & other flying debris



Best Christmas EVER!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I can’t help but look back at the year and happily wave ~ “b-bye.” As you can imagine, there’s no love lost between me and 2016. January began with a biopsy that confirmed the Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma had returned and was followed by twice-weekly chemo over the next five months. July 26 I entered the Allo Transplant Unit and two weeks later I wheeled out so fast I completely forgot to don the required face mask.

September and October meant numerous trips to and from the hospital each week for blood work, transfusions, infusions, imaging and routine checks. Fortunately by November, the time between visits had lengthened. I got my flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine, which gave me a bit more confidence to venture out. So by the time December rolled around, I began negotiating with providers concerning what I could do/what I couldn’t do in the future. It was really hard to hear that it would be a full year post-transplant (August 2017) before I would have my doctor’s clearance to resume life, in other words, my new normal.

By any stretch of the imagination, 2016 was definitely not the year of Dee. But there was a light near the end of my tunnel. Christmas was fast approaching, and I wanted, I needed the family to make new memories to replace the old ones. But with our eldest flying to the West Coast on the 27th and public school closing the afternoon of the 23rd, we had little time for all the plans I’d made. I had to get creative. We crammed days of activities into one: seeing a movie; having lunch; and gathering around the kitchen island to make peppermint bark; bake Chex Mix ; and simmer “real hot cocoa. It tasted and smelled like Christmas.

But this was the Best Christmas EVER!

You know – that Christmas when you tear open a box to reveal the perfect present that you asked for, but didn’t know just how much you wanted it UNTIL you finally got it. Remember Ralphy in “A Christmas Story?” Magical, like THAT, but at an age when you don’t think you’ll ever experience another magical holiday. Your kids are teenagers; you’ve witnessed another season of commercial crap; and almost nobody says “Merry Christmas.” It may look like Christmas, but it doesn’t feel like it inside.

Until the unimaginable happened.

The kind of thing that takes a nano-second for your brain to catch up with what your eyes have just seen – and one of them has GOT to be lying! Because when I looked up, it didn’t immediately register that my mother and my sister were both standing in my family room, having flown in from Houston to surprise me on Christmas Eve.

Did I mention this was the Best Christmas EVER??!! No gift, no amount of money could have produced the joy I felt during the 48 hours of their visit. Apparently I’d been asking my sister for a Christmas visit for the past several months. I just hadn’t realized it.

Sometimes, we get exactly what we want for Christmas before knowing how much we want it. Sometimes the year doesn’t end as bleakly as it began.

Thank God!! and Happy New Year!


You Are So Beautiful

Okay, I’m dating myself with this one, but when the Daily Post offered the blogging prompt – ABSOLUTE BEAUTY: Do you agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? – a familiar melody began to swim ’round my head. The song? “You Are So Beautiful.”

My husband and I have a long standing joke about this one; it goes something like this.

We’re getting ready for bed when my husband turns to me, stares into my eyes and confesses, “You know something, you are so beautiful…”

I give him that “here it comes” look before he breaks the spell with “…to me.”

Now why’d he have to go and say that? Which is precisely what I think every time I hear or think about that song.

In case you’re on the other side of forty, here are the lyrics:

You are so beautiful
To me
You are so beautiful
To me
Can’t you see
You’re everything I hoped for
You’re everything I need
You are so beautiful
To me

How writers Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher ever managed to turn those nine lines into a song lasting two minutes and 45 seconds is still a mystery to me. What’s more incredible is it reached number five on the Billboards Hot 100 Singles Chart in 1975. How did that happen? Didn’t anyone notice the backhanded compliment when Joe Cocker croons, “…to me”?

I decided to listen to the song again tonight, while I wrote this post. When Cocker reached the end of the song where his voice becomes a little shaky, I imagined him singing not to a lover but to his infant son or daughter, or to his child, sick in a hospital bed.

When I behold it in these terms, the song is indeed beautiful, to me too.


Day 2: Don’t Mess with Granny’s Money

This is my 104 year-old grandmother, the matriarch of our family. Her name is Katie, and she was born in 1909. In about a month, she will turn 105. God willing!

People are often amazed by her age. But with the same breath, they will ask,” How’s she doing?” Sometimes I respond politely; other times I say, “She’s 104!”

To be more specific – Grandmother’s eye-sight is fading. Talking to her requires using your ‘outside voice” and getting very close to her face. But if she is able to hear you, she can tell you all about growing up in Onalaska, Texas or picking cotton with the poor whites who lived in the area. She can recall how my grandfather Oris built the only house I have ever known her to live in…until now.

Now she resides with her daughter, my aunt. The other day I phoned. Aunt Maudi explained that Grandmother was a little peeved, following this exchange.

Aunt Maudi: Mother, I’m going to take some money out of your purse to put in the collection plate at church.
Grandmother: Okay. How much are you taking?
Aunt Maudi: Well you have $40 in here.
Grandmother: $40? Don’t take $40. You can give them $20. Or better make it $15.
Aunt Maudi: Mother, I’m not going to put $15 in. That’s not enough. I’ll give them $20. You don’t need that money.
Grandmother: I do need my money. I may need to buy things.
Aunt Maudi: What kinds of things?
Grandmother: I might want to buy a dress and some new shoes.
Aunt Maudi: Why? You don’t go anywhere.
Grandmother: I might go somewhere IF I had a new dress and shoes.

It might be time for a trip to Houston to refill that purse.
Grandmother needs a new pair of shoes!

Day 4: Bet You Couldn’t Walk a Mile in My Shoes

While people rarely notice their span, I have always been aware of my long feet. Maybe because they seem proportional to my nearly 5′ 9″ stature, people don’t seem to take notice.

But from a young age, I have been aware that the size of my feet was more than a little “different” from other girls my age. When I was six years old, I wore a women’s size 6 shoe. I remember the frustration that my mother expressed at the limited selection. Imagine trying to shop for an age-appropriate shoe for your first grade daughter, among a selection intended for grown-ass women. Subsequent years proved equally daunting.

  • At age 7, I wore a seven.
  • At age 8, I wore an eight.
  • At age 9, I wore a nine.

From the age of ten, until I had my first son decades later, I wore a 10.

When my mother took me shopping for the ninth-grade dance, the shoe salesman tried convincing me that a nine would work. He asked something stupid like, “Wouldn’t you rather wear a nine than a ten?” (Side note: I  never really cared much for men who thought they knew what was best for me.) We purchased the tens.

Back in the day, shopping for that size shoe offered few GOOD options. It was as if shoe manufacturers decided that Earth Women simply did not grow to that size and therefore, shoes would be primarily restricted to two varieties: the Pilgrim Clodhopper (i.e., thick, clunky heel, lots of black leather with big buckle attached to some part of the shoe surface; or the Drag Queen Stiletto (i.e., high-heeled, loaded with feathers and/or sequence, and usually available in a bright color, like fuchsia, with or without a bow).


Shoe shopping today has definitely improved. Most retailers carry one or two pairs in my size, but they always sell out quickly. (Apparently there are lots of other girls out there with long feet.) But not very long ago, I walked into a department store and inquired whether they sold my size. The saleswoman’s response: ” No we do not!” And she seemed annoyed that I bothered to ask.

Fortunately for me, EVERYONE’S feet have gotten longer over time. Podiatric historian William Rossi explained it this way to lifestyle blog Divine Caroline, “People are getting taller and heavier, as they have for generation after generation. And their feet are getting larger in proportion to their bodies.”

Today, the average American woman wears between an 8 1/2  –  9. I may still be outside the boundaries of “average” but had I lived in the 1800’s,  when the average woman wore a size 3 1/2 – 4, I likely would have been burned at the stake.

So here’s this Size 11 Girl’s Latest Shoe Faux Paux.

Two days ago I ordered a pair of White Mountain sandals. Since the Macy’s near me didn’t have them in stock, I drove 20 miles away to pick them up. I even checked the size stamp inside the shoes before returning home. When I modeled them for my mother-in-law, she remarked, “I don’t like the way your heel is hanging off of that right shoe.” She was correct. I slipped them off and measured. photo (39)

(Sigh) Guess I won’t be walking a  mile in these shoes.

Day 9: Look Who Turns 50 This Year

With my birthday quickly approaching, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the “others” turning 50 this year.  Here are twelve of my favorites, ones for each month of the year.

lucky charms    cereal_lucky_the_lepHere is a picture of

the original Lucky Charms cereal box. Back in the day, the Leprechaun would urge moms, “laddies” and “lassies” to buy Lucky Charms, a “most exciting cereal.”

diet pepsi

Ever see the “Mad Men” episode with the Bye-Bye Birdie theme for Patio Diet Cola?
That (actual) drink was the predecessor to Diet Pepsi.

Gilligan's Island

I loved watching “Gilligan’s Island” everyday after school.
The tour boat left from Hawaii, another “50th”.

The Munsters

I preferred The Munsters over the Addams Family, which premiered the same year.


My cousin’s G.I. Joe was MY Barbie’s boyfriend. She preferred him over Ken, who was just too effeminate for her. (Sorry Ken. You know it’s true.)

civil rights

 The Civil Rights Act of 1964


Who didn’t love (and covet) this car? My uncle had a black one.
It wasn’t a ’64, but it was one of the first-generation Mustangs, built until 1973.


The original Pop-Tarts weren’t frosted and were available in only four flavors – strawberry, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, and apple currant. Now there are 29. I always wanted my mother to buy these, which she rarely did.

Cassius Clay

My dad was a HUGE Cassius Clay fan. Here he is in an upset against Sonny Liston for the World Heavy Weight title in 1964. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali after the win.


A Fistful of Dollars was my introduction to Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, thanks to my dad. He introduced me to the trilogy, including For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). The latter was our favorite.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Prize for Peace at the age of 35.
He was the youngest man to have received the award, but was not the first African American.


Finally, who could resist the stop-motion animation of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?”

There’s a complete list at MySA. 

Day 10: What I Miss Most

Over the years, my sisters and I wrapped an assortment of obligatory Father’s Day gifts: ties, socks, shaving kits, books, and coffee mugs. (Daddy always seemed to be harder to buy for than our Mother.) But the framed, fill-in-the-blank “World’s Greatest Dad” certificate that hung on his bedroom wall, must have been his favorite. It hung there for decades.

I have difficulty recounting most of the Father’s Days we spent together. Not because he wasn’t around, but because Father’s Day 1981 was a watershed moment. The Sunday fell on the day right before my birthday. My mother thought it would be cute to bake a cake, so that we could celebrate the two occasions together. Apparently, my father didn’t think so. He accused Mother of “really” baking the cake for me, and only claiming it was for both of us. After that day, I knew he would never be the “World’s Greatest Dad”.

But in 2005, there we were, gathered at our family church in Houston to celebrate Daddy as “Father of the Year.” He was all smiles as he stood center stage, holding an engraved plaque, surrounded by his wife, kids, grandchildren, sisters and extended family. A photographer snapped a picture. My father seemed pretty pleased, but later admitted that he received the award only after the church had nearly exhausted its list of dads. (He laughed about it; so did I.)

Daddy could make almost any story sound funny. Like the time he was visiting a (white) friend, when another (white) guest walked in, complaining that he’d tried moving from his neighborhood into another neighborhood, “But niggers is everywhere.” Or the time he rode the segregated train from college in Louisiana to Texas. Instead of going to the back of the train, he sat in the WHITES ONLY section, along side his buddy P., who could “pass.” (If you are imagining correctly, my father has brown skin, curly hair and brown eyes.) But that combination of charm, cockiness, and a football player’s frame gave Daddy the courage to remain in the south, long after others fled.

Not that I always appreciated his stories. Daddy admitted that he wasn’t prepared to get married or have a child at the age of 20. (Considering that I have an older sister, I doubt he was ready at 18 either.) But that’s who he was, a chronicler of life’s events for those who wanted to hear them, and those who did not.

It would take years before I could fully appreciate his skill for spinning a yarn. Friends would point out how funny Daddy was. I dismissed them, initially. But with the passing of time, I realized that I’d almost missed one of the best parts of my dad. He could take the most benign event and twist it into something wickedly funny or slightly inappropriate. He was an excellent storyteller.

It’s been almost five years since I’ve heard my father’s voice or any of his stories. He isn’t gone; nor is he completely with us. Yet I can still see him on Father’s Day, standing over a charcoal pit, smoking meat for the better part of the day. It’s the place where we talked, shared a beer, and swapped stories.

…stories that now belong to me.

Day 22: The Brady Bunch

Long before I ever wanted to be a Huxtable, I wanted to be a Brady. Not the “Time to Change” singing Bradys, but the Brady Bunch family. I thought I might have a chance after cousin Oliver came to live with them. The show might need an additional girl to keep the cast balanced. Never mind that I am black; I could have been adopted. In my mind, the Bradys were the the ideal family. They had two loving parents, an equal number of boys and girls, Jack-n-Jill bathrooms, and a dog, named Tiger. But I may have REALLY wanted to be a Brady because:

  1. They lived in a two-story home. Having spent grades K-12 in a rancher, I always wanted an upstairs with a banister. I finally got the privilege to carry laundry down the stairs after I got married. (YAY ME!)
  2. They owned a station wagon. When I was younger, I remember asking my parents if we could get a station wagon. I’m not exactly sure what my mother said, but it was something like  she was too hip to drive a station wagon…a point I later understood when my oldest son asked that we get a minivan.
  3. And the Bradys had a live-in maid. To be more precise, they had Alice. She took care of the family; Alice did the cooking dusting, and vacuuming. That left the Brady kids free to do homework at the kitchen table, play outside on the artificial turf, and talk to Alice about their problems.

…which brings me to the reason for this post. alice2n-1-web Ann B. Davis (Alice) died last night in San Antonio. After leaving the show, Ann became a Christian who spent her later years living her faith and doing church work. I’m sure she will be missed more than the two-story house or the station wagon. R.I.P. Alice.

Day 26: The Rainbow Connection

We just returned from an elementary school spring choral concert. Up until about a month ago, we had no idea that our 10 year-old was even interested in music. But tonight, there he was, along with several other fourth graders performing songs like “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “My Favorite Things.”

After his performance, the fifth graders took the stage. I have to admit. They sounded much better than their younger cohorts. As their set neared its conclusion, they began to sing, “The Rainbow Connection.”

For those of us who were children when “The Muppet Movie” premiered, but weren’t really paying attention because we were busy being teenagers, the song is what I most remember.

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
All of us under its spell.
We know that it’s probably magic.
Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.

Funny how in one moment: you’re a middle-aged woman at a kids’ concert. A moment later: you’ve become the 11 year-old, the dreamer. Another moment slips by: and you’re back, tearing up as you witness a beauty of which the others are completely unaware.

I wanted to freeze the moments for them. I wanted to tell them not to rush through life and not to look past the present. I wanted the song to last forever because in that moment, in their voices, I was young again.

Then the song was over; the connection was lost.

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