Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hot Flash

Published in the Miami News-Record on January 31, 2016 

I have a lot of confidence in my cooking and baking abilities and know my way around a kitchen quite well, thank you very much. But last week, I was a hot mess in the kitchen. Kind of literally.

I had decided to boil a chicken for a few meals over the next few days. I wanted a lot of broth so I used my big pot and filled it kind of full. Once the hen got to boiling in her hot tub full of onions and celery, the broth would occasionally splash out a little. I tried to keep things cleaned up on the stove as she boiled, but apparently, I missed some. Okay, like, a whole lot of it.

Since Paul works evening shift now, we eat our biggest meal of the day at noon when the four of us are home together. It has taken some adjusting to and even still I find myself busy with laundry or school or housework, will look up and realize it’s nearly time for Sam to be home from vo-tech and I haven’t started a thing. I guess I’m a slow learner.

And that was the case last week when I looked up from taking down that last Christmas tree. Oh, who am I kidding. That tree’s still up. Anyway, when I looked up from my crossword puzzle, I realized it was way past when I needed to start the chicken pot pie for lunch. I peeled my potatoes and put them on to give boil a little to soften them up before putting them in the pie. I was rolling out my pie crust, my back to the stove, when I heard this “WHOOSH!” sound – you know, that unmistakable sound of something catching fire. Apparently, while I did a great job cleaning the stovetop the night before, I kind of forgot about checking the drip pan underneath the burner and chicken broth has just enough fat in it to be dramatically combustible.

I turned to see my lovely red Guy Fieri saucepan engulfed in flames. You know when you see something you can’t believe you’re seeing and you just stand there in a state of stupefaction and incomprehension as chaos just kind of happens? Yeah. I did that. And suddenly I was transported back to the Home Ec kitchen at Wyandotte High, standing there in my tight-rolled, acid-washed jeans, my bangs reaching to the heavens, while the stove flamed right before my eyes. And in that memory I saw Mrs. Johnson calmly reach for the baking soda and smother the flames like it happened every day of her life. (Truth be told, it probably did. She was a Home Ec teacher, after all.)
My brain kind of did a mental face-slap and I came back from 1988. As I bolted to the cabinet with the baking soda I hollered, “Pauly? Uhm….fire. My stove is on fire. Fire! FIRE! PAUL. MY. STOVE. IS. ON. FIRE.” I don’t think that man ever came up out of a recliner so fast in his life. And as he hit the kitchen he, too, did the whole deer-in-the-headlights freeze. I brushed past him, tossed baking soda at the flames, and we both just stood there staring at the powdery disaster that was now my stove.

 Once the mess was cleaned up I went ahead and continued on with the pot-pie-making. And it would’ve been Paula Deen perfect had I not opened the scoop-y part instead of the shake-y part of the paprika.

At lunch, while poking at it with his fork, Paul asked, “Why is the pot pie goop pink instead of the usual kind of…. yellow-ish color?”

It’s funny how one raised eyebrow can say so much and a query about pink pot pie goop suddenly becomes a non-issue.  It was a very quiet and peaceful lunch that day. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Another Year

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on January 24, 2016. 

I am writing this on my 43rd birthday. By the time you read this I’ll be 43 and three days. Remember when age was able to be broken down into increments? “I’m 15…and a half.” Or when your kids were little you’d proudly say, “She’s two and three quarters.” At the age I am now, 43 is 43 for an entire year and there is really no point in halving it or quartering it. It is what it is: old.  

Being a January baby, it usually snows on my birthday. Sometimes it’s just rain. I think I can only recall maybe three years out of 43 that it hasn’t precipitated on my birthday. This year, as I look out the office window, I see…..bleh. There is  just enough moisture in the air to glaze the world with a dangerous sheet of ice – a scary thing for a woman who is at a stage in life where she is genuinely concerned about breaking a hip.

The first time I met one of my best friends in the world, the girl who would be my sidekick (and I, hers) for many a year, was at my 5th birthday party. Mom opened the front door to behold a brown-eyed neighbor girl named DeLisa who was standing under a yellow umbrella with her mom in a torrential downpour.  We remain friends to this day. 38 years. I haven’t even known my husband that long.

It was probably my 8th or 9th birthday that school was canceled due to a major snow storm. I was devastated because school birthday parties rocked. You got to skip that last subject of the day, your mom brought cookies or cupcakes and Koolade, and you usually got to be the first “doggie” in a game of “Doggie, Doggie, Who Has the Bone?” To soothe the disappointment of having to stay home, Mom sat me up behind the loveseat at the sliding glass door with all of my Strawberry Shortcakes and gave me a present every hour. By day’s end, I was getting individual outfits for the dolls, a shoe here, a hat there (they were probably part of a multi-pack, but I think Mom had to get creative after about ten hours of presents), but it remains one of my most memorable birthdays.

For my 11th birthday, my parents decided I was old enough to have a slumber party. Stacie, Chloe, Necia, the ever-present DeLisa, and I stayed up suuuuuuuper late (like, MIDNIGHT!) and began a tradition that lasted for many years: we drank soda from baby bottles. Do not ask me why. My kids have asked repeatedly and I cannot even begin to tell anyone why on earth that became a thing.  But I have photographs that seriously amuse my children regaling the entire weird thing. Thankfully, by the time we got to 9th grade we let that one go. Whew.

Birthdays have lost a little of their excitement as the years have gone by. When the kids were little I was showered with crayon drawings on construction paper, kisses, hugs, and promises to not fight with each other and pick up their toys. Paul has been good to try and always take me to dinner, even during the lean years when money was tight. Those were the years when McDonald’s was a treat. He’d even let me Super Size. I don’t find myself struggling to fall asleep the night before anymore – in fact, I was dozing in the recliner by 9:30 last night. I intended to slouch around the house all day long, but am on my way to put on a little makeup because Mom is insisting I have dinner out. And I was thinking that maybe later, I’ll round out this special day by taking down my last remaining Christmas tree. Hey, don’t judge me. We old folks forget things. And sometimes it’s things like 6-foot tall Christmas trees in their dining room. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Much Too Busy

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on January 17, 2016.

Most weeks I succeed in achieving my goal of not going off the place for days on end. And then sometimes I have weeks like the past couple where I find myself in town pretty much every dadgum day. I don’t like those weeks.

Homeschooling is a flexible adventure, but at the same time I like order and well, it’s their futures at stake, so yeah. We don’t take many days off. We don’t even take snow days as a general rule. (I know, I know, I’m awful, just ask the kids.) They’re in 8th and 11th grade, so most of their work is self-directed, but they still need me around to guide them and keep them from “accidentally” playing X-Box and Candy Crush when they’re supposed to be learning about percentages, Puritan settlements, and Moby Dick. The weeks I have appointments and errands, I leave them in the capable hands of their daddy who works evenings and is here to help during the day. Of course, he loves him some Candy Crush as well ….. but that’s a story for another day.

Week before last I ran to town on Tuesday to pick up a prescription for Paul. Then the next day I realized we had four car tags due (poor car-buying planning on our part), two of them overdue. I hauled myself back to town to pay the overdue tags because ignorance is bliss and the fact that I was suddenly aware of the overdue tags meant I just KNEW I’d get a ticket. The day after that I had a dentist appointment. Friday and Saturday I got to stay home and do laundry. Sunday was church, Abby’s boyfriend’s baptism, lunch with the family, more church. I had officially been to town more times in four days than I usually am in an entire month.

When I checked out the calendar on Sunday night and it showed a fairly easy week with lots of time at home. I was glad.

Then…this week happened. A homeschooling friend invited us over for lunch. I had forgotten about Kady’s orthodontist appointment. We spent a day in Tulsa at doctor’s appointments. I attended the visitation of a dear lady from a family that was a major part of my growing-up.

I was missing my house, my routine, my sweats, my husband. My heart was heavy. After the day in Tulsa I left Kady at Abby’s house while I attended the visitation and had plans to just get her and go home afterward. But Abby had had a bad week and I was kind of missing her so I said, “Be ready when I get back and we’ll all go grab dinner.”

No boyfriends, no husbands, just me and my girls. We sat at a corner table at Arby’s for much longer than it took to consume our food. We laughed. We solved the world’s problems. (Now to get the world to listen to us.) We laughed some more. We got a few dirty looks from people who were not having near the fun we were. At one point Kady made a face that prompted Abby to say, “You looked like a lion….if that lion were about to eat a deer…..and you were possessed by a demon….yeah, that’s what you just looked like.” I laughed so hard I nearly cried off my mascara.

I think much too often we get caught up in our exhaustion, our stresses, our schedules, and our running that we forget to slow down, breathe, soak up time with the people we adore the most, laugh loud enough to get weird looks, and just be loved. I didn’t know how desperately I needed that crazy dinner with my girls. And I’m looking forward to this week and a ridiculous amount of time in my sweats. And I hear my husband is still hanging around, anticipating seeing my face again soon. I remain hopeful. 

Stage Presence

Originally published in the Miami News -Record on January 10, 2016.

When I was a Junior, our school got a speech and debate program. I was no stranger to the stage what with me reciting Luke 2:12 proudly on the stage at Hudson Creek Baptist Church at the ripe old age of five and other church plays, skits, and the occasional special on Sunday morning. I was SO in when Mrs. Enoch and Mrs. Sharbutt suggested I be part of the team and went to state competition both years I was on it. I was also a busty Bertha Beaumont in our production of “Greater Tuna” my Senior year. I may be an introvert, but I have always LOVED being on stage.  

So when the pastor’s wife stood up in front of the church one October Sunday and said she’d be in the foyer after the service with a sign-up sheet for the church Christmas play I nearly got filled with the Spirit right there before the offering was ever taken up. I was down the aisle and had pen in hand before the last strains of the invitation hymn faded. I think the poor woman was a little taken aback at my excitement and was probably thinking, “What on earth have I done?” when I did a kick ball change and yelled “FOSSE!” while showing her my best jazz hands. I enthusiastically told her I had stage experience and would help out any way she needed. She just smiled and nodded and patted me on the shoulder.  

The next Sunday she approached me with script in hand and I was nearly light-headed. She smiled and said, “Here you go. You’re Anita.” And ohhhhh the thoughts went through my head as I clutched the script to my chest.  Anita! It sounds like a female lead’s name. Ohmygosh she gave me the LEAD! Stop shaking and for heaven’s sake, don’t cry. Okay, cry. It will help when Anita has to decide whether to have the surgery that will save her life or spend her last days courageously fighting alongside her long-lost twin sister against the savage guerillas in the jungles of Alaska.

Turns out, Anita was not the female lead, but rather the heinous and evil, self-centered department store manager who got what she deserved in the end. It didn’t involve guerilla warfare or even a life-saving surgery, but I did manage to scare every small child in the church with my evil antics. One week at practice a sweet little girl sat down next to me, gave me a sideways glance, then quietly asked, “You’re not really mean, are you? You don’t look mean now, but….you sure are up there….” I asked her what she thought as I raised an eyebrow and looked over my glasses into her tiny face. She didn’t come to practice much after that. And when she did, she sat on the other side of the sanctuary.

But the true test of my acting skills came when a mere week before the play, we found ourselves without our male lead. The original “Barry” and I had finally managed to conquer the scene where I flirted rather aggressively without him quivering in fear and suddenly, I was going to have to swiftly break in another poor soul. Turns out, that poor soul was my son. My 17-year-old son. The first run-through with Sam as lead was….awkward. At best. We muddled through the scene with red faces and giggles, but managed.

As I walked off stage after the scene, one of the deacons approached me and said, “I know y’all are new to the church and all, but I had no idea y’all were from Arkansas.” Once again I found myself with a raised eyebrow giving an evil stare over my glasses.

When we got in the car after practice that night Sam said, “Soo….that was weird.” I said, “Yes, weird indeed. But here’s the positive: at least we don’t have to kiss.” The poor kid nearly fainted. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I Have Learned

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on December 27, 2015. 

I have learned that Pyrex dishes don’t go on the stove top. I have learned that if you think it will be funny to throw a cup of ice water over the shower curtain while your husband showers you will never take a relaxing shower again because said husband doesn’t hold to the whole “vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” thing.

I have learned that buying batteries at a convenience store on Christmas morning can cost more than the original gift. I have learned that sending a Christmas card to an old friend and getting it back with “deceased” stamped on it is just about one of the saddest things you’ll ever receive in the mail. I have learned that an afternoon of Christmas tree assembling and decorating that includes Pam cooking spray, rope, and duct tape will be one of your favorite Christmas memories. I have learned that meals with cousins at the kids’ table are some of the best memories I have. 

I have learned that after 23 years of marriage, your wedding ring is no longer round, but a little squished to one side. I have learned that a lot of unpleasant stuff can be avoided by simply keeping your mouth shut. I have learned that not everyone wants my opinion – even though I usually have really important things to say. I have learned that there is no better comfort in the world than a kiss on the forehead from your mom – even when you’re almost 43.

I have learned that alcohol and tattoo studios are never a good mix. I have learned that Tinker Bell tattoos are sometimes regrettable. I have learned that a Route 44 sweet tea from Miami Sonic is exponentially better than a Route 44 sweet tea from any other Sonic in the world. Or at least the four states. I have learned the Pythagorean Theorem. I have subsequently forgotten it. I have learned that being popular in high school doesn’t amount to a hill of beans out in the real world. I have learned that parents will do just about anything for their children. I have been on both sides of this.

I have learned that “I’m sorry” is harder for some people to say. I have learned to forgive. I have learned to let go. I have learned that those are not always easy to do. I have learned that even if you typically don’t regret things, if your Papa asks you to go to the Townsman for pie after your high school graduation and you decline to go hang out with your boyfriend, you’ll regret it.

I have learned that there is no graceful way to fall. I have learned that time spent laughing with your oldest girlfriends is sometimes better than therapy. I have learned that you never forget your first kiss – even if it wasn’t the best one you’ve ever had.

I have learned that the Tooth Fairy writes apology letters in pink ink and the paper is extra glittery. I have learned that there are few better feelings than these: the first shower at home after church camp, taking off your bra after a long day, and a nap on your mom’s couch. I have learned that the first time you say, “Oh yeah? And if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you jump, too?” you instantly feel inclined to apologize to your parents for pretty much everything you ever did from age two on. 

I have learned that highlighted verses in my Bible are reminders that whatever hard times compelled me to mark them are now past … and God provided. And I’ve learned that if I’m looking them up because I need them again, God will carry me through once more. Or twice more. Because sometimes I’m a slow learner. I have learned that there is only one way to Heaven and that Jesus forever loves me in spite of myself.  

And to quote Michelangelo at age 87: “I am still learning.” 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Birthday Bugg

 Originally published in the Miami News-Record on December 20, 2015

In March of 2001 we moved from our 800 sq. ft. house Miami to the house on Hudson Creek. The house had three bedrooms and two living areas. We were too broke to buy another room of sitting furniture so we turned the den into a playroom for the kids. We had just enough rooms for just enough kids. We were so happy in our new house that we inadvertently gave ourselves a “housewarming present” and some time the first week of May I took that plastic stick with two pink lines on it out to where Paul was cleaning out a fencerow. He took off his hat, scratched his head and spit, then said, “First, don’t cry because it looks like you’re going to. Second, why don’t you go to that place in town and pee on one of their sticks. Just to be sure.” Their stick said the same thing: we were suddenly short one bedroom.

As you might have already figured out, in moments of extreme jubilation, crisis, life choices, parenting woes, baking conundrums, and basically every other situation, I call Mom first. Except…. she was in Europe, of all places. I called my sister and she screamed and hollered and whooped and began declaring her missive of spoiling my newest child. We were stunned, but happy. Surprised, but excited. We hadn’t discussed having any more kids, but we adjusted to the news pretty quickly and fell in love. I made an appointment with an OB and would see him in two weeks.

Then on Mother’s Day I started spotting. I called my aunt, my backup mom. “Aunt Janet, I’m pregnant….” and before I could get another word out she started congratulating. I interrupted with, “…and I’m scared. And Mom isn’t here. And I don’t know what to do.” I explained what was going on then choked back tears as she said, “Oh. I’m so sorry. You should go to the ER.” I cried through the exam. The doctor said everything looked fine, but wanted to do an ultrasound. I cried on the table in that dimly lit room until I heard the young tech say, “There it is. There’s the heartbeat.” Then Paul and I both cried.

She was due on New Year’s Day, 2002, but in true Kady fashion, tried to come early. I went into active labor and dilated to a 5 at 25 weeks. They shot me full of steroids to speed up the development of her lungs, put me on strict bedrest, told us that delivery was imminent. We managed to keep her cookin’ until December 19th when my blood pressure shot up, contractions kicked back in, and then delivery really was imminent. The next day, with no epidural and nary a Tylenol for pain, I delivered our beautiful, scowling 6 pound, 15 ounce baby girl. After her required time in the hospital nursery, they brought her back to us swaddled and smelling of Baby Magic, all snuggled down in a red Christmas stocking with two little red bows in her nearly-black hair. Our family was complete.

Before she was born, she obviously had her own ideas about time management and scheduling – and to this day, that continues. Until her 5th birthday, she burst into tears when we sang “Happy Birthday” to her. She is artistic and creative. She bakes like a champ and sings like an angel, although she won’t let too many people hear her sing. She is confident and beautiful, kind and sarcastic, blunt and truthful, and very much her own person. She talks a LOT. She loves the show “Friends”. She is perpetually clumsy. She begins conversations with strangers and isn’t afraid to tell you just how much she loves Jesus. She hates math and loves dogs. She is simply amazing.

So Happy 14th Birthday, KadyBugg. We never knew how much we needed a Kady in our lives until we had one. 

In Stitches

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on December 6, 2015

In 9th grade I FINALLY got to take Home Ec. I had been longing to take that class probably since birth. I couldn’t wait to learn all the things I’d seen my mom do my whole life. She sewed the vast majority of Sis’ and my clothes, took a Wilton cake decorating class and could create elaborate wedding cakes and some of the coolest Big Bird cookies with icing feathers you’d ever seen.

My Home Ec teacher was Mrs. Frankie Sue Johnson. She was also my mother’s Home Ec teacher – in fact Mom was in her first class all those years ago. My Senior year was Mrs. Johnson’s last year and she retired in 1991. She started out with my mom the superstar in the 60’s and ended in the 90’s because apparently I broke her.

In the fall of 1987 our entire class of exuberant 14 year olds was more than ready to start cooking and sewing, but we had to endure a few arduous weeks of safety lessons and learn how to balance a checkbook and how to dress like humans and not the slouchy, ripped sweatshirted selves we had become in junior high. When we got past safety and fashion it was our class’ turn to cook. I’ll have to tell you about my culinary misadventures in the WHS kitchens another time.

FINALLY the new semester started and it was time for sewing. We decided as a class that our first project was to make a pair of “jams.” Jams were the wildly patterned long shorts that were all the rage that year. My jams were camouflage. Even then I was prepping to be a redneck. They were simple, drawstring waist, no real challenging parts. And I think Mrs. Johnson sewed about 85% of them for me. I’d basically throw my hands up in frustration, whine “Mrs. Johhhhhhnsonnnnnnnn…” and she’d come to my rescue. Then I’d say it still didn’t make sense. Then she’d say, “Oh, just get up and let me do it.” By the time I got to my Senior year I had graduated to rompers and dresses with less help from her, but it never really came easy to me.

The summer between 9th and 10th grade Mom decided I needed to do something besides sleep half the day away and play my sister’s Nintendo or watch MTV. So she bought an “easy” pattern for a housecoat, picked a fabric she liked, and said, “Here. Be productive.” I sewed the entire thing wrong side out. She found me crying at the sewing machine after work one day. She had to rip the whole thing apart and just finished it herself.

I have sewn a little here and there over the years. Mainly it was based more on necessity rather than desire to create. I could mend minor rips, sew on buttons, and stitch together a costume. One winter I started making ugly stuffed animals. They were ugly on purpose, by the way. If I created them ugly, I found that people overlooked my lack of talent. Last year I learned how to make adorable stuffed owls and bunnies. But that burst of sewing creativity didn’t last long because my sewing machine hated my guts and fouled up at every opportunity. I was given a brand new machine a few months ago and have been sewing quite a bit, the last few weeks especially. Just this week I finished my second set of bathroom curtains.  

I’ve also discovered that I’m getting better now that I don’t have Mrs. Johnson or Mom standing over me to rescue me when it gets hard. Now if I throw my hands up in frustration, say ugly words to my machine or the ill-behaving fabric, I just have to figure it out. 

I’m going to have to branch out to different projects soon, though. I’m running out of windows that need curtains. 

The Doghouse

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on November 29, 2015 

If we were smart and wanted to get creative on our taxes we could probably call ourselves a farm and use our two dogs as “cattle” and write off their food bill. Bolt is our four-year-old German Shepherd. Hero is a not-quite-eight-month-old Husky and Great Pyrenees mix. Bolt weighs in at about 80 pounds. Hero is the size of a 1982 Buick Riviera. We don’t typically worry about anyone messing around our place because the sheer size of the dogs is enough to deter even the most dedicated burglar. Bolt has run more than one person back to their vehicle and a poor unsuspecting dump truck driver who only wanted directions refused to get out of his truck no matter how many times I assured him I had Bolt by the collar.

But poor Bolt has a problem; Bolt is claustrophobic. Poor fella cannot handle small spaces or anything that has a roof any closer than four feet from the top of his head. This strange dog has been this way his entire life. He will lie out IN the snow before he’ll go into a dog house or shelter. He’ll lie under the cars in the summer, but only if his head sticks out. Last winter Paul retrofitted a doghouse that was left here by the previous occupants and opened the entire front of the shelter for him. He did pitifully go inside eventually, but whined the whole time he was in it. I’m not sure he ever even slept while he was in it he was so tense.

Last week Paul decided to build the dogs a big, open doghouse for the upcoming winter. Seeing as how they are huge, it was going to be a BIG dang doghouse. Since Sam is his usual right-hand man for projects but he has vo-tech in the mornings, I volunteered to help. A big project needs a helper, right?  Now, y’all might have figured out by now that my Paul isn’t a talker. For 23 years now our relationship has consisted of me chattering and asking questions and him grunting occasionally or spitting tobacco in order to answer with a one word reply. The building of the doghouse was no different.

“Can I help?” was met with “Ayuh” or “Nah”. Mostly “Nah.”

“Here, let me hold that!” got a head shake followed by a spit then “I got it.”

“Do you need my help?” was answered with, “Not really. Don’t you have something else you could be doing? Something out of my shop?”

“Oh, you dropped your pencil. Let me get that for you!” On that one he just sighed. After he spit.

I eventually decided to clean the shop. I organized some drill bits. Tsk’ed at his lack of organization and told him that come spring I am taking my label maker out there for some serious rearranging and identifying. I threw away a lot of stuff – like 47 empty spray paint cans (What on earth has he been painting??), 13 empty dog food bags, some rusty screws and bolts, and a Sawzall blade that was bent almost 90° and was missing over 80% of the teeth. I squealed every time a cricket jumped at me even though I tried hard not to. I sneezed a lot. I hummed. I chatted happily while he worked, not caring that it was completely one-sided.

I was happy to be out there with him. I wasn’t sure he’d say the same thing when it was all said and done, but later, after the dog house was completed and the boys had placed it on the south side of the shop out of the wind, he kissed me and said, “Thanks for your help today, dear.”

Oh! Be still my heart! He loves spending time with me and apparently thinks I am a GREAT helper! I have SO many projects in mind for this winter! He’ll be thrilled!     

Finding Thankful

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on November 22, 2015

21 days ago a vast majority of my Facebook friends started their annual “30 days of thankfulness” where they are supposed to post daily about something they are thankful for. That first week of November everyone was thankful for their houses, their families, their cars, their friends.  Now, if I see more than one thankful post a day it’s rare. I’m not judging, don’t think that for a second. I don’t even participate in the thing, so I can’t really judge someone for not posting their thanks on a daily basis. I’m just saying: Isn’t that just like us?

Oh, it’s easy to be thankful when it’s the easy, big stuff. I am very thankful for my house; it’s warm, it’s painted throughout with the colors of my choosing, it’s where my TempurPedic bed lives (and I am very thankful for that bed), and it’s home to some of my favorite people. I’m thankful for my husband and the fact he works so hard so that we can homeschool. I am thankful for my vehicle. I’m thankful for my three amazing kids, our dogs, my washer and dryer, and the pantry full of food.

But sometimes it’s harder be thankful.  Sure, I’m thankful for my house, but sometimes get discouraged when it seems like appliance after appliance needs replacing. And when the electric bill is topping out over $300 in the summer, it’s harder to be thankful for that. My washing machine makes my life a lot easier, but when it starts that grinding sound when it agitates, I find myself not as grateful. Sure, I’m thankful for my husband and his sacrifices for us, but it’s more difficult to be thankful for him on the days after he’s eaten beans for two meals the day before or when his snoring keeps me awake. Sure, I’m thankful for my Durango, but when I think about it guzzling gas to the tune of 14 mpg, it gets harder to be grateful. We are a nation of “I’m thankful when it’s perfect” and we need to do better.

The last few days of October I attended three funerals. I should have attended four, but frankly, I didn’t have it in me after the first three. Lemme tell ya, folks, three funerals in a matter of days will slap a whole lot of thankful on a person in a hurry. I attended the funeral of a friend’s brother and sat there thinking, “I need to call Heather and tell her I love her.” At the funeral of a distant cousin I made mental note to call or text my merry band of first cousins and reminisce about our “cousinly bonding” excursions of yore and dinners at Nana’s. And sitting in the chapel of the funeral home, while our friends mourned the loss of their sweet daughter….well, suddenly I was incredibly thankful for my kids’ near-constant brother-sister bickering and their apparent inability to pick up dirty socks.

My life isn’t perfect, but it is indeed blessed beyond measure. I am not one for resolutions and proclamations, but I am making a very concerted effort to find my thankful in every situation. When I’m in a long line at Walmart I don’t grumble, I smile. Because I’m not homeless and hungry, I’m not mourning a family member lost in a senseless act of terrorism, I’m not frightened of being beaten or oppressed, I’m not ill or fighting a fatal disease. No, I’m merely inconvenienced as I stand there with my debit card in hand, my cart overflowing with toilet paper, fresh fruits, and vegetables, the snacks my kids asked for – and enough money in my account to cover it all.

If I can encourage you to do one thing, it’s this: find your thankful this holiday season. It’s easier than you would think and it literally changes the way you look at everything. 

Hang On, Momma

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on November 1, 2015

 I have teenagers. Two of them still live at home. Every day of their lives I love them more than I love myself, but there are days I think if a band of traveling gypsies came across our property I’d send them off with a smile. And then, I am instantly flooded with such an overwhelming sense of shame at such thoughts when there are parents all over the world who are missing their kids for so many different reasons. Sometimes I’m a great mom. Sometimes, I’m awful. Whether we are Pinterest Perfect Parents or whether we are constantly seen struggling to balance it all, the constant truth is this: Parenting is hard.

Babies don’t sleep much. They poop and cry a lot. They suck on your nipples until they are as cracked as the Sahara. But oh, do they smell nice. Well, after a bath they do. After the pooping everywhere, not so much.

Toddlers are angry little creatures. They are easily frustrated. They’re sticky. They have perpetual boogers in (and on) their cute little noses. They want to do everything all. by. themselves. and God help the adult who tries to assist them. They still poop a lot – except now it’s in larger amounts and it smells horrible. They will make your exhausted heart melt into a puddle when you watch them sleep.
Lower elementary kids tend to be easy. They love Santa and the Easter Bunny. Their teeth fall out so adorably. They write you phonetic notes saying you’re “beeuteefool.” They believe in magic and fairies and monsters – and you.

Upper elementary/tweens are typically the spawn of the devil. They know everything. They smell like onions. They giggle one minute then cry for seven hours after. They become hyper-aware of the opposite sex. Their friends are all awful, fickle, and obnoxious, but truthfully… your kid is, too.  

Teenagers are cool for the most part, but that whole “they know everything” they started as tweens is ongoing. They are even more hyper-aware of the opposite sex. They become very sure then unsure about their future and change their post-high school plans 400 billion times in the span of one week. When your child nears graduation you learn to just keep college and scholarship applications filled out and on hand because depending on the week they plan to send them in – or they tearfully rip them up and declare they’ll just become a hobo.

And through all of this, we parents just hold on for dear life.  We endure sleepless nights, bullies, breakups, Algebra, and food allergies and we’re all expected to just come out of it with our sanity and the ability to create science fair posters and bridges made out of toothpicks. Some of us do it with flair; some don’t. Some of us spend so much time keeping up with Suzy Homemaker that we fail to realize that perhaps she also is running on 2.6 hours of sleep a night, her husband won’t help her with bathtime any more than yours will, and her child is also terrified of the tub drain. Does her ability to show up without a perpetual spitup stain on her shirt make her a better mom than you of the multiple mystery chunks? Absolutely not. Who’s to say that she doesn’t lock herself in the bathroom to eat Fun Size Snickers and cry a little every night just the way you do?

We’re all just muddling through. These beautiful, wonderful, noisy, smelly, amazing creatures God gave us are life-sucking and marvelous, but they definitely didn’t come with instructions. The best thing we can do through all the stages of their lives is pray. And just hang on, Momma.

Go ahead and stuff that Hershey bar in your bra as you race past the kids to devour it away from their little hawk eyes. Just hurry though, sister. Boob heat makes chocolate melt pretty fast. So I hear.