Monday, November 03, 2014


Published in the Miami News-Record on October 12, 2014

About a month ago one of the kids noticed that our momma cat, Chuck Norris, was putting on some weight.  I inwardly groaned because I knew it meant that Chuck was in a family way. Her last litter of kittens was about four months old at the time and while we like to keep a cat or two around, we don’t want to get crazy with feline overpopulation.

Typically when we notice a cat is pregnant around here there is usually time to prepare for the blessed event. I told the kids we had about a month before the kittens came, but Chuck Norris, well, she likes to keep us on our toes. A mere week after our discovery, we had another discovery: four teeny tiny kittens in a barrel out by the shop. Our oldest daughter’s pup, Josie, took to barking at the kittens, which wasn’t much of an issue considering their ears were still shut, but apparently Chuck didn’t much care for it. A little over a week ago she moved her babies to an unused doghouse right by our front porch. Josie didn’t bother them there and all seemed right with the world. They figured out how to crawl and wiggle out into the sunshine and loved being paid attention to. They just needed giant sunglasses and they’d have been little kitty Kardashians.

And then the rains came.

While I was at homeschool co-op and our oldest was at home, she discovered one had nearly drowned after she wiggled out of her house. After some drying and lovin’-on, she perked up, Abby secured them all back into the doghouse while the rains kept coming. Then Chuck decided that her accommodations were worthy of a scathing Yelp review and left her kittens high and dry. Actually, low and soaked. So in the middle of a downpour, we moved a barrel to the porch, put the kittens in it, and Chuck deemed it suitable.

And then the winds came.

The barrel started filling with water, again soaking the poor critters. When I went out last Monday morning one kitten was gone, two were soaked to the bone, and one was barely breathing. Chuck would have nothing to do with them and kept bolting away when we tried to put her with the wet little varmints, running for cover like she was insisting the rain was going to make her hair frizzy.  We found most of our Monday school day whittled away by bottle feedings and mewling kittens. My husband was less than thrilled that our No Indoor Pet policy had been pushed aside in our humanitarian (felinatarian?) attempts. I was adamant that we were doing the right thing and that we were only showing our kids how to be kind to animals.

But at 3 am when those kittens started hollering that the milk replacer was gross and they  missed their momma and could they see Santa and “Are we there yet?” all rolled into a bunch of  “She’s touching me!” type shrill squeals and meows, I found myself having misplaced my kindness. I found myself with a scratching, wiggling ball of fur in one hand while I blearily tried to fill a miniscule bottle with milk replacer and warm it so as to not scald the poor thing’s gizzard. It was a flashback to when my own kids were newborns, although with less scratching, but pretty much the same amount of yowling.

Since then Chuck has been forcefully placed into a confined area with her kittens and is only let out when the little ones aren’t screeching with all their might. She glares at us when we let her out and I’m pretty certain that look says, “I’d rip your heart out right now if I could.” And again, it is reminiscent of when my husband and I had a newborn. I’m pretty sure I blearily directed that thought at him more than once at 2 am.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Published in the Miami News-Record, November 2, 2014

I love Halloween. So much so that we’ve had our Halloween decorations up since the first week of September. We have these really cool pictures that look like old black and white photos but when you get close they are skeletons, vampires, zombies, etc. Our fireplace beheld a pile of bones until my husband evicted ol’ Boney Maroney when he installed our new gas logs. Now ol’ Boney just hangs out all piled up in a galvanized bucket next to the TV. There are creepy cobwebs hanging everywhere. Actually, that’s not just a Halloween thing, just my lackadaisical housekeeping.

I used to go all out on Halloween costumes. Halloween costumes and Valentine’s Day boxes brought forth a part of me that stayed hidden the rest of the year, but come October and February I was a woman obsessed. I stayed up until 3am on more than one occasion crafting and building costumes and boxes. All I can figure, I was a lot younger and really cared way too much about what other people thought. Now I’m old and don’t give much of a hoot. And since we homeschool and they’re older now, costumes (and Valentine boxes) haven’t been a big deal around here for awhile. In fact, we haven’t trick-or-treated since I made this deal with the kids: You don’t make me create a costume for you and drag you out in the wind/cold/heat/crowds, and I buy you a metric ton of candy and let you stay up as late as you want.  It’s my favorite Halloween tradition.

This year a friend of ours decided to host a costume party. And my children got really excited. I made the standard candy/stay-up-late offer and even said I’d watch scary movies with them, but no, the little extroverts wanted to go to the party. Then the himming and hawing began over costumes. And to top it all off, the oldest daughter wanted to dress up for work and she wanted to be “super scary”. Because that’s what everyone who comes in to the restaurant want to see while they eat – her creepy scary zombie doll clown vampire face.

The two youngest kids decided on cosplay-type costumes from the Batman comics – The Scarecrow and Harley Quinn. Fortunately Kady’s costume was her idea alone and she did the entire thing herself (the Overachieving Force is strong with that one) and the oldest decided on a mime (decidedly un-super scary, but sufficiently creepy for those of us with clown phobias already). The girls’ ability to create theirs on their own left me to work on their brother’s costume. By 11pm the night before Halloween I had enough burlap fibers on me to make me look like a crazy cat lady and my dining room had little bits of twine pretty much everywhere. In an attempt at singeing the cut edges of the eye holes, I managed to catch the mask on fire and here’s some wisdom for you: flaming burlap fibers will embed under the tender flesh of the pad of one’s finger. Then after I stitched the mouth with some sloppy, creepy stitches I realized the mouth was smiling happily, not grimacing menacingly. I, however, was grimacing as I pulled out the stitches to start over. And itching from an apparent burlap allergy.

When it was all said and done, though, all three costumes looked great. Harley Quinn and The Scarecrow represented Gotham City well and the mime didn’t even scare a single customer (although she did give her mother the creeps). And while I thought my costume-making days were over, I was granted one more flurry of sewing, gluing and memory-making. It was worth sporting melted burlap around in my finger for a day or two to see them trot off excitedly and for my six-foot-tall son to wrap his arms around me and say, “Thanks, Mom. It looks great. You’re the best. Really.”

Be still my Halloweary heart. I’d melt burlap into my finger every day of the week for that.  

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Clowning Around

Originally published in the Miami News-Record, October 12, 2014 (with a few bonus pictures!) 

Krusty the Clown from "The Simpsons"
I was 13 and had just been given the key to Pandora’s Box when my dad took me with him to the college library while he was doing some research for a paper. I sat cross-legged in the floor on the second story of the NEO library and read excerpts and passages of a seemingly endless supply of horror novels, creeping myself out, page by page. I had never had access to such a collection of “grownup” books and I was ecstatic. The book I settled on that night – my very first scary read – was “The Bachman Books”. It was a collection of Stephen King’s first stories when he was writing under the pen name Richard Bachman. And just like that, with those four short novels, I was hooked. Between my scary book obsession and my best friend and I watching low-budget horror films (rented from Showtime Video – anyone remember that place?) virtually every weekend of our adolescence, I developed a bit of a fascination with the horror genre. I love to be scared.

Pennywise. Eek!
I have read virtually every Stephen King book ever published – most of them more than once. I got Mr. King’s book “It” in all of its 1,138-page hardcover glory when I was 14 and began reading it as the family took off for a Branson vacation. I can’t tell you much about our trip to the Country Music Capital of the World that go ’round, but I can probably tell you anything you would want to know about Derry, Maine, where the story took place. I read it so feverishly and incessantly that I ended up carsick on those Ozark Mountain backroad hills. I was also reading it late one night (when I was supposed to be sleeping) by the light of a flashlight while covered up in a blanket. My mom came in to put up some laundry not having a clue that her opening my bedroom door would shave about 47 years off my life. As she stepped into my room, all she saw was a flashlight, a giant book, a blanket, and her daughter shoot straight up into the air followed by a round of nightmarish screams. When I realized she wasn’t Pennywise the clown coming to drag me into the sewers to kill me and she recovered from the heart attack I had just given her, we both busted out laughing.

I have a short list of phobias: water, spiders, heights, sewer grates, and clowns. The last two items on that list are directly because of the aforementioned book. It is the most haunting of Mr. King’s novels in my opinion and has stuck with me well into adulthood. Now, this might seem a bit oxymoronic – the girl who loves to be scared is phobic and terrified of something, but call it what you will. All I know is: clowns really freak me out. Really. Spiders freak me out, too, but after having been bitten by a black widow, I think anyone would be slightly scared of them. But clowns… *shiver* Ronald McDonald is one scary dude in my opinion.


There are different schools of thought regarding phobias. Some say immersion therapy is the most effective way to overcome a phobia or fear. Immersion therapy simply baby-steps a person into different levels of contact/experience with a particular phobia until they have overcome their fear. I’m not 100% convinced. Although I guess I shouldn’t scoff at something that is regarded amongst the psychiatric community as successful.

I guess if there’s a doctor out there willing to set up a scenario regarding a clown who jumps off of a skyscraper into a body of deep water where he water skis on a sewer grate to a pit of spiders, I’d be open to watching that and see where things go from there.

 Twisty the Clown
from "American Horror Story: Freakshow"
Dude is seriously messed up. 

On second thought….nah. I’m okay avoiding clowns for the rest of my life. I’m not a big fan of McDonald’s food anyway.   

Mystery Meat

Originally published in the Miami News-Record, October 5, 2014

We are a one income family and have been for most of our married life. Please don’t misunderstand – we aren’t living on one income because that’s all we need to live on; no, we live on one income because it’s our choice. We do without a lot of things in order to make it work. It’s not for everyone. Living frugally to the extreme isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. Sometimes you just have to get creative and do the best you can. Sales are my best friend come menu-planning day and I take my shopping very seriously.

A few weeks ago the little grocery store near where we live had a great sale on fryer leg quarters. It was limit two and I wanted to get as many as I could before they went off sale. (Please don’t judge – it didn’t say “Limit two per household forever” or anything.) I picked up two and sent money with my oldest daughter to pick up two more when she got off work that night. I never thought that she didn’t know what a fryer leg quarter looked like, but later realized that at nearly 18 I guarantee you I didn’t know what they looked like either. I told her the price per pound and that they were in 10-pound bags, so they should be $6.80 a bag. She wrote all of that down along with “fryer leg quarters – CHICKEN” on a scrap of paper, tucked it into her purse with my $20 and headed to work.

That night around 9:30, she walked in the door with a rather large plastic bag of flat, frozen hunks of meat and a very upset look on her face. She held it out at arm’s length and asked, “Is this what you wanted?” I squinted at the contents and shook my head. Her shoulders slumped as she said, “I didn’t think so. But oh, let me tell you the story.” I gingerly took the bag of frozen meat pucks and inspected it, trying to not bust out in hysterical laughter only because I knew she was upset at not fulfilling her duties that night. She then told me how the nose-picking, slack-jawed hillbilly kid at the register stared at her blankly and said, “Uhm….yeah…..uh….I got no idear what y’all are talkin’ ‘bout. I don’t know ‘bout no fr’ar leg quotters,” to which my outspoken daughter then said, “Well then, I think maybe you should find me somebody who does.” The kid was still knuckle-deep in a nostril as he called for “someone from the back” who, coincidentally, had no idea what she was talking about either. He did, however, manage to dig up the bag of mystery meat and said, “I don’t know if this is what you want, but it’s only five dollars so….” and trailed off as if she should be pleased at the $1.80 price difference. She was not, but she was also tired and irritated.

One adventurous night a few weeks ago I decided to make the Mystery Meat for dinner. Abby took a picture of them and put it on Facebook. Several people commented, saying they wanted to throw up just looking at them. A few said we were crazy for eating them. A few tried to identify them. Turns out, they were backs. Chicken backs. *shudder* The family said they tasted good, but about an hour and a half after dinner we were all in the kitchen looking for a snack. Turns out, there just isn’t a whole lot of meat on a chicken’s back.

*Certain author liberties were taken with this story. There are no actual hillbillies working at the local grocery store. Nor were any noses picked during the incident in question. So says Abby. She might also be protecting her secret hillbilly boyfriend who bought up all my cheap fryer leg quarters. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

I Got Problems

I always have been and always will be a words kinda gal. I love the sound of words, the beauty of them on paper and how they sound when spoken. I love the power behind them, the things they can accomplish, the feelings they can evoke. Numbers just can’t do that. Numbers are solid, logical, tangible… and insanely frustrating. Words can’t always be captured by the voice and have many different meanings to many different people. The number five is always going to equal the number five. But say any word – any word you can think of – to five different people and it will likely be interpreted five different ways. 

Numbers are just not the primary language spoken by my brain. It took from 3rd grade to 6th grade before I could finally do multiplication without breaking out into a cold sweat. I took Algebra I my Freshman year and passed it by the skin of my teeth. I started my Sophomore year in Algebra II and after one week of that nonsense I marched into Mr. Lippe’s office with arms crossed, determined look on my face, demanding that he remove me at once from that vile class and put me into something else, anything else. He moved me over to Business Math, a class I passed with an A. I went on to end my high school math career with Accounting I and II, passing both with A’s. It’s not that I can’t do math, it’s that I just prefer not to. The add/subtract/multiply/divide kind of math is do-able. Please do not put letters in there. That’s where it gets all jumbly – like a really sick and twisted can of algebra soup.

Last year our son made it through Algebra I with a resounding A at the end of the year. The program we use is computer-based, thorough, and very easy to understand, but starting out this year in Algebra II has been challenging to say the least. He suffers from the same phenomenon I do: Mathematical Amnesia. If I learn a math concept I can do it all day long. But if I sleep? You can forget about me remembering a dadgum thing the next day.

I’ve been learning Algebra II right along with him this year, a task that has gotten easier in my old age – a fact I find very strange considering I have maternal oatmeal brain and am on medication for nerve pain that messes with my memory. This past week they introduced “distance” word problems. One might think I, a word person, could do word problems. One would be wrong. Oh. So. Wrong.  I loathe word problems. They never, ever make sense to me.  “If Bob is on a subway car traveling at 15mph and Douglas is on a rocket ship to Mars traveling at 27mph, how long will it take the two of them to create a macramé sculpture of the Mona Lisa using only their toes?” That’s how I interpret every single word problem I ever encounter.

It took my son and me nearly 30 minutes to figure out a particularly difficult problem one day and when we eventually got it right, you should’ve seen the high-fiving and hollering that was executed right there at the dining room table. Then we got into my secret stash of chocolate. And soon after that he decided that college didn’t seem like a real fun option for him after all and “homeless street person” sounded safely math-free. I patted his leg, handed him another Reese’s Cup and said, “Or you could always just homeschool your own kids, son. And learn it at 41 like I am.”

I’m really not looking forward to telling my husband that our soon-to-be-homeless son won’t be blessing us with grandchildren. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014


Published in the Miami News-Record, September 14, 2014

This past week I had my first experience with canning. Well, I say first experience, but I guess I should clarify. I witnessed my mom and Uncle David canning before now, but I was a kid and I was sitting on a barstool in the kitchen at my Papa and Memaw’s farm eating a piece of Roman Meal bread with real butter on it, swinging my legs, chatting up a storm about nothing in particular, not being at all quiet or even remotely un-annoying. So, yeah, this experience really was altogether new.

One of my husband’s brothers has had this amazing apple tree for years now, but this is the first I have ever heard of it. I’m sure proximity has something to do with it, seeing as how we used to live 20 miles away and now we have clear line of sight between our two houses. Paul walked in the house the other night with four Walmart sacks just full of apples and I was like a kid on Christmas morning, clapping my hands and squealing with a strange glee that surprised even me. I don’t even really like apples all that much. I will eat apple pie and apple crisp, but it’s very rare you’ll see me eating a raw apple and you’ll never, ever see me eating applesauce. Why I got so excited at the sight of those apples is beyond me. Maybe it was because I was still feeling adventurous after this summer’s first garden, maybe it was because I felt nostalgic for those childhood days at the farm, or maybe it’s because I’m a glutton for punishment and like to pile my plate as high as I can with as many activities as I possibly can. I’m going with the last one.

And really now, who couldn’t use about 40 pounds of apples just sitting around their kitchen on any given day?

Our oldest daughter had a minor surgery last week and I had cleared our schedule for the days after. I figured it was as good a time as any to try my hand at canning. I was going to can apple butter. I’d never had apple butter, but it seemed like an obvious choice with that many apples in my possession. Mom also gave me a recipe for apple pie filling and I was determined to can that as well. The first thing I had to do was go to Walmart for a water bath, a jar grabber, some seals (I had jars and rings), and some lemon juice. Then I forgot the lemon juice and had to have my sister-in-law pick some up on her way home from work. (Thank God for a Walmart associate in the family.)

The first day got away from me. Then, there was the next day. On Thursday I managed to start. Bright and early that morning, with paring knife in hand, I was determined to show those apples who was boss. Then I saw the recipe for apple butter called for TWELVE POUNDS of apples. I measured out one pound and realized that I didn’t own a stock pot big enough to hold 12 whole pounds of apples. I used my math skills to cut the recipe down by 1/3 and got started.

I referred to my recipe and directions a lot. I consulted the internet a lot. I texted and called my mom a lot. I finally got the water bath to agree to a “vigorous boil”, started ladling my hot apple butter into my hot jars, to realize that four pounds of apples yields… about four measly pint jars of apple butter.
I won’t even tell you how my first experience at blackberry butter went. Let’s just say that after five hours of reducing, I now have two pints of blackberry syrup that is so strong it’ll put hair on your chest, strip wallpaper, and remove corrosion from car batteries.

I might just stick to gardening. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

When I'm Gone

From the Miami News-Record, Sunday, September 7, 2014

This past week I celebrated the life of Don Hall with his family and friends. I met Don when we attended church east of town and marveled at how many children he could fit in the cab of a pickup truck. (I became much more at ease when I heard he had bought a van – then I learned it only bought him that much more room for more kids.) I stood in that church parking lot and asked my Pops (and pastor), “Why does he bring all those kids to church?” Pops smiled and said, “Because he wants to.” And oh, how he wanted to. He felt a calling, a desire, a mission to introduce as many kids as he possibly could to Jesus and if that meant testing the limits of a vehicle to fit just one more in, he did it. About four years later my husband and I were wet-behind-the-ears youth leaders at a church south of town and had the privilege of seeing again just how many lives “Papa Don” touched when he rolled into the parking lot one night with an even bigger vehicle – a bus – in which to haul kids to church. When he stepped onto those streets of gold last week and had instant knowledge of how many lives he had touched, how many people he had led to salvation, I would imagine he just grinned his shy grin and ducked his head as he heard his Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
I am not a fan of funerals. (I might also ask, “Who is?”) I will avoid a funeral just about any way I can simply because I think too many times we get caught up in mourning and forget to remember. And since I’m a cry-er in the presence of other crying folks, I just don’t subject myself to that if I don’t have to. So often we forget to focus on the good that person did and the way they lived their life and we instead shed our tears in earthly sadness. I guess you could say we get a bit selfish when it comes to someone dying. We will miss them and we can’t stand the thought of life here without them, then we cry. And if you’re me, you cry a lot. So just know this: if I show up to your funeral, I really thought you were pretty darn special.
As I sat in that pew last week waiting for Don’s funeral to begin, I thought ahead to my own passing. (An event I am not planning on having happen for a very long time.) I leaned over to my oldest daughter and said, “Listen to me, young lady. When I die, there had better not be a memorial service held in a church. I want a party.” She looked at me with the strangest look and said, “A party? Like, what on earth would we do at a ….. a party in honor of your…..DEATH??”
So given that she pinned me down right there, I pondered a bit before I said, “Well, you had better eat BBQ. And chocolate cake. Lots of chocolate cake. You guys take turns telling stories about my clumsiness, read some of the stuff I’ve written over the years. Talk about my awful hair. Laugh. Poke a little fun at me – heck, I’ll be gone, so go for it.” I went on to tell her that I’ll be writing my own obituary, so that’ll taken care of already. She seemed relieved at that. She was amused at my party plans and nodded a lot so I hope she intends to honor my wishes.

And while y’all are at my memorial party crying only because you’re laughing so hard you might wet your pants, I will have already hit the gates of Heaven, hopefully hearing the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” and not, “Girl, you’ve got some explainin’ to do.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Nostalgia and School Supplies

From The Miami News-Record,  Sunday, August 31

When I was a kid, school supply lists consisted of: Pencils – fat in lower elementary, skinny in upper – two of them, no more. A Pink Pearl eraser – these weren’t used for erasing, just pegging your neighbor in the back of the skull. Elmer’s glue – one bottle. This was used to glue construction paper to manila paper (most kids called it “vanilla paper” – FYI: it didn’t smell like vanilla) and was also applied in thin layers to the backs of your hands then peeled off when dry in order to gross out your classmates with your “skin”. Crayons – a pack of 16 was all that was required, but there was always some kid who showed up with the fancy pack of 64 with the built-in sharpener and that was the kid you wanted to sit next to. Colors were Indian Red, Prussian Blue, Maize, Raw Umber, etc. “Burnt Sienna” was the weird brown that baffled everyone. What was a sienna and why was it burnt? Scissors – metal, blunt-end scissors that rusted by Christmas break. The purpose was to cut paper, but was usually just used to cut chunks out of your hair – or your Pink Pearl eraser. Colored pencils – these were only required in 5th and 6th grade because that was when they taught map skills (and we all know maps cannot be colored with crayons – just ask Christopher Columbus). Kleenex – two boxes. No one brought Puffs; they were too expensive. 

All of the above supplies were to be contained in your cardboard school box. The school box (and your metal lunch box) was a direct reflection of your interests at the time – Strawberry Shortcake, Dukes of Hazzard, Bugs Bunny, etc. School boxes started out with square corners and a lid that closed squarely as well. By year’s end most were covered in elementary-grade graffiti, the lids were held on by that really good tape the teachers kept in the locked drawer, the corners were torn, and the lid was kept from caving in by a pushpin (said pushpin stolen from the bulletin board). Throw a Big Chief tablet into the whole mix and your school supplies maybe cost a whole $10 - more if you were the kid with the 64 pack of crayons. These things were stored in your desk with the squeaky lift-up tops that slammed at deliciously loud decibels – and pinched countless fingers.

Now, all pencils are small because the big ones hinder small motor skills. Scissors must be kept out of the reach of the children until they are brought out and carefully monitored, saving many a head of hair I’m sure. Glue is in sticks and you must equip your child with roughly 4,823 at the beginning of the year. Crayon colors are politically correct and exciting – Wild Blue Wonder, Cerise, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Jazzberry Jam, Smokey Topaz, and others that to me sound more like stripper names than crayon colors. Manila paper has given way to iPad apps and antibacterial gel is liberally applied to the children throughout the day. Ziploc bags, paper towels, wet wipes, and acetaminophen/ibuprofen make the supply lists these days due to dwindling budgets. If we had a headache we got a wet brown paper towel from the bathroom for our foreheads. And the only thing we had for germ containment was the stuff the janitor sprinkled on puke when someone got sick after riding the merry-go-round. Today’s kids must stay home if they have fevers, but back in my day you were given a baby aspirin and told to tough it out. Skinned knees got “the spray” – a yellow aerosol that burned like the fire of a thousand suns. Pounding erasers was the biggest honor a kid could get and the white residue that covered you was a badge of honor. And probably caused asthma and dry eyes, too, but we survived. We survived it all.

Ahhh, nostalgia. I hope someday our kids develop an app for that. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Well. That's a Problem.

From The Miami News-Record, July 6, 2014

Growing up we lived in a house in the country with rural water, so when the electricity went out and all our neighbors on wells were without water we were still drinkin’ water and flushin’ toilets with wild abandon.  Paul and I lived in town for 5 years on city water then moved to our Hudson Creek house which was again on rural water. There was only a short 10 month period as newlyweds that we had a well. It took a section of pipe with a hole in it to throw us into a waterless two day span marking what this spoiled girl thought was the seventh level of Hell. Fast forward to one day last week at our Wyandotte house when the kids and I were happily washing dinner dishes and the water just kind of fizzled out then …. stopped. I turned the water off and turned it back on, as if that magical routine would fix the problem. It didn’t. So then I did what I always do when something goes wrong: hollered for my husband.

He called the brother that lives closest. They both crawled under the house, scratched their heads a few times, then they called the other brother. Then they called a neighbor. Well, called the neighbor after Paul came in and asked if we had any money. I said we did, but not to get all high-falootin’ with that notion. He nodded and rushed back outside. Not long after that it was declared that some wires or something or ‘nother was shorted or burned or cut or possibly sabotaged by garden gnomes, heck I don’t know. Regardless of the actual problem, there was a bigger problem: by this point, all of us girls had to pee. The boys take advantage of Nature’s Toilet quite frequently out here, but we girls are a bit more delicate. Actually, I used to be quite adept at the ol’ pop-a-squat, but age and short chubby legs make it a bit more challenging these days. I mean, if I want to do yoga, I’ll ju—oh, who am I kidding, I’m never going to want to do yoga. Anyway, my girls just screeched at the thought of going outside even though their daddy told them to just get over it and go. I was going to, until I got out there, got myself all limbered up and then the coyotes that I’m pretty sure were attracted to the whites of my thighs started in with the howling and I vapor locked.

It is in times like these that I am glad I am a worrier with doomsday prepper tendencies because, see, I’ve been hoarding water in jugs since we moved out here. We moved in the middle of the winter to the top of a hill where the power lines run through the jungles of Wyandotte. The threat of ice storms periodically through the winter had me planning ahead for power outages. I’d nearly tackle a family member heading for the trash with a milk jug or juice bottle. Those were the precious receptacles of flush-water, I told them. They scoffed. I stood firm in my hoarding. When no ice storms came, I told them to just wait until the spring storm season. And even that has been mild. So turns out, I was just preparing for a shorted something or ‘nother in our well pump.

Because the well guy obviously had a life outside of coming to fix our well at 9pm, we were left with no choice but to employ the motto “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down,” further into the next day than any of us wanted. To be honest, you just don’t realize how pampered you really are until you are forced to piggy back your – ahem –efforts with family members and flush your toilet with hoarded water. We are definitely spoiled and incredibly fortunate, but more than anything, glad that’s over. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Of Sister and Sprouts

From The Miami News-Record, July 13, 2014

My sister, Heather, is three and a half years younger than I am. We didn’t get along very well when we were kids and to this day, Mom still tells teary tales of lying in bed at night, crying, wondering what she did wrong to make us hate each other so much. The thing is, we didn’t hate each other, we were just….annoyed and annoying. I being the annoyED one, Sis being the annoyING one. It’s an ages-old tale, the one of siblings and the eternal cycle of bickering, pestering, fussing, and downright fisticuffs on occasion. My own kids do it. Sometimes it’s nearly enough to drive me to drink. However, I can’t think of bickering siblings without remembering the first time Sis and I had a “sister moment”, an unspoken reconciliation of sorts. We were probably 14 and 17 and it was the first time we realized we were on the same team. Of course, we still fussed from time to time after that, but it was just … different from that moment on.
We were sitting at the bar in our kitchen in the usual configuration and scenario: Dad at the end, Mom on the short side, Sis and I across from her on the long side. As usual, elbows were jabbed at each other, Sis thumped her feet against the cabinet, I exasperatingly squealed my disgust, insults were slung under our breaths, various other antics were displayed. Mom had made brussel sprouts for dinner and I DID NOT (still don’t) like brussel sprouts. The rule was we had to try new food once and if we didn’t like it, we were cleared from having to eat it when it was served. But every few years or so, we would have to re-try the foods to see if our “taste buds had changed”, as Mom put it. I always thought that to be a load of bull, but it was the rule. For some reason, that day Mom decided I needed to re-try the sprouts and put one on my plate. I whined. She added another. Before I got wise and shut up, I ended up with three of the nasty things on my plate. I ate everything but those tiny orbs of revulsion and Mom said I should get busy. I sat. Humor was a big thing in our house, so I tried that, making jokes about being allergic and did she want the possibility of my death hanging over her head for the rest of her days, but she didn’t buy into my cuteness. You would think that at 17 I’d have just eaten one and been done, but no, my mouth got me stuck with three and there seemed to be no way of getting around it.
Mom got up to refill her tea, her back to the bar, and quick as a flash, two sprouts disappeared from my plate and were in my sister’s mouth. She gave me a look and through a mouthful of green mumbled, “Chew!” When Mom turned back around, she saw her darling oldest child chewing away and her youngest intent on her own plate, shaking. Dad just stared. Mom asked, “Are they good? Do you like them?” Still “chewing”, I just nodded and made some noises I hoped would convince her that I was chowing down. I don’t know if it was my cartoonish “swallow” or the fact that Sis was about to have an aneurism from holding back her laughter, but I was found out. Then Mom did what any good mother would do: she force fed me the remaining sprout on my plate. All of us girls were laughing hysterically and before it was said and done, I had brussel sprout in my eyebrows and ears, green vegetable was slung all willy nilly and Dad just sat shaking his head.
But suddenly, annoyED and annoyING became friends. And we still are today.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Got the Point

From The Miami News-Record, Sunday, August 10, 2014

In 1983 I was in fourth grade, smack in the middle of my awkward stage. I had a Little Orphan Annie perm (not as cute on me), was chunky, and none of my shirts ever fit quite right. I quickly learned to deal with awkwardness by using humor – I loved to make people laugh. I still do.

For PE we would trek to the old gym (that still smells like wet wood and pre-pubescent angst) to play kickball, dodgeball, jumprope, or tag. On really good days we got to play with the scooters. On really bad days we had to climb the rope. On this particular day, Kristy Fink was sitting on the bleachers alone. She looked glum. I decided to cheer her up. I trotted toward her and when I got close, lowered my backside to the bleachers and slid, my intention being to slide into her and make her laugh. Instead of making her laugh, though, I instead felt this intense pain in the back of my leg, just under my ….cheek. I immediately jumped up, holding my bum, jumping around and screaming, “I have a splinter in my leg!” I think people thought I was again using humor, what with all my dancing and butt-holding, but I was seriously hurting. Coach Phillips looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Bass, calm down. Splinters aren’t that bad.” I assured him it was indeed bad. Not knowing what else to do, he instructed “Fink” to escort me to the office.

At the office, Mrs. Gatewood, the secretary, had me lower my britches and show her the splinter in question. My escort, Kristy, was very dark-skinned and upon seeing the splinter, blanched as white as the white girl showing her bum in the school office. Mrs. Gatewood gasped. The “splinter” was as big around as a toothpick and twice as long. It had gone in right under the skin and was sticking out about a half inch. It. Was. Horrible.

Because my mom cleaned houses during the day and cell phones hadn’t been invented, I was stuck in the office until she got home. Because the wooden skewer lodged in me was perilously close to my bum, there was no way I could sit. All they knew to do was put me face down on the faux leather sofa right in front of the principal’s desk with my pants around my ankles, my lower half draped in the principal’s jacket. Why no one thought to remove my pants from my ankles I’ll never know. That day I heard several teacher/principal conversations, listened to a kid get reprimanded for shooting spit balls, and was witness to a kid getting swats. That poor kid was mortified I was in there watching him get busted; I was equally mortified that I was there with my pants around my ankles.

Finally Mom got home and came to get me. Because my pants were still at my ankles, I couldn’t walk (again, not sure why they weren’t just removed), so the principal carried me to the car -- which wouldn’t have been so bad if third graders hadn’t been coming in from PE at the precise moment we entered the lobby. There I was, dangling from the principal’s neck, pants-less, draped in a Wyandotte Bears jacket, crying from embarrassment while all the kids were whispering, “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with her?”, “Is she dead?”,  “She’s not dead! She’s crying!”, “Why is she crying?”, “What happened to her??” It. Was. Horrible.

The doctor had to cut my skin and create an “exit” for the spear embedded in my leg. If he had pulled it by the piece sticking out, there was a chance it would splinter back and create a big ol’ mess right there on my backside. But by day’s end I had a new stuffed dog, a bottle of pink bubblegum antibiotics, and a bandage on my backside. Oh, and an intense fear of wooden bleachers.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Any of you who have more than one child knows what sibling rivalry is and how it sucks your will to live most of the time. On the other hand, though, as a parent of more than one child you also probably know that when they get along, that time is fricking golden. GOLDEN, I'm telling you.

When my kids were little, they'd fuss over who was breathing whose air, whose bum was getting more of the backseat, who got more spaghetti at dinner. Those things were just a part of my daily - nay, hourly - life as a mother of toddlers, preschoolers, elementary-aged kids. While I was silently suffering on the inside, breaking up fights without even realizing I was doing it, and even becoming so adept I could change the youngest's diaper with my hands while keeping the other two from ripping out jugular veins with one leg extended behind me, my husband had far less patience with the harping, nagging, fussing, squealing, arguing, and sometimes downright caterwauling. He'd go from completely detached from the universe to threatening bodily harm in 2.1 seconds. I could endure for days. And I did. Maybe it was because I was young. Maybe it was because motherhood had been my lifelong dream. Maybe it was because I knew if I stopped being a stay-at-home mommy I'd have to get a job that involved wearing a bra on a daily basis.

So now I am the mother of teenagers. Two are full-fledged teenagers, one is mere months away from being there officially, although her attitude argues otherwise. (Girl is rockin' those teenage hormones and eyerolls these days. Ugh.) The fleeting moments of shining parental happiness when your children get along is no different when they become teenagers. In fact, I think it's even more precious. Now that they are older, the arguments are more in the range of who is louder, who is more obnoxious, who is my favorite, who gets all of our money when their dad and I finally kick the bucket, and those kinds of things. And with taller bodies, apparently comes longer vocal cords and increased lung capacity with which to throw insults and slams at much higher volumes than when they were little, compact, and cute. Days where the insults fly from sun-up to sun-down are exhausting for me. Since we homeschool, there is very little opportunity for me to ever get a break. I love them all dearly and am so happy that God has given us the chance, blessings, freedom, and grace to educate them at home, but I am being completely honest when I say this: there are days I have considered tying them all three together with duct tape and kicking them out of the car in front of the school, driving on with a smile on my face and going straight home to just sit on my couch in the complete silence. Not taking a nap or a hot bath. Just sitting. Where it's quiet. Never mind that our oldest child has graduated high school and would have no need to step foot on a high school campus - but that's the least of what I'm thinking of when I'm daydreaming.

But oh. There are days that I see their sibling relationships developing right before my very eyes, the dynamics of sister/sister, sister/brother, and all three together. I see how big brother looks out for little sister. I see how little brother asks big sister for advice. I see how big sister steps down from her lofty heights of being nearly 18 to help little sister with an outfit or hair. I try to focus on those precious, stolen moments when little sister is invading her older siblings' personal space or when brother is tormenting the dickens out of his sisters with stinky socks or his retainer. I see them taking selfies with each other, making stupid faces or being serious either one. I see how little sister looks up (literally) to big sister with little stars shooting out of her eyes. I see how little brother looks down (literally) on either sister with a grin of mischief and dare I say it - love. I hope and pray with all that is in me that their relationships only strengthen as they get older. They are going to need each other when they get out there in the real world. They are going to experience heartache that they won't want to come to me or their daddy about, but a phone call to big sister is going to make it better, perhaps put things in perspective. They are going to call each other as Paul and I age to share stories about how we're losing it or something senile we said or did. And they are going to become aunts and uncle to my amazing future grandchildren, telling the new offspring about their growing up and stories to embarrass and laugh over.

So I am taking these little moments of bliss and filing them away in my mind and in my heart. I pull them out and remember them on those days when a math lesson has left littlest sister crying and oldest sister rolling her eyes in disdain at such a display. I pull them out on other days as well. The days when I feel like I am the worst mother in the world. On the days I forget to make French toast even though she asked me four times, but I got busy. On the days I snap at someone for not understanding something the way I teach it the first time. On the days the new Pinterest recipe is a great big fat fail. On the days I feel like I am fat, ugly, unloved, un-special, unwanted, unimportant and so much more "un"everything.

Because on those days, the days I have a hard time loving myself, I just look at those three crazy, prayed-for kids and see the perfect combination of their father and myself, the ultimate expressions of our insane love and roller coaster marriage, the fulfillment of so many hopes and dreams, the proof that God loves me enough to entrust these three humans to me to mold, shape, teach, lead, and love on until He's ready to call us home.

And then on other days? I lock myself in the bathroom and go back to that daydream about duct tape and a drive-off.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

From the Miami News-Record, June 22 (with a few extra pics!)
I have never been a gardener, nor been interested in gardening. It has been a long-standing rule around our house that I am not allowed to touch any potted plants or hanging baskets because when I do, they die. I moved to Stillwater at 19 and my mom sent a philodendron because, as she said, “You can’t kill a philodendron. Anyone can grow them.” When I moved back home six weeks later, along with a new collection of Eskimo Joe’s cups and t-shirts, I also brought my poor, dead plant. Last spring I received a hanging basket of beautiful pink flowers. I tried not to touch it, but I also didn’t want someone to think me rude by asking them to keep it away from me and whisk it off to the safety of my car before I had any effect on it. But I politely admired it and carried it myself and ….yeah, it died.

When we moved and I got this idea to plant a garden, my husband said it was a bad idea. He reminded me ever so gently of my plant-killing background. He was sweet about reiterating to me the fact that I do not have a green thumb. Yet I kept insisting, so he just went along with it and started tilling me a garden. He picked up some tomato and pepper plants and I excitedly called my mom from the seed aisle at Walmart because I didn’t know the first thing about what types of seeds to get - you know, because of the whole not-being-able-to-grow-stuff thing. Upon her advice I settled on yellow crookneck squash, okra, cucumbers, zucchini, peaches and cream corn, and green beans, then some jack o’ lantern pumpkin and watermelon seeds for the youngest (who actually does have the ability to grow things). I wanted eggplant and radishes and broccoli and lettuce and all the really tasty and wonderful things garden people grow, but no one here likes broccoli but me. And you can forget about eggplant – no one is actually sure they hate it seeing as how none of them have ever tried it, but they’re all relatively certain they do.
So. Hott.
We planted late because we were garden novices and had no clue what we were doing, but in our ignorance we saved ourselves some work because of the chilly spring freezes that took out a few gardens. Then when things started growing we had week after week of rain and things started looking pretty bleak out there. Enter the usual veggie-loving bugs and we all but threw in the towel. I didn’t check it for about a week, and then to my surprise one night we had pole beans in need of poles because they were attacking each other. After telling them to play nice while I unwound vine after vine, we drove in a few stakes, realizing quickly we needed more than a just “few” stakes. Paul took off for the shop while I pulled weeds. When he came back I could only laugh – he was carrying a cattle panel. Like for a corral. It actually works great and just kind of completes the redneck atmosphere we’ve got going on around our entire place.

Our little garden won’t win any awards, but we’re excited every time we find a new tiny veggie. I didn’t even bother with a scarecrow this year – I just grab my daughter’s pink Red Ryder BB gun and shoot the birds from the back porch window. I’m making a list of all the stuff we did wrong and things I want to try for next year and I’m finding that I actually like this new adventure and don’t mind the dirt and sweat too much. I find a strange peace while pulling weeds (and on evenings I’m particularly frustrated, it makes for a great stress reliever) and am in awe of seeing God’s handiwork firsthand in my little redneck garden with a metal cattle panel right in the middle.

Gardening ain't for sissies - or those who dislike dirty piggies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My Daughter, Myself

From the Miami News-Record, Sunday June 15
Of my three kids, I have two daughters. The oldest, Abby, is 17 and a half. She’s quiet, introverted, reserved, and sarcastic, doesn’t emote much, rarely cries, and would rather go through life just observing and blending into the background. She looks like, and is very much like, her father. The youngest daughter, Kady (or Bugg), is 12 and a half. She is loud, talkative, outgoing, boisterous, and emotional, loves being the center of attention, doesn’t know a stranger, and prefers her world to be full of fanfare, excitement, and noise. She looks like, and is very much like, me.

It took me years to fully appreciate our eldest’s quiet demeanor. She would rather be subjected to root canals sans anesthetic than speak before a crowd. This blows my mind. Why would you NOT want to speak in front of a crowd? Now, know this, I am an introvert – an outgoing introvert (Yes, we exist; look us up - we’re fascinating), but an introvert all the same. Our introverted personalities, scathing wit, ability to spin a yarn, and our utter intolerance for grammatical errors are pretty much the only personality traits we share. She hates chick flicks, I love them. I like sci-fi, geeky, nerdy, comic-bookish things, she laughs at me and all of my fellow nerds. I talk a lot, she does not. The list of things we do differently goes on awhile. We get along fabulously.
The youngest child is my mini me. We both have a strict policy that no one cries alone in our presence (something I inherited from my own mother and passed on to her – you ought to see the three of us watch “Steel Magnolias”). We love to hum, sing, talk, and communicate. We can read for hours on end and become totally lost in the story. We both have big feet. When we are mad and frustrated, door slamming seems to make us both feel better. We are both simultaneously scatter-brained yet strangely organized all at the same time. We fight. Constantly.
I knew we were a lot alike, but it wasn’t until this past week when I was helping her pack for church camp that I realized the depth of our similarities. She asked if I would help her organize her suitcase, a task she was more than capable of handling on her own, but she asked for my help and who was I to turn down quality time with my youngest before she headed off to camp? And as she whipped out note cards, color-coded for each day of the week of camp, each containing a list of the day’s outfit, color of flip-flops, bracelets and earrings, I busted out laughing. As a tween and teen myself, I would start weeks before camp, writing lists and making tags and labels for different pieces of an outfit. It was a bit of déjà vu. I mean, if listening to her cry over math on a daily basis wasn’t enough to make me realize she’s my spiritual doppelgänger, this freakishly organized packing ritual certainly was.
We do fuss a lot. Because we are so very, very much alike. We are both sensitive and emotional creatures and when you put that much passionate energy together, sometimes bombs go off. I slam doors in her honor and she slams them in mine. And after a particularly rough math lesson last week, as I fumed behind a firmly closed door at how infuriating she had just been to me, I was hit with a revelation: I used to infuriate my mother just as much. Because we, too, are so very, very much alike.
So while the relationship with one daughter has been easy from the start, I am now holding on firmly to the hope that the relationship with the other will get easier and stronger as we both age. Much like the relationship between my own mother and me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Surprise Visits

I grew up with the notion that when you went to visit someone, you called first. It was the polite thing to do, I was told. We never spontaneously dropped in on someone when I was a kid and people didn’t drop in on us. My husband’s family, on the other hand, never calls first. They just show up. I went straight from my momma’s house to my own, so I went straight from forewarned to surprised.
For a young married woman, this was unnerving. I was barely 20 and trying to get my sea legs for homemaking. Then later, for a young mother drowning in diapers, toys, VHS tapes of puppets and animated dragons, and a house that was rarely tidy, this was the seventh level of Hell. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t just call first and was always flustered and embarrassed we had to move a pile (or two) of laundry from the couch so visitors could sit. I died a little every time we just had to kick a path through Legos, dolls, and Hot Wheels so they could make it to The Couch of Laundry and Hidden Sippy Cups. The porch was always covered in dirty shovels and pails from our latest yard expedition. Wet swimsuits were hung over chairs and the “decorative” antique ladder that was only “decorative” until the new puppy decided to eat the garland of autumn leaves, knock over the pot of mums (that I would’ve killed anyway), and I won’t even mention what he did to the Jack O’Lantern.
Needless to say, I will never end up on the cover of House Beautiful, but if they ever decide to publish one called Cluttered and Disorganized, I am a shoe-in for their spokesperson.
The kids are older now and there aren’t many toys in our house these days. And aside from the classroom (which is always in disarray – because learning is messy) (that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it), the house isn’t as cluttered. Now I welcome the drop-ins.
And I am loving it.
For the first 21 years of our marriage we lived closer to my family – the family of warning calls – and now we are within two miles of pretty much all of Paul’s family – the family of surprises. If we go a day without a visit from someone we start to wonder if everyone has the flu. There is almost always a brother, nephew, or neighbor in the yard and the female counterpart to the guy in the yard can usually be found on a bar stool in my kitchen. Sure, I still have to stack up a pile of bills and receipts and move it from the bar so they can set down their sweet tea, and with two teenagers and a tween there is usually still a pile of laundry or two on the couch, but now that I have stopped worrying about the details I can enjoy the visits so much more. When I was younger I spent the visits silently berating myself for the mess, zoning out of the conversations while busying myself with cleaning up toys – and the conversations continued without me.
So today, at this point in my life, I am just…visiting. And now that I am tuned into the conversations and the precious people in my home I am aware of the goings-on, the news, the updates, and the whole reason they came to our house in the first place – because they love us. They didn’t come to judge my housekeeping skills, my ability (or lack thereof) to keep dust off the bookshelf, or to tsk-tsk at how the kids just tracked grass through the house after their latest water fight in the yard. They didn’t come to see our house; they came to see us. Which would be fine if they hadn’t caught me without makeup or without a bra.

Hey, I’m a work in progress.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Our First Graduate

For the past year I have been writing a weekly column for the local newspaper. As long as no one objects (and really, this is my blog so if you object, just don't read it lol) I plan to start sharing each week's column here. I'll probably share some of the older ones as well, seeing as how I'm working on lesson plans for the class I'm teaching this fall at our homeschool co-op, plus my own kids' lesson plans, plus keeping house, keeping my children from killing each other and various other glamorous things. As you might surmise, writing time is limited for me these days. 
Anyway, this is what was published a few weeks ago, the weekend of Abby's graduation. Just thought I'd share - and add a few pictures. 
Our oldest daughter graduated this weekend. Since we homeschool there was no cap, gown, Pomp and Circumstance, or walking across a stage. We didn't sit in a hot gymnasium or on bleachers at a football field – we just got together with our friends and family, ate some hot dogs and hamburgers, and celebrated a pretty amazing young woman. She got a diploma, of course. I debated long and hard about who to say the certificate was issued by. See, our school’s “unofficial” name is The Hoover Academy of Higher Learning and General Shenanigans, but I was afraid the line wasn't long enough to hold all of that. One example I read online was, “Her parents, Bob and Suzy Homeschooler”, but I was afraid that would just really drive home the awkward homeschooler persona. Eventually, I just decided on “Hoover Academy." It looks nice. And not at all like she completed a lot of her school work in her pajamas on the couch.
It’s been 17 and a half years since her birth and I remember it like it was yesterday. After a very uneventful and quick delivery, she was laid into my arms, a quiet — slightly blue — wide-eyed gorgeous papoose with black hair and eyes so dark her pupils couldn't be seen. She didn't cry, just looked around at us like we had seriously offended her by forcing her entry into the world. We were in awe. We fell instantly in love. She was a miraculous blessing, a thing of wonder, a promise, a fulfillment, a tiny piece of joy in a crazy, stupid, busy world. She rarely cried, memorized If You Give a Mouse a Cookie when she was 18 months old, carried her toy tools in her Elmo purse and drove her Barbies around in her Tonka dump truck. She was a good starter kid. She eased us into the crazy world of Parenting.
She is a Pre-K dropout, but completed her final two years of high school in one year. She is quiet and sometimes shy, yet she’s a force to be reckoned with. She is passionate. Few people possess her determination. She never feels the need to small talk, chit chat or just fill the air with unnecessary words, but will talk to you about important, meaningful things as long as you want. She is amazingly artistic and if she wasn’t scared to death we’d beat her until candy comes out, she’d be decorating the world with graffiti any chance she got. I marvel at the things that kid can create. She started her own hair bow business a couple of years ago and is responsible for many a little girl’s accessorizing. She has little tolerance for blatant stupidity, people who aren’t nice to animals and children, boys who don’t respect girls, and any green vegetable. My sister taught her the art of sarcasm, which she has mastered. She is kind, gentle, witty, wise, and has amazing hair.
So look out, world. We have unleashed upon you amongst this year’s graduates, a tiny little tornado named Abby. She has promise. She has talent. She has overcome bullies and haters and is more compassionate for it. She can make a mean grilled cheese. She can count back change. She loves Jesus. She doesn’t like to camp. She thinks ice cream and cheesecake are two of the best things on this earth. She is allergic to pretty much everything in the air around her. She wants to be a foster parent. She is simply wonderful and she’ll rock your socks if you’ll let her. She already rocks ours.

Congratulations, Abby and the rest of the Class of 2014. Here’s my advice: Be kind. Make a difference. Make good choices. (And when you make bad ones don’t beat yourself up too much. Just learn from it.) Go through this life looking for experiences that will make for amazing stories later. Look out for the little guy. Laugh – a lot. Make us proud.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Droids, Washing Machines, and My Mother

My washing machine died a horrible, painful, loud death yesterday. It stopped agitating last week, the repairman replaced the faulty part, but after his repair it was making a horrific screeching, grinding noise when it spun that was about to send me to the funny farm. He came back out yesterday to make sure he hadn't left a screw or other random item (possibly a small chihuahua or perhaps his invitation letter to Hogwarts). He hadn't left anything weird, but did tell me that the transmission was loud and was "going out". I asked for a definition, a time frame, some hint as to how long she had before going off to the giant Whirlpool in the Sky, but he said, "Well, the transmission in my car has been loud for three years and the mechanic told me it was 'going out', but so far I'm still driving 'er. So just use the washer until it quits - that's about all I can tell ya." Then he gave me a shrug and went about his merry repairman way. Three loads - THREE LOADS, I SAY -- of laundry later, we were auditorily assaulted by the sound of grinding and OH, THE GRINDING. Paul called the repairman who said, "Well, I told your wife the transmission was going out..." to which I yelled across the living room, "BUT I KIND OF FIGURED I HAD MORE THAN THREE LOADS BEFORE IT HAPPENED." He laughed. He's a merry little repairman, that one. 

Since last Monday we have done a total of five loads of laundry in this house. Folks, that's sometimes a daytime total around here. We generate a lot of laundry here on Hooverton Mountain. So, I'm kind of borderline panicking about lack of clothing - mainly underwears. I don't do commando, dudes. And no one else in my house does either. Or at least, they better not.

I asked Mom if we could use her washer to catch up at some point this week and of course, she said that was fine. Because my mom is totes cool like that. However, we now live 40 minutes from my mother and going there and back is 1/4 tank of gas. Things are pretty monetarily slim around here right now and 1/4 tank of gas is pretty much the equivalent of winning the lottery, so I'm waiting until we are at UNDERWEAR DEFCON:1 before I haul my dirty laundry to town. Priorities are hard sometimes.

This morning I was lazing around in bed like a good homeschool mother should (KIDDING, I only laze around in bed a few mornings a week) when my mother sent a text. What follows is the hilarious conversation that had me giggling for half an hour afterwards.

Mom: Laundry room is available. You go, girl. Clean those undies! 
Me: Actually, probably won't come in until tomorrow - Paul has three uniforms and I usually wait until Wednesday to wash those. We may just go buy a washer tonight. Heck, it's just money.
Mom: Yes, it is just money. And which would you rather have? Money or clean underwear?  
Me: That is Sophie's choice, right there.  
Mom: Who is Sophie?
Me: The movie? "Sophie's Choice"? She has to choose between her two children in Auschwitz. Really, Mother? The movie is from 1982. You're losing it.  
Mom: Have never seen that movie. But really, what gives this Sophie the right to decide whether YOU have clean underwear or not. I need her cell phone number. 
Me: YOU'VE NEVER SEEN SOPHIE'S CHOICE?!?!? I feel like my whole life is a lie. I will order it on Netflix so you can agonize with Sophie. Gracious, and I thought me having an underwear shortage was a crisis. Turns out, my mother needs a movie intervention. ........... Aaaaaaand.....I don't think they issued cell phones to the Jews at Auschwitz. So you might have to look Sophie up on Facebook if you want to chat with her. Oh wait. Nevermind. You don't have Facebook. 

At this point she just calls me. I answer the phone not with "Hello" but with laughter when I hear her laughing on the other end. Then she tells me a story about a guy who was whispering a whole conversation because of "droids" who were following him.

I let her finish the whole story before I told her they were drones, not droids.

And I started to tell her about that scene from Star Wars, but I didn't want her asking for Obi Wan Kenobi's cell phone number.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Tradition

A year ago, sometime around well, heck, I don't remember what time it was, but I do remember it was dark and I was asleep, Kady began barking the siren song of her people. You know her people: people with asthma. That siren song is a croup-y baby seal bark mixed in with with a raspy, horrible stridor and sometimes accompanied by wheezing and almost always by a look of absolute terror on my child's face.

Breathing treatments at home didn't help and she was panicking more with each breath, so I did what I have done so many times before: I tossed her wheezy butt in the car and drove for the hospital.

They released her just right about the time sunrise service was beginning. Paul took Abby and Sam to the church and I took Bugg and I home to the couch where I fell promptly to sleep while she, hopped up on asthma meds, watched TV and talked incessantly. No, it didn't matter I was snoring and drooling, she talked anyway. That's how she rolls.

This year we aren't attending any particular church and it had been awhile since we'd gone to the church where my Pops pastors, so we made plans to drive the hour there to be with Mom and Pops at their church. Shower schedules were set forth, everyone's Easter clothes were pressed and ready to go, I had the coffee pot fixed to kick on about the same time I hit the snooze button the first time, the day was essentially planned.

Until at 12:30 am Paul flips on the bedroom light to tell me that Bugg had just christened the bathroom with The First Official Barf since we moved in. He actually got a horrible stomach virus when we were nearly done with the remodel and ended up spending a few days sequestered here, sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the classroom, to keep the kids and me from getting it, but we weren't officially living here yet, so his barfing doesn't count. Kady gets the prize. Woot.

The poor kid puked about every 45 minutes for a solid 12 hours and ran a fever to boot. I didn't sleep much - but neither did she, so I shouldn't complain.

I'm a thermostat nazi and refuse to turn on the AC in April, so I slept with the windows open and I guess I really didn't know birds chirped and tweeted at night. I was used to owls at the other house, but never songbirds. I suppose I thought they tucked into their little birdie beds at night and slept like we do. In my restless dozing through the night, my brain mixed up the tweeting with my imagination and I was pretty sure I heard a mocking jay like in The Hunger Games. And of course, my dreams then sent me to the arena with Katniss for the next half hour or so to fight for my life. Fortunately (for me, not Kady) the sounds of retching woke me. My next pitiful bout of rest produced a dream in which someone was trying to break into our house and I, the hero of our story, grabbed a bolt action rifle and proceeded to shoot at the offender repeatedly. I don't even like to shoot bolt action rifles. I text my mom at 6:30 this morning to tell her we would not be attending Easter services to avoid spreading the love. Then I tried to doze some more, but Princess Barfypants in the next room wasn't having any of that.

It's now 7:30 pm. She's been puke-free since nearly noon. She is complaining about some lower abdominal pain that is freaking me the heck out after her brother decided to create a new holiday last October called "Appendix Liberation Day" - a day in which he was celebrated by a surgeon he pulled off the golf course as well as the on-call surgery staff and was the honored guest at his very own emergency appendectomy. So yeah, I'm a little paranoid when any of the kids (well, except Sam now) complain of abdominal pain on the right side.

I'm just ready to get some sleep. Without intermittent barfing or Katniss Everdeen and a random burglar visiting my subconscious.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

And Then .... I Broke My Butt

Before I get to the part about my broken hindquarters, first I have to backtrack a bit.

Last summer, midst a flurry of church camp and VBS, an ever-growing and demanding youth group, three kids of my own, and a new school year bearing down on me I was bitten by a spider. A very. nasty. spider.

I woke up on a Sunday morning in July to an itchy spot on my hip. I had worn pajama pants to bed, so I figured it was a particularly ravenous mosquito who had bitten through the fabric. I commented about how bad it itched while I was getting ready for church, put some cream (or ointment or whatever) on it and went on to church. By the time we headed back to church that night for our YouthVBS program, the bite was as big as the diameter of a baseball and oh golly, how it itched. I took a Benadryl before I went to bed and marveled at how I had reacted to the silly thing.

Some time during the night I woke up drenched in sweat and aching all over. I had a house full of kids and I'm not exaggerating on that in the least. I had my three kids, my friend Kasey's three kids, plus her sister's two kids who were in from Tennessee. Kasey is a twin and her sister comes home once a year - I took the kids so they could hang out, so imagine how bad I felt when I had to call her at 8am and tell her I was sick as a dog and Paul was bringing all the kids home ASAP. I called the indian clinic, managed to get the very last same-day appointment with a nurse practitioner (with whom I was about to become very well acquainted with over the next few months). The bite was ugly looking, I felt like I'd been run over, I had a fever, I was nauseous -- needless to say: I was sick.

Abby had been bitten by a brown recluse a few years prior and considering we killed one of the nasty things about every other day somewhere in the old house, I assumed the offending spider was a recluse. The symptoms were the same, the bite looked the same, etc. The NP told me to expect it to form the traditional black spot as my flesh began to *gag* rot at the site of the bite, gave me two shots of steroids in the rear end, oral antibiotics, a prescription for Benadryl, said to drink water until my eyeballs floated and to stay down until I felt better. Two days later I woke up to find myself covered from the top of the head to the tops of my legs in a rash that made me look like I'd been dragged across the carpet for eight or nine hours nonstop. A call to the clinic then put me on oral steroids, more strict bed rest, and so much Benadryl I was *this close* to drooling. In fact, I may have actually drooled. More than once.

The following Sunday after the bite, after seven days of misery and pain, I sent Paul, Kady, and Sam off to church for the evening service while the Abby stayed home with me. I had been feeling funny, just slightly... off.... all day. Then my left arm, hand and fingers, the toes on my left foot and my face went numb. Well, my face was numb, but tingling. It was weeeeeiiiiiirrrrrdd. I called the indian hospital in Claremore, asked if someone could give me some advice before I drove the hour to the hospital for what might be nothing. They said they really weren't allowed to give advice over the phone, but asked what was going on anyway. When I described what was going on, I was patched through to a nurse who said, "Get here. NOW." I explained that I was an hour from the hospital and she said, "Then leave NOW. And get here." Abby flew to the church to get Paul and I called my mom to have her come get the kids and off we went. I had a little emotional meltdown in the car on the way because, as someone with OCD, I tend to imagine the absolute worst in any situation and imagine it often.

They drew blood (took five sticks, ow), examined the bite, called an internist and the final diagnosis was extremely elevated white count, systemic poisoning, definitely not a brown recluse, probably a black widow, the numbness/tingling was my body reacting to the poison, follow up with my primary in three days for a repeat white count. It took six weeks for my white count to return to normal. I was put on Neurontin for the pain that affected only the left side of my body and told that the nerve pain could come and go for as long as three years. She said stress would cause flare ups and also said to be very cautious during flu season because my immune system was pretty well shot.


By October I no longer needed the Neurontin with any regularity. I had a flare-up during the holidays due to stress, plus the remodeling of the new house, plus moving stuff, plus youth group stuff, plus a generally hectic schedule, but I was better.

Then in February I noticed this weird tingling sensation in my lower back on the left side. I immediately assumed it was a nerve flare-up and started back on the medicine. It didn't help. It would itch and burn and tingle, but when I would scratch, I couldn't actually feel it on my skin. When I was picking up a refill at the pharmacy I mentioned offhandedly that I was getting no relief and he got a verbal order from the NP to up my dose. Tripled it actually. Enter my new absent memory and a general foggy feeling in my head for about an hour, three times a day. But itching/burning didn't get immediately better.

It was Shingles.


Actually the whole shingles experience wasn't as bad as I've always heard. It was uncomfortable and I really don't want to do it again, but I never developed the blisters, so there was my little bit of mercy in the whole mess. I really only had two days where I hurt, but I survived.

So now it's April. I had my yearly well-woman exam, my mammogram, and my six-month follow-up for labs and general checkup all in a week's time. Turns out I do not have breast cancer (always a plus), but I'm anemic, my cholesterol is elevated, but my liver and kidneys are doing a good job at whatever their appointed tasks are. My lower left back is still numb/itchy/tingly and she said I may never regain sensation there. Dadgum stupid varicella.

I also mentioned the intense pain in my tailbone. Since last fall I have had a very hard time sitting. Actually the sitting isn't as painful as standing after sitting. My lower back hurts nearly constantly and did I mention my tailbone hurts? Well, it does. She got on to me for wearing crappy shoes, told me to wear good supportive shoes and an orthotic insert and said she wanted to do an x-ray of my lower back and pelvis just for good measure.

The next morning, bright and early, her nurse called to tell me that I was a congenital deformity in my lower back, to wear supportive shoes, and they had mailed me a handout to explain it all. Good-bye and good day.

Say whaaaa? I needed a bit more than that. So I spent the next 24 hours freaking the heck out.

So today I got the handout.

I have lumbar spondylosis. Actually, the spondylosis is no big thang really. Yes, it's degenerative and it's just one more glaring slap in the face that screams, "YOU ARE POSITIVELY ANCIENT, YOU OLD BAT." So that's nice. But it's actually pretty common. The handout they sent says that 80% of people over the age of 40 have it and it, in and of itself, has no real symptoms. It is typically found when they are looking for something else.

And for me, that something else is a pars defect. Yeah. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Pars defect. Say it like you mean it. Beautiful.

Anyway, this is the congenital deformity the nurse mentioned. And I have spent the last five hours Googling it relentlessly. And here are my findings:

My back is broken.

Like, seriously.

It is a break in between vertebrae and is typically found in athletes. HA. Like, I am so not an athlete. Mine is the L4 and L5 vertebrae, as is fairly common. Pretty much it can be a congenital birth defect or it can be from repeated hyper-extension. And since I have yet to be hired by Cirque de Soleil, I'm pretty sure it's a birth defect. Or from playing the bass drum in the marching band. Either way, I'm not supposed to have any high-impact manipulations at the chiropractor. I'm pretty sure this will keep my professional tap dancing career at bay. And also, if this keeps me off of roller coasters I am going to be so. pissed.

Because I have no one to blame, I am going to blame the spider. Pretty much everything bad that happens in my life these past nine months has been blamed on the spider bite - solar flares, my computer's motherboard dying a painful, messy death, the national debt, that time I smeared my toenail polish, and the fact that McRib isn't really pork, but instead gelatinous globs of pork-flavored pasted pressed into a patty thus rendering me physically incapable of eating the one sandwich that made me happy before I started eating cleaner. Yep, all of it. Blaming it on the spider.

We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...