Sunday, September 13, 2020

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. I’m talking about everything. When the pandemic first hit and the majority of the nation went into quarantine/lockdown/whatever you want to call it, there was a rallying cry of love and kindness and solidarity. Snippets of the song from “High School Musical” were heard: “We’re all in this together…” John Krazinski started his Good News Network with stories of how mankind in general was circling the wagons, doing good, loving their neighbor, and caring for everyone in our time of need. I would watch the show every week and big fat ugly cry and just think to myself how proud I was to be a part of humankind and the underlying theme of caring for one another in times of need. 

Fast forward a few months. 

Y’all it’s nasty out here now. Gone is the love and understanding and brotherhood. Instead now we are divided between masks vs. no masks, agendas and conspiracies vs. taking precautions for those compromised, Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, protests vs. riots, and on and on. Any possible topic or conversation lately is so quickly skewed into an argument I find it’s just easier to not talk to anyone. I see the confederate flag popping up in places I never dreamed I’d see. It literally hurts my heart to see such divisiveness among a nation mere months ago so bonded and compassionate. 

My husband and I are vastly different when it comes to political views. I shan’t go into details because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he respects and loves me enough to not pick fights with me over it. And I return the favor. He grew up in a very impoverished community, very conservative, very hard working. I grew up very middle class, one side of the family staunchly Democrat, the other straight-party-voting Republican. Yet I honestly never felt division at any family gathering. Maybe I was too busy dancing to Nan’s Village People records and playing Yahtzee with my cousins to pay attention to such things, but the underlying fact is this: if the adults disagreed, we kids never felt it. Now I feel like parents are priming their children for political battle straight out of the womb. 

Just last week I expressed my grief over seeing a confederate flag flown and Paul asked me why it was so upsetting. He wasn’t picking a fight, he genuinely wanted to know why a piece of fabric made me cry. I gave him a history lesson, told him to do some research of his own if he still had questions, shared with him why it’s such a symbol of hate and racism. He listened. It was that simple. He listened. 

I know that on such topics as the President and masks, I’m probably not going to change your mind. You probably aren’t going to change mine either. If you feel strongly enough to tell me your view and do it with intelligence, I will listen to you tell me why you feel a certain way, but in the end if I choose to keep my opinions the same, I will still love you as a human even if we don’t agree. It’s called respect. A few weeks ago I was lamenting to a friend over how my Facebook feed was so full of anger and hate. And in that conversation she revealed to me that she was actually polar opposite of me on a certain topic. I told her I had no idea and we both had a good chuckle about how we remained friends and still love each other even if we have NOTHING in common on this topic. And in thinking about it, among my group of friends from high school, I am the lone liberal. Yet I love those women with so much of my heart and I would move heaven and earth to help them. And I think if we, as a people, would set aside the details that divide and look into the heart of the person next to them, we’d be better off. 

I keep hearing the words from a song on the “Hamilton” soundtrack over and over in my head: Are we a nation of states? What’s the state of our nation?” We are indeed a nation of states, but the state of our nation is….sad, perhaps even what I’d call dire. We all need a bandaid, a hug, maybe a kiss on the forehead, and some good old fashioned love and respect to our fellow man. 

We aren’t here by accident. Remember who we are. We, the people……need each other. 


Originally published in The Miami News-Record, June 2020

I honestly couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been an Amazon Prime member, but let’s just say that the time in my life before Prime was bleak and dismal and probably not worth remembering anyway. That was back when I had to wait sometimes a week for items to arrive and *gasp* I paid for shipping. Yeah. Those were dark times indeed. 

I don’t know how families survive without it to be honest. We get our music from Amazon, our Kindle books from Amazon, our groceries and household items as well. My online shopping with Amazon has only grown since March when the lockdown went into place and we quarantined, but I was a pretty heavy user even before then. During quarantine when things were sad and scary and I wasn’t sleeping much, online shopping was my comfort. I mean, so were Coffee Nut M&Ms, but that’s another story altogether.  I am a member of a Facebook coupon code group and I just have to say, that group has gotten me such wonderful bargains as a metal shelving unit for $34 (those run $80 and up at Sam’s Club), approximately 843 snack size bags of Cheez-Its (I might be exaggerating slightly, but it was a big box), a pair of Crocs flip-flops for $14, an air fryer for $40 (it has changed my life, ya’ll) (the directions are in Chinese, but I’m figuring it out), wireless phone chargers (another life changer for sure) and much more. 

I’ve also gotten some duds as well. After a herd of wild hogs decided to uproot half of our front yard I found a discount code for some ultra bright solar powered motion lights. The pictures showed the lights mounted over a door and appeared to be as wide as said door. I was so excited for them to get here in hopes of pairing the flood lights with the new security camera (also bought with a discount code) and nabbing the nasty oinkers. Imagine my surprise when a box no bigger than 3x5” showed up on the day of their expected arrival. I should’ve read the actual dimensions rather than rely on a picture. They’re very, very tiny. And really, they’re not bad lights, just definitely not as wide as a door. I am also anxiously awaiting a paint-by-number canvas I ordered in March. In its defense, it’s coming from China and well, that’s a whole ‘nother story, too. 

Having an app now makes it even more convenient to just pick up my phone and order with a few taps. I can be having a conversation with someone, they mention they haven’t been able to find item xyz and I can literally find it within seconds usually. We’ve found replacement cables to TVs and computers, stick-on lights, stick-on bras (don’t ask….well, honestly, you might want to…), a set of Golden Girls refrigerator magnets, allergy medicine for a fraction of what it costs at the store, and according to my daughters, the most comfortable underwear you’ll ever put on your tush. I honestly don’t know how a family can go without it. 

Also during quarantine and the aforementioned not being able to sleep well thing, I relied heavily on my sleepy herbal supplements and Benadryl to force the rest on occasion. It was during one of those nights that I sleep-ordered a giant box of Slim Jims, a box of essential oils, and a 50-pack of AAA batteries. Some part of me, deep down in my subconscious must have known those items were going to be needed in my home. Or just maybe all those sleepy pills gave me the ability to see into the future when I would order a five-pack of stick-on touch lights and would need 15 of those batteries to power them up. Most likely it was just the power of Amazon, sending waves of needfulness to me whilst I slept. It’s probably just one of their many services now. 

The dreams and the reality

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, June 2020

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being married. As I got older, the vision in my mind only got stronger and more vivid as to what I dreamed it would be like. I’d meet this amazing, dark-haired man and we’d have virtually everything in common. We’d go on picnics and watch movies together. We’d lie in the grass under a tree and have deep conversations about the future. We’d bake cookies together and someone would inevitably throw flour at someone and we would laugh and laugh. We’d have a neat and tidy house, eventually a couple of well-behaved children, and live happily ever after. 

Like, none of that happened. None of it. Okay, well, we’re happy and this seems to be the “ever after” part they mention, so okay, those happened. He doesn’t even have dark hair – he’s a ginger for crying out loud. We have virtually no like interests, we aren’t even politically aligned, and if you turn on a movie, one or both of us will likely fall asleep.  

A friend text me the other day to tell me that her husband had just shown her a pimple he had on his back. She’s 13 years my junior and has been married 10 years to my 27. I had to laugh as I responded with, “I hate to break it to you, but he’s probably gonna offer to show you a hemorrhoid one of these days, probably fairly soon. Get ready.” 

In reality, marriage (and mostly life in general) isn’t the storybook version of “romantic.” It isn’t deep conversations under trees in your perfectly manicured yard, or flirtatious food fights. No, it’s mostly exhausted questions answered with exhausted grunts and I never dared to playfully start a food fight in my kitchen because I knew I’d be the one cleaning it up. The yard has never been manicured – he just sets that mower as low as it’ll go so he won’t have to mow so often. And when the dog tears up the trash you just hope a windy day is on tap so it will all blow away.

It’s the ugly stuff in life you never considered you might encounter that mostly comprises married life. You discover stretch marks and toe fungus, you have morning breath and really bad gas after eating Chinese food, he snores, you snore, the dog snores. Basically, everybody snores. The children are super entertaining and amazing humans, but maybe not the “well-behaved” vision you had in your head. He leaves his little beard hairs on the sink and breadcrumbs on the counter. You have an Amazon shopping problem. 

But when it comes down to it, marriage gives you a person. A person to call your own, a person who commits to being there for it all. A person who has this spot right on their shoulder where your head fits perfectly. A person who, upon hearing the word “turnpike,” immediately launches into a tirade about tolls and maintenance and you laugh even as you roll your eyes because you’ve heard that tirade a gazillion times before. A person who helps you paint even though they might hate painting even more than you do, and you hate it a lot. A person who binge-watches “Cheer” on Netflix with you and gets just as excited as you do when they stick the landing but would never admit to another living soul they did. A person who is a constant, a comfort, occasionally a source of frustration, but so many experiences and memories you can’t fathom going through them with anyone else. 

Sure there are pimples and bad breath and the years bring on gray hair and wrinkles and extra pounds, but by that point you and your person are so entrenched in this weirdly personal thing called marriage you just embrace it for what it is: your very own version of “romance.” 

Graduation in the time of pandemic

 Originally published in The Miami News-Record, May 2020

I finally graduated from college. I didn’t walk across the stage, but instead spent the day picking up a Walmart order, having lunch with my youngest and her beau (properly distanced), visiting with my momma (from six feet apart) and then coming home to watch some TV. It was not at all how I had envisioned my college graduation that was 29 years in the making. But I did it. The two semesters and summer semester at Crowder were all straight A semesters, even with a math class thrown in there. I graduated with a 3.5 career GPA. It was hard. I made it harder on myself due to this perfectionism thing I have anchored in my DNA and I could have eased up some, but there was that part of me deep down that needed to prove I could still do it. And I did. Woohoo. 

Right before campus closed, I got an email that I had been nominated to speak at graduation. I hadn’t even been sure I was going to walk since my niece, nephew, and Kady’s boyfriend were all graduating as well, all of us from different schools the same weekend, but the nomination reminded me that one item on my bucket list is to speak at a graduation commencement. So of course, I had to ponder it, ruminate on it, and finally write something for kicks and giggles if nothing else. So, without further ado: 

To the Class of 2020: wow. Just wow. We have certainly ended a year for the books. But here you are – you did it. It’s just not ending with you in your cap and gown, your family, friends, teachers, advisors, in the crowd, here to watch you in the culmination of no simple feat. But don’t let that lessen the accomplishment. High school was easy for me. College was not. I started this journey in 1991. I picked it back up again in 2007. Dropped it. Abandoned it. Kicked it a few times out of spite before I walked away. Then along came Crowder and people who said, “But what if you did….” and then my kids echoed it. And my momma and sister. And my husband. So I started. I went full time, online and started in the summer. I enrolled in seated classes for the fall semester, but a week-long hospital stay caused me to change my major, rearrange some things, and regroup. It would have been very easy to quit. Again. And oh, I thought about it. But I didn’t quit this time. 

My youngest always says, “Time and place” when she hears a story about circumstances and happenstances and things just working out. “Time and place” applies to just about everything in life, but man, it sure does for college. This past year just happened to be my time and my place. Your time and your place didn’t happen for you the same way it did for me. It doesn’t have to. We all have our journey. Some of them are straight shots to the goal, the streets lined with good grades, good teachers, classes we like, scholarships. Some of us don’t have support, some of us have to choose to work instead of going to school, some of us choose more time with our kids, some of us just need to take a break. 

However you do it, whatever it may be, just do it the best way you can. My mom has always said, “I don’t care if you choose to be a doctor or a dog catcher. Whatever you choose to be, be the very best one you can.” So to all of the 2020 graduates and all of you still enrolled, be you future doctors or dog catchers, this year you proved you can do just about anything in just about the worst environment possible. Remember that. Now go do big things, little things, amazing things, important things, kind things, all the things…the very best way you know how. You should be so proud of yourself. 

Humility and hilarity

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, May 2020 

Some things are more humbling than others. Sometimes things are humbling and also hysterical. For instance, getting a new pair of shoes that have a little more heel than you’re used to, practicing walking in them so you don’t look like a frozen-toed chicken, then sashaying across the room all sassy-like only to twist your ankle and fall. That’s just humbling. Or accidentally saying the wrong word - a DIRTY word - in place of another, in front of the whole family at Christmas, trying to correct it, messing it up again, then messing it up THREE MORE TIMES before your mother finally says, “Enough! Stop trying to fix it!” That is humbling and amusing even while you mortified your grandfather. Or getting tickled with your best friend at the Tastee Freez and laughing so hard you pass gas very loudly (if you remember the old Tastee Freez in Miami, the place was small, sound carried, the booths were very hard and….resonant). That’s just downright hysterical. 

The other night I had an experience so humbling and hilarious I can only write about it and share with you, Constant Reader, because that’s just what I do. 

I’ve been doing some extreme social distancing since March, plus I had been in school for almost a solid year and had very little social interaction even before the pandemic hit. Only recently have I emerged from my little groundhog hole, eyes squinted, skittish, and very, very wary. We have limited our interactions to only our kids, my sister and her crew, and my mom and pops. Even those interactions are distanced and there isn’t the usual hugging and close proximity we are all accustomed to.

Last Thursday Paul and I had dinner at Mom and Pops’. After dinner, the fellas went to the living room to watch TV while Mom and I stayed in the kitchen and visited. 

You ladies know how it is, you touch your chin and accidentally discover a chin hair, and then it’s literally all you can focus on. I was trying to get it with my fingernails to no avail and Mom said, “Well, you can’t just sit there and fiddle with it, come on.” I protested, telling her I had car tweezers (because y’all know that car light is the best light to nab chin hairs) and would get it on the way home. She insisted I follow and as I entered the bathroom she unfurled a giant magnifying mirror from the wall. That thing had to be about 97,856X magnification. But I’m so short all I could see was my eyebrows and those were another story altogether. I tried standing on my tiptoes but still couldn’t get my chin in the frame. Finally, Mom got tired of watching me hop and stretch and said, “Give me those!” She snatched the tweezers, abandoned all social distancing rules, and grabbed my face. The hair was actually down below my jaw and still pretty small. She couldn’t see it. I found it and said, “There, right by my fingernail!” With a surgeon’s precision, she honed in on the hair. The room was quiet. And then…she started laughing. Then I started laughing. My chin in her hand, tweezers between us, both of us were laughing so hard that one of us passed gas. And one of us - okay, probably both of us - peed a little. The more we laughed the funnier it got and both of us were doubled over, wheezing, until Paul got concerned enough to come check on us. I heard him say to Pops, “I don’t know what was going on in there, but they’re both bent over and neither one of them can breathe. They’re probably fine.” When we finally composed ourselves we decided to just count our losses and leave well enough alone. 

The next day when I plucked that sucker from its little hiding place, I got to giggling all over again. Few things humble - and amuse - us more than chin hairs and having someone else attempt to pluck them for us. 

Being seen

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, January 2020

This week the program I work for brought Leon Logothetis, aka The Kindness Guy from the Netflix series The Kindness Diaries, to campus for two sessions. The premise of his show is that he travels the world with no money, food, or possessions and does it all while relying on the kindest of strangers. It’s nothing if not inspiring. 

The main premise of his speech was obviously kindness, but more than that he stressed how showing someone kindness - whether completely off the cuff or pre-planned - shows that person that you see them. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart, your soul, your very being. How many times have you felt invisible? Unseen? Like you are nothing and mean nothing? If you haven’t ever felt those feelings I’d say you are in the minority. 

Humans need love. Humans need interactions - yes, even us introverts. We’re not monsters, just….awkward and like to hide from like, everyone we think might want to talk to us about the weather or sports. But even the most introverted of introverts still needs human interaction. And being seen is so crucial for a person’s happiness and well-being. I’m not saying go seek validation because that’s not the same as being seen. The homeless guy at the intersection holding the cardboard sign? Sure, you see him, but do you see him? Do you smile and maybe give a weird non-committal fingertip wave and then stare intently at the stoplight internally chanting “Turn green, turn green, turn green”? Or do you see him and think about him as a human being? How cold or hot it is that day? How appropriate or inappropriate his clothing is for the weather? Is he hungry? Is he lonely? What’s his name? Does he have family that wonders where he is and how he’s doing?

Sure, we can’t help every homeless person, every struggling momma in Walmart counting change to buy formula, every student crying at her computer because her parents are divorcing and math is hard and life is too much, but if we all help a few just think of the impact that would have - on our campus, our workplace, our country, our world — on ourselves. Not selfishly, but in a completely self-aware way. In a way that will make us truly see those around us and make us want to do more and help more and be more. 

In his speech Leon said, “Heroism is built on a foundation of service and love.” One of the main tenets of Crowder College is servant leadership. When I first started working there I noticed how everyone helps every else, and not just staff and faculty helping students, but everyone helps each other. Effortlessly and without forethought - everyone just does. I had been there a few weeks before I actually heard the words “servant leadership” and I was so impressed by it, that an institution would make that such an important part of who they are. 

I was helping take tickets at the door yesterday before the presentation. I have been kind of in a funk lately - it’s winter and the semester just started and it’s just that time of year for funks. I was standing behind the table when a co-worker came up and said, “I was thinking about something last night. If you had gotten rich and famous rather than the Pioneer Woman, you wouldn’t be here. And you wouldn’t know us……and we wouldn’t have gotten to know you.” 

She saw me. 

I teared up immediately. She said, “Now, don’t go crying! We’re not those kind of women!” and we both laughed and I said something about needing some emergency estrogen and she moved on in the line. But her words echoed with me all day. She had truly thought about how her life would be without me in it. It was a simple statement, a simple gesture, it took nothing of her time and money, but she said it to me regardless. 

She saw me. 

Open your eyes. Open your heart. Open your mind. Watch. Listen. Look. See people. Really see them. Change their world if you can. And in the process you’ll likely change yours. 


 Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2019 

Growing up, we always went to Nana's on the 4th of July. Always. There was no option, no variance, it was always to Nan's for the noon meal. We took day-works - firecrackers, snakes, sparklers, pop-its, jumping Jacks, and the like. There was always watermelon and homemade ice cream. When my cousin Russ was alive and still mobile, we cousins would gather around him in the living room floor before and directly after lunch and play dominoes or Boggle. The women cleaned the kitchen and visited, the men dozed off in the post-meal tradition. Then finally! We'd climb the chat pile out back (hello, lead poisoning!) and Dad and the uncles would oversee the explosives. That was Dad's side of the family. Mom's side of the family was fairly fluid in their plans. Sometimes it was our house, sometimes it was Uncle Larry’s, occasionally we gathered at Papa's farm, it depended on where he was with harvesting or mowing or how sick Memaw was at the time. They were the evening festivity people. More sparklers, plus fountains and all the other fun, booming, high-in-the-sky stuff. It was always a day of cousins and food and stickiness and dirt and fun.

When Sis and I started families of our own we were just excited to have reason to buy fireworks once again. Paul and I were so broke when the kids were little, but starting in June we would scrimp and save up $100 for fireworks. It seemed like a lot until we got to the tent, then it seemed paltry and like it never bought enough. Sam always picked out something that pooped, Abby like the screaming chicken laying a fiery egg, Kady usually cried and whined that one of her siblings picked out the firework she wanted and the world was surely coming to an end.

Since we moved to Wyandotte we somehow created this tradition where every year on or around the 4th, we blow something up with a stupid amount of Tannerite. Over the years we’ve blown up a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, and this year a stove and a dog house. My Big Family™ came over on Saturday, for volleyball (we don't play by many rules, there is a lot of smack talking and even more of Abby and me avoiding the ball at all costs), the littles played in the kiddie pool. After dinner we got ready for the boom. Like the diligent rednecks we are, we warn the neighbors (this year I posted in our neighborhood watch Facebook page to let everyone know we weren’t under siege) and record it all on our phones. A storm was trying to blow in as Paul set up for the shot, so there was the added drama of “Will we be struck by lightning while waiting for the massive explosion that could possibly send debris flying at us?” It. Was. Exhilarating. One container was sufficient for the dog house, but instead of using the remaining three for three separate explosions the guys decided to duct tape three together for one GIANT cook stove explosion. We’re talking meth lab proportions, folks. It rattled our livers.

We don’t get together with Mom’s or Dad’s sides of the family anymore. We have become our own family unit I guess. Our group has gone from Mom, Sis, me and our spouses to a whopping 18 with all the grands and great-grands. This year Cousin Jason came out as well. (I’m not sure the man will ever be the same. I should probably call and check on him…) and one of Kady’s friends came out, too. I hope we only continue to grow as the years change the dynamics. I know certain folks will leave, more will come in, everyone will grow older, and eventually they will begin their own family units and start their own traditions. And maybe the group that continues to gather up here on the Mountain will become boring people who don’t blow up discarded appliances, but gosh, I sure hope not.  

First you have to find yourself

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, May 2019 

My final kid graduates tomorrow. She completed her Junior and Senior years this year and is enrolled at Crowder for the fall. It’s been a busy time since March finalizing everything and getting things ready. We are building her an apartment in the south half of our house, so on top of school stuff we now have added construction stuff. It’s been a whirlwind to be honest.  I haven’t really known how to feel about her graduating. I didn’t get particularly emotional when the other two graduated and haven’t really felt too emotional with this one either. Since she’s not really leaving the nest just yet like her siblings did, I can save the empty nesting for another time. So yeah, I think I’m handling it. 

Graduation is an exciting time. I didn’t have a really great Senior year and not a lot of super awesome memories from that time, but I remember standing on that precipice between childhood and adulthood and being SO READY for whatever was next. I had bounced from one career dream and college major to another about a dozen times - from lawyer, to judge, to teacher, to actress and a few more that year. I started NEO that fall as a Theatre major. One semester in I woke up and realized I wasn’t going to make it as an actress, I had very little support for my education and I dropped out. I went to work in a daycare, moved to Stillwater, worked in a grocery store, moved home, met my husband, got married, and well, voila. I am now a mom with three adult children, two grandkids, a husband of 26 years, a job I adore, and life is good. I was a stay-at-home mom for roughly 20 years, homeschooling seven of them, and I got to help raise a few other people’s kids over the years as their babysitter. I don’t have a giant resume to show off, but I have had the most gratifying time “growing up.” 

My mom worked for an attorney in Miami, Mr. James Reed, for several years and I worked for him a few summers. He was a daunting man, very authoritative, and formidable. He, however, had a heart for seeing people succeed. Inside the card he sent me for graduation he wrote, “First you have to find yourself. For some it is not easy. Accept trial and error.” I kept the card in its entirety for years, eventually just cutting out a square around his words and laminating it. Right now it hangs on a magnet board on my bathroom wall and I see it every day. It has hung in a prominent place in my home for 29 years now. And it is the best piece of advice I’ve gotten regarding the future. 

I’ve tried to make sure my own kids have always known that it is 100% okay to just not know. It’s 100% okay to try - and fail. It’s 100% to start over - repeatedly if you have to. And as my youngest child, my wild child, my “she definitely keeps life interesting” child is about to embark on her own journey into adulthood, I hope she can remember that because Lord knows her momma is the queen of starting over and the whole try-and-fail thing. She’s amazing and confident and crazy smart, so I think she’ll embrace it just fine. And I hope her daddy and I have created a soft, safe place for her to land if she needs to. 

Kadybugg, I cannot wait to see how this plays out. I hope you sincerely enjoy the journey of finding yourself. It’s been a pleasure seeing you grow and learn and bend us all to your will. You are a whirlwind of kindness, belligerence, strength, beauty, compassion, and empathy. I am so proud of you and the woman you have become. 

Happy Graduation to all the graduates. Y’all are gonna change the world. And I love that. Be kind. Be you. Be Love. 

How wonderfully

Originally published in the Miami News-Record, June 2019 

I was scrolling through Facebook one morning, just as I do every morning. I allow some leeway in my morning schedule to give myself time to wake up. I take that time to scroll through Facebook. I’m sure a psychologist would screech in abject horror that I’m doing something horrible to my brain by waking it up that way, an optometrist might waggle a finger and tell me that blue light first thing in the morning will surely blind me. Meh. I enjoy a lazy, sleepy-eyed perusal through my most-used social media first thing in the morning and until Sigmund Freud himself tells me I should stop, I’m going to continue. 

Wow, that was a digression. 

The other morning as I was doing my morning scroll, I found something my youngest had shared. It was a square filled with line after line of the same sentence. The font was teeny tiny but neat and it caught my eye immediately. My scrolling stopped and I just stared. The repeated words formed beautiful row after row, line after line of perfection. That’s what originally stopped me, but then I read the repeated sentence:

“How wonderfully you have grown since June of last year.” 

It was like that little box was speaking directly to me. I’m not sure the reason why my daughter shared it. Maybe for herself, maybe for a friend. Maybe because she, too, liked the look of the repeated lines and rows. But it certainly wasn’t by accident that it showed up in my feed that morning. 

Last June Paul was on month three of unemployment. Aside from the loss of our first child, it was the hardest season we have gone through in our marriage. We were both bitter and angry. Fear plagued us both. I was a month away from having a total hysterectomy after over a year of severe problems. I was in pain and exhausted physically, then we were thrown into a place of insecurity we had never been. By the end of the month he had a job. A job that would thrust him into a depression he’d never experienced. At the beginning of July I had surgery. Major surgery. I felt better immediately. However, during my recovery I found another job, the job I am at now. All while trying to make sure my husband didn’t harm himself or give up. 

“How wonderfully you have grown since June of last year,” echoes in my head as I write this. 

I am learning how to be. And by “be” I mean, I am learning how to “be [fill in the blank].” It seems general and vague, but think about it. I want to be [better at painting]. I want to be [a cowboy]. I want to be [more loving]. Being is a state of existence and I want to be. 

I want to be more loving, caring, compassionate, fun, open to change, open to diversity, able to roll with whatever comes my way. I want to be a better mom, wife, grandma, daughter, sister, and aunt. I want to be a better employee, student, person in general. You can add “I want to be…” in front of all of those and make sentences. Profound sentences. 

Since changing jobs I have realized how closed-minded my world has been. I have shrugged off some ages-old thoughts and ideals that benefitted NO ONE and I’m ashamed I propagated them for basically my whole life. I now embrace everyone and even the “worst” individual humankind can introduce me to, I try to see things from a different perspective and see past what they are and into who they were and how they got to where they are. I love with all that is in me. I do good recklessly. I love who I have become since June of last year. And I hope that next June I can look back and see where I’ve become even better since this year. 

How wonderfully I have grown. 

I blame the spider

Originally published in the Miami News-Record, May 2019 

“Terrified” doesn’t adequately express how I feel about spiders. Abject horror, paralyzing, gut-deep fear is more accurate, but not quite. When bad weather is imminent, someone else must sweep the cellar. I would rather face down an EF5 tornado wearing nothing but an oversized t-shirt, leggings and my Crocs flip-flops rather than go into the cellar with creepy crawlies. We knew the storms would get going early in the day, so that morning Kady swept it out. I inspected and found it to my liking. 

For most of the other warnings (so. many. warnings.) that day it was basically get the kids, babies, and dog in the cellar and I stayed out. If I did go under, it wasn’t for long. It’s my duty as a lifelong Okie to stand in the yard during any tornado warnings. I think it’s in our DNA and I’m pretty sure my parents signed some kind of oath when I was born that they would continue this tradition with their offspring. 

Once Paul got home from work, he and I kept our vigil together on the porch while our little brood was tucked safely underground. After warning Number ?, we knew we had about an hour until the next one hit, so everyone came up, we got out stuff for sandwiches, and let the girls run a bit. I had no more finished making my sandwich when another warning went off. We were so tired of the chaos it took to get everyone down there so we waited a bit. I stood in the yard and watched the clouds. It felt different. Finally I told everyone to GO. I stood at the door of the cellar and watched the clouds start to rotate. Abby came up to video it and then the wind switched direction and even Paul, the tornado naysayer said, “GET UNDER!” The grandgirls were happily watching “Bubble Guppies” on their tablets, the dog was asleep on her bed, we had to threaten the men to refrain from any and all farting. It was pretty calm inside while the outside was a hot mess. Petal got sleepy, so I sat down in a lawn chair to put her to sleep. I felt a plop on top of my head.

About the time I said, “I think someone needs to check my head to make sure that was rain and not a bug,” Abby said in the calmest voice I’ve ever heard, “Mom. Don’t freak out. [absolute certainty I was definitely going to freak out] There is a spider over your head.” If she had said that while in a house, I’d have simply gotten up and run. In an 8x8 cellar you don’t run. You are trapped. You are trapped with a spider dangling menacingly over your head and there’s not a doggone thing you can do about it. It was actually a raindrop that had hit my head, but I imagined a virtual waterfall of spiders raining down from the tiny vent over my head. I let an involuntary whimper escape. Everyone in the cellar was just staring at me. Abby, again so calm, said, “Mom. I’m going to take off my shoe so I can kill it. I need you to slowly get up and not drop my kid, okay?” I got up and went as far away as I could get while she whacked that eight-legged monster with my favorite flip-flop (her shoes had gotten soaked earlier, so she was in my Crocs flips - shame I have to burn them now. Or at least, the left one.) “Okay, it’s done. It’s stuck to the ceiling but—“ I interrupted her with a shrieked, “IT’S STILL ON THE CEILING?!?!” And once again, my eldest, the voice of reason, said, “Mom. It’s the best I can do. It’s dead. Stay calm.” And then my youngest asked if she could wipe my tears. The tears I didn’t realize I was crying because I was so blasted scared out of my mind. It was not my proudest moment. But I did learn that my girls definitely know how to take care of their momma. 

Pictures and cake

Originally published in the Miami News-Record, October 2019. 

A couple weekends ago, through some bizarre form of maternal magic, I managed to get all of the kids and their significant others to our house for an extended period of time. Sam’s girlfriend, Maegan, is playing basketball in Arkansas now and it was the very last weekend she was going to be able to leave campus until the holidays. The weather was forecasted to be good, we needed to celebrate Abby’s birthday, so I planned family pictures. I stressed to the kids that I needed this to happen. The next time we see Maegan will likely be after a ballgame or as we’re chowing down on Thanksgiving dinner and neither an is extremely photogenic moment. The stars aligned. Everyone was available. The plan was to start taking the couples’ pictures around the time the grandgirls were getting up from nap and then they’d come up once the girls were awake and dressed. 

Outdoor pictures are fickle. Lighting is tricky and if you use the sun the way you should, everyone is squinty. If you don’t risk corneal burns, you have face shadows. Then, top it off, we live on the highest hill in Ottawa County. The wind hadn’t blown all day, but as soon as we walked outside it started in. Hair was getting stuck in lipstick all over the place. Earlier in the day I had asked Paul to mow out a little spot at the edge of the field so we’d have a space to stand. As we headed out to take pictures I saw that he had not done so. But all of the sudden it didn’t matter because as we walked out to scope out the area, Penny, Kady’s dog decided that THAT particular spot was THE most perfect place in our gigantic yard to take not one but TWO significantly sized poops. She’s not even that big of a dog. 

We took Sam and Maegan’s first, then moved on to Zach and Kady. We were finishing up as Abby and Dakota drove up. As soon as Penny heard the grandgirls’ voices she tried to run for the hills. She is terrified of them and tends to poop when she sees them, but considering the fact she’d already taken care of that business in our original backdrop, she thankfully wasn’t doing that. We got the girls distracted in another part of the yard while we snapped the last few with the dog, then Kady took her in the house to safety. 

The next hour was spent making absolute fools of ourselves for the sake of a few smiles out of Wemberly and Petal. Wemberly is smiley and expression-able, but Petal takes a little more coaxing. And coax we tried. They did amazing considering they are two and three and of course, I find them two of the most fetching creatures on the face of the earth. 

While we were waiting for a ladder for the group shot (since I’m the photographer, I have to have something to set the camera on when I’m in the pictures) Sam took the camera and snapped a few of me. I had my hand resting on the back of a chair, I had just lowered my scathing “Bass eyebrow” because my husband had been acting a fool and sometimes the eyebrow is all the works. 

I have some reflections on the photos he took, but those will have to wait for another day. I feel like waxing poetic and reflective on your crow’s feet a mere paragraph or two from where you described your daughter’s dog’s photo-sabotaging poop-scapade might be conflicting and not at all literarily correct. It might affect the general tone of both stories, so we’ll leave it at this: 

My family is awesome. Family picture day is always stressful, windy, chaotic, and this year, poopy. But when the pictures were over, it was the almost-21-year-old who said, “Hey, Mom? We all smiled pretty. Can we have cake now?” And it was my pleasure to lead them inside for cake at the dining room table. They are my whole heart. 

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...