“To everything there is a season”

Spring has finally sprung, so we’ve been spending as much time outdoors as possible. And this weekend was no exception.

The boys and I began our day by meeting up with Miss Christie and crew at the Science Center on Friday. The animals seemed to be ecstatic about the weather, as well, putting on quite a show for visitors.

Zeke & Gabriel befriend this cute & photogenic pony while visiting the Science Center.

The meerkats rolled and played; the howler monkeys hooted and hollered; the usually private maned wolves napped openly in the warm sun; the tortoises moved about at what I would consider a rapid-fire pace for these monster turtles.

The male tiger strutted his stuff and marked his territory, even spraying the female with his musky mist, further ticking her off to his machismo ways. And just like all the critters, the kiddos were wild and uninhibited, running about, yelling and giggling, and just living it up on a gorgeous spring day.

After that, we headed back to our house for cooking hot dogs on our first backyard campfire of the year. Christie picked up Logan en route to our place and Stephen got home soon thereafter, so it was all family members in tow for a wonderful evening of chilling, eating, playing, chatting and, of course, burning lots of stuff.

Abecedarian boys Houston, Asher, Tanner & John jump for joy that their first year of Classical Conversations is officially complete!

Saturday, Stephen took the boys to Virisat India Cultural Festival, where they ate spicy cuisine, won prizes and played soccer with the other kids. And Stephen got to see a few of his former software colleagues from his days with AT&T.

We’ve had some other cultural adventures recently, like our outing to Bach’s Lunch with Christie and company in late March. It was a weeklong classical music series, and we caught the piano and trombone performance.

It was a classy event to be sure, so Christie and I were nervous about how the kids would handle the situation, but they actually did pretty well. In fact, many people came up to us afterward, complimenting us on the behavior of our young ones, as well as our efforts to expose our children to the arts.

Best buds: Big Hashy get giddy staying up late during Asher’s recent sleepover.

The big historical thing the boys have been into lately is what I refer to as Titanic Mania. It all started when Zeke discovered a couple books about the notable ship that Aunt Lisa had handed down to us. They’d been sitting our our shelves for quite some time, but something about the famous vessel piqued his interest this time around.

Ever since then (and this was at least a good two months ago), the dudes have been way into the Titanic. They act out scenes from the dramatic sinking, play different class passengers, the captain, the lookout and other crew members. They watch TV documentaries about the Titanic with Daddy.

The boys sing songs about the Titanic; recite facts about the the “unsinkable” ship and its ultimate demise; build Lego versions of the Titanic, its lifeboats and the other ships involved in its history; and give dramatic pronouncements of “iceberg ahead!”

While in Raleigh for the Titanic Artifacts Exhibit, the dudes have fun checking out all the other neat stuff the Museum of Natural Sciences has to offer.

And the dudes have that uncanny ability to always pose new and challenging questions for me about the historical passenger liner, how it was built, the passengers who journeyed on it, its sinking in the icy North Atlantic, the rescue of its survivors, and the exploration and subsequent finding of the famed ship.

So on 4/13, we took the 3 Amigos to the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh to see the Titanic Artifacts Exhibit as Zeke’s belated birthday gift. After all, he didn’t want to play winter basketball, like Gabriel, so we still owed him something cool.

Plus, he was the one who spawned the Titanic Mania in the first place. So thanks, Zeke, for inspiring us to learn so much about this chapter of nautical history… and thanks, Daddy, for taking the clan to the Capital City for a memorable fun-filled family outing!

Our CC community’s Awards Night was on 4/12. We took the boys and Asher to the end-of-the-year gala, which included Houston receiving a medal and a certificate for doing Memory of Excellence and an academic-achievement scroll for completing 24 weeks of intensive classical homeschooling.

Making the most of our visit to Raleigh, Gabriel & Zeke run around outside of the museum’s massive Daily Planet theater.

Houston’s class also sung The Presidents Song, in which they recited all 44 commanders in chief in chronological order. I even performed in a choral group to sing a ditty for Jen, our CC director, who’s resigning after 10 years in the demanding position. It was a wonderful night and a great way to celebrate our first year of successful homeschooling!

Since our education load is a bit lighter till CC starts again in the fall, Houston began taking piano lessons. He’s only met with his teacher, Miss Julie, for one lesson so far, but I think he’s really going to enjoy learning piano, and will hopefully pass along some musical knowledge to his bros in the process.

I also got the dudes involved in the tail-end of Awana (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed), which comes from 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed because he can rightly handle the Word of Truth.”

Asher & Houston proudly don their Memory of Excellence medals & show off their certificates. Yep, Houston’s reads “Dillinger,” but even the most organized CC director is still only human. : )

It’s a wonderful children’s Bible study, and I plan on getting the boys into it at the beginning of the program next fall. Plus, we’re attending Awana at the same church as Asher, Jackson and Piper, so that’s always an easy sell for the 3 Amigos.

We had Asher over to spend the night after Awana on 4/10. He and Houston stayed up till 11, giggling and being silly in bed. And the next day, the kids shot cap guns and played outside all morning till Miss Christie came to pick up Asher in the afternoon.

A few nights ago, Houston said, “I wish I lived with Miss Christie.” To which I asked, “Why, honey? Don’t you like living with us?” “Well, yeah,” he replied with a smile. “I just wish Asher was my brother.” Awww, boyhood friendships are the cutest!

Zeke chases Lola during a CC playtime get-together @ Jen’s house in early April.

Unfortunately, we had to euthanize Bob the cat in early April. She had hyper-thyroidism for years and, despite medication, had just become a shell of her former self.

I adopted Bob at six weeks old while in college in Madison in ’96. From there, my jet setter feline went on to live with me in New Orleans, Colorado Springs, Richmond and Boone before we finally called the Carolina piedmont home.

Never one to like cuddling or being held, Bob was nonetheless a loyal and kind kitty. We will miss her sorely.

Fortunately, before Grumps’ passing on 4/16, we got to spend Easter with him and Granny up at the creek house. No, he wasn’t as lively, loud and vivacious as he once was, but it was a true blessing to be able to laugh and talk with him over that holiday weekend.

The 3 Amigos love on a frail and sickly Bob, who (@ 16 years old) lived a long & adventurous life. She was truly part of the family.

Stephen, the boys and I hiked up Uncle Clay’s backyard hills, target practiced with the bow and arrow and the BB gun, went to sunrise service, ate yummy mountain cooking, and just tried to live life to its fullest, while also loving on a recumbent and tired Grumps in the process.

But our final visit with Grumps was different. Although, we all tried to stay busy, the boys’ grandfather, my father in-law and Stephen’s dad was obviously in his final hours. There was just him peacefully dying and then all of us there to help Granny deal with the loss of her best friend and husband of nearly 38 years.

To everything there is a season, & a time for every matter or purpose under heaven:
A time to be born & a time to die, a time to plant & a time to pluck up what is planted …
A time to weep & a time to laugh, a time to mourn & a time to dance …
A time to rend & a time to sew, a time to keep silence & a time to speak,
A time to love & a time to hate, a time for war & a time for peace.
What profit remains for the worker from his toil?
… [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men’s hearts & minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy] …
I know that there is nothing better for them than to be glad & to get & do good as long as they live;
And also that every man should eat & drink & enjoy the good of all his labor: it is the gift of God.
— Ecclesiastes 3

After Grumps died, we all did what we had to do … Granny painstakingly looked through old photos and picked out music while planning his Celebration of Life memorial; Stephen toiled on writing an honest and loving eulogy; and I practiced singing “How Great Thou Art” for the service.

The 3 Amigos give Granny a big bear hug while egg hunting during our visit to the mountains for Easter weekend.

Houston, Gabriel and Zeke were extremely well-behaved all week and handled the death of someone so close to them with maturity, tact and grace. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers called and came by to show their love both for the dead and those living with the loss.

It’s amazing how enduring the human spirit is during such times of grief. And how even in times of such sorrow, there can be joy … like Granny’s church friend, Lisa, having the boys over for an afternoon of throwing rocks into the creek, playing football in the mud, petting horses and other such mountain mayhem.

And it’s awe inspiring, too, the beauty that is always there … like our heading back from a Boone shopping trip via the scenic backroads down the rear of Grandfather Mountain. The intermittent fog cloaked us in a reminder of our loss, while the heavy precipitation gave us a show of spectacular waterfalls, the likes of which I’ve never seen in Appalachia.

Always a rebel: Grumps @ a Tea Party rally in Fayetteville in February ’09 (w/ a toddler-age Houston) before anyone in the mainstream even knew what the Tea Party was.

So, I’m going to remember the Grumps I knew best. The man full of piss and vinegar, always ready for a political debate, as well as a theological reflection. The man who owned the phrase “blithering idiot” and was never afraid to speak his mind, yet never cowered showing his emotions.

The fellow Virgo who definitely had his idiosyncrasies, but tempered them as much as possible for the sanity of his loved ones. The man who appreciated Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers as much as he did Pink Floyd, Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

And the man who once bought me a beautiful ring set with my husband’s and sons’ birthstones and engraved with each of their names just ’cause he felt like it. Cheers, Grumps … you were our gentle giant and we love your forever!

Rest in peace, Grumps

The boys’ beloved Grumps died one week ago today. There’s so much I can say about my unique father-in-law and I plan on sharing some memories in upcoming blogs.

Grumps & Stephen circe 1983. Doesn’t that shot of Stephen look just like Houston (minus the red hair and freckles)?!

But for now, I will leave you with the eloquent and heart-felt words of Stephen, who wrote and read the following for his dad’s eulogy. We miss you, Grumps!

On Tuesday, April 16th, around 2:30 P.M. my dad, Clarence Lee Dillingham passed from this world to the next. He passed peacefully and painlessly after battling congestive heart failure for nearly three years. During the last year, his health degraded significantly and, though he had to lean on mom more and more, he never relinquished his willful and self-reliant attitude. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, he called me to see if I would agree to be a straw-purchaser so he could pick up a new Henry .357 Big Boy rifle. We thought about asking people to give to the NRA in his name, but we figured the Church needed the donations more.

Myself and many of his friends and family will remember my dad as a passionate man who was never afraid to express himself. Whether it be in visceral disagreement or in loving embrace, it was usually pretty obvious the regard with which he held any individual or idea. How many people have a Clarence road-rage story? Does it involve thrown projectiles? What about firearms?

Clarence was a man of extremes and contradictions. He was sometimes brooding and sometimes jovial. He could be incredibly stubborn, but at times was amazingly open-minded. As an adolescent, I never knew if my mistakes would be greeted with reprehension or understanding. I vividly remember getting one of a handful of “real” spankings by his hand after peeing in the backyard in front of the neighbor girl. I also remember the Christmas presents from him when I was 18 years old: a twelve pack of Heineken and a carton of Marlboro lights. Though as I kid, my friends and I were deathly afraid of him, as I matured, I came to understand what most of his long-time friends knew to be true: his bark was much worse than his bite.

Dad was a lover. He appreciated good music, food, and libation. He enjoyed sharing fun times with friends and family. I knew I had finally come of age when Rebecca, mom, dad, some friends and I saw the Allman Brothers at Verizon Amphitheater in Charlotte. He ended up rolling down the hill into some fellow concert-goers and I ended up getting carried out of the venue like a wounded soldier after the show was over. He reveled in reminiscing of times past and of contemplating how he would treat his loved-ones after he “won the lottery.”

As I grew older, I learned things about my dad that were not so obvious — he as a dreamer, an adventurer, and a romantic. He told me once he would have out-of-body experiences as a way to pass the time when he was bored in school. He traveled the world and appreciated foreign cultures, sampling horse meat in Columbia and experiencing pre-Castro Cuba. His life was a witness to the Great Depression, the Space Race, and the Cold War. He got beat-up in high school after daring to question the policies of Franklin Roosevelt. When Alan Shepard landed in the Caribbean after the Freedom 7 spaceflight, he was lucky enough to get an autograph. As a bartender downrange, he served Walter Cronkite to the point of obvious inebriation. And when my dad was a young man, he was hurt by someone he loved and he carried that pain with him the rest of his life.

Clarence was never a pious man and there’s no doubt many would have considered his character as lacking at times, but he was not self-righteous either. He  was always willing to admit when he came short of what was expected from him. “Do as a I say and not as I do” was a refrain I heard repeatedly as a  child. Later in life he came to accept his shortcomings and entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In all my years of knowing him, I don’t think I ever saw his heart melt as much as it did when he described to me of his experience participating in a play at church re-creating the Last Supper. He felt humbled, honored, and loved being able to participate in such an endeavor. I know he struggled with accepting God’s Grace as he knew he was not deserving. None of us are.

So today I encourage you to do as Clarence would want you to do to honor him and the times you may have shared with him.

Say a prayer, pour a shot, lift a glass and kiss your lover
Plan a trip, climb a mountain, hit the road and pour another
Put on your boots, play some Skynard, give a hoot and a holler
Love your mother, forgive your son, and hold close your daughter
Be content with the things you have and share them when you are able
Live independently and for today, eschewing any label
Love Jesus for he loves you, no matter what your sin was
So hold on tight to your time that’s left and never let your joy pause