My Mother’s Hands

9 11 2017

I inherited my mother’s hands. I got my father’s short and stocky build, but I’ve got the long, tapered fingers with strong nails from my mom. I’ve always considered my hands my best physical feature.

FullSizeRender

I’m at the beach now to recharge and refuel from a busy summer. I’ve completed a solid draft of my book, Growing Your Creativity. A key component of the book is to do things outside your comfort zone. I’ve enjoyed watching the Para gliders on the beach from my condo balcony, but doing something outside your comfort zone can be much smaller. These small or large nudges allow you to look at something differently and it feeds your creativity.

This vacation is about doing as little as possible. Giving myself a manicure fell into that category. At the store to pick up some essentials, I look at the nail polish. I’m ready to wear a color I’ve never worn before. No reds, no pinks, no tans. I reach for blue because I’m at the beach. Then I notice a blue that’s sparkly. I love sparkly things. Without more thought I put the polish in the basket.

It’s November and still delightfully warm at this Gulf Coast beach. I sit on the condo balcony where I’ve watched the sun rise and cast her white blue, soft pink, pale yellow where the sky meets open water and the snow white sand.

I’m unreasonably excited about putting on the new polish. My sweetie almost pretends he’s interested. I put on the first coat and I’m so disappointed. It’s almost clear and you hardly can notice it. I wanted bold color that looked foreign on my hand. So I keep putting on layers of polish. I stop at four coats to sip my evening cocktail.

As the light changes I notice the new color on my nails change too. It looks like I have opals on my fingernails. The iridescent colors shift with the light. There are soft whites, pale shimmery blues, pale pinks and creamy glitters. I have the colors of autumn at the beach on my hands.

I’m unexpectedly warmed by a memory of my mother. We loved the girlyness of doing our own manicures. We shared our favorite nail polishes. My Mom’s nails were generally fire engine red, but I know she would have loved this color. She was always on top of fashion trends.

I’ve been coming to this beach since I was a child. There are high rises where there once were sand dunes. But the light has remained the same. Iridescent.

By nudging myself out of my comfort zone I’ve been brought back to the luminescent comfort of my past.

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Love is Eternal

10 04 2015

Over the last few months I’ve come to realize that my baby girl is a grown up. No where was it more apparent than when I watched this poised, confident, beautiful woman deliver a eulogy at her beloved Nana’s memorial service. Here it is:

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A Eulogy for Jimmie Dee Lehew McLeod

By Jade Lee-Mei Th’ng

Over the past few months, my mom and I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family paying tribute to my Nana. These visits were, naturally, filled with stories and pictures of a vibrant, younger woman who lived a full, happy life. My whole life I’ve been told stories about the “good old days” and tales of “old Baton Rouge.” I would always eat these up because they added new dimensions to the woman that was Jimmie Dee.

It wasn’t until recently that something dawned on me: the woman in these stories wasn’t really the woman that I knew. Yes, the woman is these stories seemed happy, but she was also a woman who lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life husband. It’s not that she was a timid, unheard voice, but she just lived happily supporting her husband and his business.

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When I was five, in the spring of 1996, my grandfather Lloyd McLeod passed away. My Nana moved in with us for a span. After his death, she had a major health decline that seemed bleak, but despite everything, she recovered a new woman. She was a woman who no longer lived in the shadow of someone else, but demanded her own spotlight.

This is truly the only version of her that I know: a woman whose voice was heard. She made sure of it. This is also a quality that she has passed down to my mom and me. Three generations of women who strive to have their voices heard.

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An experience that made me realize how special our intergenerational bond was when my Nana, my mom, and I were cast by the Quaker Oats Company in a (non-aired) commercial in 2002, when I was 12.

oatmeal bowlOne day, my mom told me that Nana had seen a casting call in the paper  for a Quaker Oatmeal commercial looking to cast multi-generations of family members. To appease her, we went to casting armed with a secret weapon: an old family oatmeal bowl. As the story goes (a story I only heard about that day) when my great grandfather, Jimmie Dee’s father, left home at 18, he was given a hundred dollars, a new pair of shoes, and a sturdy white bowl that he proceeded to eat oatmeal out of every day.

Needless to say, the Quaker Oats folks ate it up! Next thing I know, the three of us are being flown first class to Boston to film a national oatmeal ad. They put us up in an expensive, trendy hotel, walking distance to more sights than we even had time for. They also paid us each quite a chunk of cash, so as a seventh grader, probably missing school for this by the way, this was unreal.

In spite of all the luxury, the best part of the whole trip was actually the day we filmed the commercial. While Nana’s greatness could not be captured in 30 seconds, all the people and crew on set could most definitely appreciate it.

When it was our turn to be on camera, they had rolled out a prop of a giant 6-foot tall can of Quaker Oats. The director asked us various oatmeal-related questions, but after a while we just didn’t have quite what they wanted. To play around a little, the director pulled my mom and me out, and left Jimmie Dee in front of the camera. He asked her, “So why do you like Quaker Oatmeal?” She paused briefly, and then responded, “Well, it helps keep you regular!” Everybody on set died trying to keep their laughter quiet.

“Do you think the Quaker Oats man is sexy?” he asked, reading her personality like a book. She looked up at the face of the giant, smiling Quaker and turned back to the camera, “Well, I’d have to see the rest of him first.”

Her greatness was eventually left on the cutting room floor, but who knows what could have happened if viral videos existed then. Most importantly though, I know that somewhere, someplace, someone still thinks about that and laughs. And I’ll be damned if she didn’t make the day of everyone in that room.

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In addition to her feisty personality, Jimmie Dee was also a woman known for her style. A special moment for my mom and me happened a couple of days after Nana’s death when we went to the nursing home to clean out her belongings. Not long after we started, a lady comes into the room and asks, “I’m sorry, but I would just love to have one of her hats.” Moved by this, we let the woman pick a hat (one that she said she always admired) and gave her another one of Nana’s favorites.

The special moment that day was when an elderly lady in a wheelchair came in. She couldn’t speak, but sat there looking longingly at us. After a moment my mom asked sweetly, “Would you like a hat?” The woman nodded. We picked one out and put it on her head. Then, she hugged my mom and suddenly began sobbing. Naturally, my mom and I burst into tears too. After she left the room, we finally realized how special the hats were.

A few minutes later the same woman reentered the room, and mom asked, “Would you like another hat?” She nodded. This time she picked out the leopard print hat. “You know that when you wear this hat you’re going to have to be sassy just like Jimmie Dee, okay?” As quickly as this lady erupted into tears before, she erupted into laughter. It was infectious. When we left later that day, we saw her with that leopard print hat (which was really a few sizes to small) perched on the top of her head, her face beaming.

I know that this would touch Nana because she genuinely loved putting smiles on people’s faces. She was a woman who learned to use her voice to speak her mind, but she also used her voice to bring people joy. I can say that that is one of the greatest lessons that I have learned from my grandmother, Jimmie Dee. She lived the life that she wanted to live and found happiness in bringing others joy.

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In the last few months of her life, Nana slipped away a little more every day. Some days she was disoriented, some days she hallucinated, but never once did she not know who I was. That was our relationship. I am her only grandchild, and she is basically the only grandparent I’ve ever known. The love that she showed me was unconditional and unfiltered. In her final weeks, she was having a lot of trouble communicating and getting all of her words and thoughts out. But no matter how bad the day, whenever I told her, “I love you, Nana,” she would hold my hand and respond clear as day, “I love you too.” These were her last words to me, and her love is eternal.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

I am Jade Lee-Mei, daughter of Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrinne, daughter of Minnie May






My Daughter’s Graduation Gift

12 05 2014

Dearest Daughter,

Mother’s Day and your college graduation are just a few days apart, which has me reflecting on our mother/daughter bond. You and this huge milestone are gifts that make me extremely proud. It makes me think of gifts from your heritage. You are only the second generation from my family to graduate from college. You may remember the closure that ended each mother/daughter class that we took at the Unitarian Church when you were a young girl. “I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.” You have inherited a beautiful legacy of mother/daughter connection.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

I am grateful that your Nana has been such a part of your life. You already know that you have feisty, quirky, and funny DNA coursing through your veins. I have sweet memories of my Maw Maw. I remember being rocked by her on their front porch and her singing the lullaby “Hush Little Baby”. And I’ve heard similar sweet memories from Nana of her grandmother, Minnie Mae. It’s important for you to know that you come from a heritage of love.

That legacy includes the wonderful Dads in your lineage too. Even if your memories of your grandfather are vague, you’ve been raised with stories about him and your great grandfather too. If you ever wonder what your great grandfather was like, look no further than your Uncle Dudley. The warmth, love of family, wicked sense of humor, and even his looks were inherited from his dad, your great grandfather.

When you were little, you loved to look in my jewelry box and ask me if the jewelry was going to be yours someday. For your graduation gift I am giving you a piece of jewelry that is part of your heritage. It is yours; to keep, or wear, or sell, or save to pass on to a daughter you may have someday. It is the ring my grandfather gave me when I graduated from LSU.

The gift in the box that my held my mother's engagement ring.

Your ring in the box that  held your grandmother’s engagement ring.

You know this ring as my engagement ring. Because this ring meant so much to me, your Dad added the diamonds and we made it the ring that would represent our marriage. Your Dad and I may not be married anymore, but you do know that our love for you has never faltered. We have always believed in your abilities and your dreams. You were born to parents who planned for you and who wanted you, when we were young, happy and in love. That’s what this ring represents and it is now yours.

I am proud of the woman you’ve become. Congratulations on your college graduation milestone. Your adult life is just beginning. During the ups and downs of where your life will take you, always know that you come from a circle of love.

Love, Mom





Maw Maw’s Naked Lady Bowls

17 11 2013

I love Thanksgiving and it’s traditions. I bring out dishes and silver that have been handled by so many loving hands in my family. I love the connection to the past and to the future.

My grandparents with their two small children moved from a small town in east Texas to south Louisiana in the 30’s. It must have been such a culture shock to all they knew. They came from white gravy and chicken fried steak and everybody being Baptist to a land of roux and gumbo and diversity and not everyone being Baptist.

My mom tells me she remembers asking her mother who those women were that wore long black dresses and covered their hair in a long black drape. She was told they were holy women. My mom thought that meant that the long black clothes were covering the holes in their body.

The Naked Lady Bowl
 naked lady bowl

My grandfather moved to Baton Rouge to be the advertising manager of the Coca- Cola Bottling Co. (It’s just dawning on me as I write this, the family heritage of being marketers…love that.) His boss was a sophisticated and learned man and was Jewish. He gave my grandfather a beautiful bowl set as a thank you for a job well done. It was a beautiful set with a large bowl with six smaller serving bowls. It’s bone china with gold inlay. It has Goddesses at play painted in the bottom of each piece.

That’s the part where I know it got complicated for my grandmother. You see, some of these goddess are bare breasted. I know my grandmother would have known the value of this gift. I can only imagine her Baptist horror over the nakedness of those ladies. This southern woman could never be anything but gracious over this generous gift. Her solution was to bring it out only at Thanksgiving and to keep the bowls filled with what else…Ambrosia…the food of the Gods.

A Tradition Continues
I will continue with that tradition this Thanksgiving. My 85-year-old mom will come over and supervise me making the fruit salad and be the official taster. My daughter will help as we peel the apples, juice the fresh lemons, add the bananas, oranges, pineapple, coconut and sugar to taste. I love that this recipe goes back to my great grandmother and has been passed down to four generations of daughters. The recipe is not written anywhere; making it together—mother to daughter, mother to daughter is how it is learned. Over countless conversations, laughter, teenage attitude at having to peel apples, it has been passed from one generation to another.

Priceless

This small bowl is chipped and glued together making it even more precious to me.

This small bowl is chipped and glued together making it even more precious to me.

This bowl set may be of some value. I sometimes imagine I could go on the Antiques Roadshow and be one of those people who gasp over how much it’s monetary value is. But I will never sell it. It’s not mine to sell. It’s my future great grandchild’s who I hope will still be making ambrosia that she learned from her mother and is teaching her daughter how to make. And will be putting it in the Naked Lady bowl.

Mother to Daughter
I am Connie Lee, mother of Jade Lee-Mei, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae.





Salut! It’s My One-Year Blogging Anniversary.

6 07 2013

Salut

This month marks one year of blogging! WOO HOO! It has been an amazing year and this little blog ‘o mine has taken me to unexpected places. I started it because I needed to have my creative voice out there. A few months into blogging, I stumbled upon this fabulous group of women at Generation Fabulous. They were remarkably supportive of one another and read my blog and even commented on it. Then GenFab bloghops were in the freakin’ Huffington Post and there I was!  This led to writing for another group, Better After 50 and more amazing writers. GenFab has grown in just the few months since I joined and  now has a website featuring the powerful voices of midlife. I was a featured blogger and had a video interview with Chloe Jeffreys for her feature Coffee with Chloe. I still am surprised when I look back on this past year and see where My Creative Journey has taken me.

Another surprise is that I didn’t expect that each post I’ve written would become a blog child. I must admit while I love all my blog children I do have favorites. So in honor of my one-year anniversary I’m going to tell the world my favorites and why.

These are what I consider my 3 best posts:

the jump

Taking the Leap
This is about my attempt to become fearless.

Me and my sweetie, Steve

Soul Mates and Angels
Even though I wrote this, I can still tear up when I read it. It’s me and Steve’s love story.

Full view w detail

If You Give Connie a Glass of Wine
This chronicles the birth of my business, Greenview Designs in that meandering way that is my creatve processs. It’s written in the style of, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” a book I loved reading to my daughter when she was little.

These are about where I live:

katrina-08-28-2005

Bread, Batteries and Booze
Big shoutout to my buddy Juan Simoneux who posted it on at The Cajun American.  It’s because of his fans that this remains my most viewed post ever. It’s about living in hurricane country.

Flyin Alligator waterfront lounge

Luzianna Friday Nite
I love where I live. OK, I don’t love hurricanes (see above).

These are about my family:

  My mom dresses just like the Cosmo Girl.

Wild Woman
This is about my Mother. You’ll need to read the post to understand why that’s all I can say about this one. 

My Mom and me, 1961

The Sandwich Generation  
What make The Wild Woman story so special to me is where my Mom came from. This post tells that story.

letter

Large and Purple
My Dad, Lloyd McLeod, was a local character and a really great father.

My first apartment

Argo, the Ayatollah, Eudora Welty and First Apartments
Connections I share with my daughter.

These were unexpectedly popular:

mcleodyardwork

Timeless Tips From a Fashionista
This was inspired by the GenFab bloghop on epic fashion fails and it also made the Huffington Post. It proves I don’t care about embarrassing myself if it makes a good story.

Teresa from the Housewives of New Jersey flipping a table screaming Prostitution Whore!

My Guilty Pleasure
I was a little surprised how many other people admitted to the same guilty pleasure. Ssssshhh, it’s our little secret.

Sometime in the last year I heard about this amazing blogging conference called BlogHer. So I will be flying off to Chicago soon and rooming with a new friend from GenFab. I could never have imagined this a year ago. I’m sure a blog child will be birthed from this adventure. Time will tell if it’ll become a favorite.

Thanks to all who have read and supported me in the past year.

If you like My Creative Journey, I’d love for you to follow me. My posts will then arrive in your email and I promise no spam.

I’m proud to be a GenFab blogger!





Argo, the Ayatollah, Eudora Welty and First Apartments

27 02 2013

When I saw the Best Picture Argo, I was transported back to that period of time. I had just graduated from college and that was the background news that was playing as I moved into my first apartment. My daughter moved out of her first apartment over Oscar weekend and the similarities in our lives struck a chord in me. How alike we are, yet still living different lives, a generation apart.

My daughter’s first apartment

My daughter’s first apartment

My daughter has now moved out of her first apartment. I am relieved, as I’m sure my parents were when I moved out of mine. My cousin, who moved us both, said when moving my daughter, “Well, it’s not as crappy as yours was!” He was right, which is probably why I didn’t cry when she moved in like my parents did.

I had moved to Jackson, Mississippi for that first job and first place to live on my own.  We were both drawn to those old, vintage, charming, non-suburban parts of town. The one with the old oak trees that form a canopy over the narrow streets. Neighborhoods full of beautiful homes with spacious wraparound front porches shaded by towering trees and flowering bushes in the yards. Neither my daughter nor I could afford those nice garden district homes. We both had to live in the edgier part of those neighborhoods, in the apartments that were…well, edgier.

My first apartment

My first
apartment

We both had places that had charm. Mine was actually over 100 years old. By charm, I mean they had high ceilings and hardwood floors. For that charm, I didn’t need a dustpan. When I swept I could just sweep and the dirt fell onto the ground from the cracks between the charming hardwood floorboards. We both had gas space heaters to warm us in the winter. My daughter’s had flames that leapt out of it. You had to be careful when you walked by so your sleeve didn’t catch on fire. I understood this, because in order to heat my gas oven, you had to turn it on and throw a match in. When you heard the whoosh sound, you knew it was lit.

I moved into my place in February. I didn’t know that you had to call to turn the gas and electricity on. The property handyman had hangover fumes clinging on his clothes and breath as my parents moved me in. It was very cold. There was a block of ice in the toilet and an icicle hung from the kitchen faucet.

My neighbors were Iranian students who had a picture of the Ayatollah Khomeini hanging on their walls. You could hear them chanting their Islamic prayers through the walls as I moved into my frozen apartment.

This is when my parents burst into tears.

I never mention to them there was a halfway house on the street behind me and my driveway was used as a cut through to the liquor store. I did tell them that the famous southern writer, Eudora Welty  lived just down the street and we shopped at the same Jitney Jungle. Her stately home was on my evening walking path.

My daughter’s now moved a few blocks deeper into that neighborhood into a prettier and safer part. I’ve lived in the burbs with all the modern conveniences for decades now. I often smile when I think back on my first apartment. While looking for a picture of it, I discovered a tender note from a long ago love. Those radical Iranian students proved to be good neighbors. I have a vague memory of debating capitalism vs. communism on my front porch and I also remember that they would share the pistachios their parents sent them from Iran.

When they told their parents of a single, wanton, American woman who moved in next door, had unchaperoned men in her place, was scantily clad in the hot summer months and whose rock and roll music could be heard through the open windows, those parents probably cried too.

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