Growing a reader

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(Originally published at Bookend Babes, September 2012. Granma passed away Jan. 8, 2016.)

I’ve always loved to read. Growing up, books and magazines were always lying around at our house. Momma read suspense and romance novels and magazines like Better Homes & Gardens and Woman’s Day. Daddy read Louis L’amour westerns and Field & Stream and Auto Trader. And they still enjoy getting lost in a good story.

However, it was Granma who let me into the world of grown-up reading. She always kept a stack of magazines by her bed, and when I’d spend the night with her in the summer during my tween years, I would read through them all. Cosmopolitan. Glamour. New Woman. Mademoiselle. The National Enquirer. And seed catalogs. Granma has always had the greenest thumb ever, and she grew the biggest, prettiest zinnias and the most red, ripe tomatoes. I’d stay up late reading then get up early and pick beans and shuck corn with the rest of the family.

Back then the late Helen Gurley Brown ran Cosmo and it was about finding yourself before finding a man. I read mostly the career and fashion articles (I wanted to be a well-dressed novelist), but occasionally I’d pore over a more adult piece. Back then, I felt like I knew way more than my sixth-grade classmates did after reading Cosmo. (I may have had the knowledge, but I sure didn’t know how to put it into practice.)

When I got a little older, I moved on to Granma’s novels. The first one she and I both read and shared a love for was Gone with the Wind. She lent it to me to read over Christmas break during my sophomore year of high school. I couldn’t put that thick, blue paperback down – I stayed up until two in the morning reading about Scarlett and wondering why she couldn’t see that Rhett was The Man. I felt like a grown-up after reading such a long book! And I felt for Scarlett when she had to harvest those potatoes.

The next was the North and South trilogy by John Jakes (Charles was my favorite character), then we moved on to his Crown Family series and the Kent Family Chronicles. Many more followed, such as John Grisham’s lawyer books (we think we might be distant relatives of John’s), the Da Vinci Code, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a ton of trashy romances by Sandra Brown, a Jackie Collins or two. Rhett Butler’s People was the last book we shared. So it seems we’ve come full circle.

Granma, who just celebrated her 90th birthday, has always been a free spirit. She has always known how to enjoy life. Whether it was seeing Elvis in small-town Alabama, or telling stories while shelling purple-hulled peas, or going out dancing with her boyfriends in her 60s and 70s, she’s always known how to have a ball. And she’s always known how to pick out a great book. I’d like to think I learned that from her.

How do you write when you have nothing to say?

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I’ve forgotten how to be a writer. I no longer know how to take a germ of an idea and plant it, water it, give it sun and room to breathe, pull out the weeds and watch it bloom. It’s just a dirt pile full of jagged rocks, stinky wet leaves and random candy wrappers.

While I’m working at my day job, every essay or story idea I have sounds like a best-seller. Until I get home. And have time to write. Then every idea sounds corny. Or stupid. And I can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea in the first place.

To paraphrase The Commodores, I have no direction, no purpose, no one to love and no one to love me for me … wait, that last phrase should be for another post.

I’m searching, and it’s been hard trying to find my way, but I’ve got to keep on searching harder, day by day.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

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While driving to my parents’ house this weekend, Riley and I talked about what Christmas was like when I was growing up. It was always happy, warm and fun for us kids.

This post is about my mom’s side. I’ll talk about my dad’s side in the next post.

I have a big extended family: My mom has seven siblings, and of the eight kids, seven have two or more kids. Plus Granma Teda’s three siblings and their kids. On Christmas Eve back in the day, we’d gather around 2 in the afternoon at Granma’s little concrete block, two-bedroom, kitchen, den, zero-bath house. If we had to relieve ourselves, we’d head through the kitchen to the back porch, lock the kitchen door, lock the storm door to the outside, then hover over one of the two 2-gallon chamber pots. Granma didn’t have a bathroom until the early ’80s, and that’s just how it was.

We drew names at Thanksgiving, so we had a month to find the perfect gift for our person. As we walked in at Granma’s on Christmas Eve, we’d deposit our presents under the tree My Favorite Thingsin the den. By the time we all showed up, the den was a sea of gifts, leaving just enough space around the perimeter to walk through the door or pick our way to the white leather couch.

Us kids would run around outside (cold or not) while the moms and aunts and grandmothers got the food ready. The men? Well, in between sneaking out to a truck for a nip or two of George Dickel, they watched football on TV.

Of course, we couldn’t open presents until after we’d eaten and the kitchen was cleaned up. Turkey and dressing, ham, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potato casserole, yeast rolls, desserts, desserts, desserts.

Then … it was time! Granma would hold court next to the tree. She’d reach under, grab a gift and read: “To 4cc10-dsc02465Tiffi, From Steph” or “To Michael, From Vashon” or “To Lindy, From Tony” or “To Wesley, From Sherri.” Squeals of delight pealed through the house as we opened Barbies, albums (yes, vinyl), and Nerf guns or Lincoln Logs. The adults’ laughter mixed in with our mirth–there was always a gag gift like the “Golfer’s Ball Washer,” which consisted of a jock strap and a small brush.

After opening presents, we’d crank up Elvis on the record player and dance the night away, while the grown-up played Rook. We never noticed the men leave, but when we got home around 2 a.m. we always noticed that Santa had been there.

We’d play with our toys until we could barely hold our eyes open. Then Mom and Dad would tuck us in our warm beds and we’d fall asleep, content and happy.

Though Granma passed away in January, she lives on for me in the memories of these Christmases Past at her little concrete block house with no bathroom.

 

It’s a football game not a funeral

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Ah, another “older” woman berating today’s young ladies for wearing clothing she deems “unclassy.” This time at an Alabama football game. Isn’t it refreshing?

One day we’re yelling at men to stop objectifying our daughters. The next we’re slut-shaming these same daughters because their collarbones are showing. At a football game. In 95-degree heat.

Give me a break. Today’s young women are under enough pressure trying to find their place in a world that constantly tells them they need to be:

  • prettier (but without looking like they’re trying)
  • smarter (but not too smart)
  • richer (but not wealthier than the boys)
  • taller (but not too tall)
  • skinnier (but not too skinny)
  • curvier (but not too curvy)
  • successful (but not too successful)
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That’s me in the miniskirt and motorcycle jacket senior year of high school.

They certainly don’t need us older women judging them for the clothes they wear. My lord, Madonna and Jennifer Beals in Flashdance were our fashion role model in the 80s! And don’t try to tell me you didn’t dress like either of them at some point. We all did. I wore short skirts with cowboy boots, sweatshirts hanging off my shoulder, a skintight floral print tank dress, tight jeans with crop tops. Thank goodness there were no bloggers to call me slutty or question my integrity. (If the church ladies did, they kept it among themselves.)

 

This particular writer also assumed girls were dressing “skimpy” just to look good “for a boy”? So what if they do? Sometimes I want to look good “for a boy,” even as a 44-year-old single mom. I’m sure that writer wants to look good for her husband sometimes.

Then there are times I want to look good so other women, like this particular writer, won’t

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Those were extremely tight white jeans. And my annoyed little brother.

judge me for being “too sloppy, too frumpy, too fat, too matronly,” or looking like I’ve “just given up on life.” Sometimes I dress sexier than usual so I can take a selfie to remind me that I’m still attractive. And that I’m not dead inside.

All of this is okay. I don’t need your permission to dress in a way that I think might attract a nice man I might cross paths with on a given day. Or for the women in my circle or those who judge me based on what I’m wearing. Or for myself. My daughter doesn’t need your permission or your judgment either.

We want more men to respect our brains, our jobs, our sports, our parenting, our skill at walking in high heels, our chainsaw-wielding, our driving, our writing, our lawn-mowing, our emotions, our child-birthing, our independence, our political opinions, and yes, even our looks. Yet we women continue to tear each other down over clothes we deem not “classy” enough.

What is “classy” anyway? Is it classy to insinuate that a whole generation in a spaghetti-strap sundresses are sluts? Should we assume if you cover up with a scarf that you’re a cold fish? That you’re ashamed of your body? Of course not. Why do we think anything at all about how another woman is dressed? And if we do think an unkind thought, why would we voice it?

People are always posting platitudes about being kind and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s time we older women took our own advice and started being kinder to our younger counterparts. We can learn a lot from each other if we just stop judging.

 

 

 

 

 

Low Places

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The smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes coated the air and Bob Seger’s “Main Street” played on the staticky speakers when Jake spotted me standing in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. He wore a purple button-down and jeans. And that smile. Always that smile.

That memory about a junior college crush led me down a rabbit hole of journal entries and early 1990s music. Back then “big-hat” country played on all of our stereos, and Garth Brooks was its king. Listening to him, 20-year-old me swore the connections I made then would last forever.

Read the rest of my piece on how Garth Brooks shaped my college memories at Kelly J. Baker’s Cold Takes as part of her Albums Series.

Work in progress …

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The smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes coated the air and Bob Seger’s “Main Street” played on the staticky speakers when he spotted me standing in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. A wave. He wore a purple button-down and jeans. And that smile. Always that smile.

I smiled and waved back, sure he could hear my thudding heart, even from his seat on the ride already in motion.

“Is that him?” Carrie, my cousin, elbowed me.

“Yep. So hands-off,” I said, trying to make my smile look less cheesy. “Anyway, I’m pretty sure that’s his girlfriend.”

“So what?” Carrie said.

I watched his Tilt-a-Whirl car until I got dizzy and turned my attention to the next ride possibility. The Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster looked fun. Another elbow to the hip (Carrie’s shorter than me) brought me to attention. Jonathan was walking toward me. Continue reading

100 Things You Might Not Know About Me

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Updated April 29, 2016

Updated Nov. 15, 2007

Written June 2005

1. I’m a writer in a copy editor’s secretary’s job.
2. I have a widow’s peak.
3. I never thought I’d get married.
4. I did.
5. We celebrated 10 years June 17. (12 years in 2007) (He left after our 15th anniversary.)
6. I have a wonderful 3-year-old daughter(She’s now 6!) She’s 14!!
7. I married a smart jock. And divorced him.
8. I have had several nicknames–Amazon, Manute, Long Tall Sally, Bush …
9. I’m 5’9.
10. I have scarred knees–sports, car wreck.
11. I like my freckles.
12. I majored in Journalism. Univ. of North Alabama
13. I was voted Best School Spirit as senior in high school.
14. I introduced myself to my ex-husband.
15. I like it hot.
16. The weather, that is.
17. Fave meal: pinto beans, cornbread, fried taters, sweet tea.
18. I’m proud to be from the South.
19. I’m not proud of its past.
20. I thought I’d be a semi-famous writer living in NYC.
21. Well, at least I visited. Saw “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway, a streaker on the sidewalk.
22. My hometown has fewer than 2000 people.
23. Richard Marx was my first concert.
24. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers was most recent. Update: Daughtry and Velcro Pygmies were my last. New Kids on the Block and One Direction were my last.
25. I wish I’d sneaked out to go to a Bon Jovi concert when I was 15.
26. I finally got to see them 15 years later.
27. I’ve won a few journalism awards.
28. I love ’80s music. And early ’90s.
29. And oldies.
30. And Harry Connick Jr.And classic country.
31. And some of today’s artists … Gavin DeGraw, Daughtry, The Killers.I’m mostly into older stuff now.
32. I wish I’d kept writing. (I’m writing again … and getting paid to do it.) I’m writing a piece of fiction inspired by college.
33. I’m a Body for Lifer. BFL I have a body.
34. I wish I could sing.
35. Or play guitar.
36. I love to dance.
37. And sing in my car.
38. Fave movies: “Grease,” “Dirty Dancing,” “The Outsiders.”
39. Disney movies: “Mulan,” “Pocahontas.”
40. I wanted to be a rock star…See # 34.
41. I have 2 crooked toes.
42. I win at Pictionary and Trival Pursuit.
43. I suck at Scrabble.
44. I love Bon Jovi.
45. And Elvis.
46. Fave books: “Traveling Mercies” (Anne Lamott), “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (Allison Pearson), “If You Want to Write (Brenda Ueland)
47. First book I read for pleasure: “Chad and the Elephant Engine” (gift from 2nd-grade teacher)
48. Longest book: “Gone with the Wind,” 1024 pages, Christmas break in sophomore year of high school
49. Most recent books: “Same Sweet Girls,” “gods in Alabama.” Faster Than Kudzu “2nd Chance” by James Patterson, “Writer Mama” by Christina Katz, “The Department of the Lost and Found” by Allison Winn Scotch. “Running A Love Story” by Jen A. Miller; “1776” by McCullough; “London” by Edward Rutherford. Currently reading “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
50. First car: 1987 Honda Accord stick shift. I miss this car!
51. First car I ever drove: orange 1964 Ford Falcon
52. Car wrecks: 2; Me Driving: 1; My fault: 0
53. I like to take pictures.photographs.
54. I was MVP of my high school volleyball team.
55. And valedictorian of the Class of 1990.
56. I regret not taking that scholarship to UA.
57. But I enjoyed playing softball in junior college. And meeting all the people I met.
58. Because it was 2 years’ of free education.
59. Brett Favre is my favorite athlete. My brother is my favorite athlete.
60. I’ve read the whole Bible.
61. I’ve never broken a bone–knock on wood.
62. I loved Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves when I was growing up.
63. I wish we lived at the beach.
64. My daughter is deaf.
65. But she can hear with her cochlear implants. She got her second in April 2007.
66. We go to auditory-verbal therapy once a week once a year.
67. We do at-home therapy every day.
68. Hearing her say “Mommy” and “Papa” and “love you” for the first time was overwhelming.
69. New words are coming every day. Much bigger, more mature words.
70. She’s fearless.
71. I love flip-flops.
72. I hate sticker grass…ouch!
73. I tried out for cheerleader in high school.
74. Didn’t make it.
75. Thank God!
76. My first beer was in college: Natural Light
77. My most recent was three weeks ago … Corona. (Still most recent.) a Michelob Ultra and an Angry Orchard last month. But I had a glass of Moscato last week.
78. I had a hangover after just two beers.
79. My daughter loves Dora. “Hamilton” the musical.
80. I like “Backyardigans.” “Turn.”
81. Ex likes “Recess.”
82. Worst movie: “Rocky V.”
83. I’m contemplating a tattoo. Still contemplating.
84. So is my mom. She got one this year.
85. My ex and my brother have two.
86. My dad got his while in the Army.
87. My mom is the kindest person I know.
88. And one of my best friends.
89. Juco English Comp teacher gave me confidence in my writing.
90. I’ve misplaced it, though. (Now, I’ve found it again.) And it’s growing.
91. Farthest North I’ve ever been: NYC
92. Farthest South: Captiva Island, Florida
93. Farthest East: NYC
94. Farthest West: Hutchinson, Kansas
95. I have shot a gun. Once. Scary.
96. I’m big on family gatherings.
97. I love Jack’s hamburgers & fries, chocolate ice cream, Hershey Special Dark bars, Milky Ways.
98. I’m just a small-town girl.
99. I like who I am now, but …
100. It’s never too late to be what I might have been.

The Adventures of Sound Check Mama & Bionic Girl

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  • Riley and I are going to Disney World in 21 days! As a UDA All-American dancer IMG_0950she’ll be performing in the Thanksgiving Day Parade at Magic Kingdom. She is beyond excited. I’m wondering what clothes will be comfortable, how I’ll pay for food and whether it’ll all just come back up on the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster.
  • I’m the mother of a 14-year-old. A 14-year-old! A 14-YEAR-OLD!
  • “Confident” by Demi Lovato is on repeat repeat repeat. “It’s time for me to take it, I’m the boss right now.”
  • I just caught my reflection dancing in the TV, which isn’t on. Heck, we don’t even have cable.
  • My parents are incomparable, incredible, and we wouldn’t make it without them. My former husband’s dad and stepmom are super awesome, too.
  • After Christmas I’m going to start saving to replace Riley’s out-of-warranty, four-40b25-nucleus_diagram_lrgyear-old cochlear implant processors. The newest model, released nearly two years ago, is Bluetooth compatible, which means her music, her phone, her computer, even the TV sound can be sent straight to her processors without her being wired up. Check out this video for a simulation. And this is an older but still interesting article about the N6 and more.
  • Through my work, I’m meeting more families of children with hearing loss and several who are going through the cochlear implant process. I want to share Riley’s story and show them that, though the journey is hard and frustrating and stressful, it’s worth it. I hope the two of us make a difference somehow.
  • I want those families and others around the world to be able to come here and read 520d2-dsc00425about Riley and me and our adventures and find inspiration, comfort, peace, honesty, ideas to make the “CI Life” easier, and a little humor.
  • Mostly, I want my daughter to know that whatever happens, I am here.

To do list

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Home

Rearrange the living room so we have room to relax, walk and dance, and so we can IMG_8857decorate for the holidays, starting with Halloween.

Rearrange and declutter the bedroom because OMG there is nowhere else to put all this stuff! We’ve moved from an 1800-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath house to an 808-square-foot, 1-bedroom, 1-bath apartment. A 43-year-old and a 13-year-old sharing a one-bedroom apartment means continuous purging.

Find a solution to get rid of ants, once and for all. Every year the little pests show up in my truck, on the kitchen counter and in the bathroom. How do I get rid of them? Prevent them?

Health

Get in good enough shape to spend 2 days in a vehicle and 4 days walking around Disney World the week of Thanksgiving with two other moms and three teen girls without being ready to collapse at 8 p.m. Riley is an All-American and will be dancing in the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Throw the weights around again. I’m stuck in a go-to-work-ad81a-gabreececome-home-worn-out-eat-dinner-and-sit-on-the-couch rut. I want to be healthy and strong. Inertia is the worst.

Work my way back up to running.

Get more sleep. Staying up until 11 p.m. and getting up at 6 a.m. is not working for me.

Eat better–fewer chips, more vegetables. Cut the Mountain Dew. Add back the water. Cook more, eat out less.

Hustle

Figure out how to bring in more money. I can write.53f7c537-7e98-40e4-b364-94a60e054cfb I can edit. I can design brochures, newsletters, fliers, resumes. I can edit essays. I can build a simple webpage.

Get back to writing–my writing. Not freelance disease-of-the-week pieces. $150 for 2000 words, 10-12 hours of research, interviews, writing and editing, and a side of depression wasn’t worth it.

Work on a way to use what I do and what I’ve learned in my day job to boost my earning power there and on the side.