The Art of the Detour

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I hung a wreath made of autumn leaves on our front door. Fall had announced it’s arrival by splashing the trees that surround our home with brilliant orange and yellow, and vibrant reds and rich brown hues. I was just beginning to enjoy the entrance of the new season when my throat began to have that old familiar itch. Ugh.

I immediately pulled out my arsenal of preventives and began a regimen of salt water gargles, zinc lozenges, and saline spray. The symptoms grew worse by the hour. My throat felt like it had been groomed with a metal rake, and my sinuses felt like they had been replaced with rising yeast dough. Reluctantly, I went to the cupboard and pulled out the nasal rinse bottle. I once wondered why anyone in their right mind would voluntarily bring themselves to near drowning by way of a nasal enema. Yet, desperate times bring desperate measures. As much as I hate this procedure, I have found that it often wards off a head cold and can also reduce sore throat pain. For me, it’s like bringing out the big gun. However, this time I lost the battle.  Along with my balloon head and raw throat, I felt like a rusting tin man who needs oil in every joint. I retreated to the couch and crawled under a soft, cuddly throw.

“I don’t have time to be sick!” I complained.

My husband has heard this at least a thousand times in the course of our marriage. One great thing about our relationship is that we usually know how to make each other feel better. He knows a great foot rub can tame the growling beast, so he served me hot tea and worked on my feet. The next morning he built me a warm, cozy fire in the wood stove before he left for work. Sweet guy. I hauled my blanket and pillow from the bedroom and sat in the recliner, with a box of Kleenex on my lap, and watched a gentle rain through the sunroom window. My energy was zapped. The week’s agenda came to a grinding halt.

But I found that there is something good that can come from sitting in a stationary position, and not wanting to move anything but your eyeballs. You start to notice things that you have missed. My gaze followed the length of the sleepy summer flowerbed. It made me a little sad that it was beginning to wither back into the ground. Then I saw them. Just beyond the glass umbrella table, grew three or four giant, deep purple and soft white, dahlia’s that gracefully balanced atop their tall, slender stems. Image                                                          It was an unexpected second bloom. I had walked by the back window all week without noticing this perfect work of art. If I hadn’t been curled up with my pillow in forced rest, and in full detour of the day’s schedule, I may have missed this completely. I couldn’t help but smile.

My friend, Sharon, has mastered the art of the detour. We often get together when my husband is away on business, or when he has retreated into the Trinity mountains to go hunting. I have learned the most from Sharon while on day trips to various places that we have read about, and then made plans to explore.

It has been my nature to take the shortest point from  “A” to “B”. My motto is: Get there. But when its Sharon’s turn to drive, she prefers to find little side roads that in a round about way will eventually lead us to our destination.

It was fall and we made plans to take our first long day trip into Northern California wine country. I had grown up in that area and absolutely loved being there during the harvest season. So I was excited to go back for a visit when grape clusters still hang on the vines and are surrounded by leaves that are tipped with a hint of fall color.

We left just after sunrise and Sharon was in the driver seat. She mentioned that she wanted to take a nice little drive on a back road that would eventually drop us into the Napa Valley. In fact, she thought it might even be a short cut. I had never heard of this particular route, but if it was short cut, I was all for it. Soon we were on a road that wound its way up through a wooded mountain range. Up and down, and around and around we went. I have to admit that I was a bit antsy to, well, get there, so after what seemed like days, I asked, “Are you sure you know where you are going?”

I was use to zipping down a four lane highway, then taking a short jaunt on a two lane highway – and “Ta-da!” I was back in the valley where I had grown up. We had been on that road so long I could swear we were headed to Canada. I began to wonder if we would be viewing the vineyards under the midnight moon.

“Yeah.” Sharon calmly answered. That was it. No explanation.

So stated that I had never heard of the route we were on – and I use to live in that valley. At least that was where I hoped we were headed.

She chuckled. Then she commented on how lovely the trees were along the roadside. I looked out the window and thought, we are so lost.

One thing I really like about my friend Sharon is that she can maintain a certain state of serenity, even when I am getting a little on the wound up side. It can have a calming effect on me…most of the time.

Another great thing about my friend is that she totally cracks up when I make sarcastic remarks like, “Excuse me sir, can you tell us where the Napa Valley is because we have no idea where we are. However, we are enjoying the lovely trees along the way.”

Laughter makes the heart merry – and sometimes calms a wound up friend.

The road eventually led us on a curving ride into the golden foothills and then dropped us into wine country – just as Sharon had said it would. I ate my words.

                                                  Image        Along the way, we passed by beautiful country vineyards that I had never traveled far enough north to see. Some of the vineyards were small and quaint and inviting. Others spread majestically over several hillsides. We rolled down the windows and breathed in the fresh air. I relaxed into my seat and soaked in the perfect scenery. It was indeed a lovely drive!

    Sharon found a small park off the beaten path where we enjoyed a picnic lunch, then we continued to drive along the back roads and found several smaller wineries with beautiful grounds where we could stroll about and snap pictures. And after a long day of exploring, wine tasting, and trying new foods, we got into the car and headed home. This time, we took the four lane highway. It was dark and late, and my eyelids were heavy. I arrived home under the midnight moon.

That day I discovered a richness that can be found in taking the road less traveled. It slows your pace, offering you a break from a high-speed world. Your breathing slows and your muscles relax. And the road less traveled often leads to new discoveries that you would have otherwise missed. Since that day, I have taken many more detours, and have enjoyed all that the backroads have to offer.

Sometimes I forget that the art of the detour isn’t limited to road trips. It can happen right here at home. Like stopping for just a moment to look out at the flower garden, where I may find something unexpected and beautiful. I have also come to realize that a detour may present itself in a completely different way.

Sometimes my plans are abruptly interrupted. Often times that can mean those plans go right out the window. I do not like it when that happens. In fact, I can down right resent it. When I have made a specific plan, I like to stick to it until I have completed it. There have been times when an interruption has changed the course of my life, and at the time I couldn’t see the good in it.

Yet I have found that those interruptions can often lead to a detour that brings hidden blessings that I would have otherwise missed. I have made different decisions that have yielded better outcomes. I have gained new perspectives on life that I may not have seen without the detour. I have found that some interruptions require selfless acts of kindness, which sometimes entails a major attitude adjustment on my part. Yet there is a goodness that comes from that, a goodness that reaches to the depths of the soul.

And at the end of the day, when my head hits the pillow, I sleep well.

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A Journey with Yogi

When I was a still in diapers, my small world encompassed our little wood-framed house, and a backyard with a green picket fence that looked very tall to a toddler. It also included my brother, who entered the world 18 months before me, my mom and dad, and the milkman.

    Now before you read into that, you must know that we lived on a dairy, where my father was employed. One of the highlights of my week was when my mother would help me place a wire crate, filled with empty glass milk bottles, on the porch. Then magically, early the next morning, the crate would be full of cold glass bottles filled to the brim with fresh milk. I would excitedly announce it’s arrival to my mother, who would smile and come to the door to help me carry the small crate into the kitchen. She would place it on the table where I watched intrigued as she peeled back the pleated paper cap that acted as a seal at the top of the bottle. Usually, I couldn’t contain my excitement and I would try to help her with this process, and she would patiently oblige my little fingers in between her own. Then she would pour some of the milk into my cup and I would take my first sip. It was creamy and cold, and I could feel it flow all the way down to my round, little tummy. It brought pleasure and contentment, and expectation for more good things to come. 

        
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    I spent my days sharing backyard adventures with my brother. One time I looked up to him as he became superman and stood on the roof of the toolshed announcing that he was going to fly. It was quite exciting until my mother shot out the backdoor and yelled for him to freeze right where he was. She promptly removed him from the top of the shed and his dream of flying came to an end. I decided that she was the villain that day.

    My brother was my icon. He instructed me on the technical things in life, like how to climb a chair if you wanted to reach something higher than you, like the cookie jar, and how to open the door to the outside world by turning its round knob and giving it a good pull. He also taught me how to turn the bathtub knobs and make water come out the spout, and how to make things disappear down the toilet.   

    I learned how to walk by holding onto the back of my brother’s overall straps and toddled around the house behind him. One day he fell backwards onto me and I felt flattened like a pancake. I decided to navigate around the house by holding onto stationary items instead.

    One of our favorite morning television shows was Yogi the Bear. We sat on the living room floor together and shared in Yogi’s adventures, along with his smaller side kick, Boo-boo the bear. Soon my brother began calling me Boo-boo, so I decided that he must be Yogi since he was taller than me. Yogi was lots of fun to be with. He told me interesting stories about what bugs like to eat and how nice snakes don’t bite. I liked it when he called me Boo-boo and I wanted to be a part of his every adventure.

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    One day while mom was at work, and dad was in front of the house working under the car, my brother decided that we that we should go on a trip together. We would walk to town to get an ice cream cone and to pay our mother a surprise visit at the Ranch Boy restaurant, where she worked as a waitress. I loved ice cream, so I thought it was the best idea ever. One great thing about being the ages of two and a half, and almost four, is believing that all things are possible. You just decide to do something and you do it. So my brother hoisted me over the back fence, dropping me on my backside, and then climbed over it himself. We slipped away without dad seeing us, just in case he decided to spoil our plans by using the “No” word. My brother took my hand and we walked together down the dusty road that eventually lead us to a highway overpass. Town was a few miles away. 

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    We had walked a very long way and my legs were tired. My face felt hot and sticky. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to town to get ice cream after all. My brother said, “Don’t worry Boo-boo, we will be there soon.” I felt assured by his words. Then he said that we had to cross the big bridge to get to the other side of the road, because that was the side the restaurant was on. All I saw were a few trees and a long, long road.

    When we were about halfway across the bridge, my nose started bleeding. It dripped down my face to my chin and started dripping on my shirt. So my brother took off my shirt and wiped my nose with it. It was about that time when a big black car stopped on the bridge next to us. A pretty lady with dark hair jumped out of the car and looked very worried. She said we must get into her car with her so she could take us back to our house.

    My brother wasn’t going to have anything to do with that. He insisted that we were on our way to pay our mother a surprise visit at the restaurant. The lady took some Kleenex from her big purse and placed it at my nose instead of my shirt. Then she told my brother that we could not walk to town and we needed to get into her car immediately.

    “No!” My brother yelled. “We aren’t supposed to go in cars with strangers – and you’re a stranger!” I started crying. Strangers were bad, even if they were pretty.

    The lady swooped me up, then took my brother’s hand and pulled him into the back seat of her car and plopped me right next to him. He was hopping mad. I wailed. After some pleading by the woman, my brother finally relented and told her where we lived. Soon we were back on the dusty road and heading toward the dairy where everyone was searching for us.

    When we arrived, dad hugged us tight, then took us inside the house where he changed me and cleaned the dried blood off my face and arms and chest. We took a nap with dad in his big, soft chair, and he wrapped his arms around us tight.

    Mom says that dad left her an apology note explaining the horror of his day. When she arrived home we were still sound asleep in his arms, safe, and unaware of the danger that we had been in that day, and of the urgent prayers spoken for our safety.

    Our adventure didn’t turn out as we had planned, and we were disappointed that we didn’t get to eat ice cream, or surprise momma. But even at a tender age, I learned a lot on our long journey that day. I learned that you can make good plans, but bad things can happen along the way. I learned that there can be goodness in someone that you aren’t so sure about, and that if you lose your way, you can still find your way home. Sometimes it is with the help of others.    
 
    I cuddled up against my father’s chest and I felt safe and secure with his big, strong arms around me. My journey in life had just begun and there would be many more adventures, and seasons of disappointment and tears, and those of contentment and joy. Yet in that moment, life was about bonding with those who loved me, and of hot oatmeal for breakfast with raisins hiding in the middle and brown sugar melting on top. It was about the weekly magic of finding filled milk bottles on the porch at sunrise. It was about daily adventures with Yogi, and it was about being in a place where I felt safe and content and loved.

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At Nest’s Edge

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      I gave birth to my son six days after I celebrated my twenty-third birthday. Although he came into this world four weeks early, while I was lying on the couch with my feet propped up, and staring at the basketball my belly had become, it seemed like an eternity before he would arrive.

     I had always looked forward to being pregnant and to becoming a mother, and to be able to experience all the joys I had heard were attached to those roles. Yet my first experience with pregnancy was anything but joyous. Two weeks into gestation, morning nausea rolled in, and soon stretched into the afternoon and evening hours. I kept hearing that it would end in a few weeks, but those weeks turned into months, and I felt like I had been given a permanent sentence on the deck of the Andrea Gail in the perfect storm. Everything came in waves. Waves of oatmeal and toast and peanut butter, waves of turkey sandwiches on wheat and yogurt with fresh berries. Endless, relentless waves. Even the suggested ginger ale and saltine crackers made their way up the shoot, and sometimes would bubble right out my nose, which felt like a vinegar and baking soda experiment was being performed in my nostrils.

     I dreaded climbing into our old Ford truck on work mornings, knowing that the storm would rise up as soon as I shifted into drive. It didn’t matter that I had already seen my Wheat Chex twice, there was always more waiting in the bilge. It was only two short miles to the office where I worked, and I would fight back the waves as I punched the gas pedal, praying that I would make it there before the second round of barfing would hit. It didn’t matter how fast, or slow, I drove, the nausea swelled up from my stomach and sloshed into my throat with every curve on the road. I would tense the muscles in my esophagus, and press my tongue tight against the roof of my mouth and fight it back. But like clockwork, I would make it to mile marker 1.2, where I would have to whip the truck over into the entrance of a dirt driveway in front of a cute little old house and barf in their ditch. I never looked toward the windows of the house, but I’m sure I spoiled someone’s morning breakfast more than once.

     I read all the books I could about pregnancy and delivery, and I took a natural childbirth class so that, despite my months of suffering with nausea, I would be fully prepared to experience a wonderful delivery. At least that’s what my natural childbirth instructor indicated. I admired this laid-back woman, whose belly bulged with third term pregnancy, and who had already delivered four children au naturele. She surely must know what she was talking about. I listened intently from her sofa as she took a squatting position, to keep her birthing muscles limber, and shared her labor and delivery secrets to a room full of wide-eyed, young women with swollen bellies, each having great hopes of an easy, pain-free birth.

     My co-worker had already given birth to a son and was pregnant with her second child. She told me that that woman was full of bologna and I was wasting my money. Then she said that I had better get ready for the worst pain I’ll ever have in my life. I didn’t like that she told me that. In fact, it really irritated me. I told her that she wasn’t being a very nice friend. She responded by saying that she was my only friend because she was the only one who was telling me the truth. I still didn’t like her for saying it.

     When my labor started I was a little anxious, but mostly excited. Soon I would be holding a new little life in my arms, and I could fit into my skinny jeans again. The first few hours were easy and I was proud that I had learned so much from my au naturele instructor. But as the hours passed, I began to wonder why the labor magic wasn’t working so good. By the time my labor pains were close enough that it was time to drive to the hospital, I wanted to slug my husband. I accused him of hitting every bump in the road, which intensified the pain of each contraction. Where did he learn to drive?

     When we arrived at the hospital, I was quickly rolled into labor and delivery. Everything hurt. Every movement of the bed. Every time the nurse checked my vitals and moved the monitor on my belly. Every touch. Every sound was magnified. I wanted to yell, “No talking!”, but all my muscles were contracted, immoveable, including my voice box, which was silently screaming. I finally was able to drum up a loud, “SHHH!!” The room fell silent. I glanced up at my husband and saw him looking wide-eyed at the nurse. Then he took a step back away from my bed. Smart guy.

     Then suddenly it sounded like all the bells and whistles went off from the equipment surrounding me. There was a blur of nurses and doctors entering and leaving the room. Baby was in trouble. I was being prepped for an emergency c-section.

       My concern for the little life inside of me surpassed the intense pain I was experiencing. It didn’t matter what I had to go through, the pain, the probing, the needles, as long as our baby arrived safely into this world. Through some quick maneuvering by the nurses, and with the help of two doctors, a c-section was avoided. I gave one last gut-breaking push and heard the first cry of our son. I had witnessed my first miracle.

       As they rolled me out of the delivery room, I thanked God for watching over our baby boy, then I wondered how I was going to break the news to my husband that I was never going to go through that again. Two years later I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.  Then a few years beyond that, our second daughter arrived, adding to our joy. They say that time heals wounds, or sometimes bad memories, but I think God gave me a slight case of amnesia between births, so that I could have the little family I had always dreamed of. He has a way of knowing just what I’m going to need, sometimes in small doses, and sometimes in big doses. 

       Many seasons have come and gone since my husband and I entered the role of parenthood. Our son grew up and moved three states away. That made me cry. Our second child grew up and got married. I cried at her wedding. At least she stayed in town. Then she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I cried again. Recently, I hugged our third baby goodbye at the airport. She’ll be living miles across the Pacific ocean while attending nursing school. You guessed it, I bawled. She did too.

    Crepe paper streamers were left strung across our living room ceiling, and for days I tripped over balloons in every downstairs room of the house, all remnants of a surprise going away party given to our daughter by her friends on the weekend she said goodbye to our small town. I just couldn’t make myself take the decorations down right away. It would be like saying, well, that’s that – that phase of life is done. Mooovin’ on.

       There was a point in my life when I began looking forward to empty nest. In time, each child wobbled at the nest’s edge and I held my breath when I saw that they were ready to spread their wings and fly. But now that I was standing at the edge of the nest watching our last baby fly away into the sunrise of her new life, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to leave behind a noisy house full of kids, and night-time talks, and mocha dates.

       The once full dinner table has been dwindling, but I have left both leaves in, because it is big and long and inviting. I like to remember how it was when it was crammed full of our kids, and the neighbors kids, and kids from the church youth group, and when our kids teammates gathered there for meals. It was exhaustive, yet fulfilling, and I really loved every minute of it.

       It didn’t matter that on one family vacation, while traveling across Utah in our minivan, with a whining two year old in the back seat, accompanied by her two siblings who were pushing each others hot buttons, that I had threatened to sell them to the nearest family, because people who lived in Utah liked lots of kids. It didn’t matter that there were years of clothes left on the floor, and a continuous parade of socks without a partner. It didn’t matter that I was a constant chauffeur to soccer games and baseball games, basketball games and track meets. It didn’t matter that I had spent hours sitting in the waiting room at the orthodontist office while awkward smiles were turned into lovely grins, or that I spent many long nights in our wooden rocking chair comforting a feverish child.

       There were late nights when I laid restless in bed until I heard our teenagers turn the lock on the front door. There were times when I prayed on my knees for them when they were struggling, and growing, in a very tough world. Sometimes I wondered if we were going to make it. But deep down I knew we would, and we did, and every minute of it was worth it.

       The day I took the crepe paper streamers down, I walked through the house and popped every colorful balloon while reminiscing all those moments, and days, and years that I hold like shining diamonds in my heart. And that’s the truth of it. I don’t have to leave them behind. They will always stay with me, and for that, I am truly grateful.

   

   

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