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Water Park Reflections

Friends, I am excited to announce that I am embarking on a new career venture! I’m so excited about my new opportunity, and I just can’t wait to share it with you.

I was inspired by a trip I took with my family to an indoor water park (chlorine warehouse of humidity) a couple of hours (of harrowing, near-death experience traffic) away from our home (a place where the thermostat works and water pressure exists). All the fun (exhausting and annoying) activities were nestled into a woodland (hokey) setting and were enjoyed (tolerated) by large crowds (hordes, throngs, MOBS) of diverse (ill-mannered, personal-space-oblivious, loud, pushy, slow-walking) people (animals).

It really got me thinking. Could I offer an experience like this to families at a lower cost and smaller time commitment? You betcha!

Inspiration strikes in the unlikeliest of places, and as such, it was as I sat in a plastic-strapped chair, my eyes tightly closed in an attempt to lessen the burning sensation caused by airborne chlorine, that the idea for Little Bear Hut was born.

At Little Bear Hut, we strive to provide you and your family with all the highlights of an indoor waterpark experience, but at a fraction of the cost those other guys at the Great Money Lodge would charge. And, we can do it all in just a few hours, so you don’t have to spend your entire weekend in a wet bathing suit with strangers! It’s a win-win, people!

Since I’m just getting started in the hospitality biz and you all are my most trusted friends and acquaintances, I am promoting a one-time limited offer for the full Little Bear Hut experience for just $99! I know, I must be taking crazy pills! This is a bargain basement deal. Reserve now before my accountant finds out! Or my husband. Or the HOA. Or DHEC.

When you arrive at Little Bear Hut, I will lead you to my bathroom, which will be at an optimal humidity level of 115%, a condition achieved by letting my shower run its hottest water for an hour before your arrival. Your family is welcome to do whatever is most pleasing to them, whether that is perching on the edge of the bathtub or sliding into a baby pool full of tepid bleach. The baby pool is also capable of converting into a wave pool, but you will be responsible for creating the waves. At this time, I am the only lifeguard on the premises, and I take my duties very seriously. That is unless I need to check my phone for texts or funny memes, in which case I cannot be held liable for keeping you or your family members’ faces out of the baby pool. (Come on. Get it together. Do I have to do everything around here?)

When you tire of the water activities, I will have my children (“Magic Makers”) join us. This is a family business, after all, and I want to instill in them a strong work ethic. They will arrive with “magic” wands that they will wave indiscriminately in unpredictable intervals in and around your facial region. I assure you that my children are very good at this, and they will give your family a very authentic experience. If for some reason, you feel as though their performance is in any way lacking and you have not been adequately terrified that one of your eyeballs might be skewered by a wand, I’m afraid I cannot refund your admission. That money was spent on bleach that I won’t be able to reuse because you splashed it all out of the baby pool when you made those waves. (I’m not mad, seriously. But I mean, really, this is my house, not Sea World, go buy yourself some manners.) However, I will speak with my children and they will continue their wandwork until you feel as though your ocular regions have been sufficiently threatened and you would like to smash the wands into thousands of tiny bits on my floor (but let’s remember those manners, though, shall we? I’m really not in the mood for vacuuming, especially after that bleach fiasco). Also, I cannot be held liable for any actual injuries sustained as a result of wand waving. As you will soon see for yourself, I have little to no control over the Magic Makers while they are using their wands.

At this time, your own children will most definitely want their own eyeball skewers, I mean wands, which we are more than happy to provide (at an additional cost). Most of the wands are pretty basic, but we are pleased to offer several add-ons to personalize your child’s wand (also at an additional cost). Furthermore, I have several items of poor quality and little to no practical value that your children will be insistent they cannot possibly go on living without. These items are available at, you guessed it, an additional cost. BUT, don’t be discouraged! I am pleased to inform you that, as part of your admission price, you have the option to dispose of any purchased items in my trash can on your way out of Little Bear Hut, which, in my experience, is right about the time the children forget how vital these items once were to their very existence.

Now that you have wands in hand and numerous pointless and pricey accessories in place, your family can roam the hallways of my home on a Quest for hidden objects. The Quest is always changing, as I like to keep it interesting for repeat visitors. Sometimes you will be searching for a lost sock. Other times, it may be an earring, or possibly a library book. Some days there may be a skill-based Quest, such as “Find Something We Can Eat for Dinner.” And then there are time-based Quests, like “Has Anyone Seen My Phone; It’s on Silent,” and “Where Are My Keys; I’m Not Even Kidding Right Now.” The wands are mostly useless for the Quests, but the kids will wave them like pageant queens on Red Bull, and be just as excited, to the point of incoherency, nonetheless.

The Quests end either when the object is found OR you and your spouse contemplate a trial separation and/or the logistics of surrendering your children on the steps of the nearest fire station. As lifeguard/concierge/Quest-creator of Little Bear Hut, I can give you directions. But I cannot be held liable for any domestic disturbances that occur as the result of a Quest. You brought those issues with you, so don’t be trying to make your dysfunction my problem, you got it? This is a waterpark, not Family Court.

Also included in the price of admission is to have at least one member of your party mauled by a stroller. I find that it’s best to save this activity for last, as all the previous activities will reveal who you would most like to see in a stroller showdown. Some families like to “vote someone off the island,” so to speak. We’ve also actually had some guests volunteer themselves for a stroller mauling! It’s attention to details like this that really make your experience authentic and memorable. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ve got to cover my bases here and tell you that I cannot be held liable for any injuries sustained as a result of being mauled by a stroller. These types of incidents are usually of the hit-and-run variety anyway, and stroller operators are generally a very entitled and unreasonable sort of people. In my experience, it’s best just to take the mauling and move on. You can’t win a fight when your opponent’s weapon is a baby.

After all this fun and memory-making, you will surely have worked up quite an appetite! Let my Hut staff feed your Little Bears a filling meal before you go on your way. Our Family Meal Deal is whatever pizza is on special when I pull up the Domino’s app, ice pops from last summer, and a mop bucket filled with Dr. Pepper and as many straws as your heart desires. After all, this is Little Bear Hut, not Little Sea Turtle Hut. No activists here! Way too expensive! The Family Meal Deal is an additional cost of $99. I know that seems costly, but kitchen overhead is just outrageous, not to mention I have to tip the delivery guy. It really adds up! However, it is included in the price of admission for all guests to receive a souvenir bag of Halloween candy (but only while supplies last, and we are really burning through this stuff, so you might want to hurry).

So, yeah, like I said, I’m super excited about becoming a “Mompreneur” and having my family provide your family with such an amazing experience! Book now to reserve a spot in our “Holidays at Little Bear Hut” experience. It’s just like the regular experience, except I walk around the house singing “All I Want for Christmas” over and over, and everyone gets glitter in their scalp (included in admission price). Truly magical. Just send me $99 via PayPal or Venmo and I’ll totally get back to you as soon as I have a chance to look at my calendar.

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A Little of This, A Little of That

“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”—Thomas Keller

As the temperatures drop (That is going to happen, right? Summer is going to end? Eventually?), my thoughts turn to comfort food. Something to keep my belly warm and satisfied. Many dishes from my childhood fall under the umbrella of “comfort food,” but one I keep returning to is my grandmother’s cornbread.

There was almost always a pan of cornbread to be found at Grandmother’s house. If it wasn’t just out of the oven and sitting on the stove to cool, it was already sliced and stored in individual, foldover sandwich bags on the counter ready for someone to grab and add to their meal, or have as a snack. To this day, it is not unusual for me to find myself sitting at the wooden table that is situated in the center of my grandmother’s kitchen, eating a slice of cornbread as she pads around the small space, offering up every foodstuff she has at her disposal.

“You hungry? Let me warm up some of these beans for you. How about some vegetable soup? Can I slice up a tomato for you? They’re real good with some salt. Just right. Mary brought me a cake yesterday, let’s have us a little bite of it. It’ll be good with some coffee. I’ll put a pot on. I bet those girls will want a Little Debbie. Let me get ‘em down for you.”

 Y’all, my grandmother has a whole cabinet of just Little Debbies. My memories and thoughts about that cabinet could be a story all on its own. Maybe one day I’ll get around to telling it. For now, suffice it to say that my grandmother, at 90 years old, has a heart of gold and a focused, solitary purpose to feed her people, through their bellies and their souls.

“Sit down!” I say. “I’m really not even hungry, I just want to visit for a minute.”

 The kids basically have their entire upper bodies in the Little Debbie cabinet, and I’m hoping they’re going to choose something that I’ll want a teeny bite of and can later pretend I didn’t actually ingest. I’m still not hungry, but we all know that hunger is not a prerequisite for what is arguably America’s best snack cake.

All the family members and friends that pass through this small, wooden box of a kitchen get the same special treatment. We also get the same cornbread, even though each person enjoys it a little differently. One of my uncles prefers it crumbled in a bowl of cold milk. My cousin wants it drizzled with honey. My mom likes to find the crunchy pieces along the edges of the pan. My personal favorite is to have it when it’s hot out of the oven. I want it cut in a triangular piece, like pie, then sliced lengthwise, so that the middle can be smothered in butter that melts down into the bread and drips out of the sides.

So maybe it’s not the healthiest choice I could make, but it sure is delicious.

The cornbread might be consumed in many different ways, but it is always, always served up in a cast iron skillet. Grandmother had several of these pans, in various sizes, shapes, and ages. She recently started thinning out her collection and gave a few of her pans away. My sister and I are both recent recipients of one of Grandmother’s cast iron skillets.

When she first gave it to me, I admittedly didn’t know what to do with it. It looked like a clunky relic stacked in my cabinet among the many smooth and shiny non-stick pots and pans. Since all I’d ever seen cast iron used for was cornbread, I sort of had the idea that maybe that was all anyone ever made in it! I’m not much of a cook, and I consume carbs sparingly, so whipping up a pan of cornbread wasn’t really a priority. But when my sister brought a pan of heavenly skillet brownies to a family get-together (totally worth the carb count, by the way), it opened my eyes to the idea that the cast iron skillet might be capable of more, much more.

The benefits of cast-iron cooking are pretty considerable. In an era when many of us are trying to eat clean and return to a more natural way of preparing food, cast iron is right in line with this movement. Cast iron is a naturally non-stick material and needs minimal cleaning. The material is basically indestructible and will last for generations, never needing to be replaced. But if you did need to replace it, it’s an incredibly low-cost choice. A well-made 10” cast iron skillet should only set you back about $30.

As long as you give it enough time to heat up, cast iron cooks very evenly, and can go from stovetop to oven and back again. Just be sure to use a hot pad to transfer it, because nothing puts a damper on a loving family meal quite like 3rd-degree burns. A cast iron skillet can even improve your health because it actually adds safe amounts of iron to your food. Many of us have iron deficiencies, but last time I checked, no one is suffering from lack of Teflon in their diet!

Another benefit of the cast-iron skillet, and I haven’t tested this out just yet, is that this thing would be an excellent weapon, should you ever find yourself in a situation that you need to knock someone out, or defend yourself against a rabid animal that has wandered into your kitchen. The pan I have is heavy as all get-out, which is about the only negative I can find when it comes to cast iron cookware. When I think of skillets, I have a vision of a pioneer woman with a skillet held overhead, chasing a man around a campfire to teach him a lesson about something offensive he’s done. All I have to say is that pioneer woman is way more woman than I am because I don’t think I could make it one trip around that campfire before my arms turned to jelly and I dropped the darn pan on my own head. Seriously, they should add a cast iron skillet to the Workout of the Day at CrossFit.

When my grandmother gave me her skillet, she handed it over and said, “I’ve already seasoned it for you,” a comment that scared me a little bit. “Great,” I thought. “Something else for me to do.” It is true that cast iron needs to be regularly seasoned to retain its non-stick properties. But the seasoning process doesn’t have to be evocative of Martha Stewart with a jar of naturally derived animal fat, massaging a skillet and then placing it on a spit she constructed over a fire in her backyard. Really, all you have to do is wipe the skillet out when you’re finished cooking, then, using a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil, wipe it down once more and put it away. Done. You’re seasoned and ready to go for the next use.

With my initial reservations of cooking with cast iron a thing of the past, I was ready to create my own cornbread tradition with my family. I asked my grandmother if she would mind sharing her cornbread recipe with me. She looked at me, and then set her gaze on a point in the distance. I wondered for a minute if she maybe didn’t want to share the recipe with me, but that’s not really her style. She would give me the slippers off her feet if I complimented them, so I knew she wouldn’t be a hold out on a recipe. While she paused, I asked, “Is it one of those things that you’ve been making for so long you don’t really have a recipe? Do you just sort of eyeball everything you put in there and maybe don’t know exactly how much of what goes in?” Remember, I’m no cook, but I’ve heard that there are people who can do this. They just know what ingredients to use, and how much to mix in, and how long it needs to cook. It all seems like magic to me, a person who needs a recipe to boil noodles.

“Well, no… It’s not that,” her words trail off a bit. “I just get the recipe off the back of the bag of the cornmeal.”

 Well, how do you like that? A constant element of some of my most special moments with my grandmother is just out there for the taking for anyone who picks up a bag of White Lily cornmeal. Who knew?

But don’t you think for one minute that I believe that cornbread is created solely from a rote recipe found on any grocery store shelf. The recipe on that package is missing some key ingredients. The smooth wooden table. The sound of the furnace rumbling in the hallway as it tries to keep up with the high temperature set on the thermostat. The window above the sink that looks out onto the sloping backyard and my grandfather’s barn. My grandmother’s hands, opening cabinets and rooting around in the refrigerator (which she calls “the icebox”) so she can feed us more. The phone that she lets ring because she doesn’t want to interrupt even one minute of our visit.

A little of this, and a little of that. It all adds up to something I’ll never be able to recreate, but I’ll also never forget.

If you’re interested, I did actually come up with a cornbread recipe that seemed to please my crowd of picky eaters. After they each found their own personal tweak, of course. 

Skillet Cornbread pdf

The Dog Days of Summer

“Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”—George Carlin

A mere 9 weeks ago, school was just letting out and we were giddy with excitement for the glorious promises of SUMMER. The season of staying up late and sleeping in! A time of living outdoors and hanging by the pool! Entire meals eaten directly from crinkly packages at any given time of the day! The Season of Anarchy was upon us and we welcomed it with open, sunscreened arms.

So. How the heck is all that going for ya?

Let me tell you how it’s going for me. I haven’t stopped sweating since Memorial Day. There are about 3 more weeks until school starts back, and in my estimation, a solid 8 weeks until I’ll stop sweating like a plow mule.

If Summer was a sweater (oh, and, believe me, it is a sweat-er), it would be an itchy wool turtleneck, unusually tight around the neck and armpits.

If Summer was a beer, it would be warm, watery, and served in one of those flimsy see-through cups that’s really just a bigger version of the swish cups you get at the dentist.

If Summer was an ice cream cone, it would be melted and dripping from the bottom, with most of the scoop having fallen to the ground, surrounded by ants. Ants that appeared from seemingly nowhere, and that will not go away no matter how many things you spray on them because they have some crazy primal instinct to go back to that exact spot where someone dropped a stupid ice cream that ONE time and didn’t clean it up and now we all have to suffer and be attempted ant murderers for the rest of our lives.

OK, so I might have gotten sidetracked with the ants. The point I’m trying to make is that I think most of us would agree that the best parts of Summer may be behind us. Sure, it’s great spending so much quality time with our families, but maybe it would be better if we didn’t have to be together so much to do that? Definitely not all together in tight quarters with a toilet to behind ratio greater than 1:4. Staying up late is all fine and good, but it also has a way of turning children into the type of beasts only found in mythology. The pool was refreshing and fun those first few weeks, but it’s now so warm and crowded it’s more like People Soup.

crowded pool

If Summer was a hotel room, it would have two double beds very close to one another and its occupants would include children that go to bed at 8:30. It would have one shower that has no water pressure and a travel hair dryer from 1984.

If Summer was a swimming pool, it would be one of those above-ground jobs, with a 3-foot depth all the way around. The water would be a tepid 95 degrees, and more than just a little murky, due to the fact the pool hasn’t been skimmed since mid-June. Jump on in.

Did anyone make any Summer Resolutions? A Bucket List, if you will? While we’re on the subject can we please clarify that a “Bucket List” is a list of things you want to do before you DIE?? As in “kick the bucket?” Do people not know this? Because I see Bucket Lists for everything. Unless you’ve got a date with the Grim Reaper over Labor Day Weekend, you should not be making a Summer Bucket List. Stop it. Call it something else. You’re freaking me out.

Gelati ice cream cone held up to the hot summer sky
Please be sure to play with puffy paint before you die. Anything less would be a tragedy.

Anyone get workbooks for the kids? Good for you. Me? Didn’t even look at ‘em. “Summer Slide,” you say? Well, I say, “Wheeeeeeee! Sounds like fun to me! Where can we buy tickets? Is there a discount for dummies?” In all seriousness, I did think about incorporating some little educational field trips with the kids into our summer plans, but it just never really worked out. In part, because I worried if we stepped foot outside the house we might all either be incinerated on the spot, or carried away by a flash flood. That would be such a bummer. I mean, we wouldn’t have a chance to finish the Bucket List!

Did I mention the sweating? Because that’s still a thing.

Britney Sweating.gif

How about those little around-the-house projects we thought we’d finally accomplish in these slow summer months?  Listen, I’m barely keeping the lights on in this place because I keep misplacing the bills under stacks of other mail. I’ve come to realize that I am incapable of taking on any project more labor-intensive than “Keep the Electricity On.” Without A/C and Wi-Fi, we would surely go the way of the Mayans. Or was it the Incas? Just plug in the name of any civilization that mysteriously vanished. But don’t ask anyone here, because we certainly haven’t learned anything since May!

If Summer was Wi-Fi, it would start out with a great signal, and then get progressively weaker. You’d check your settings, and reset the router, and pray to the gods of Netflix to shine upon you, but no dice, friend. All you’d see is a spinning wheel until finally, you would just have to lie down because you’ve gotten all sweaty again.

Once upon a time, I thought that Summer would be a good time to practice some healthy cooking skills. Makes sense, right? All that extra time on my hands (“extra time,” I love that joke, it just never gets old, does it?), the abundance of fresh ingredients, the little people in my house so hungry from all their romping around gleefully in the outdoors…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I told my family that we needed to eat up all the food in the house before we left for our beach trip and I haven’t done a proper grocery run since then. I’m not going to tell you if the “beach trip” to which I’m referring was last week, or right after school got out, or all the way back to Spring Break. It doesn’t matter. Don’t judge me. I promise you, no one is starving. Hallelujah, drive-thrus are still open in the summer!! And Pop-Tarts are a very acceptable choice for dinner. One of the kids asked me, “Mom, can we just put Capri Suns in our cereal since there’s no milk?” To which I responded, “You know, it’s not the worst idea I’ve heard. Maybe you should try it. It could be like a science experiment.” BAM! Feeding the body and the brain.

If Summer was deli meat, it would be one or two days past its expiration date; probably completely fine to eat, but also equally as likely to make you a little queasy. And definitely sweaty.

If Summer was a tomato sandwich, the tomatoes would be underripe, the bread soggy, and have way too much mayonnaise.

Here we are. 3 weeks until school starts. 8 weeks until we can walk to the mailbox without breaking into a full-body sweat. Hold on and finish strong, Summer Soldiers. This too shall pass. Until then, pass me the Zinc and a cold one, because once it’s over, we’ll be begging for the Season of Anarchy once again.

beverage-celebration-cheerful-1266020
 

Cheers to Anarchy!

 

 

Pool Parties and Peach Queens

“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired… jumping, running—that’s the way to live.”—Jack Kerouac

Aside from a brief period of time when my children were small and hadn’t yet learned to swim, pools have always held an alluring quality for me. As it generally goes, the things you don’t have are the things you want the most. My family didn’t have a pool, nor were we members of a neighborhood association that provided one. This meant the only time I got to dip my toes in a pool was either when we were on vacation, or some kind soul invited me over to their home for a swim. I spent most of my summers paddling around in murky lake waters. I yearned to be in water which was clear enough for me to see my feet; and, to be able to plant those feet on a surface that didn’t squish up between my toes. Bonus points for the feeling that there wouldn’t be any unidentified creatures sharing my swim space. It didn’t bother me a bit that the chlorine in those pools turned my hair green and plastic-like, resembling some sort of radioactive straw. Never mind that my eyes were red and scratchy for days after hours spent in a pit of chemicals, giving me the look of a pre-teen meth-head mermaid. Also of no concern to me? Those pools that had the rough concrete bottoms that worked on my feet like a meat tenderizer. By the end of a week of vacation, I could still find that one spot of uninjured skin on the corner of a big toe, and I would use that to bob up and down when I couldn’t just tread water.

Dive competitions, Marco Polo, handstands, breath-holding contests, balancing on floats, you name it, I was ALL IN FOR IT. Drop me at the pool and drag me out when it’s time to eat dinner.

In high school, many of my summer days were spent sweating it out at my summer job, but every now and then, a group of us would all have a day off. I can see myself now, having spent the entire morning in pajamas, watching MTV and eating peanut butter out of the jar, just waiting for the phone to ring. (What must it be like for kids these days, to have all their friends just two thumbs away right there in their phones? I think of all that time I spent staring at the phone at my mother’s house, willing it to ring.) Some days, the call I was waiting for would finally come in.

drew barrymore scream
Actual photo of me being super excited that someone finally called me.

“Hello?”
“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ What’re you doin’?”
“Nothin.’ (pause) A bunch of us are goin’ over to Lotie’s. You wanna come?”
“Yeah, let me get my bathing suit on. See you in twenty?”

That was cool, right? It didn’t sound at all like I was dying to get out of the house and go somewhere, and that I would actually be ready and watching the driveway through the blinds in approximately 7 minutes, right? On the other end of the line was my friend Libba, and she was talking about getting a group of our friends together to go to her great aunt Lotie’s (a nickname for Lois, and pronounced “low-tee”) to swim in her pool.

shag girls
“Get in, loser. We’re going swimming.”

There was a pool. There were friends. There might not be diving competitions, but there would definitely be laughing. Actually, there probably would be diving competitions. Whatever it was, I was ALL IN. Libba, usually accompanied with a couple of our other friends, would pull up to my house in her gigantic, late-model baby blue Bonneville and lay on the horn. I would practically skip down my front steps and jump in for the outing. It wouldn’t be unusual for us to make a stop at the nearby Clock restaurant for cheeseburgers and fries. Not necessarily because we were all that hungry, but because it sounded good, it was on the way, and we were 16, blessed with the metabolism of caffeinated squirrels.

crazy squirrels
“Anybody got a Diet Coke I can have?”

Soon after we arrived at Lotie’s, a slow trickle of friends would start showing up for the impromptu get-together. Libba’s cousin would almost always be there, too, with a pack of his friends, and before we knew it, a small party would be underway.

Lotie’s house was an oasis hidden in plain sight in the middle of residential downtown Greer. It sat on the corner of two well-traveled streets; a modestly sized house with a backyard that was almost completely enclosed by a decorative brick wall. I wonder how many people passed it regularly, having no idea what a beautiful secret garden, sparkling pool, and quaint pool house were in that backyard. It was built in the early ‘50’s, and it is believed to be the first pool in town, and for a short while, the only one. I didn’t know Lotie personally, but she and her husband must have been quite the entertainers back in their day. For several years, they opened their home and pool area as hosts of parties celebrating the contestants of the Peach Queen beauty pageant during the South Carolina Peach Festival, which was held for many years in Greer. One year, they filled the pool with peaches for a photo shoot with the beauty queens, who had traveled from all over the state. In the pool house hung several black and white photographs from those parties. Smiling beauty queens, with perfectly coiffed hairdos and makeup, wearing modest bathing suits. Some floating blissfully on pool rafts, while others sat on the side and dangled their long legs into the clear water. I imagine an invitation to one of Lotie’s pool parties must have been a pretty hot ticket back in the day. Those gals must have primped and prissed all morning long to get ready to strut their stuff at literally the only pool in town.

My friends and I arrived at Lotie’s pool party about 40 years after those beauty queens, and while there was certainly no primping and prissing on our parts, I imagine we enjoyed it every bit as much as they did. I also like to think that Lotie still enjoyed the art of entertaining. She almost always came out to greet us and make small talk (before her afternoon nap, naturally). Ever the gracious hostess, she would have her housekeeper, Imogene, bring us fresh chocolate chip cookies. Imogene was like an angel, dressed completely in white, and those cookies were undeniably heaven-sent. Even if we were still full from the cheeseburgers, we devoured those cookies as if we hadn’t eaten in days. Lotie was from another time: the summer after our senior year she asked some of the girls in our group if they had their hats and gloves ready for going off to Clemson in the fall. Her mannerly demeanor and dedication to keeping up her home had a way of making us feel special. Knowing that she thought highly of us kept us in line. We would have never wanted to disappoint her by acting like a bunch of hooligans. Now, that’s not to say that we abided by royal protocol every time we went over. There may have been some jumping off the roof into the pool during Lotie’s naptime. Probably a fair amount of foul language was batted around. But for the most part, I think we highly respected this lady who showed us that she thought we were worthy to share in her lovely oasis and partake in the Lord’s cookies.

For a hot minute, back in early Spring, I fell under the swimming pool spell and thought about having one installed at my own home.

At first, I thought it would be easy. I stood in the backyard with a very friendly and motivated contractor who told me, straight-faced, that we could be swimming by July. Sure, there would still be decking to be done, but we could work around that, right? I was like a female Clark Griswold, staring out the window at my crystal clear blue pool, with my smiling family and friends waving back at me, singing my praises for making all their dreams come true. A hero for the ages, I tell you.

cousin eddie in pool
“We love you, Mom!!”

But there was a problem. Well, several problems. The more we learned, the more we wanted, and, as home improvement projects tend to do, the plans outgrew the budget and we had to put on the brakes and redirect. I wonder if this happened to Lotie and her husband as they planned their pool? It must have seemed like an insurmountable task at the time. Not like now, when there are pool companies all over town. They were the very first one! Their neighbors must have thought they were crazy, digging a giant hole in their backyard and building a whole separate house. Think of the traffic they must have created with all the workers. And how did they find someone to help them maintain it? It was the only one in town! Surely, at some point, they had to think they might have been making a colossal mistake, that the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth. But at least one of them had the motivation to keep going with it. At least one of them was excited about being the center of the social scene. One of them had a vision of children paddling around in the backyard, growing up and inviting over a new generation of friends. They almost certainly were committed to this being their “forever home,” and couldn’t let resale figures cloud their judgment. But I doubt that even the most visionary of people could have foreseen a great-niece and great-nephew with a pack of restless teenagers still enjoying the fruits of their labors and worries a full 40 or more years after they had the idea to take the risk and make it happen. I guess sometimes in life you just have to shut out all the reasons you have for not doing something, and instead look at what kind of happiness you can create for yourself and spread to others in the process. It’s like thumping the first tile in a line of standing dominoes and having no idea where the line ends.

Lotie and her husband (and probably Imogene and many of the Peach Queens) departed their earthly oasis several years ago. The house went up for sale, and I’ve heard that a lovely young family lives there now, which makes me so happy. I hope they use the pool often and that they love it as much as so many people before them have. There are gallons upon gallons of memories and good times in that treasured pool, each generation adding more, to the point of overflowing. But isn’t that the great thing about memories? There’s always room for making more.

IMG_8223
“Off my raft, sister. I’m making room for memories.”

 

Featured post

Much Ado About May

“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.” Fennel Hudson, author, naturalist, and countryman

“May is trying to kill us.”—Parents everywhere

A slightly bedraggled, yet smartly dressed couple, somewhere in their late-30’s to mid-40’s stand together in the well-appointed foyer of a large, bright home, filled to the brim with guests. Their heads close enough to touch, they speak in hushed tones, while looking over each other’s shoulders, seemingly in an attempt to not be seen.

 “I mean, aren’t you ready to go?” the man asks imploringly.

“Of course I’m ready to go, Derek. I was ready to go when we got here! I just feel bad. I mean, there are still so many people here, and no one else is leaving. And, besides, I can’t find my purse in this mess. I swear I put it right…here. Somewhere. Do you see it?” They both dig through a mountain of purses and light jackets scattered over a pair of matching swanky chairs. Chairs that have probably never served their purpose of supporting a single derriere.

“Susan, I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what your purse looks like, or why you even brought it. You don’t need anything in it! I’ve got your phone and lipstick in my pocket, for Pete’s sake. And, I promise you, everyone here wants to leave. It’s just that no one wants to be the first one to go! Come on. Let’s do it. No one will even notice. Seriously. Come on. We can go to Waffle House on the way home.” Derek wiggles his eyebrows at this prospect and reaches for Susan’s waist. “The babysitter’s not expecting us for at least—“

“Oh my goodness! Are we bringing the party out into the foy-AY? Tell me you are not leaving?! Not this early!”

The gathering’s hostess, Lillian (spelled “Lillian, but pronounced “Lilly Ann,” a nuance that everyone knows, is rarely questioned and, if it is, only once, and never again), has appeared from thin air, riding on a gust of strong floral perfume and wearing a brightly geometric printed, floor-length caftan that she purchased on her last exotic vacation. Derek and Susan look at her with wide eyes and simultaneously burst into nervous laughter.

“Oh no, I just…I just came out here to help Susan look for her purse…” But Derek doesn’t look at the purses, he just looks down at this shoes, positively sheepish.

“Yes, I just could not find it anywhere!” Susan babbles away. “There are just so many of them out here… I mean, all I needed was to grab my phone. You know, check in with the babysitter… Let her know that things were running a little late… Just having so much fun (more nervous laughter)…” She tries to change the subject. “Goodness, Lillian, these chairs are just gorgeous! Where in the world did you find them?”

Lillian ignores Susan, but playfully slaps Derek on his behind. He is momentarily shocked, then manages more nervous laughter. “Looking for your phone, darlin’?” she simpers. “Well, I think I found it! Right here along with this scrumptious little peach!” Another pat (and maybe, no definitely, a squeeze, a firm one, in fact) on Derek’s rump, and raucous laughter from all three of them rings out in the foy-ay, while Derek mockingly slaps himself on the forehead as if to say, “Oh, silly me.”

“Yes, darlin’, you just go ahead and text that babysitter that you are gonna be LATE TO-NIGHT! Sweetheart, they are just now linin’ up for the three-legged race, so y’all just get right on in there! And after that, we’ll do the potato sack race. Were you in charge of bringin’ potato sacks? I can’t remember who signed up for that… Anyway, after all the games, there are AWAAAAARDS! You can’t miss the AWAAAAARDS!!!! Have y’all had a cupcake yet? Margie made them from SCRATCH, and they are simply amazing. I promise you, you will not even MISS the gluten a single bit. Y’all just come on back in, now, I will not hear another peep about you leavin’ and missin’ a single thing!”

Lillian throws one arm over Susan’s shoulder and loops her other arm around Derek’s elbow as she steers them away from the foy-ay and towards the backyard, where a multitude of weary adults shoot serious side-eye at them for their attempted escape. Lillian whispers in Susan’s ear, “Oh, and the chairs? They’re from Paris. I saw them and just could not bear to leave them there. Cost more than the whole darn trip to bring them back here! Bwahahahahhahaha!” Susan offers a half-smile and cranes her neck to see how the wine levels are holding up at the bar. The wine. It just seems so far away…

“Dude, why didn’t you tell me? I would have gone with you,” a man whispers to Derek, as he walks by. He’s in the process of tying his right leg to his wife’s left leg.

“Man, I couldn’t. It was a split-second decision. We thought we saw a way out, but…” Derek’s words trail off as he looks wistfully at the doorway leading back into the house, now filled with Lillian’s caftan-clad figure.

Through gritted teeth, the woman who is now firmly attached to her husband’s leg hisses, “We. Are. All. In this. Together,” As if to further drive this point home, she tosses Susan a large burlap sack. “Here. Get in.”

three-legged-racei

This? Yes, this. This “party.” This is what it’s like for parents of school-age children during the month of May. A party that started out reasonably fun, but now? We’re just so over it. We’ve met the people, we’ve made the small talk, we’ve eaten the canapes and sampled the dessert. It is time to G-O go. Vaya con Dios, suckers. We out. At this point, all we want to do is go home, take off these stupid pants and lie down for, like, 10 minutes. But the hostess of the gathering is a snapping turtle that just will not let go.

Well, legend has it that a snapping turtle won’t let go until it thunders. So I say, MAKE IT RAIN. The thought of another awards ceremony, recital, performance, recognition event, or season-ending wrap party makes me want to just lock myself in the pantry with all the snacks I signed up to bring and tell everyone to come back for me in June. It feels like everything is ending, and yet, it’s all still going on, requiring more involvement than ever! How is this happening? And some of these people want us to go ahead and sign up for next year. Next year? You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t think about next year! Honestly, I checked out of this year right after Spring Break.

I would rather bite the inside of my cheek in the same place seven times than call out spelling words ONE. MORE. TIME. Hello? We’ve been going at this for, what? 8 months? Clearly, some of us in this house know how to spell, and some of us do not. No one has crossed over into a level of spelling proficiency any different from the one in which they started. We have auto-correct now. Can’t we move on?

If given the choice, I would choose to put my big toe in a mouse trap over trying to calmly figure out how to divide fractions. I mean, why is this still happening? One-quarter of one-eighth of a… Don’t know, don’t care, don’t wanna do it. Google it. Mama’s going out on the patio with this WHOLE glass of pinot grigio.

This week we’ve gotten multiple messages from our school as to how to best prepare our children for standardized testing. TESTING? Lord above, we are being tested every morning that we have to drag our ragged selves out of bed. Here’s a test. Can we get to school, on time, with shoes that fully enclose our feet, and shorts that go past our fingertips and last night’s homework completed, and a check for lunch money? No. No, we cannot. We do not meet standards.

Lunch money. Did someone say “lunch money?” Oh, my lands, I need to send in lunch money. Like three days ago. Please feed my children, kind lunch ladies, who are surely just as over all this nonsense as I am. I commend you all for not just tossing pizza slices to children at random. I know that’s what I’m doing for dinner tonight.

Once upon a time, May meant day-drinking and getting dressed up for parties that came with pretty invitations, not links to a Sign-Up Genius. May is supposed to represent a new beginning: the bright foy-ay leading into summer; the award we get for making it through the long, dreary winter.

Wait. Did somebody say “award?” Don’t you even start with me, May. I might be off my game, but I’m on to yours.

MAY

 

Moms on Trial

“The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.”
–Michael J. Fox

Do you delight in having your every move scrutinized by strangers in public places? Strangers who seem to know how to handle your life better than you do?

Do you find joy in receiving unsolicited advice from distant relatives or pearls of wisdom from random women on the Chick-fil-a playground?

Do you bask in the glow of hard stares from your fellow shoppers or diners when you raise your voice to the tiny human(s) accompanying you?

If so, I have good news! PARENTING IS JUST THE THING FOR YOU!!

Just between us, I don’t like any of these things. But like a bunch of other stuff that comes with parenting (sleep training, potty training, training wheels, all the TRAININGS), no one told me that being tried in Mom Court on a regular basis was part of the parenting package.

I made it through my pregnancies with a few misdemeanors, mostly related to food: sushi, cold lunch meat, and the occasional diet Coke resulted in a sentence of serious side-eye from the Mommy Militia. My baby registry choices faced the firing squad (“You don’t really want that stroller, do you?”). My birthing plan, or lack thereof, received several citations (“You do not want to deliver at that hospital.” “You can’t do that birthing class; you need to have this lady come to your house.”)

My grand jury trial as a mother took place when my baby arrived and we began the arduous task of breastfeeding. This was an aspect of mothering that I had been warned about, and I thought I was going into it with my eyes wide open. I was fully prepared for the experience to be hard, but rewarding. I was banking on being motivated to stay the course by the vast amount of data that undeniably proved what a superior choice breastfeeding was for both me and my baby.

As it turns out, there is no amount of preparation, motivation, or hard data that can ready you for the real-life experience of being solely responsible for sustaining another life. Breastfeeding was not a magical experience for me and my baby. It was kind of awful, actually, for everyone involved. The baby was frustrated and hungry. My husband felt helpless and excluded. And I felt…all the feelings. Exhausted, hopeless and unsure of everything except that I was a complete failure as a mother, unable to fulfill the most basic of mothering functions. It was literally what my body was constructed to do, and yet it couldn’t. How would I be able to give this baby the best life possible if I couldn’t even feed her? Each time someone suggested how to increase my milk supply, it felt like a veiled way of saying, “The real problem is you’re just not trying hard enough.”  My confidence level was in the tank, and each judging comment sent it sinking lower and lower. I remember being so ashamed when I would feed the baby a bottle in public. It felt like everyone was staring at me and whispering about the poison I was feeding my baby.

You know, there are classes you can take that will certify you to be an official lactation consultant. OR, you can be like some people who think classes are for dummies, and just up and decide one day that you are an expert on all things related to breasts and milk and feeding babies. You can also roughly push all your thoughts and opinions on to sleep-deprived, confused, and emotional new mothers who can barely process the plotline of a 3 a.m. episode of The Golden Girls. You can tell these women how they should feel about this unfamiliar body that they are inhabiting. A body that is no longer their own, and yet it must be their own, because every inch of it hurts in some new way, and they feel every ache, pain, and tear. Something else you can do is deliver all that very useful, personal information in a way that makes it seem like your way is the only way to do things so that this baby will thrive, that anything less will result in a child with the IQ of a tree stump, and it will be 110% the fault of the hopeless mother who selfishly refused to perfect the football hold. You need a license to be an official lactation consultant. But all you need is a mouth to be an UNofficial lactation consultant.

It seems that when it comes to parenting, all you need is a mouth to be ANY sort of consultant. Who knew? Parenting experts are everywhere! And they are more than ready to tell us exactly what they think. About what we’re doing, about what we’re not doing, about what we should be doing, about what they’re doing, on and on and on.

“When have you been judged as a parent?” This short question posed on my Facebook page garnered some lengthy responses. The stories were as varied as the ways you can feed a baby (yes, there is more than one way). Working mothers felt judged when someone thought they spent too much time away from their children. Stay-at-home mothers felt judged because they felt society viewed them as lazy, pampered, and insufficiently contributing to their household. Mothers with small families felt judged as selfish because they didn’t have more children (as if that decision were completely under their control). Mothers with large families felt judged by others who thought maybe they had taken on more than they could handle. Mothers of children with special needs felt judged by people who didn’t understand their child’s differences, or worse, thought that they should keep that sort of thing at home, away from view.

The individual stories were each different, but they all followed a similar sequence.

1. Mother finds herself vulnerable in a situation of uncertainty.
2. A disconnected person intervenes with unsolicited opinions and/or advice, usually under the guise of trying to be helpful.
3. Mother experiences a range of emotions, including shame, rage, defeat, frustration, and more uncertainty.
4. MOTHER NEVER FORGETS.

“I don’t know why you even had these children if all you’re going to do is work all the time. They never see you!”

“Oh, so you don’t work? What in the world do you do all day? Must be nice…”

“Just one? Well, you better get on it. Can’t wait too long, you know.”

“My, you have your hands full. I don’t know how you keep them all straight! How will you ever be able to send them all to college?”

“I don’t know why she brings that child out to things like this. Isn’t there someone who can stay at home with him? It’s just so uncomfortable.”

Mothers everywhere are feeling judged. The traveling courtroom can pop up anywhere: your local Target, a PTA meeting, even in your own living room. The presiding judges are constantly rotating. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning, but know-it-all friend sitting on the bench. Often the robe is donned by a complete stranger. The holder of the gavel could be a mother-in-law, a sister, a teacher, or a Sunday School matron.

Or it could be me. Wait, what? That’s right. Guilty as charged. If I’m under oath, I have to admit to passing judgment on my fellow mothers. Even though I’ve been judged and know the pain, even though I know I’m not the perfect mother, even though I know it’s counter to everything I want to teach my children…I’ve done it.

 

sheep as judge
Judge ChicWhiteSheep, presiding.

“Can you believe she has that child out at a restaurant this late? That baby should be in the bed!”
(One of the parents does shift work, and a 9 PM dinner is the only time of day they can be together.)

“I mean, he still has a pacifier! He must be 5 years old. That mother needs to put her foot down.”
(I literally have no idea how hard it is to wean a true paci-addict. Don’t hate me, but my babies gave them up almost voluntarily. Also, just because he looks 5 doesn’t mean he’s not just a really big 3-year-old.)

“She doesn’t work, but I can’t get her to sign up for a single volunteer position in the classroom! She needs to step up.”
(But she can’t step up because she has a controlling husband and crippling anxiety. She’s barely holding it together.)

“Kids, do you see that child acting out? This is why I tell you girls to behave in public. Don’t be that kid.”
(There are children with all sorts of special needs that I have no way of understanding. I have no idea what their mothers struggle with every day. But those mothers need groceries just like everybody else does. There’s no telling what sort of pep talk she had to give herself to walk into that store, knowing her child would probably act out in a big way.)

Let’s flip the script one more time. If the judge is not always some terrible, horrible insensitive monster, but rather a harmless busybody, or a normally kind person such as myself who sometimes indulges in a bout of self-righteousness, could our feelings of being judged actually be somewhat self-imposed?* Stick with me here. I’m not saying we’re asking for it, but could it be possible that while we’re swimming in this sea of self-doubt and vulnerability that we call motherhood we’re constantly judging ourselves, and thereby jumping to the conclusion that everyone else is judging us, too?

Hold on a minute. My head just exploded a little.

OK, I’m back.

(*FYI, I’ve already contemplated this whole idea about how we judge ourselves unfairly. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.)

Let’s go back to when I said I was embarrassed to feed my babies bottles when we were in public. Remember that? I felt like people were shooting daggers at me with their eyes as I poisoned my child with powdered infant formula. But what if they were looking at me just because I was holding a beautiful little baby? An angel with bright eyes trained on my face, and chubby kicking legs, so excited to have that delicious bottle to drink, and a warm, squishy body to melt into. What if those people I perceived as judges were actually admirers, or at least appreciators? Maybe my “judge” was actually a fellow mother who remembered what a hard season of life this was, but knew that if I heard “Enjoy every minute,” one more time I was liable to go into full-on rage mode. How I wish I could go back to that unsure version of myself and tell her to stop worrying about what everyone was thinking and just return the gaze of that sweet baby, and know that she’s happy. She’s fed. She’s loved. And, in this moment, it’s all good. You’re good.

I have so much to learn about parenting. For each perceived “mommy win” I secure, there are countless failures propping it up. But if there is one thing I know, it’s that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. It’s all a giant game of trial and error! The very best parents are simply doing the best that they can.

Mom Judging is real, and it needs to stop, no question. We need a village to raise these children and not one that wants to prosecute each other on the Town Square! (I mean, who will microwave the chicken nuggets if all the mothers are stuck in Mom Court?) The best place to start is with ourselves. We are our own worst critics. We have to start giving ourselves a break when it comes to parenting. When we are gentle with ourselves, it gets us in the habit of being gentle with, or at least tolerant of, others.

But let’s also be realistic here: haters are gonna hate, and judges are gonna judge. A bunch of self-care mumbo jumbo isn’t going to eradicate the scourge of Mom Judging. So, the next time you feel that you’ve been put on trial, take a beat. Your judge likely doesn’t know your heart or see your full situation. Your judge is imperfect. Your judge is misguided; possibly acting out of feelings of their own insecurity. Most importantly, your judge wasn’t picked to be the parent to your child: YOU WERE. Momma knows best.

To Mommas everywhere, doing your very best and giving it your all, just let those judgments roll off your shoulders. Remember that your judge is self-appointed. The conviction they hand down is unenforceable. You can skip bail. None of this is going on your permanent record. I found a quote that summed up the situation nicely: “Behind every person is a story, behind every story is a person. So think before you judge, because judging someone doesn’t label who they are, it labels who you are.”

Court is adjourned.

olderfemalejudgewithgavel

I Have One Word for You

 Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.—Buddha

 Several years ago, I abandoned the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I reached a point in my life where I knew myself well enough to realize that whether it be a result of unlucky circumstances, low willpower, or goals that were set too high, any resolutions I put forth would likely be shattered before Valentine candy replaced Christmas decorations in the stores. I start my New Year much the same as the rest of the world, puffy and exhausted from the holiday happenings, gently nudging my loved ones out the door so we can all get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I resolve nothing, except to continue being the same delightfully moody, disorganized, running-five-minutes-behind contained mess that I’ve always been.

In the midst of blocking out all the Fresh Start and Resolution propaganda, my attention was drawn to some people who were starting out their New Year with “One Word.” Not a laundry list of resolutions waiting to be broken, but a one-word mantra to give guidance throughout the year. Hmmmmm. One word. I could probably handle this. It’s just one word! But it needed to be a good word. Strong and lasting, as we were going to be partners for an entire year. One of the websites I visited advised, “Your one word will shape not only your year, but also you.” Another person said that when you pick your word, you should ask yourself, “What would you like to be more true about you at the end of 2018 than is so now?”

Whoa. This one-word thing was serious business. What if I picked the wrong one word, and for a whole year every time I needed to invoke my mantra to bring me back to my center, it was the wrong word and all I would think about was how I couldn’t even pick the right ONE WORD? At the rate I was going, my one word was going to be “stressed.”

Words chosen by others filled my screen and my thoughts. Fearless. Obedient. Courageous. Grit. Beauty. Focus. Depth. Strong. All of them inspiring in their own right. It’s true, a lot of meaning can be packed into just one word. I was sold on the concept, but no closer to finding my one word. I tried several on for size, but none felt right. Not trendy enough. Not classic enough. Not insightful enough. Not introspective enough. This was going about as well as making resolutions.

Ugh, ENOUGH already!

Wait… “enough.” “Enough.” While not the prettiest word on paper, nor lovely on the lips, for me the word is just as smooth as a worn river rock, having been delicately honed by rolling around in my head for so long.

When the children are unruly… “That’s enough, now.”

When I push back from a table heavy with delicious food and drink… “Heavens, no, I’ve had enough!”

When someone disrespects me or those that I love… “Well, that is enough of that.”

All those enoughs are empowering. In those times, I am holding the river rock. It is pressed into my palm, cool and smooth as I turn it over and over again, giving me a sense of calm and control over my circumstances.

But what about the times that I feel like I’ve been overtaken by the idea of enough? When the river rock grows to a size that I can no longer hold in my hand? When it grows so big that I have to put all my weight behind it to roll it along with me?

When my husband or children want something from me that I can’t provide to them, whether that be time, or patience, or material things… “I’m not a good enough wife and mother.”

When I’m tempted by unhealthy food, frivolous spending, or idle time… “I’m not strong enough to deny myself.”

When I refuse, ever so politely, requests from worthy people and organizations for my time or talents… “I don’t do enough.”

When I compare myself to others, not knowing their full circumstances, but still in awe of how amazing their lives seem to be… “I don’t have enough. I don’t do enough. I’m not working hard enough. I am not enough.”

Deep down I know those things aren’t true. In my core, I know that I am and that I have so much more than enough. My cup runneth over with love for and from my friends and family. My comfortable home is bursting at the seams with more things than we could possibly need or want. And on the days that I feel like a wandering soul with no lasting purpose, I remind myself that my Heavenly Father put me here for His purpose, and the only person who thinks it isn’t enough is me.

2018, I’ve got your “one word.”

ENOUGH.

I have enough.

I am enough.

I have love to give and love to receive, and that, my friends, is ENOUGH.

 

 

Featured post

Find Your Merry

“May the day be the bowl of cherriest; And to all, the Merriest!” –June Christy, singing “The Merriest”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Is it? That’s the message that gets shoved in our faces at every turn before we can even put away our Halloween candy. But by the time December arrives, things are feeling a little less than “wonderful.”

What is “wonderful” about madly dashing from one get-together to another? Arriving in a full-on sweat, watching the clock to make sure we make it on time to the next party, or to relieve the babysitter, or just figuring up how many hours of sleep we can get if we leave right now? I suppose there’s quite a bit of “wonder”-ing involved in the process of figuring out what to wear to an event described as “Christmas Casual,” or “Festive Attire.” And while all the heavy foods, drinks, and tempting sweets are incredibly “wonderful” the moment they hit our lips, the headaches and extra pounds they leave behind are certainly less than desirable. And what about the gifting? I would estimate about half of my gift list is enjoyable, but the other half is admittedly out of duty or given to people for whom I have absolutely no idea what they may want or need. Another holiday activity I’m 50/50 on? Christmas cards. I love having a great picture of my kids to share, but the arduous process of locking down the perfect photo can be downright painful. I have so much fun combing the web for all the different design options for the card, but panic sets in when I have to commit to the one that will be ours. I get so excited when I go to the mailbox and find holiday greetings from our family and friends, but I feel a distinctly Grinchy sense of dread when I look at the box holding my own unaddressed cards, waiting for my late night undivided attention.

Some holiday activities start out as “wonderful,” then take a hairpin turn into woeful. Take, for example, holiday decorating. For me, decorating anything is a painful process. Bookshelves, bulletin boards, cookies, console tables, even trying to pick out a necklace to go with an outfit is a journey of intense indecision for me. I can look at the placement of objects for hours, wondering if it’s just right or blatantly wrong. So, the task of adorning my home to make it festive for approximately just a month and a half is, well, maybe not the most wonderful time of the year for me.

Each year I start out full of joy and positivity. I don’t do my decorating until after Thanksgiving, so by then I’ve had time to look at scores of catalogs that have landed in my mailbox, making holiday decorating look fun and easy, and most likely completed by Santa’s very own elves. Just a few weeks ago, I captivated an audience of ladies at my daughter’s ballet practice by telling them all about my plans to purchase an all-white Christmas tree and decorate it with shiny ornaments and multi-colored blinking lights. Sure, it might sound tacky, but I saw it in a catalog, and it looked so fun! So easy! So festive! Everyone thought it was a fabulous idea. No one had any advice on where I could find an elf to bring my catalog idea to life. Fast forward a couple more weeks. The Christmas card pictures were snapped, scrutinized, and selected. Thanksgiving was planned, prepared, and consumed. An 8-year-old’s birthday party was hosted and (barely) survived. The Clemson vs. Carolina game was endured. The decorating was next on the list. *sigh*

So, as I’ve done in every year past, I trudged up to the attic and opened the oddly shaped little door that leads to the dungeon where unnecessary things go to finish out their useless lives. There, my gaze settled on scores of boxes and bags of merry and bright STUFF that would all have to be carried downstairs, unpacked, placed, then their boxes returned to the upstairs dungeon. All to be enjoyed for just a few weeks, when the entire process would then have to be reversed. *sigh*

It took almost 2 days and 427 heavy sighs for me to sprinkle holiday cheer around my home. Garlands and wreaths were hung and fluffed (and cursed). Ladders were climbed and dismounted. Three pre-lit trees were assembled and adorned. One had zero working lights. One had a random section of lights that were burned out, which required me to manhandle the entire tree to turn the offending section to the wall. The last tree, the biggest one, didn’t let me down until we added on the last section. I was proud of the way I held my composure up until the moment I had to snake an extension cord from the top of my pricey pre-lit tree down to the floor. The top section needed to be plugged into the timer that I’d carefully set up to provide us with automatic sparkly merriment from the hours of 3:30 to 11:30pm. Like some sort of Christmas Marine, with my belly on the floor and greenery snagging my hair while I dragged myself by the forearms towards the outlet, I searched for the carefully hidden extension cord. I found it and went to connect it to the timer so I could survey my twinkly masterpiece. This was when I discovered that the timer only had one outlet. An outlet that was already occupied by the cord supplying power to the rest of the tree. If I wanted scheduled sparkly merriment, my only choice was to start over with a new timer. *cue cursing and kicking under the tree*

angry elf

And that is the story of how I started drinking wine at 2:00 on a Sunday.

And this is the start of the story of how I turned it all around. The timer dilemma is actually a rather small event in my storehouse of holiday snafus. One year, half the lights went out on the tree after it had been fully decorated. I was planning to just slap a bunch of extra lights on it, but after a closer examination, I noticed that I’d put the sections together in the wrong order. The whole thing had to be disassembled and reassembled AND extra lights strung. Incidentally, that tree ended up at the dump the day after Christmas. One year, the entire tree fell over approximately one hour after the decorating was complete. That tree ended up on the curb, along with dozens of shattered special ornaments. And what about the year that I dragged our little family onto an odyssey to capture the Christmas card photo, only to arrive at the destination and realize that I’d forgotten to pack the camera? That was a long time ago, as in, before the days that phones had cameras. We don’t really talk about that, actually.

So, in the midst of all this drama and these less-than-wonderful duties, where can we find our merriment? For me, it’s not surprising that I find my merry in a song. After I shimmied myself out from under my half-lit tree, located a new timer (and, yes, a glass of wine), and got my corner of the living room sparkling bright, I turned on a little mood music to carry me through the final stages of decorating. I stood back and surveyed roughly 500 pretty little lights and all the boxes of ornaments that were about to escape their exile to get their chance to shine when I heard the first strains of the song that would usher in the official start of the holiday season for me.

“I-I-I don’t want a lot for Christmas…

 “There is just one thing I-I-I need…”

 Y’all, I don’t care what kind of diva-like behavior she displays, Mariah Carey is an angel. She could rob a bank in broad daylight wearing a full-sequined Dynasty-esque dress, carrying a Chihuahua, and when she went on trial, the attorneys would play “All I Want for Christmas” as Exhibit A, and all charges would immediately be dropped.

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But maybe that’s just me.

Christmas music, when used in moderation, can cure many holiday ills. I’ve seen it firsthand! In the interest of spreading merriment, and because I can’t buy you all a present individually, I made you a mixtape. Enjoy responsibly.

Jingle All the Way Playlist (get it here on Amazon Music)

“All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey. Because the song is magic.

“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Michael Buble. Because it’s a law that every holiday must include some Michael Buble.

“Run Run Rudolph” by Kelly Clarkson. Because she completely rocks this song.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. Because he’s the King.

“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. Because of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, duh.

“Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong. Because he, and this song, are the epitome of cool.

“Donde Esta Santa Claus” by Augie Rio. Because it’s adorable and catchy and we all need to know more Spanish.

“The Man with the Bag” by Kay Starr. Because if you’re not waiting for the man with the bag, you are the man with the bag.

“Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Because we can all empathize with Clark Griswold and his swimming pool dreams.

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert. Because your family drama doesn’t seem so bad when you compare it to hearing yourself on the radio singing Christmas carols with your ex. Ummm, awkward.

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Lou Rawls. Because “got me some good music on the radio…”

“Jingle Bells” by James Taylor. Because it’s funny to watch people sing along to a song they think they know, but it’s arranged completely differently.

“My Favorite Things” by Tony Bennett. Because Tony Bennett is a national treasure.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by The Temptations. Because once you get past the first 15 seconds, your whole family will be singing along.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles. Because sometimes Christmas is sad and it makes us miss our people.

“Sleigh Ride” by Harry Connick, Jr. Because you gotta bring the party back up after those Eagles made you sad.

“Christmas in Hollis” by RUN-DMC. Because the lyrics are actually family friendly and you also want to know who’s really listening to your playlist (hint: they’re looking pensive and saying, “Wait, is that…RUN-DMC??”)

“What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder. Because it’s happy and has the right message.

“Winter Wonderland” by Aretha Franklin. Because, in true Aretha fashion, she hits it hard from the first “Sleigh Bells RING.” Oh, I’m listening, Aretha. Bring it.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Ella Fitzgerald. Because that’s what I want for you.

A holiday full of merriment and quality time spent with those precious people that you love and enjoy, free of stress and pressure and unrealistic expectations. It’s a tall order and will take nothing short of a miracle to achieve. But it just so happens that this is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and miracles abound if you just open your eyes.

 

 

Let’s Be Adults About This

Being an adult isn’t a matter of age. It’s a matter of responsibility.” –Jonathan Howard

For millions of Millennials, “adulting” is trending. Or maybe it isn’t anymore. I’ve been an adult for so long now that I’ve missed the novelty in regularly announcing my proficiency in being a capable and marginally responsible citizen. But apparently, Kids These Days (also known as “Millennials”) saw a need for a hip way to complain about the tragically un-hip, mundane tasks of ordinary life like paying bills, working a full-time job, or maintaining a vehicle. Enter #adulting to the rescue.

Example: “Feeling so ick. Probably should go to doc, but my mom says I have to call and make my own appointment. What the what? UGH. I hate #adulting.”

 Or: “So, you guys, that Check Engine light thing is totes for realsies. #needaride #adultingistheworst”

 Or this one: “It’s Saturday and I’m gettin’ my grocery on! Feeling so accomplished! #adultingonthedaily”

 As a long-time, card-carrying adult, I get a little annoyed by all the fuss made over people just doing what they’re supposed to do. What’s next? Participation trophies for taking out the trash? If so, I’d better clear some space for the motherlode of awards headed my way, because I am the adultiest of adults. I pay the bills on time. I clean out the refrigerator regularly. I make all my people go to the bathroom before leaving the house. I carry a light sweater in case it’s chilly. I use the word “chilly.” I have ibuprofen and lip balm at the ready at all times. For heaven’s sake, I own a garlic press. AND I USE IT. Basically, I could give a TED Talk about adulting. But I won’t because I am too busy, you know, adulting.

The irony of the term “adulting” is that the person using it is likely only scratching the surface of what adulthood really means. Which got me thinking, how does one legitimately earn adult status? Is it turning 18? 21? I don’t think so. I know plenty of 40-year-olds who have miles to go before reaching adulthood. Maybe it’s when you get the boot from your parent’s insurance plan. When you leave college, do you just automatically enter adulthood? Or does your adult card get punched when you send in that first income tax return?

After careful thought and reflection while organizing my garage this weekend (a super-adult-y activity), I’ve come to the conclusion that adulthood is a milestone reached by repeated successful completion of grudging tasks that are necessary for living a productive and hygienic life, and that generally receive no recognition whatsoever. If that last sentence was confusing to you, all it means is that being an adult is complicated, and just spending one Saturday afternoon paying bills doesn’t make you one.

One thing for sure is that once you’ve crossed over into adulthood, it’s nearly impossible to come back. You’re just in too deep. There are many experiences, large and small, memorable and forgettable that eventually earn you the rights and burdens of adulthood. For some people, adulthood is achieved on the 455th morning that they sit in the parking lot of their job, looking at the door, taking a deep breath and saying, “You have to do this. You have to go in there. Again.” For others, they know they’re an adult when they’d rather turn in early on Saturday night because they don’t want Sunday to be a total wash. It’s different for all of us.

As for me, I owe my adulthood status to a rat. I don’t like giving that much credit to a lowly rat, but I’m an adult, and I give credit where credit is due, so there you go. That fact of the matter is, only a real adult can handle a rat and live to tell that tale, without shame. Fellow adults can empathize with me here without judgment.

Do you have a dwelling for which you are solely responsible? Congratulations. You now have problems for the rest of your life. A rat will be one of many excruciating headaches you will encounter. Rats and headaches and dwellings are all very adult-y. You’re well on the way to earning your first adulting trophy.

Dealing with a rat can also earn you a badge in adult problem-solving. Your problem starts innocently enough. You might notice a jagged hole torn into your bag of $12.99/lb organic almonds. Maybe you yell at your husband that he shouldn’t tear into the snacks like some sort of rabid animal. Perhaps he snips back that he didn’t do it because what sort of wacko wants to eat raw, unsalted almonds anyway, and how much did you say those cost?? There’s a chance that when you hold up the vandalized package as evidence you notice an unusual amount of small, dark…crumbs? Those are crumbs, right? Right?

Ummm, no. Those are not crumbs. And those almonds need to go in the trash because, friend, you’ve got yourself a RAT. Not a mouse. A RAT. You see, a mouse runs through mazes while smart people in white coats write things down. A mouse sings and dances and cons you into handing over a month of your salary in exchange for 5 sleepless days in Florida. A RAT exists only to eat your food, leave droppings, and possibly kill you with the plague.

The good news is, you’ve identified the problem. Level complete! Now you need to articulate the problem and accept it. At my house, this usually involves profanity and rage cleaning. Cursing while cleaning is a very adult thing to do. Gold star.

Once you’ve accepted the fact that you’ve been unknowingly sharing your living quarters with plague-carrying vermin, it’s time to solve your problem and serve some eviction notices. An adult steadfastly defends her castle (and the almonds contained within it).

I still remember the first rat I battled. I called my mom to see what I should do. I was not an adult yet. I thought I was, but I obviously still had things to learn because I didn’t take her advice immediately. Mom offered to give me a few traps that she had for just this problem. Oh, no thank you, I said. Surely rat management had come a long way from the old days of using traps. Certainly, there was a better way. If not more humane, at least less visibly barbaric, right? Right?

Ummm, no. True, rodent extermination options are more varied now than in the days of The Pied Piper, but as with most unpleasant duties, in this case the simplest method is the most effective. In my experience, an old-school mousetrap is the way to go if you’re not interested in sharing your living quarters with a rat. Sure, you risk breaking a finger or two in the process of setting the darn thing, but that’s the kind of sacrifice a real adult is willing to make. Rats are certainly smarter than you think, but they also can’t resist the allure of a strategically placed glob of peanut butter, even if it’s sitting atop a spring-loaded platform of death. Be an adult and don’t lose your nerve here. When you start getting all soft-hearted and feeling bad about trapping the rodent, just remember that this uninvited guest has been frolicking like a schoolgirl across your food in the middle of the night, carrying disease on its tiny feet and laughing at you while it leaves souvenirs of bubonic plague confetti. The rat shows you no mercy, so don’t return the favor by being all ethical and civilized.

I am not ashamed of my truth. I fought the rat, and I WON. I am now supremely confident in my status as a bona fide adult. And for any rats out there who think they can help themselves to my almonds, BRING IT. We’re all adults here–and adults don’t play. #adultswin

 

 

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