Friday, May 29, 2009

Value Meal

A little while ago, Sarah and I were at a store looking at a rack of t-shirts. One of them showed a line drawing of a family around the dinner table with the words, "Value Meal" written above the picture.

I just loved that t-shirt, not just because it was a clever play on words but because that is how we view dinner time around our house. It's a time when values, knowledge, joy and camaraderie are ingested right along with the chicken casserole. It's also a safe time and by that I mean it's a time when no corrections are allowed.

Unfortunately, it hasn't always been that way.

I remember a meal last year when Nathan was eagerly telling us all a story about something that had happened to him that day. His face was lit up, his voice was animated, and he was really getting into the telling of the tale. Halfway through his story, he said something that wasn't grammatically correct and without even thinking about it, I corrected him.

I'll never forget the sight of the joy leaking out of his face. I'll always remember how his voice faltered just a little. I can still hear the way the rest of his story ended up sounding a whole lot less enthusiastic than the beginning.

Although Steve and I had already made the agreement that we wouldn't discipline the children at the table (for not getting the lawn mowed or the homework finished, for instance) I had never thought that something as simple as correcting grammar could rob dinnertime joy, too.

And so our table has been officially deemed A Safe Place. Although it sometimes takes me holding on to my self control by my fingernails, grammar is no longer corrected at the table. If one of my children wants to insert the word "like" four hundred and twenty-two time into their dinner time narrative, I will not say a word. If Nathan wants to say, "Me and Michael" instead of, "Michael and I," he's free to do it! Even if one of them were to (gasp!) use the word, "ain't" it would be okay.

The bottom line? No joy-smushing in any form is allowed at the dinner table.

When Sarah was going through speech therapy, part of our job at home was to listen to her talk on a casual basis and occasionally point out if she was sliding over "S" sounds or talking too fast and jumbling her words.

Dr. Jones said, "Just be listening as she is talking, maybe at dinner or in the evening before bed and mention any corrections that need to be made in her speech."

At first I thought, "Well, I can do that. No problem."

But then I remembered about The Safe Place. No grammar correction. No posture correction. And no speech correction.

I ended up telling Dr. Jones about our family's dinnertime policy. He seemed quite impressed by the whole concept and was very understanding of the point I was making.

Now this is not to say that dinnertime is a free-for-all where anything goes. Steve and I are not so much into unconditional parental love that our dinners turn into wild sessions of burping, slurping and pea throwing!

However, there is some sense of dinner being a free-for-all in the area of giggles, friendly arguments and frequent dashes for the dictionary.

Last night for example, we spent twenty minutes discussing how driving speed affects gas mileage and how a tail wind or a head wind affects the progress of an airplane.

Then we discussed how important stereophonic hearing is in being able to locate the direction sound is coming from. This led to Steve clapping his hands in different areas around the table while Sarah closed her eyes and turned her head toward the sound of each clap.

That little illustration was followed by a discussion of how monocular vision affects depth perception. We conducted experiments where Nathan closed one eye and tried to reach for something across the table; he was surprised by how much perceptions change when both eyes are used.

Naturally, at one point a call for the dictionary was made, although I don't remember at the moment what the word in question was.

What I DO remember, though, is that grammar went uncorrected, foibles went unmentioned, and laughter was served as the main course.

It was a value meal, indeed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Winging It!

First of all, a couple guest book things.
Kim W. asked if I had perfect pitch. The answer to that question is, "I wish!"

And also a word to Sue G., Pam D., and Mary H: You ladies are having a little bit too much fun in the guestbook so I'm going to have to ask you keep it down a little. Fun is NOT permitted around here! :-)

Okay, on to other Smithellaneous business:

I do want to mention that in the next couple of days, you'll be seeing some small changes here on Smithellaneous. There will be new pictures posted of the family, a few changes made to the color scheme and some minor adjustments done to the layout.

I thought I would warn you ahead of time so that you when you log on and see different colors, you won't worry that your computer screen is playing tricks on you.

In other news, Steve is on his way home from Charlotte and should be here in an hour or so. Then we'll have one day to get our act together before taking off for South Carolina Saturday morning for a Sunday morning preaching/singing service there. The thought of doing a whole concert after all these years is just slightly daunting on many levels but I guess the skills we learned being "road warriors" for fifteen years should get us through it.

Even though I've written most of the songs we'll be singing, I still worry about remembering the lyrics. I recall that more than once when we were on the road, I would forget the original words to a song and would just "filled in the blanks" as I went along. The audience usually didn't know the difference but Steve's face was always a picture. That's why I always tried not to look at him while I was "winging it."

(I was going to finish that line with " . . . while I wanged it" but I knew that was wrong. But it is still a very fun word to say! Trying saying it. Wanged, wanged, wanged. There. Now wasn't that fun?)

At any rate, it should be an interesting weekend! Although we'll do our very best to be prepared there still may be a lot of winging (and wanging) involved, especially if my voice conks out after the first (or second) song.
Hmmmm. I think I'm starting to feel a wee bit nervous just thinking about it. If you have any extra prayers to send our way Sunday morning, we would be most appreciative.

Now I'm off to study lyrics so that I can keep the wingin' to a minimum.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hearing Aids

Just wanted to let you know that I updated Sarah's Site with information and pictures about her getting hearing aids today!

I Write The Songs

Hi. I'm Becky.

And I am a songwriter.

I wrote my first song when I was six years old and got really serious about it when I was about twelve. That was when I joined up with my dear friend, Lorrie, and we formed a group called The Sonrise Singers.

We spent many hours a week, after school and on Saturdays, playing our guitars, singing and writing songs. A couple times a month, we got asked to go somewhere and perform and that was majorly, mega exciting especially since we got to wear one of our two sets of matching maxi dresses. (That's what long dresses were called in those golden olden days of yore. ) Lorrie, being an accomplished seamstress even at fourteen, made all of our dresses. We were quite sure that whenever we put them on, we were "stylin.'"

I think we ended up writing 20-30 songs together, songs that were actually pretty good considering we didn't know the first thing about writing. We both just had a love for words and an ear for melody and that's about all we needed to "write the songs!"

After our family moved from Wisconsin to North Carolina in 1977, my two younger sisters and I started playing and singing together. (Ruth on bass/keyboard, Debbie on drums, and me on guitar/keyboard.) And it seemed like a pretty natural thing for me to just go on writing, even without my Wisconsin friend and cohort.

And so I did. I continued to write the songs and while they didn't make the whole world sing (like Barry Manilow's songs did) they at least gave my sisters and me something to sing in our Campbell Sisters concerts.

And then when I was nineteen, I married the daddy of Princess Groovy Chick and The College Dude, although at that time, of course, we had yet to meet the aforementioned wonderful children. :-)

The fine fella I married was a singer. A bass player. A guitar player. And (drum roll, please) a songwriter! It wasn't long before the two of us were tossing melodies and words around the room, arguing over lyrics, and pounding out chords on the piano. And I kept on writing the songs!

We entered a period of life where, over the course of fifteen years or so, we traveled with both of my sisters and then later on, with my sister Debbie and her husband, Randy.

As it turned out, Randy was also a songwriter! (Deb, I always knew you would marry well.) And so Steve, Randy and I (with Debbie--who is quite the wordsmith--throwing in helpful advice) wrote enough songs for about a dozen recording projects.

The recordings were mostly CD's, but we have actually been at this music thing long enough to have recorded one LP. Can you believe we're that old? (Don't answer that.)

For fifteen years I wrote songs like a maniac, just about every day working on some part of some song. I specifically remember a time when Nathan was six, Sarah was a newborn and Steve and I (we were a duo then) were headed into the studio to record. Only problem was, having a baby a couple months earlier had been just slightly distracting and I had gotten behind on writing the songs for the project. And since I was the primary songwriter, I was feeling just a wee bit stressed.

I distinctly remember that I actually felt relieved when Sarah would wake me up at 2 am because I would settle down to feed her and then, in the middle of the night silence, start working on lyrics in my head. Getting up with her gave me a chance to concentrate with no interruptions and it really worked out pretty well--the CD got written and recorded. But just barely. (Thanks, Sarah, for your help!)

So life went on--traveling, raising kids, home schooling, writing, recording, performing, setting up and tearing down equipment. And then came May of 2002 when my nocturnal infant songwriting partner was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.

In one blink of an eye, the traveling stopped. The singing stopped. The writing stopped. The music stopped.

Full stop.

I whipped off my full time musician hat and stuck on my full time cancer mom hat faster than you can imagine. I left the road and the music behind with very few glances back over my shoulder. Life catapulted us into a new chapter which we hadn't asked for and hadn't, in our wildest nightmares, anticipated.

That was seven years ago and I haven't written a song since. It's not Sarah's fault, it's not cancer's fault, it not leaving the road's fault. It's no one's fault. It just is.

I've still stayed in touch with songwriters, gone to some songwriting conferences and joined a songwriting discussion group whose members have been a huge blessing to me over the years.

About three years ago, I received an invitation to a small writer's weekend which would be attended by only a couple dozen people, several of which are responsible for writing the songs you hear on Christian radio every day. It was a chance to spend a weekend co-writing with established writers and up and coming writers; to receive an invitation to something like that was certainly an honor.

But the smushed down songwriter in me regretfully declined. The following year, the invitation came again and again I declined saying, "I'm just not writing anymore."

This year, that songwriter's weekend once more took place and once more, I wasn't there. And I saw some of the pictures from the weekend and they made me sad because I saw all those people doing and being what I used to do and be. They were in a lovely location, separated from all distractions, and they were enjoying chasing ideas, and melodies and word and thoughts. They were hammering out ideas and arguing over melody lines. In other words, they were speaking my native language. A language I no longer speak. At least not out loud.

But the truth of the matter is this: Once a songwriter. Always a songwriter. (As Sue G so nicely reminded me in the guest book.) In fact, I am SUCH a songwriter at heart that I can't even listen to music and clean out my closet at the same time because my brain is so focused on the song and what's happening in the lyric.

When I'm out shopping, I can be going through racks of clothes and not even SEE them because there's a song playing over the store's PA system that every brainwave in my entire head is tuned into. I'm analyzing it, and listening to where the bridge is going to go, and wondering where the writer is going to take the second verse, and trying to guess why they chose to do this with the melody instead of that. Before I know it, I've looked through three racks of clothes and haven't seen anything.

Does that sound like a songwriter to you?

Yeah, I thought so. Me, too.

So all I can say at this point is even though I called myself a "former songwriter" the other day, the truth of the matter is that I am still a songwriter. Can't get away from it and really don't want to.

As far as knowing when that gift will show itself again, I don't know. But it's still in there, still waiting in the corners of my heart, readying itself for the time when this blog writer starts writing songs again.

I'm looking forward to that day.

I'm looking forward to being able to say once again, "I write the songs. . . "

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Guest Book Entry

Every once in a while I run across a guest book entry that is especially meaningful and touching. This one especially meant a lot to me right now so I wanted to post it here in the blog area.


I was at the grocery store this weekend, alone because all five of my children were driving me crazy and one especially had disappointed me so badly that I was truly heartsore.

I came across the Chicken Soup Book and read your entry. I stood there waiting for a self serve checkout and read away, letting the tears fall and realized that even though my daughter had fallen short of my expectations and truly hurt me, that I was ever so grateful to have the chance to go home and hold her close and help her work through it.

I think Sarah once said that she wished to know the purpose of her cancer, and you can tell her that there is one Mom in Canada who is holding her own little girl closer to her because of Sarah.

Bridget from Canada

Bridget, you'll never know how your entry brightened both Sarah's and my day. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience.

Melodious Croaking

I thought you all might be interested to hear about what's going on in our Transitory Transitionary Transition Time.

Steve sent a resume to a church on the coast of South Carolina. The church received a total of a hundred resumes for Senior Pastor and asked three out of the hundred applicants to send them a sermon CD; Steve was one of those three. Whether or not it will go any further than that is anyone's guess but we'll just keep on patiently waiting. (And after six months, we're quite accomplished at that particular skill.)

Also, there is a church near Charlotte (which would be my choice if location were our only criterion) that has asked Steve to come and meet with their Board/Pastor Search Committee tomorrow night. And that's especially good timing because he's already in Charlotte for his mom's surgery.

So at least that's some progress in the right direction. I'll keep you posted if anything else happens.

This weekend, Steve and I are going to a church about six hours away to do their Sunday morning service. Steve will preach and we'll both sing . . . or maybe I should say, Steve will sing and I will do my own patented version of melodious croaking. (I still don't have much of a voice.)

To make the weekend even more challenging, Steve and I haven't done a concert together in seven years, ever since Sarah was diagnosed. (We used to average 180 concerts a year for fifteen years!) We've done one or two songs here and there, but eight or nine songs in a row? Not so much.

The plan is that I will just sing as long as my voice holds out (whether that ends up being half a song or half an hour) and then Steve will have to pull out every solo he's ever known to fill in the gaps.

Just for the sake of a laugh, here's a picture of Steve and I doing a concert a looong time ago, when we did that sort of thing for a living. I was just a couple months pregnant with Sarah in this picture and at that point in the pregnancy, my hair was bigger than my stomach!

I'll let you know how the weekend goes; I'm sure we'll have many memorable moments.

While I'm on the subject of singing, I know I had said a few weeks ago that I would be going to Chapel Hill Medical Center once a week to begin some much needed vocal therapy. However, when we found out how much it would cost for the therapy (even after insurance paid some of it) we realized that this was not the ideal time to be spending that extra money. So that particular plan is on hold.

Singing and public speaking have always been such a big part of my life that not having a reliable voice has been an enormous and difficult adjustment. In fact, it seems like when I think of all the titles that describe me, most of them seem to be preceded by the word "former."

Former singer, former speaker, former teacher, former songwriter, former recording artist, former pastor's wife, etc.

Sitting here in the hallway of life, waiting for my "formers" to be turned into "currents" is a bit of a challenge. But the good thing about hallways is that they are not permanent places; they're meant to walked through. And I am more than ready to walk through this one--and soon!

In the meantime, I will continue to do my melodious croaking and I will continue to write my blogs and eat my chocolate and love my family and learn new lessons in trust, and faith and patience.

All in all, not a bad place to be.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I'm not sure how many male readers stop by here but I do know that I have precious few fellas who sign the guest book.

And guys? That could change any time. I don't mind hearing from you. Really!

However, I do know that there is at least one (male) brave, articulate and literate guest book signer out there. You all may know him by the nickname I've given him, The Wonderful Wyatt. Wyatt does all of the fabulous graphics that you see on Sarah's site.

Apart from his graphics work and his endless patience with my endless computer questions, I always knew there was something special I liked about Wyatt. And his recent guest book entry let me know what that extra something special was.

I am re-posting his entry here:

Debbie McKee (Little Debbie) was four years old in 1960 when her grandparents decided to use her name and image in the snack cake company logo.

My father and his brother partnered to bring the very first Little Debbie franchise to North Carolina in 1962. They mortgaged their homes and tapped their savings to pay the franchise fee, purchase a new delivery van and buy their first inventory of snack cakes -- Oatmeal Creme Pies and Devil Creme Cakes.

Little Debbie -- medicine for the soul.

Okay ladies! Let's hear it for Wyatt's dad and uncle who worked so hard at being a part of the first efforts to get Little Debbie snack cakes into our desperate, chocolate-craving hands!

Hip, hip, hooray!

(Although maybe "hip" isn't the best word choice here because after all, the hips are the body parts most affected by the consumption of those snack cakes.)

Alrighty then. Moving right along . . .

My second reference to men today refers back to my post when I was wailing and whining about my inability to make (or spell) tiramisu. Shortly after I wrote that post, I received an email from Pastor Tom, a long time family friend. Back in the days when we were on the road full time, we sang several times at his church on Long Island. Pastor Tom is Italian through and through and if an Italian doesn't know about tiramisu, who does? In his email he said:


Although I hardly qualify as one of those people you describe as "people with a superior intelligence," I do know what "tiramisu' " means. It's Italian for "pick-me-up," or transliterated, "pull-me-up."

I'll also include an Italian recipe to help you out next time you attempt that sinfully caloric concoction on Steve's 53rd birthday.

"Dolce composto da una crema fatta con uova, zucchero, mascarpone e panna, disposta a strati alternati con pan di spagna o biscotti bagnati nel caffè e liquore; il tutto ricoperto da un velo di cacao in polvere.

Get it?

Tom G

Now wasn't that helpful! How often does one get the opportunity to read an impossible recipe in a foreign language? When I forwarded the email to Steve, he just laughed out loud; getting emails from Pastor Tom always bring a smile.

And today's final reference to men goes back to a post from several days ago when I included a picture of Steve as he graduated from High School. I thought it would be fun to re-post that picture along with one of Nathan at the same age.

And just because I've heard a few people over the years say that they think Sarah looks more like Steve than Nathan does, I've included a picture of Sarah for comparison purposes. (We need at least ONE rose among the thorns today!)

Ain't she so purty?

In closing, I just want to mention that Steve is heading out to Charlotte this morning to spend a few days; his mom is having hip replacement surgery tomorrow morning and he wants to do whatever he can to be a help to his parents.

Steve was talking to them both on the phone last night and found out that his mom has to be at the hospital (the same hospital where Nathan was born!) at 5 am. Steve and his dad sort of laughed and said to her, "Okay, well why don't you just go ahead and take a taxi to the hospital and we'll arrive about 8:30."

Nice fellas, those Smith men.

And while we're on the subject of surgery, my dad (in Wisconsin) is also having surgery tomorrow morning for the removal of a large kidney stone. He was on the table to go into emergency surgery last Thursday when they took one final look at his chart and realized he was on a blood thinner. NOT a good thing for surgery purposes.

Steve and I have both been blessed with fabulous parents and our prayers and love go with Vernie and Ed during their surgeries tomorrow.