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Observations

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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Featured post

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

In the Path of a Storm

“Every storm runs out of rain. Every dark night turns into day.” — from “Set You Free” by Gary Allan (click to listen)

A little over 2 weeks ago all eyes were locked on televisions and devices, watching intently as a monster of a storm named Florence brewed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Many projections showed the storm slamming into our beloved Charleston at a Category 5, rolling like a freight train through Columbia and then eventually slowing down over Greenville to bring about “catastrophic flooding.”

It was early still, in the life of a hurricane, and this was an unusually slow-moving storm. So, we watched and waited. We made minor preparations. We implored our loved ones on the coast to pack their essentials and shelter with us. We bought snacks. Lots of snacks. We discussed whether or not schools might be closed, and what we would do with the food in the freezer if the power went out. We made sure our outdoor furniture was secured. We watched more news reports while eating the snacks.

The storm crept along, taking its sweet time, as if we all weren’t just sitting here, waiting impatiently for its arrival. So terribly inconsiderate! Meteorologists predicted that the “monster” was shifting its trajectory further north, and maybe we wouldn’t be quite as affected. But we were warned not to let our guard down just yet; there would likely still be strong winds, heavy rains, and don’t forget all that catastrophic flooding heading down the hills from our already-sodden mountains.

We went out for more snacks. We replenished the wine.

The weekend arrived, and the storm sidled up to the Carolina coast; definitely formidable, but mostly a shadow of the former “monster” it once was. By this time, most of us had stopped watching the projections; we were weary of all the chatter, the slowness of the storm’s approach, and the media’s embellishment of events. I went for a walk, and the day was as lovely as they come. The most beautiful blue skies were above, dotted with the prettiest white clouds, puffy as bolls of cotton. The wind was blowing, but at a level that was just slightly above “breezy.” If it hadn’t been for the constant news coverage, I would have never believed that there was a storm of any kind within the distance of an afternoon’s drive.

It seemed as though even the storm had grown weary of the anticipation of its own arrival. All the time it spent idling away from land, slowly determining its target actually drained it of most of its strength, rather than feeding it. Like a child who stayed up well past her bedtime, the storm crashed clumsily into our coastline, quite a different scenario from the barreling locomotive landfall maneuver that so many had predicted.  Certainly, the storm was devastating and catastrophic for many areas. The effects are still being felt now and will continue to be felt for several months. But the first predictions were wildly different from the final reality. Most of the preparations made in response to those first predictions ended up being completely unnecessary. And even though the people hardest hit by the storm had as much advance notice of their fate as possible, I’d be willing to bet that they were still caught unaware by the harsh reality of weathering a hurricane.

But, life goes on and for most of us who were spared damage from the storm, as soon as the snacks ran out, so did our worries over what would happen.

About a week after Hurricane Florence’s landfall, with several days in normalcy on the books, there was an early evening gathering of dark clouds. I didn’t think much of it, as it only makes sense that the drawn-out Indian Summer we’ve been experiencing would easily stir up a thunderstorm. The next time I looked up, half the sky was covered in thick, dark clouds, and I could see a wall of rainwater several miles in the distance. A few minutes later, I felt heavy raindrops plop, plop, plopping on my head as I walked briskly into the grocery store. A half hour later I left the store and had to run through the parking lot with my sandals in my hand. Maybe not the best idea, but they were too delicate and slippery bottomed to wade through what I estimated to be a good 2 inches of water on the pavement. Rain pelted me from all sides of the tiny, inadequate umbrella I’d thrown in my purse at the last minute.

As I drove away, the dark clouds that had been so far off in the distance had closed in all around me, blocking the last of the early evening light. In some places, the roads were covered in rushing water. Traffic lights were out, and a few minor accidents were on the road’s shoulder. The thunder boomed so loudly in my ears that I just knew it had to be in a cloud directly over my head. Lightning streaked across the sky, adding palpable electricity to the air. Power was knocked out in places, and the wind blew down branches and tossed debris.

No warning. No preparations. No watching other than what we did with our own eyes, estimating the distance of the clouds. No waiting other than sitting in the place where we were upon the storm’s arrival, lingering there until it passed and we felt safe to be outside again.

Two storms. Very different in their origins, their size, and their strength. But they ended much the same, causing minor inconvenience to many, and major devastation to a few. A storm causes everyday life to take a pause so that we can sit and wait for it to pass. And, pass, it always does. Whether it moves on to a new location or dissipates and falls apart, it can’t sustain enough strength to stay in one place, churning with intensity for very long.

And so it is with the trials in our lives. Rarely do the storms we prepare for end up being the ones we have to ride out. It’s the ones that materialize from nowhere that knock the wind out of us.

We batten down our emotional hatches to protect our hearts, only to turn a corner and run right into the one person that broke us. We stock up on healthy habits to ward off disease, then find out that our genetics had the deck stacked against us from the start. We work long hours and say the right things to the right people to create job security and build empires, just to see it all decimated by conditions that are completely outside our control. We plan, we prep, and we worry, all in an attempt to stay a step ahead of the things that we predict will bring us down. But in the end, the worst of times we have to weather ride in like a summer storm: loud and blustery, obscuring our vision and scaring the hell out of us. All with little to no warning.

As a child, I was terribly afraid of storms. My childlike mind placed my fears in the tangible features of the storm. The rumbling and shaking that accompanied thunder made me think the walls would fall down around us. Flashes of lightning always felt too close, and I was sure someone would be struck down.

My parents tried many things to calm my fears, but the thing that worked best was to have me count slowly between the thunder crack and the lightning flash. Each number represented a mile’s distance between us and the storm.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi… I peered out the window, searching for the lightning, closing my eyes tight when it flashed.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four… Until the spaces between the numbers grew further still, and all that was left of the storm was a rumble in the distance, and steam rising from the hot ground.

I still count the seconds and miles during storms, but now it is to calm the fears of my daughter. I know now that the seed of the fear doesn’t come from the actual thunder and lightning, but rather the unpredictability of nature and the helpless, untethered feeling that comes when things are out of our control.

As an adult, storms don’t scare me as much as they used to. My childhood fear has been replaced with a buzzy kind of nervousness, along with awe and respect for what God can do.

Many of us see storms as a sign of God’s strength and might. We cling to the childlike image of Him above us in the clouds, glowering down on creation, flexing his Godly muscles and loudly proclaiming His superiority. I see storms more as a sign of His promise. Less of Him saying to us, “Stand back and see what I can do,” and more of Him showing us, “Look here, see what you can do with Me by your side? Don’t waste your time preparing anything, because the preparations have already been made. I’ve given you your portion. You have all you need. This storm will leave you, and I will still be here.”

Preparation is good, but worry is fruitless. No one can truly predict a storm’s outcome, except to say that it will eventually burn itself out. But God’s provision is constant, and He will never leave us unprepared.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
–Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

 

Featured post

Planning Your Planner: A How-To Guide

“It takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos.”—Mel Odom

Back to school season always gives me the itch to get my act together. Something about stores with long aisles loaded with organization solutions and brand new office supplies feeds a strong urge in me to put an end to my summertime mode of flying by the seat of my pants. All those orderly stacks of notebook paper and dry erase markers awaken a new dream of organizing all the things in my reach. New Year, New You? How about New Tape Dispenser, New Outlook on Life?

Are you also looking to get your act together, but don’t know where to start? Well, never fear! I am here to help you simplify the process of complicating your life. In the interest of looking out for the greater good of all people, I am setting aside my humble nature and confiding in you that I am, in fact, Her Royal Highness, Chief Executive Officer, Reigning Queen and Prime Minister of Planning all the Things. This position was conferred upon me by myself, and I proudly hold this title for approximately 3 days in August of every year. You, too, can experience an entire half of a week in organized bliss! Just read further to see how you can begin planning a plan that you will plan to put in place at an undetermined later date. I am giving you all my knowledge, absolutely free of charge! (You are very welcome, my dears.)

Some of you may be saying, “Wait a minute. I know you! I’ve been to your house. There’s laundry all over the place, and unopened bills, and I’m pretty sure I saw and smelled some very questionable fruit on the kitchen counter. Are you sure you should be advising people about anything?” Others of you might think, “Hold on, is this the lady that is five minutes late to every single place she goes? What sort of cockamamie plan includes constant tardiness?” And there may even be a few of you reading this who have attended meetings with me and wondered, “How did that hot mess get on this committee? She showed up five minutes late, her shirt is inside out, and she just pulled four lipsticks out of her purse, when I think she was looking for a pen. How can I possibly benefit from this person’s guidance?” *several minute pass* “Good heavens, she still doesn’t have a pen.”

And to all those incredibly insightful inquiries, I answer, “Those are all very valid questions. And, FYI, real people don’t use the word, ‘cockamamie.’”

 Now, moving on.

The cornerstone of every plan is a Planner. The good news is, it’s back-to-school time, and Planners are everywhere, in a vast assortment of trendy designs and sizes. It can be hard to narrow down the selection! Lucky for you, I am willing to share my best secrets for success when it comes to Planners. Gather close, friends, while I tell you that the most important thing to consider when choosing your Planner, and I cannot stress this enough, is that it needs to be obscenely expensive. Choose the planner crafted by the designer whose wares you normally can’t afford, and purchase it right away so you don’t risk leaving a single page blank. I know this sounds a little crazy (but, let’s be honest, aren’t all geniuses a little crazy?), because you’re thinking that you don’t want to spend a lot on something you may not keep up with, but that’s exactly why you have to do it! You gotta get a little skin in the game, bro! Envision yourself in October, looking at your Planner across the room, and not really wanting to fill in the new month because you’ve gotten lazy, and planning is no fun, and you can’t find your pen, and you keep forgetting to take it with you anyway, and excuses, excuses, excuses! It would be so easy to ignore your $5.98 junky Wally World Planner because you never fell madly in love with in the first place! Now envision yourself gazing across the room at that darling Planner you so lovingly selected in August, when your future was bright and all things were still possible. The Planner you spent a hefty sum on because it was so obvious that the two of you were Made For Each Other. The Planner that turns heads when you manhandle it out of your bag at important meetings and place it on the table with a satisfying thump, proclaiming, “Look at me! I mean business! I am a very expensive Planner!” Now doesn’t that make you want to get your lazy bum up out of your recliner, walk across the room and start planning some crap? That’s what I thought.

When selecting your Planner, pay close attention to its features. Of course, your Planner will include several calendars. Yearly, weekly, monthly, daily, maybe even hourly. Whoa. Wait a minute. Hourly? Slow your roll, compadre. The end game here is to spend your day doing the things, not just planning the things. Back away from the hourly Planner. As an annual three-day veteran in expert planning, I’ve seen sufferers of EPB, Extreme Planner Burnout, and let’s just say it ain’t pretty when the wheels fall off the wagon. Try to keep up with an hourly Planner, and by November you’ll be living life as a suburban hobo, resistant to all plans, observing inconsistent meal times, and taking your kids to school on the weekends because you don’t even know what day it is. You’ve heard Keep It Simple, Stupid? I like to say, Keep It Moderately Hard and Somewhat Inconvenient For Yourself. Yes, KIMHASIFY is definitely my motto.

In addition to the slice and dice views of a conventional calendar, several Planners will also include a page that lists the holidays throughout the year, so you are always ready to celebrate. This is incredibly helpful to those who can never remember the date of New Year’s or the 4th of July. A very handy reference indeed.

Some Planners include stickers, which is a great feature for people who harbor a grudge against their kindergarten teacher for withholding the gold star they rightly deserved for washing their hands after circle time in the fall of 1984. If you are this type of person, you can now give yourself a tooth sticker on the day of your dentist appointment! Go ahead and give yourself two stickers if that’s what you want, because you are in charge of the stickers, dammit! Yeah! Or maybe you’d like a thumbs up sticker for the days you see your therapist to discuss the feelings of inadequacy you’ve had since kindergarten. Great job, you! Sticker it up, girlfriend!

I’ve seen Planners that have several blank pages reserved for Notes. Some people use these pages to write down useful bits of information during meetings. However, I find that these pages are also very good for writing down shopping lists and other reminders for yourself, all while looking as though you are paying attention and taking notes during dull meetings. You can even use these pages to write notes to a friend sitting next to you whom you suspect may also be suffering. Notes such as, “OMG, I’m DYING, I’m dead, R.I.P. ME, please make it stop,” or “I really have to pee, but I don’t want to get up,” or, “Do you smell that? It smells like pork chops and sweaty socks… What are you doing for lunch?” Sometimes your seemingly random notes can lead you to important discoveries about yourself. Like the shopping list I made that said, “Milk, Gas, Light Bulbs.” Not long after that, I was diagnosed as dairy sensitive. Coincidence? I think not.

With all these available special features, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so focus on finding a Planner that has a feature you can really connect with. Remember, you’re looking for a soulmate, not a roommate. For instance, I chose my Planner mainly because it includes several inspirational quotes, which I find to be very, well, inspirational. One of the pages in my Planner has the quote, “Find what brings you joy and go there.” This quote is especially dear to my heart because it encourages me to go to Marshall’s and buy all the throw pillows and phone cases that they have. Another quote in my Planner that inspires me comes from none other than the great Oprah Winfrey. She says, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” Now, any time someone asks me to make a decision, I can just reply, “I would like you to give me whatever you think Oprah would ask for.” It takes a lot of courage to ask for two balsamic vinaigrettes on the side, but here I am, doing it at least twice a week. I have my Planner and Oprah to thank for giving me such bravery.

Now that you’ve selected your Planner, you’ll need to find the perfect pen with which to fill in your Planner pages. It needs to be a subtle ink color, should glide smoothly, and feel solid and sure in your confident planning hand. It’s your favorite pen, and it’s probably already somewhere in your house! If you don’t remember where you bought it, and you’ve never seen another one like it, then this is definitely the perfect pen. Take a moment to make an appointment in your Planner (you’ll have to pencil it in, because, well, the whole pen thing) to spend an entire afternoon searching for it.

Once you’ve finally located the Perfect Pen, along with a whole bunch of other stuff you didn’t even know you were missing, you’ve likely generated several To-Do List items.  It’s now time to sit down and fill in the information that will make your Planner work for you! Go ahead and pull out your phone, where all your contacts, dates, and notes, are already conveniently located. Use your Perfect Pen to hand write all those items down in your exorbitantly expensive, fancy-feature-filled, sticker-happy Planner. Sometimes twice. Because remember, there are monthly pages and weekly pages. See? Aren’t you glad you followed my advice and ditched that hourly crap?

In all seriousness, the dual system of a paper Planner and smartphone has its merits. For one thing, I feel that manually writing the events down, in addition to typing them into my phone acts as an extra reminder of my commitments. Instead of accidentally double booking myself, I’ll stop and think, “You know I feel like I have something going on that day… I’m not sure what it is, but there’s definitely something happening.” Secondly, giving others the impression that you rely on a Planner can get you out of all sorts of things. Someone asking you to bring 12 Bundt cakes to the church bake sale? You can always say, “Oh, shoot, I don’t have my Planner on me. And you know, I feel like I have something going on that day…I’m not sure what it is, though. Can I get back to you? After I check my Planner?”

And you thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. Ha! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to basking in the bliss of these 3 days that I actually have my act together. Right after I find my pen.

 

Featured post

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.

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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

Here’s to You, Mrs. Buchanan

“There is nothing so stable as change.”—Bob Dylan

Growing up, I remember a house that stood out from all the others in our neighborhood. All around us were rows upon rows of boilerplate, square homes, shingled in varying neutral shades, all with a similar wide front porch, brown front door, narrow front yard and some form of a brick chimney.

But this house was different. It had the same asbestos shingles as the others, but they were bathed in a sunny shade of buttercup yellow. A gabled roof was perched atop a quaint entrance with a freshly painted white front door. The porch was not the standard issue front-facing variety, but screened in, and thoughtfully set off to the side, under a grove of shade trees. You could see that there was sturdy white ceiling fan turning lazily, offering gentle assistance to whatever breeze was already there, and the puffy cushions on the patio furniture looked positively nap-worthy. The corner lot was meticulously manicured; a stark contrast to the surrounding lawns in this working-class neighborhood where yard maintenance was a low priority for the begrudging homeowners and renters. The house was an example of above-and-beyond smack in the middle of a lot of just-getting-by.

Every Autumn, a tall maple tree on the street corner of the yard would burst into a beautiful blaze of gold that would literally stop traffic as onlookers slowed down to admire it. It was one of those trees that most people would think was more trouble than it was worth. The glorious display would last no more than a week, at which time every single leaf would make the ultimate sacrifice and careen off the tree and onto the lawn to make a thick golden blanket beneath the empty branches. Unlike the other lawns in the neighborhood, whose leaves would remain until they were brown and crumbly and half-blown away, these gilded leaves would be scooped up within hours of when they reached the ground, stuffed into lawn bags that looked like gifts, and lined up orderly along the street, waiting for the City to come and pick them up.

One day I asked my mother who lived in the golden cottage. She replied, “Oh, that’s where the Buchanans live.”

Buchanan. I knew that name. But it couldn’t possibly be the same Buchanan that I was thinking of. The Buchanan I was thinking of was Mrs. Buchanan, the meanest substitute teacher in all of Greer, SC. Maybe even all of Greenville County. And while it would have been hard to prove, I would have bet my whole piggy bank that she was the crankiest, toughest, and downright saltiest sub in all of the great state of South Carolina. Everyone agreed. Kids who couldn’t see eye to eye on anything would unite in synchronized groans when Mrs. Buchanan entered the classroom. In general, substitute teachers were welcome, sometimes even cause for celebration. Maybe because of their ignorance of classroom rules, or their fondness for showing movies instead of following lesson plans, or just because having a substitute was a departure from the ordinary humdrum of school days. None of this applied when Mrs. Buchanan was substituting. It was as if she wanted to be tougher than the teacher for whom she was substituting. She wasn’t about to phone anything in. She doled out plenty of schoolwork and even assigned homework for the evening. She was there to teach, and she expected you to learn; no, master the material she presented. She wouldn’t take any lip, as we said in those days, and in the rare instance that a student dared to buck her authority, it was straight to the principal’s office.

Everything about Mrs. Buchanan was no-nonsense. Her silvery blond hair was coiffed into a perfectly wispy helmet, likely the result of a weekly wash and set. If there was a threat of rain, she would proudly don a clear plastic rain bonnet to protect her investment as she walked through the parking lot to her spotless, waxed gold Buick. She wore small reading glasses that she kept on a golden chain hanging around her neck. When not needed for reading, those glasses rested on her formidable bosoms, unmovable in their WWII-era underpinnings, meant to withstand a bombing with nary a jiggle. Smart, neutral sweater sets paired with polyester blend pants and sensible flats provided her with a uniform that was both comfortable and the height of appropriateness. She was there to do a job. Not to make friends, or to waste time, or to collect a paycheck for doing the bare minimum, and, heavens above, not to merely babysit.

“Class, today you will have a substitute teacher, Mrs. Buchanan.”
All together now: “UUUUGGGHHHHHH.”

So, of course, this house must belong to another set of Buchanans. A cousin, perhaps? There was just no way that that Mrs. Buchanan could live in this lovely house full of goodness and light. It was like seeing the Wicked Witch of the West wearing Glinda the Good Witch’s dress. It was all wrong.

My mother was still talking. “Oh, you know them. Mrs. Buchanan. She used to be a school teacher when I was your age. I think someone at the church told me she’s a substitute now. Couldn’t stand being retired…”

Nooooooooooooooooooo. How could this be??? Mrs. Buchanan (a.ka. Mrs. ButtCannon; kids can be so clever in their mean-ness) was the force behind this lovely home of sunshine and buttercups? You’re telling me that the woman who used wooden rulers to paddle little hands came home to relax with a tall glass of sweet iced tea on that breezy screened porch? The same stoic lady I saw stand like a stalwart captain behind my teacher’s desk by day also stood gazing out the window with the delicate white curtains patterned with sweet little yellow flowers washing dishes by night?

As a child, I could not possibly reconcile the two. So, I blocked this knowledge out of my brain. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I knew where she lived. I stopped looking at the house when we passed it in the car. I don’t know why, but it felt like some sort of betrayal. My imagined story for this place had been shattered by cold, hard truth.

As an adult, however, it makes complete sense. The perfect home doesn’t just happen. You either have a full staff at your disposal, or you have to be a no-nonsense battleax to stay on top of the never-ending tasks. You have to have a Mr. Buchanan who will take orders. And you have to be willing to work. HARD.

Mrs. Buchanan, who was old even when my mother was young, has long since passed away. I think I was in college when I heard the news, and it made me sad. Meanie or not, she made an indelible mark on my childhood, and I think I always knew that deep down she had a soft heart. She showed her caring through discipline, not coddling. And there was always the case of that lovely home. A beautiful and welcoming space can only come from a beautiful and welcoming soul. She might have hidden it from us crass kids, but to those she kept close, she was surely a loving person.

Homes carry the character of those who inhabit them, and once Mrs. Buchanan left us, the home began to pass away, too. I see it often when I go to visit my mother, and I’m usually disappointed to see how it has deteriorated. The once cheerful yellow has taken on a very tired, almost sickly hue, and all the bright white trim paint is peeling and flaking away. The lawn is full of weeds and almost always in need of a trim. I can sometimes see people relaxing on the screened porch, but I also see that the ceiling fan blades are wilted from humidity, and the screen is torn and stretched out in places. Someone must have decided that the traffic-stopping maple was indeed too much trouble; all that remains of it is a ground-level stump.

I know that Heaven is not a place with disdain or annoyance, so I can’t imagine Mrs. Buchanan as I’d like to: an angel glaring over the top of her reading glasses at these ingrates who have run her haven into the unkempt ground. Instead, maybe she looks down with love on those that are leisurely enjoying the simple pleasure of sitting on that shaded, screened porch without the hours and backbreaking toil of the upkeep. Maybe.

I don’t like change. I never have and, unless something changes, I never will. But, change we must, and if Mrs. Buchanan can accept change, then I guess so can I.

 

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

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